People who practiced a spiritual form of meditation for a 2-week period had less anxiety, a more positive mood, and less pain when exposed to a stressor than people who practiced secular forms of meditation, according to research results published online, July 28, in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine (2005; 10.1007/s10865-005-9008-5).

Researchers from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, wanted to examine whether spiritual meditation had any advantages over secular meditation or relaxation. Subjects were 84 college-age participants. For this study, spiritual meditation was considered any form of meditation that focused on a spiritual concept such as peace, joy or love. Spiritual, therefore, did not necessarily mean religious. Secular meditation involved concentration on a positive affirmation like “I am joyful” or “I am good.” Relaxation was progressive muscle relaxation. Researchers acknowledged that a limitation of the study was that elements of spirituality—such as the process of forgiveness—existed even in the secular practices.

After 2 weeks, pain tolerance was almost twice as high in the spiritual-meditation group as it was in the other two groups. The spiritual group also had more positive mood and less anxiety.