Meditation is no miracle cure as many new agers, yogis, and gurus might try to lead you to believe.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore published results of a meta-study of 47 clinical trials with 3,515 participants. The study was released Jan. 6, 2014 in the Journal of American Medical Association.
The researchers concluded that meditation provided little to no benefits when compared with other treatments. In fact, the researchers said meditation provided no more benefit than traditional treatments for anxiety and depression, such as prescription drugs, exercise, and napping or relaxation techniques.
Clinical data was used, from the studies, to measure patient outcomes from mindfulness meditation and mantra or Transcendental meditation programs. Mindfulness meditation typically focuses the participant on awareness of the present moment, watching the breath or the thoughts without judgement. Whereas mantra meditation consists primarily of mentally repeating a simple phrase or mantra.
The mindfulness meditation programs showed slight effectiveness towards alleviating stress in patients with anxiety. Whereas mantra meditation showed no benefits. Many publications, in their reviews of the study, hyped the benefits of meditation but failed to point out that only uncontrolled trials showed slight to moderate benefits from meditation. While the controlled trials showed participants who meditated had no better results than a control group who only used exercise, drugs, or sleep for treatment. While meditation may offer benefits, we could more easily take a nap to ward off stress and stay healthy!
The Wall Street Journal’s Lindsay Gellman reviewed the study.
“Although uncontrolled studies have usually found a benefit of meditation, very few controlled studies have found a similar benefit for the effects of meditation programs on health-related behaviors affected by stress,” the JAMA report said.
The report’s findings show that meditation is perhaps less effective in alleviating stress-related symptoms than is widely believed, [my emphasis] said Allan H. Goroll, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School-Massachusetts General Hospital, in invited commentary also published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. “The studies overall failed to show much benefit from meditation with regard to relief of suffering or improvement in overall health, with the important exception that mindfulness meditation provided a small but possibly meaningful degree of relief from psychological distress,” he wrote.
Still, Dr. Goroll noted that participants only received 30 to 40 hours of training in meditation, which could indicate that “meditation is a skill that takes time to master.” He also said more evidence is needed to draw more robust conclusions about any benefits to meditation. The study participants were enrolled for a duration of 8 weeks to several years. A longer time period may be required to see the benefits of meditation.
I agree with the researchers. Knowing what I know from my 20 years practice of Kriya Yoga meditation, as taught by Self-Realization Fellowship, the benefits gained from sleep, exercise, or relaxation are about the same as from meditation. Strip away the supernatural or god-myth from meditation practice and what’s left is profound relaxation and internal awareness. Nice benefits, to be sure, but do the benefits outweigh the effort of meditation?
Gellman finishes with:
“People come to a meditation class because they’re suffering in some way,” said Jon Aaron, an instructor at New York Insight Meditation Center, which promotes mindfulness meditation. Through meditation, they learn to relate to their stress in a way that is more productive, he said.