Is meditation just relaxation?

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Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby eternauta3k » Sun Oct 29, 2017 12:20 pm UTC

Hi.

I was looking at this subreddit where they're discussing meditation technique in detail, talking about using attention in a certain way, peripheral awareness in another, holding intentions, etc.

https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMindIlluminated

I was wondering if people here think this is all quackery.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby poxic » Sun Oct 29, 2017 2:21 pm UTC

Part of it is simply relaxation, yes. While you're focused on your breath, you aren't ruminating on bills or family fights. There is some evidence that training your concentration can be more broadly helpful.

Here's a decent layman's article about it: https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... overrated/

People who practise regularly say that they feel calmer and happier overall. I felt the same when I was doing a regular meditation class a while back. The science is weakly positive.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby eternauta3k » Sun Oct 29, 2017 2:48 pm UTC

At what point do you call "bullshit"? For example, do you believe claims of significant psychological change are plausible?

I'm curious how people with a mainstream scientific view approach this question.

I suspect that enlightenment doesn't get much hype because its wonderful benefits are balanced by its incredible cost in terms of time. So forgoing it would be rational.

Not sure what to think about less intensive practice for stress reduction: it still takes some time every day, and the benefits are much subtler.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby Nicias » Sun Oct 29, 2017 9:59 pm UTC

I am definitely of a scientific mindset, and I've been meditating most days for about a year (20 minutes a day). I've found it very helpful. I also do 1 hour of cardio every other day. Both of these are to deal with stress and anxiety. If I had to say, meditation is about 25% effective in the short term as the cardio hour for reducing my anxiety and stress for the next couple of days. I don't know what the science says, but I feel more relaxed and focused when I meditate. I think I work more effectively and I think I am a better friend, brother, husband, etc.

Of course I haven't done a double-blind study, but other people in my life have commented that I seem less stressed.

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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Oct 29, 2017 10:41 pm UTC

One problem is that it's quite hard to set up a proper double-blind trial to test its efficacy. Even if it is just relaxation though, it seems to be effective at relaxing people and there are certainly some benefits of meditation (although those may just be due to the relaxation, or a placebo effect) so I'm not sure how helpful/relevant the question is
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby poxic » Mon Oct 30, 2017 12:43 am UTC

Don't confuse meditation practise with "enlightenment". Depending on who you ask, enlightenment is an entire shift in one's worldview, one that declares normal daily experience to be an illusion. Full spiritual enlightenment is very difficult to accomplish for any length of time. Most seekers never get there.

Meditation is one tool that seekers use to hunt down enlightenment, but it's also used by people who consider it to be good mental hygiene. You're training yourself on how to keep focused on a single point. Like any other skill, it improves over time and ends up useful for other tasks. Boring paper to write? Excruciating meeting to sit through? Same sort of skill. Need more patience while listening to the in-laws rant during Thanksgiving dinner? That too.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby doogly » Mon Oct 30, 2017 4:15 pm UTC

There's also a scientific sense in which "just placebo affect" = "not really a thing," whereas cultivating a placebo effect can be the entire point of meditation. If you determine that there is no causal mechanism outside of one's own mind, sounds like what meditation advertises!

It's interesting, because the effects of the placebo effect are completely real - that is why it's an effect. It just means that there is no mechanistic cause essentialized in what has brought the effect about. But, if the effects are quite nice, I want those effects! Cultivating them whichever way works for me is going to have a positive end-of-the-day effect.

It's similar to things like using chi in martial arts. If "chi" is not a substance that has a mechanistic effect, that's fine. If instead of rolling my eyes at my instructor when he talks about things, I think in this way, then the fact that under the covers something completely different is causing my timing, power generation, speed, etc, to improve, then this is fine and not really relevant to my practice.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby Sungura » Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:49 pm UTC

doogly wrote:It's interesting, because the effects of the placebo effect are completely real - that is why it's an effect. It just means that there is no mechanistic cause essentialized in what has brought the effect about.

THIS ^^

I think in science we forget a lot that the reason the Placebo Effect has a name, is, because it is a legitimate effect. Now of course there are limits to what it can do, in terms of what the body can and can't do for itself through it's own brainpower. eg: mind control can't cure cancer - but mind control certainly can give higher pain tolerance as the experience of pain is controlled in the mind (for example).

So, where meditation is concerned, I wish i was better at it and I'd like to learn about it more, because I know positive effects - whether they are placebo effect or other - would be beneficial to me. I know this because other "Mind Hacks" I have incorporated into my life help me greatly in a positive manner.

