Is yoga and meditation overrated


The word meditation is derived from meditatio = “orientation towards the middle” from the Latin adjective medius: “middle”, noun medium: “the middle, and is a spiritual practice practiced in many religions and cultures. Mindfulness or concentration exercises should calm the mind and collect the thoughts. The desired states of consciousness are, depending on the tradition, described differently and often with terms such as silence, emptiness, panoramic consciousness, being one, being in the here and now or being free of thoughts. The original Purpose of meditation, which was persecuted in India two thousand years ago, is of a spiritual nature: to see the world as it actually is, which is also circumscribed with terms such as enlightenment or liberation, whereby this aspect often still resonates today. In general and very broadly, meditation is something that you do with full attention and repeatedly, mostly with the intention that the mind comes to rest and becomes empty. Three approaches are practiced, which are often combined with one another. One is focused attention, d. That is, one concentrates on a mantra like "Om", some yogis on the tip of the nose or on the breath. The second approach is open awareness: One observes everything that happens without evaluating it. So about rising feelings or intrusive thoughts. And belong to the third Meditations where you practice somethinglike feeling of loving kindness. In the imagination you let it arise first for people you like, later for those with whom you have a neutral relationship and finally with those you don't like.

Meditation and science were in the clinical psychology and there, especially among the representatives of psychoanalysis and meditation, it was already connected in the century before last. At the moment, it is mainly about proof of efficiency, because it has been found that when people meditate, something happens, both in the brain as well as in behavior and self-assessments. One example of this is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or mindfulness-based stress reduction according to Jon Kabat-Zinn. Many studies show that symptoms of stress subside and meditation also helps with anxiety and depression, sleep disorders and psychosomatic complaints such as migraines and chronic pain.

An international study (Schlosser et al., 2019) of people who meditate regularly showed that around a quarter of them repeatedly found the exercises stressful and uncomfortable. The aim of this study was to report on the prevalence of particularly uncomfortable meditation-related experiences of regular meditators and the connection of these experiences with demographic characteristics, meditation practice, repetitive negative thinking (Brooding), Mindfulness and examine self-compassion. In the cross-sectional survey, more than a thousand regular meditators with at least two months of meditation experience also answered the question about particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences, with a quarter of the subjects reporting particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences that they believe could have been caused by their meditation practice. Those affected reported anxiety shortly after meditating, which was particularly common in men and unreligious people. Even with those questioned who brooded a lot, the mood often worsened after meditating, although this probably also depends on the meditation technique, because certain negative experiences were more likely Zen techniques or deconstructive meditation types and less often with mindfulness techniques or empathy approaches. In particular, purely attention-centered techniques can sometimes increase stress, fear and doubt. According to the researchers, these results should not be overestimated, because it was already known that certain forms of meditation not only lead to rest and relaxation.

Hafenbrack & Vohs (2018) have shown in a study that mindfulness meditation is also particularly beneficial for Executives does not always work as some would expect. Numerous studies provide evidence of positive effects of this form of meditation, for example in connection with stress or job satisfaction, sleep problems and the tendency to prosocial and ethically correct behavior. However, related to Work motivationIn order to tackle difficult tasks and achieve goals, for example, a certain degree of dissatisfaction is required, although meditation has a rather demotivating effect, because this relaxation technique reduces the motivation to really tackle tasks.

In order to strengthen and improve meditation practice in general, it is sometimes helpful to have one Meditation retreat Doing one (for a whole day, a weekend, or even longer) helps to deepen the meditation practice. During such a meditation retreat, all kinds of activities are avoided in order to focus on a particular spiritual practice or meditation, whereby there are physical, verbal and mental forms. A physical retreat is appropriate when you want to isolate yourself from other people, activities and noise with a spiritual motivation and no longer want to carry out insignificant and meaningless actions. A verbal retreat switches off everyday banal speech behavior and focuses on times of silence. At a spiritual retreat try to prevent distractions and strong emotions like anger and jealousy from arising by focusing on mindfulness and accuracy.

