Is Spirituality a Critical Ingredient of Meditation? Comparing the

Is Spirituality a Critical Ingredient of
Meditation? Comparing the Effects of
Spiritual Meditation, Secular Meditation, and
Relaxation on Spiritual, Psychological,
Cardiac and Pain Outcomes
By: Wachholtz and Pargament
• Stress causes a variety of physiological changes in the body, including
increased cortisol levels, anaerobic cellular activity, heart rate, and blood
pressure- over time this can lead to permanent negative consequences on
• Research indicates that meditation can suppress these stress reactions and
even reverse some of the negative consequences caused by prolonged
exposure such as chronic pain
• While a number of studies have shown positive correlations between religion
and health, mental stability, and longevity, few studies have used a treatmentoutcome design to compare religious or spiritual interventions with their
secular counterparts
• Thus a major question involving meditation is whether spiritual meditation has
advantages over secular meditation
Religious Meditation and Health
• Many cultures around the world integrate meditative practices into their
religious and spiritual disciplines
• Many of these forms use meditative phrases to focus the mind on spiritual
• Used to lower heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, galvanic skin
response, respiration rate etc. In addition participants report improved
health and greater relaxation after meditation
• It has been suggested that spirituality can also affect pain tolerance. For
example, among advanced oncology patients, religious beliefs correlate with
happiness, life satisfaction, decreased reports of pain and less perceived
Meditation Intervention Studies
• Transcendental Meditation (TM) remains one of the few well studied
forms of spiritual meditation
• TM consistently yields more positive effects than secular relaxation
techniques- compared to secular practitioners, TM practitioners show
significantly more improvements on measures of trait anxiety, drug
use/abuse, self actualization, and health factors
• In a study comparing a Christian devotional meditation (DM) to
progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)- participants who practiced DM 20
mins a day for two weeks reported less anxiety and anger and had less
muscle tension than those who practiced PMR; indicating quiet religious
reflection was associated with better results than PMR
Current Study
• Purpose: To examine whether spiritual meditation is associated with more
beneficial outcomes than other forms of meditation and relaxation
• Hypothesized that individuals in the spiritual meditation group will have more
pain endurance, reduced anxiety, improved mood, and report more feelings of
spiritual well-being than the other two groups
Session 1:
• Participants filled out session 1 packet which included demographics, daily
spiritual experiences questionnaire (DSE), state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI)
and Fetzer spirituality measure
• Randomly assigned to one of three groups:
• Relaxation--not given instructions on how to mentally occupy themselves
but told not to sleep or think stressful thoughts)
• Secular meditation--offered choice of 4 meditative phrases to focus
attention on while meditating- “I am content”, “I am joyful”, “I am
good”, “I am happy”
• Spiritual meditation—offered choice of phrase that best fit them
spiritually- “God is peace”, “God is joy”, “God is good”, “God is love”
(could change if God didn’t fit their spirituality
• Asked to practice technique 20 mins a day for two weeks
Session 2
• Came back two weeks later for individual appointments
• Heart Rate was taken, practiced technique for 20 mins while HR was taken at 10
min intervals, then began cold pressure(CP) task while continuing meditation or
relaxation technique.
• Length of time hand remained in water was recorded and HR was taken at
two min intervals until it got back to pre-CP HR
• Filled out session 2 questionnaire packet which included Positive and Negative
Affect Scale (PANAS), State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (State and Trait), Spiritual
Well-being scale (SWB), Daily spiritual experiences questionnaire (DSE),
Mysticism scale and a manipulation check regarding experiences with assigned
• Participants heart rate was significantly lower after practicing their assigned technique
for 20 minutes compared to baseline, suggesting the techniques created significant
cardiovascular relaxation
Anxiety (as measured by STAI-T & STAI-S)
• The spiritual meditation group reported significantly less trait anxiety and endorsed
significantly fewer state anxiety statements than the other two groups
Mood (as measured by PANAS)
• No significant differences for negative emotions but the spiritual meditation group
reported significantly more positive mood than secular and relaxation
Spiritual Health (as measured by SWB)
• Participants in spiritual meditation reported significantly greater existential well
being (spiritual interactions between self and others), also reported that they felt
significantly closer to God at post –test. No differences pre-test
Spiritual Experiences (as measured by DSE and the mysticism scale)
• Spiritual meditation group reported significantly more daily experiences of a
spiritual nature
• Also endorsed significantly more mystical
experiences statements
Cold Pressure Task
• Significant differences in the mean duration the participant’s hand was in the
water- Individuals in spiritual meditation group’s hands remained in water on
average for over a minute and a half, whereas secular remained 46 seconds
and relaxation 49 seconds.
• Spiritual well-being correlated with better psychological health
• There was an inverse correlation between positive mood and trait
anxiety and both were related to pain tolerance, suggesting a connection
between psychological factors and ability to tolerate pain
• Participants in the spiritual group who displayed greater pain tolerance also
reported richer spiritual lives
Study Conclusions
• In general, the spiritual meditation group reported lower anxiety, more positive mood
and greater spirituality. They also displayed an ability to withstand pain for longer
periods of time than the other groups
• The addition of the spiritual focus to a meditative task resulted in better mental health
and was more beneficial than secular meditation and relaxation
• Interestingly, pain perception didn't appear to be altered by the use of spiritual
meditation- all three groups reported that they experienced the same subjective level
of pain even though results showed that pain tolerance was indeed affected
• It is suggested that an improvement in mood affects pain tolerance- anxiety often
reduces the ability to cope effectively with pain and thus positive mood and lower
anxiety would result in a higher pain tolerance
Is Spirituality a critical ingredient of meditation?
• The current study suggests that secular meditation tasks represent lessspiritually oriented rather than non-spiritually oriented meditation tasks
• Because secular meditation rose out of spiritual traditions, at least some
effects of secular meditation may still be rooted in spirituality
• Even though members of the secular meditation group meditated on
secular phrases (“I am good, I am happy etc.), they still reported
increases in the number of daily spiritual experiences- this number
should not have been affected if it was truly devoid of spirituality
• This suggests that some processes such as meditation likely have an
inherent spirituality that can arise even within secular contexts
Andes survivors:
• The nightly praying of the rosary and conversations with God, particularly
Canessa’s while on the rescue trek can be likened to a kind of spiritual
• Likely that this resulted in increased positive mood and lower anxiety under
their circumstances
• May have aided in their ability to endure the freezing temperatures
• Also could have helped them better tolerate the pain from the injuries
sustained in the crash
• Parrado and Canessa’s ability to scale a
15,000 foot mountain and continue on to
find help despite the pain and fatigue they felt

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