When this research project was begun, scientific reports concerning meditation were dominated by multiple forms of increasingly complex physiological measurements. These provided extensive information about changes in brain and other physiological activity occurring during meditation. However, it bothered me that the richness of the subjective meditation experience and its personal value for the meditator was seldom addressed. As well, meditation research has become dominated by analysis of academically defined mindfulness meditation and largely removed from its origin in spiritual practices. Therefore, I set about to collect extensive information concerning subjective experiences and other personal details from individuals practicing a single form of Tantric Yoga. After having people complete a lengthy questionnaire, I attempted to analyze the data using a number of statistical approaches. These failed to demonstrate any statistical significance, leaving me wondering how to proceed. Fortunately, Sucharit Katyal took an interest in the data, valuing all the subjective descriptive details that had been gathered, and considering it unique and worthy of publication. Together, we were able to complete this project.
One of my personal goals in this research was to attempt to identify experiences that might represent the presence of kundalini, a subtle energy considered to be the source of many meditation experiences in Tantric Yoga. Therefore, the orientation of the paper was written from the perspective of kundalini and whether kundalini might be associated with the various types of experiences being analyzed. The term “kundalini” was never used in the questionnaire in order not to bias the responses. Eighty volunteers completed the questionnaire which included, in addition to meditation experiences, questions concerning the quantity of meditation and associated practices, plus psychological measures of positive affect, negative affect and mindfulness.
The research provided extensive basic details about meditation experiences and examined potential causes for those experiences. In many instances, conventional explanations were considered inadequate. Figure 1 shows the percent of participants that had any kind of experience within that particular category, or modality, of experience. Six modalities were distinguished. Changes in mood were reported more than any other type of basic experience. Temperature experiences were reported least frequently and the others were in between. While mood change was reported most frequently, only 73% reported such a change. This demonstrated that meditation experiences were variable and no common pattern was present for what people experience. Changes in mood arising from meditation will be used to give a more specific example of details within the findings.
Mood was simply defined as any change in mood occurring in relation to meditation. If such a change was indicated, a description was requested. The descriptions received were quite varied. Figure 2 demonstrates the percent of the participants giving a response to the mood question who used the indicated words in their description, or a closely related word (such as “happiness” for the “happy” term). Many additional terms were used by only one or two people and were not indicated in the Figure 2 graph.
The vast majority of these descriptive terms were positive. In all but one instance in which negative experiences were described, additional positive experiences were emphasized. In comparison with other reports in the literature concerning negative meditation experiences, the prevalence observed in this paper (6%) was unusually low. The presence of a reported subjective mood change was unrelated to quantity of meditation experience (number of hours of daily meditation, years of meditation, or estimated lifetime hours of meditation). Psychological measures of positive affect, negative affect and mindfulness were also unrelated to mood changes. In contrast, a psychological measure of positive and negative affect (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, PANAS) demonstrated significant changes in relation to quantity of meditation. PANAS positive affect scores were significantly correlated with increased years of meditation, while controlling for age differences. As well, PANAS negative affect scores were significantly correlated with lower lifetime hours of meditation, again controlling for age. Thus, increased meditation was related to increased positive feelings and less meditation with negative feelings. Positive affect was also significantly correlated with a supplemental set of tantric yoga practices (diet, fasting, yoga asanas, no drug use including alcohol, and sexual moderation), meaning that greater observance of the practices was associated with greater positive affect.
These findings demonstrated the complexity of subjective meditation experiences and that the binary (yes/no) measures that were used to distinguish the presence of a response within a modality were insufficient to distinguish how affective qualities were related to meditation, when other non-binary objective psychological measures could. Nevertheless, the descriptive details that were reported provide a glimpse into the varied richness of subjective meditative experience. For example, mood descriptions that were reported varied from “Occasionally I feel peaceful” and “Mainly, I become relaxed, nothing drastic” to “Tremendous feelings of happiness-tears of joy-bliss” and “Exalted love for everyone and everything.” Future work will need to distinguish some of that variability and the effects of having more powerful meditative experiences.
Concerning kundalini, 15 individuals were identified that reported rising sensations. We considered those rising sensations to resemble what has sometimes been reported as kundalini. However, those individuals were unable to be distinguished from other participants in any way. Therefore, it had to be concluded that kundalini was poorly distinguished through reports of rising sensations and that more complex indicators were necessary. While that conclusion is disappointing, another data set has already been collected that provides multiple choices for each modality measure and includes variables that should allow for more complex comparisons. I am hopeful that more can be said about kundalini and the six modalities when that analysis is completed.
Richard Maxwell is a retired clinical neuropsychologist whose career focused on assessing and providing treatment for the cognitive, affective and existential consequences of brain injury and illness. He has a strong interest in interpreting subtle concepts of Tantric Yoga into scientific concepts that can be explored through objective research. He has been practicing Tantric Yoga since 1974.
Sucharit Katyal is currently a Research Fellow studying cognitive neuroscience at University College London. His research includes the study of human mind and brain on various topics ranging from how humans perceive the world and themselves, to how human experience changes with meditation training. He has been a Tantric Yoga practitioner since 2010. You can follow his latest research at researchgate.net/profile/Sucharit_Katyal
Prabhat Samghiita Song Number 1090
The Song of Neohumanism
All human beings are our own
All hearts share the same innermost heart, the needs of all are the same.
We cry in sorrow, we laugh in joy, we love to see the faces of our dear ones;
We share food and drink all together;
We realize that all share the same needs.
We all love our universe, the moon and stars above and the forest below;
We dance to the same rhythm and sing with the same life’s urge –
We link our minds together to call to the Supreme Lord.
All humanity is a singular entity, it is one and indivisible.
The feelings and sentiments of all human beings are the same; and preparation for a nobler life is the same for all. The requirements and necessities of all humanity are the same. So humanity is a singular entity, humanity is one and indivisible. And for this purpose we should always maintain an equilibrium amongst different humans, and there must be one equipoise for the development of all, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality and clan isms.
This Neohumanism, only this Neohumanism, can save our universe, can save human existence. So now we are to sing the song of Neohumanism. We should [forget] all our omissional and commissional errors of the past. Forget the past. Be the [vanguard of] a bright future; and the crimson light of that future breaks on the eastern horizon. We should welcome it – we must welcome it. There is no alternative but to welcome it.