Meditation techniques are particularly aimed at relaxing the cognitive-affective area and make extensive use of mental concentration (e.g. Zen meditation, yoga). Ultimately, the goal of meditation is to find oneself, to find one's own center. Techniques of contemplation and techniques of "Deep meditation“Differ. The observations are tied to "meditation objects" that should be meditated on - objects in our environment such as B. a flower, a burning candle, onomatopoeia (mantra technique), geometric figures (mandala) etc .. The deep meditation dispenses with all material templates, its content is ideas, thoughts, questions of being, questions of meaning and is the highest form of meditation in general. With the help of meditation, the ability to cope with a multitude of situations and a feeling of expanded ability, an expansion of the forces within us and an increase in our ability to see more precisely and to act more effectively can be gradually achieved However, the cognitive level appears to be the least suitable as the first and direct access to relaxation of the entire organism, since immobilization of the cognitive area requires extensive immobilization of the other two areas, since otherwise stimuli are constantly sent from there to the cognitive level. For this reason, almost all meditation techniques prescribe extensive physical relaxation exercises in preparation for the higher levels of meditation.

In a study by Kok et al. (2016) examined to what extent different forms and contents of meditation also have a different effect on the practicing person. As part of the "ReSource project"Interested laypeople learned various mental exercises over a period of nine months and practiced them daily, with the three successive training modules"presence“, „perspective" and "affect“Contained exercises on mindfulness of physical and mental processes, on socio-cognitive abilities as well as on constructive and positive handling of one's own emotions. It turned out that all forms of meditation become one Increase in positive emotions, a stronger focus on the here and now and less distractibility. In fact, there was also a clear effect of the different meditation contents, because while the face-to-face training was accompanied by an increased awareness of one's own body, the perspective training was associated with more positive thoughts and feelings towards others. The affect training, in turn, increased awareness of one's own thoughts and feelings. Apparently, the effects of various forms of meditation go beyond the general health-promoting effect.

That meditation also affects that Sensation of pain has been known for a long time, but how this works has so far been rather unclear. It is often assumed that meditation releases endogenous opioids that help relieve pain, which is based on the fact that meditation stimulates those areas of the brain that have a high number of opioid receptors. Alternative medical practices such as acupuncture or the placebo effect ultimately control pain perception via the opioid receptors in the brain. However, it has now been discovered that the effect of mediation could be evoked in another way, that is, in another nociceptive system. Here the research is still at the beginning.

In meditating people there is in them brain Incidentally, extremely lively activity, as could be found out with the help of brain scans. In meditating monks, for example, gamma waves were particularly evident, which are associated with both transcendental experiences and top cognitive performance. It also comes about because of meditation Changes of the brain, with a higher density of neurons in different areas of the brain after several weeks of regular meditation. The greatest changes can be found in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is an important switching point for behavior and attention control and, above all, for the regulation of moods and emotions. Apparently, the training has strengthened a region of the brain that enables people to align their behavior with their goals and to get a grip on their emotions. Studies (Grad et al., 2014) had also shown that the fluid intelligence decreases less rapidly in experienced yoga practitioners and meditators than in people who do not use these techniques but whose education and lifestyle are comparable. Using magnetic resonance tomography, the brain activity of 16 yogas, 16 meditators and 15 control persons was measured at rest, and the flow of information between more than a hundred brain regions was then checked in all test subjects. For those study participants who practiced yoga or meditation, a more efficient information flows can be detected than in the control group in that the information between the brain regions was better processed and classified in them. In addition, it was shown that the brain networks of meditators and yoga practitioners have a greater resistance to simulated damage, because even if the most important areas were excluded from the analysis, the flow of information in the remaining active network was still efficient.