The mind is incredibly plastic, and using this to our advantage to better deal with stress, anxiety, find selfworth and meaning, is a logical and scientific pursuit. Positive programming can be an incredible thing - and meditation is a tool that can help achieve this. As to be in the practice of finding calm, finding self-worth, finding peace, builds those pathways of Good Things. The plasticity of the mind is highly documented in science. The importance of practicing good habits is also highly documented. So...yeah. Meditation has positive benefits, and I would say that because of these areas of scientific study, it is scientific.

I also would say it is easier to denounce meditation as "fake" because of this exact power-of-the-mind: if you're convinced it is stupid, it is unlikely to help. This very individualized experience makes studies of things like meditation difficult - but it is exactly because of how science has told us brains work that make it so. To me, that is the key point to remember, and more proof of how amazing the mind is, and how much science still has to learn to fully understand it all.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby Nicias » Tue Oct 31, 2017 2:13 pm UTC

I don't want to threadjack, but my favorite example of the placebo effect is acupuncture. It turns out that it doesn't matter where you put the needles. If you shove needles into a person in a quiet place and let them rest with needles in them for half an hour it works the same if there are in acupuncture points or just random places.

However, people report that acupuncture really helps with many ailments, especially chronic pain. If I had chronic pain, I would totally do it, even though it has no sound theoretical foundation.

Those two statements are both true. Same with meditation. It doesn't have to be focusing my chi or clearing my chakras or bringing me in touch with the holy spirit, or any of that to make me feel better. It makes me feel better, so I do it.

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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby doogly » Tue Oct 31, 2017 3:10 pm UTC

ok but acupuncture is a horror show
they put the things in your skin
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby SuicideJunkie » Tue Oct 31, 2017 3:39 pm UTC

It seems pretty logical to me.
If the issue is at least partly in your mind* then changing your mind can help resolve the issue.

You do still need to check that the problem isn't mechanical, chemical, or external in all manner of ways, and solve those types of problems in an appropriate way of course.


*not simply fake/imaginary problems, but issues related to your interpretation, perspective and expectations.

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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby cphite » Tue Oct 31, 2017 9:42 pm UTC

doogly wrote:There's also a scientific sense in which "just placebo affect" = "not really a thing," whereas cultivating a placebo effect can be the entire point of meditation. If you determine that there is no causal mechanism outside of one's own mind, sounds like what meditation advertises!

It's interesting, because the effects of the placebo effect are completely real - that is why it's an effect. It just means that there is no mechanistic cause essentialized in what has brought the effect about. But, if the effects are quite nice, I want those effects! Cultivating them whichever way works for me is going to have a positive end-of-the-day effect.


People these days are too quick to dismiss things that aren't proven by study... if mediation makes you feel better, then it works. I get great results from meditation, and know a lot of other people who do. That those results aren't adequately explained or described by a study don't change that they occur.

I have a friend who's experiencing a lot of chronic pain after multiple surgeries, and she turned to acupuncture and it works wonders for her... whether it's because of actual meridians being affected by the needles or just her own mind deciding that she feels less pain, the end result is that she feels less pain. I've seen articles that have shown pretty convincingly that just putting needles randomly can be just as effective as following the "real" meridians, so personally I think it's the latter - but whatever. The point is she feels better.

It's similar to things like using chi in martial arts. If "chi" is not a substance that has a mechanistic effect, that's fine. If instead of rolling my eyes at my instructor when he talks about things, I think in this way, then the fact that under the covers something completely different is causing my timing, power generation, speed, etc, to improve, then this is fine and not really relevant to my practice.


I've been training in the martial arts for nearly 25 years now, and over that time my feelings on chi have changed. I don't believe there is any mysterious energy that has a mechanistic effect; but I've seen firsthand people do things that are absolutely incredible using chi as a basis of their performance. My take is that it's just a way to conceptualize the sort of things you're talking about above - the combination of timing and speed and movement into a greater whole. Rather than attempt to teach someone exactly step by step how and when to move each muscle in sequence from the floor to the target is far more difficult than simply getting them to imagine a force following that same path and sequence. In that context, chi "works" despite not being an actual thing.

Meditation is similar to this. I have been through some really esoteric meditations that involve visualizations that are intended to open meridians or even evoke spirits, and I don't believe those things are actually real... but the point is to get the mind completely focused. The visualizations are just a means to that end, and they work whether you believe in them or not. There are people who believe that it's just a mental exercise; and there are people who actually believe in the ball of invisible light. Both can get the same result from the practice.

