Modern life, which is ever marching to the tune of technological progress, has brought with it many promises of a better world. Yet, in many respects, it has only led man downhill to further states of mental and physical deterioration. Sicknesses such as peptic ulcer and high blood pressure can mostly be attributed to the uncertainties and tensions of our environment. Due to the impossibility of changing the external situation and its negative characteristics, it is indispensable to look within ourselves for another means of dealing with daily tensions. There are several ways by which a person can control both physical and mental reactions to psychological events. One of the most efficient is meditation.
Patanjali defines meditation as the continuous and prolonged flow of thought directed towards a determined object until total absorption takes place. This direct flow of thought can be conceived as moving in a straight line which is not intercepted by any other lines or thoughts that can break the continuity.
According to Tart (1969) meditation is a deep passivity combined with consciousness. By passivity he means totally suspending every thought and action, turning into oneself and directing the attention towards the interior, spontaneous experiences.
According to Wollfolk (1975) meditation implies the focalization of an indifferent or associate repetitive stimulus. In accordance with the information the person has, this is accompanied by a peaceful sensation.
Goleman (1971) conceptualized meditation as a 'meta-therapy' - a procedure that complies with the basic objectives of conventional therapy, but which in its final state takes the individual to a deeper field than that of therapist, therapies and the majority of the personality theorists - an altered state of consciousness.
For Swami Satyananda (1975) the objective of meditation is to explore the different regions of the mind in order to eventually transcend it. The different techniques of meditation help the individual to purify the mind and give it the rest and revitalization necessary for its appropriate functioning. By focusing on the interior, the person becomes aware of the chaotic and endless flow of thoughts, memories, fears, etc. which do not have any definite goal or objective.
The psychoanalytic theory asserts that all the past experiences determine the present behaviour in one way or another. This principle also states that the emotional and mental events correspond to physiological changes, therefore, the organism is moulded by the events of life. This same theory says that all the physical and mental experiences accumulate in the nervous system. Following this line of thought, there are several schools in psychology that use the musculature as an extension of the nervous system to be able to capture the events that have moulded the behaviour of an individual, and to liberate this person of those tendencies that have left the most traumatic and deep marks. According to Goleman (1971), this process of liberating the tensions of the nervous system can be accomplished through meditation without any effort or disposition.
As the individual goes deeper into relaxation states and pure consciousness develops without any thoughts, a wide range of kinaesthetic sensations, or psychic events, begins to take place. Lerner assumed that kinaesthetic sensations are the base of dreams, and that the gross body movements which appear in a great number while sleeping, abruptly stop before dreams begin, and reappear when the rapid eye movements (REM) cease. Fine muscular movements are present mainly while dreaming and are not as noticeable during the other stages of sleeping. Based upon this, Lerner suggests that gross motor activity is opposed to kinaesthetic fantasy, and that the basic factor necessary to initiate this fantasy is physical immobility. It has been shown (Dement 1960) that dreaming is essential for the maintenance of the personality organization. The privation of dreaming produces high levels of tension, anxiety, irritability, difficulty in concentrating and impaired motor coordination. Because of the immobility in which meditation is realized, it seems to propitiate kinaesthetic fantasies. It can be further deduced that the effect of un-stressing which meditation produces, is caused by the same psychological function carried out while dreaming.
Tart (1969), through his own observations and those of existing literature, found that the benefits of meditation in general are as follows: a greater ability to cope with tense situations of daily life, and therefore a greater calmness; the sensation of a greater unity between body and mind; a greater consciousness of daily experiences; an improved functioning' of the body and better sleep; and last of all, a greater judgement of when relaxation is taking place and when it isn't. The same author certifies that though meditation has definite effects over mental health, sufficient research has not been carried out in this field.
The investigation realized has been principally directed towards the physiology of meditation. A variety of results has been found related to yoga meditation. This can be explained due to the wide range of techniques and the experiences of the subjects used in the different experiments. Even with these variables, the physiological results of meditation tend towards a decrease in oxygen consumption, as well as in the elimination of carbon dioxide (Anand and Col., 1961). With respect to the skin resistance, where the low levels are associated with anxiety and the high levels with relaxation, it has been found that during meditation these levels increase rapidly, going even higher than the levels produced while sleeping (Bagchi and Wenger, 1957; Wallace and Benson, 1972).
As a part of a study about the physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation, Wallace (1970) made some blood tests before, during, and after meditation. He found that the levels of lactate in the blood decreased markedly at the beginning of meditation and continued to decrease during meditation; afterwards it remained in a low concentration.
It has been seen that lactate is present in high levels when patients with anxiety neurosis are placed under stress. Equally, patients with hypertension show higher levels of blood lactate in a resting state, compared with patients without hypertension. Pitts (1969) made a study on the biochemistry of anxiety, and he found that anxiety symptoms can be induced with lactate infusions. The role of anxiety in psychological disorders is universally accepted by therapists. For example, Angyal (1965) sees anxiety as the crucial phenomenon in psychopathology, being the determining point between health or neurosis.
In the previously mentioned study made by Bagchi and Wenger (1957), 14 yogis were studied during periods of meditation that oscillated between 15 and 120 minutes. A tendency towards a stable and reduced physiological activity was found. The cardiac rate in the majority of the yogis did not change significantly, but it was found, as Anand and Col (1961) had done before, that respiration had a tendency to decrease.
In reference to the brain wave pattern during meditation, Anand, Ghhina and Singh (1961) found that during normal rest time, the subjects demonstrated prominent alpha activity, while during meditation the duration and amplitude of these waves increased. Unlike other types of meditation such as Zen, this alpha activity could not be intercepted or blocked during yoga meditation. Wallace and Benson (1972) also found that alpha waves intensified during meditation and, on some occasions, theta waves appeared.
Goger and Werback (1975) made a study related with chronic pain. They found that significant changes in the abundance and amplitude of alpha waves are accompanied by an increased tolerance of pain and reduced activity in emotional situations.
A greater number of areas where the effects of meditation have not been explored still exist. In psychological therapy little has been done, and it is possible that meditation could be of great help, as anxiety is one of the determinant components in mental disorders. For example, Kondo (1958), a Japanese psychiatrist, affirms that when his patients were meditating at home, besides attending sessions with him, they did more constructive work.
Meditation is an ancient discipline, of great help to anyone who practises it. Therefore, it is advisable to determine all the effects, to use it scientifically in areas such as medicine, curative and preventive psychology, human relations and study achievements. While this is being realized, we can also do something for our own mental and physical health. Meditation gives us a great start in life.