Meditation and learning

It is known that increased perception can be achieved through intensive training of the senses, but a study (Philipp et al., 2015) has now shown that a passive training in the form of meditation neuroplastic processes can trigger. Test persons completed a finger meditation specially developed for this study for two hours over a period of three days, in which they concentrated exclusively on their right index finger and very consciously perceived all spontaneous sensations at this point. Before and after that, the two-point discrimination threshold was determined, this value indicating how far two tactile stimuli have to be from one another so that they can be perceived as separate. It was found that the threshold value on the index and middle fingers after finger meditation had improved by an average of 17 percent, with this effect remaining unchanged even 24 hours after the attempt. The targeted mental focus during meditation can evidently produce similar learning effects as long-term training or active stimulation.

Yi-Yuan Tang (Dalian University of Technology in China) developed this Integrative body-mind training, a meditation technique based on traditional Chinese medicine. This training is about a state of relaxed alertness and not about mind control like other meditation techniques. With instructions from the trainer, who uses breathing instructions, mental images and other techniques, an awareness of body and mind is created, accompanied by calm music. So far, this body-mind training has proven itself as a stress therapy, because Chinese students who practiced this meditation before an important exam, released fewer stress hormones. Earlier studies had also shown that integrative body-mind training alleviates fear, depression, anger and exhaustion, with physiological values ​​such as pulse, respiratory rhythm or skin resistance also signaling wakeful relaxation in the trained.

University of Oregon students participated in 22 meditation sessions, each lasting half an hour over a month, while a control group did conventional relaxation training over the same period of time. In the test group, changes were found primarily in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), i.e. the region of the brain that, along with others, is involved in recognizing and resolving conflicts between different options for action. In early childhood development, an increasing interconnectedness of the anterior cingulate cortex means that children can better control their emotions and actions, and damage in this brain region can trigger attention disorders and depression.

In psychology she is one of the Relaxation procedure and occupies a special position in that it comes from the religious field, whereby coping with stress and relaxation are more of a requirement than a goal. When used as a relaxation method, this mystical dimension is often ignored, although it can have positive effects. The effectiveness of meditation procedures has been proven in numerous studies, with the disorders treated of general nervousness, stress and tension about asthma, sleep disorders and hypertension right up to Addictions and neurotic disorders how anxiety neuroses were enough. Changes can also be shown in the EEG through meditation. Also the Self-awareness aspect Meditation can prove to be valuable because it has a motivational effect and promotes the practice even after the end of therapy, but it also carries the risk of suppressed thoughts and feelings appearing.

Studies have shown that meditation has a much stronger effect on healthy people than relaxation methods such as progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training and thought training. Meditation improves social relationships, relieves anxiety and reduces negative emotions, and has clearly positive effects on human perception, improves attention, makes learning easier and more efficient, improves memory and has an overall positive effect on the personality, so that one can say that meditation has a universally positive effect.

Yoga as relaxation

Another way to learn to meditate is yoga, because yoga is meditation in motion, so to speak. The yoga exercises also direct the concentration inwards, alternating between tension and relaxation in yoga. Between the yoga exercises, there are phases of rest in which mindfulness is directed into the body. Yoga practiced today often has little to do with the original yoga. These include different types, which are usually intended to lead to meditation through physical and breathing exercises, whereby one currently mostly only concentrates on the physical and perhaps the breathing exercises. However, this form of yoga has been shown to have positive effects.

Regular yoga is also a good way to do something for that physical and mental balance and the general fitness to do because through yoga becomes Reduced stress and the exercises also ensure a body that is still elastic in old age. Used regularly, yoga helps to keep muscles supple and spine elastic, among other things. With some exercises, especially for beginners, it applies don't overdo it, d. That is, the exercises should be comfortable and not cause pain.The image of a yogi in the lotus seat is daunting for many, but this posture is not mandatory, it is important to find a comfortable position. Sitting cross-legged is a typical variant, but many exercises are also possible while lying down or sitting. The eyes can be closed or left open during the exercises, i. i.e. looking into the distance without a particular focus. The times indicated on the following poster are only guidelines, everyone should find their own rhythm here. It is advisable to consult your doctor or to carry out the first exercises under the guidance of a trainer.

