Meditation is a powerful tool for spiritual growth, and is essentially a process to take a person beyond the limitations of the body. Teachers and practitioners of these “inner technologies” have also experienced the many physical and mental benefits of meditation and yoga. In recent years, a growing number of scientific studies and research on meditation have corroborated these experiences.
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Isha’s introductory practice is Shambhavi Mahamudra, an ancient kriya who has millions of dedicated practitioners who claim to experience greater emotional balance, concentration, focus, stability, and better health through regular meditation practice. In fact, there have been a number of scientific studies that measure the various benefits of practicing kriya regularly, both in relation to the activity of the mind during kriya and in statistical research on how it affects people’s health and well-being.
How does Isha work?
The reason most people are unhappy or unhealthy is that the physical, mental and pranic bodies are not in alignment.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
Sadhguru says, “There is a certain way to work with the engineering of our system, to make that body, to make that mind … the very chemistry within us the way we want it.” Traditionally, yoga sees the human being as the five layers of the body: the physical body, mental body, pranic energy body, etheric body and happiness body. The reason most people are unhappy or unhealthy is that the physical, mental and pranic body are not in alignment. Sadhguru explains: “If they are properly aligned, a natural expression, an overwhelming expression of joy will naturally arise in the human being. Now we are looking at the technology of keeping these three bodies constantly aligned so that joy is not an accidental occurrence; joy becomes for you a normal condition,
Studies on Shambhavi Mahamudra
Studies on Shambhavi Mahamudra are varied: some have examined their impact on disease status and use of medications, some have specifically examined menstrual disorders, while others have studied the benefits of this meditation on sleep, heart rate variability, brain activity, etc. Studies have investigated the general well-being and improvement of attention deficit among regular meditators.
Let’s take a look at the results of some of the key studies.
Benefits of meditation # 1: Improved heart health
Two studies published in 2008 and 2012 examined how Shambhavi Mahamudra supports heart health. Studies showed that participants had a more balanced Heart Autonomic Nervous System and an overall increase in Heart Rate Variation (HRV) during the practice. Higher HRV has been associated with better immunity to stressful situations, and is said to confer a greater survival advantage for individuals. Lower HRV, on the other hand, has been associated with various heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, chronic heart failure and myocardial infarction. The researchers conclude that practitioners of Shambhavi Mahamudra and other Isha Yoga practices have greater tolerance to exercise, better cardiac response to the stressful situation,
Benefits # 2: Greater mental coherence
A study from the Center for Biomedical Engineering, IIT Delhi, analyzed EEG data (electroencephalography) of practitioners’ brains before, during and after kriya practice. The results show that professionals experienced a higher level of coherence between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The coherence of EEG is known to be a measure of how well connected several regions of the brain are. Greater coherence indicates greater exchange of information across multiple regions, as well as better functional coupling and coordination. Higher levels of consistency are also correlated with higher IQ scores and creativity tests as well as emotional stability and cognitive flexibility.
The researchers also measured signals in several prominent EEG spectral bands, known as alpha, beta, delta, and theta. Shambhavi practitioners were seen to have greater alpha-band power in general, indicating that they experienced lower levels of stress. There was a high increase in the delta band and theta band and a noticeable reduction in the power of the beta band. A reduction in the power of the beta band indicates a reduced susceptibility to mental tension, excitement and anxiety. The highest theta and delta activity has been observed in previous research as indicative of conscious access to deeper states of meditation. “The delta rhythms combined with alpha are known to reflect an intuitive internal empathic radar, a kind of sixth sense,” the researchers note.
Benefits of Meditation # 3: Improving Sleep
A study presented at the 20th Congress of the European Sleep Research Society, Lisbon, Portugal, compares 15 male meditators with a control group of 15 participants of the same age and educational level, not male meditators. Participants were between 25 and 55 years of age. The meditators practiced Shambhavi Mahamudra, as well as other practices of Isha Yoga.
Polysomnographic measurements of the entire night were recorded in participants and EEG data were recorded along with other parameters. The results showed that the percentage of REM sleep, sleep efficiency and total sleep time of the meditators was significantly higher compared to the control group of non-meditators. Meditators also experienced a better quality of sleep, as evidenced by fewer awakenings after the onset of sleep.
