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Meditation meets behavioural medicine. The story of experimental research on meditation

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This paper juxtaposes Asian spiritual narratives on meditation alongside medical and scientific narratives that emphasize meditation's efficacy in mitigating distress and increasing well-being. After proposing a working definition of meditation that enables it usefully to be distinguished from categories of similar practices such as prayer, I examine meditation's role in Mind/Body medicine in the West. Here, I survey a number of scientific studies of meditation, including the work of Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues who examine a meditational variant they call the ‘Relaxation Response', to examine the breadth of efficacy claims made on behalf of the complex and multidimensional grouping of diverse practices we have come to as ‘meditation'. Among other positive outcomes, meditation has been credited with reducing blood pressure, anxiety, addiction, and stress, while Relaxation Response has been shown to decrease sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity, metabolism, pain, anxiety, depression, hostility, and stress. I conclude the paper by suggesting that findings from cognitive neuroscience on the subject of visual imagery can be used to elucidate genres of meditative practice that focus on internal visualization sequences, and I use practices from the Rnying ma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to illustrate why certain integral aspects of meditation forever will remain beyond scientific grasp.

Keywords: EEG; Khregs gcod; Meditation; PET; Rnying ma Buddhism; SPECT; Thod rgal; fMRI; mind/body medicine; relaxation response

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Boston University STH, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA.

Publication date: November 1, 2000

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