With the poster Yoga for beginners you always have the basic exercises in view. Simply hang it on the wall so that it is clearly visible and get started! There are innumerable positions or Asanas, with only a few on this learning poster Basic exercises that can be performed by anyone.

Example of a breathing meditation

For simple breathing meditation, sit in a comfortable position either on a pillow on the floor or on a chair. Make sure your back is relatively upright and the space is free from distractions. You can also do this exercise in a quiet place outdoors. One should try to feel how the breath moves over the skin below the nostrils and above the lips. Do not change the way you breathe. Just observe the calm breath, when does it flow freely and relaxed and when does it feel strained and held. If your attention wanders, thank you for noticing and bring your attention back. How does the breath feel on the skin? Which parts of the body move while breathing? Can you feel the breath moving your stomach? The breast? Shoulders? Then you can imagine and feel how the air you breathe flows in and out of your body. How does this breathing connect with other living beings?

Book recommendation for psychologists

Peter Sedlmeier, Professor of Research Methods and Evaluation at the Institute of Psychology at the Technical University of Chemnitz, gives an overview in his book of how the effect of meditation is explained in Western and Eastern theories, drawing on the latest comprehensive scientific studies, including Science primarily means psychology, but findings from neuroscience and medicine also play a role. The book is therefore not only aimed at laypeople, but also at the scientifically interested target group. Sedlmeier also incorporates experiences from his own meditation practice and shows which ones Side effects and Risks meditation should be observed, and also gives suggestions for people who want to start meditation.

Quotes: “Learning to meditate is not only a trend, but also a good idea. Many people report positive effects on their health and well-being ”. “However, many do not know what exactly one is doing, what forms of meditation there are and what meditation can and cannot do”. “Meditating works better with a teacher and in a group”. "Anyone who suffers from schizophrenia, for example, should avoid meditation techniques or only perform them under the close supervision of a therapist who is experienced in meditation."

Meditation and morals

Kreplin et al. (2018) examined in a meta-analysis of twenty psychological studies whether meditation makes people more moral or not, that such techniques also have a moral value or life-changing potential. Five characteristics were recorded that are supposed to be strengthened or weakened by meditation (e.g. mindfulness meditation or metta meditation): compassion, empathy, aggressiveness, attachment to other living beings, tendency to prejudice.
Overall, the methodological quality of the studies was rather poor. It was also shown that meditation neither lowers aggression, weakens prejudice nor increases the feeling of connectedness. A positive effect was only seen with compassion and empathy, but there was a negative relationship with the quality of the studies, i.e. In other words, the more a study met scientific quality criteria, the lower the effect. With this, of course, no statement can be made about positive effects on the psyche of people.

Further book recommendations to get started with medidation:

Literature & sources
Gard, T., Taquet, M., Dixit, R., Hölzel, BK, de Montjoye, Y.-A., Brach, N., Salat, DH, Dickerson, BC, Gray, JR & Lazar, SW (2014 ). Fluid intelligence and brain functional organization in aging yoga and meditation practitioners. Front. Aging Neurosci. 6:76. doi: 10.3389 / fnagi.2014.00076.
Hafenbrack, A. C. & Vohs, K. D. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 147, 1-15.
Kok, B.E. & Singer, T. (2016). Phenomenological fingerprints of four meditations: Differential state changes in affect, mind-wandering, meta-cognition, and interoception before and after daily practice across 9 months of training. Mindfulness, 1-14.
Kreplin, U., Farias, M. & Brazil, I, A. (2018). The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 8, doi: 10.1038 / s41598-018-20299-z.
Philipp, S.T., Kalisch, T., Wachtler, T. & Dinse, H.R. (2015). Enhanced tactile acuity through mental states. Scientific Reports, 5, 13549.
Schlosser, M., Sparby, T., Vörös, S., Jones, R., Marchant, N. L. (2019). Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PLoS, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0216643.
Tang, Y. et al. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10.1073 / pnas.1011043107.
Interview by Andrea Freund with the psychologist Peter Sedlmeier in the Frankfurter Allgemeine from November 1, 2014.
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