The study concludes that Shambhavi’s consistent meditation practice has a positive impact on sleep quality.
Benefits of meditation # 4: Improved attention and focus
One study, published in the journal Perception, looked at how 89 participants performed the Stroop task and the intermittent attention task before and after a 3-month Isha Yoga meditation retreat. The Stroop task analyzes the interference of the reaction time of a task. For example, when the name of a color is printed in some other color (for example, “red” is printed in black), respondents may make mistakes in identifying the color of the print. Study participants were prone to fewer errors after withdrawal than before.
Likewise, the task of intermittent attention involves participants identifying various visual stimuli presented to them within extremely short durations. Participants showed 58% correct detection during pre-retreat testing and 69% correct detection in post-retreat testing. The researchers conclude that “the hypothesis is that meditation tends to improve the allocation of attention resources.”
A similar study by a team from the University of Toulouse, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine and the Indiana University School of Medicine examined how the practices of Isha Yoga improve performance in attentional tasks due to better allocation of attentional, the ability to sustain attention and focus, faster reassignment of attentional resources, greater cognitive flexibility, and reduced automatic response. The study notes that these improvements are probably due to structural, anatomical, and functional changes in the cognitive systems of meditators compared to control groups taken from the general population.
Benefits of Meditation # 5: Reducing Menstrual Disorders
It is considered that 75% of women have problems related to menstruation, which has a huge physical, psychological, social and economic impact on their lives. The main means of treatment for such problems is known to offer less than satisfactory relief even when patients choose surgery as a last resort. Today, yoga has become very popular as one of the top alternative treatments for many disorders. The benefits of meditation and yoga in relation to such diseases have been under study for some time and show great promise.
A team of Poole NHS Trust Hospitals, UK and the Indiana University School of Medicine conducted a survey of questionnaires with 128 Shambhavi Mahamudra practitioners between the ages of 14 and 55 from the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia and Lebanon. 72% of the interviewees practiced every day and the rest practiced 1-3 times a week.
The questionnaire asked the interviewees about the prevalence and impact of various menstrual disorders before starting kriya and after practicing for at least six months. Disorders covered included dismennorhea, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, menstrual flow, irregularities of the menstrual cycle, need for medical or surgical intervention for disorders and impairment of labor during the menstrual period.
The results showed a 57% decrease in the impact of Dysmennorhea, with a 72% reduction in psychological symptoms, such as irritability, mood swings, crying, depression and anger, with a 40% decrease in breast swelling and tenderness and reduction of 50% in swelling and weight gain. There was a 87% decrease in the incidence of severe menstrual flow and an 80% decrease in cycle irregularity. There was a 63% reduction in the need for medical or surgical interventions and an 83% reduction in the number of cases of work impairment.
The authors conclude that kriya “may be considered as a complementary therapy for menstrual disorders given the improvement of symptoms in all parameters.”
Other Benefits of Meditation
In a questionnaire asking about life improvements with the practice of Shambhavi Mahamudra, 536 respondents indicated how kriya helped reduce medication and eliminated problems such as depression, allergies, asthma and other diseases. 91% reported improved inner peace, 87% reported improved emotional balance, 80% presented greater mental clarity, 79% had increased energy levels, 74% reported improved self-confidence and 70% reported better concentration and higher productivity.
Among meditators suffering from depression, 87% reported improvement, 25% reduced medication, and 50% were able to stop their medication. Likewise, among those suffering from anguish, 86% reported improvement, 28% reduced medication and 50% were able to stop their medication. Among those with insomnia, 73% reported improvement, 40% reduced medication and 30% were able to stop their medication. Similar improvements were seen for those with little resistance to colds and flu, those who suffered from headaches, asthma, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Taken together, all these results demonstrate a drop in stress and anxiety, an alertness and mental focus, and an increase in self-awareness due to the practice of Shambhavi Mahamudra. It is also clear that regular practice benefits cardiac health and leads to a halt in the use of medication or at least reduces it to a number of diseases, including hypertension, depression and menstrual problems.