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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby MostlyHarmless » Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:56 am UTC

eternauta3k wrote:I'm curious how people with a mainstream scientific view approach this question.


Sam Harris seems like a relevant example. I'm not nearly familiar enough with his arguments (or meditation in general) to explain his viewpoint or really pass judgement on it, but he is a neuroscientist who believes that meditation can have very real effects on a person's mind.

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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby Xanthir » Wed Nov 01, 2017 3:18 pm UTC

cphite wrote:People these days are too quick to dismiss things that aren't proven by study... if mediation makes you feel better, then it works. I get great results from meditation, and know a lot of other people who do. That those results aren't adequately explained or described by a study don't change that they occur.

I have a friend who's experiencing a lot of chronic pain after multiple surgeries, and she turned to acupuncture and it works wonders for her... whether it's because of actual meridians being affected by the needles or just her own mind deciding that she feels less pain, the end result is that she feels less pain. I've seen articles that have shown pretty convincingly that just putting needles randomly can be just as effective as following the "real" meridians, so personally I think it's the latter - but whatever. The point is she feels better.

The problem comes not from "things that we don't understand, but at least have evidence of their effect", but rather "things we don't understand, and also don't have evidence of their effect". You have to be very careful to allow the former but not allow the latter, because otherwise people end up spending lots of money on reiki frauds or whatever (they can spend that more usefully), and more importantly, they do that instead of going to the doctor (and then die from their cancer or whatever).

"If it helps, what's the problem" has the problem that where health is concerned, this is literally life and death sometimes, and people aren't, in general, good at weighing options like this - they'll go with something that feels "safer" rather than a scary medical intervention, when the safer thing offers only mild benefits (some degree of relaxation or pain relief) but the medical thing will actually save their life.

(Chronic pain is one of the cases where people really should just do whatever the fuck works for them. Medicine still doesn't have a good grasp on it, either its causes or how to ameliorate it. But it's rarely life-threatening on its own, so it doesn't matter if you're seeing a fraud that happens to help you.)
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby Liri » Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:08 pm UTC

Except opiates. Try to avoid opiates.
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Re: Is meditation just relaxation?

Postby cphite » Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:55 pm UTC

Xanthir wrote:
cphite wrote:People these days are too quick to dismiss things that aren't proven by study... if mediation makes you feel better, then it works. I get great results from meditation, and know a lot of other people who do. That those results aren't adequately explained or described by a study don't change that they occur.

I have a friend who's experiencing a lot of chronic pain after multiple surgeries, and she turned to acupuncture and it works wonders for her... whether it's because of actual meridians being affected by the needles or just her own mind deciding that she feels less pain, the end result is that she feels less pain. I've seen articles that have shown pretty convincingly that just putting needles randomly can be just as effective as following the "real" meridians, so personally I think it's the latter - but whatever. The point is she feels better.


The problem comes not from "things that we don't understand, but at least have evidence of their effect", but rather "things we don't understand, and also don't have evidence of their effect". You have to be very careful to allow the former but not allow the latter, because otherwise people end up spending lots of money on reiki frauds or whatever (they can spend that more usefully), and more importantly, they do that instead of going to the doctor (and then die from their cancer or whatever).

"If it helps, what's the problem" has the problem that where health is concerned, this is literally life and death sometimes, and people aren't, in general, good at weighing options like this - they'll go with something that feels "safer" rather than a scary medical intervention, when the safer thing offers only mild benefits (some degree of relaxation or pain relief) but the medical thing will actually save their life.

(Chronic pain is one of the cases where people really should just do whatever the fuck works for them. Medicine still doesn't have a good grasp on it, either its causes or how to ameliorate it. But it's rarely life-threatening on its own, so it doesn't matter if you're seeing a fraud that happens to help you.)


I agree completely. If someone was turning to acupuncture to cure their cancer or whatever, that would be a serious problem. Likewise, if someone was ignoring the root cause of their pain by turning to acupuncture or something similar, then that, too, would be a problem. In the case of my friend, she is under a doctors care (several in fact) and they know the root cause of her pain, they just don't have a good solution for her that doesn't involve even more surgery, that might not work and result in potentially more pain; or increasing doses of drugs, which she doesn't want. Acupuncture has been successful in reducing her pain, and so it works - regardless of why it works or anyone's understanding of why it works.


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