Intended for healthcare professionals


The therapeutic effects of meditation

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 15 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1049
  1. Peter H Canter (, research fellow in complementary medicine
  1. Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Exeter EX2 4NT

    The conditions treated are stress related, and the evidence is weak

    Meditation includes techniques such as listening to the breath, repeating a mantra, or detaching from the thought process, to focus the attention and bring about a state of self awareness and inner calm. There are both cultic and non-cultic forms, the latter developed for clinical or research use. The relaxation and reduction of stress that are claimed to result from meditation may have prophylactic and therapeutic health benefits, and a plethora of research papers purport to show this. However, this research is fraught with methodological problems, which I outline here, along with a short summary of the best evidence for the therapeutic effects of meditation in clinical populations. There is no Cochrane review on meditation.

    Showing that certain physiological effects such as a slowed heart rate or a particular electroencephalo-graphic pattern occur during meditation and characterise a “relaxed state” may give insight into how meditation works but does not prove its therapeutic value. Most trials of the cumulative effects of meditation have had weak designs. Trials of transcendental meditation (a popular form of mantra meditation), when controlled at all, often compared self selected …

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