Transcendental Meditation brings physical benefits

Meditation has been described as a way to uplift and energise; a way of experiencing your “true self’ by reaching a deeper level of consciousness. It is claimed that during meditation, mind and body become one, each totally aware of the other on a more profound level. On this basis, a sustained programme of meditation might be expected to produce profound physiological benefits. No form of meditation has been so widely researched and documented as Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Transcendental Meditation first came to prominence in 1959 when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made his first visit to America. By 1975 it was a household term. TM is an easily learned mental technique practised for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily, sitting comfortably with eyes closed. Unlike hypnosis there is no suggestion and, unlike other forms of relaxation, it requires no special postures or procedures.
Although the practice of TM inevitably gets lumped in with the increasing rag-bag of Eastern philosophies, TM is not a religion, a philosophy or a lifestyle. It does not involve any codes of conduct, value systems, beliefs or worship.
Its main purpose is to provide a deep form of rest which puts the practitioner in touch with usually untapped resources for health, energy and mental balance.
Considering that some of the benefits TM conveys are subjective—feeling “better”, more “confident” and “healthier”—scientific research into this technique may produce useful cross validation. These subjective findings have been upheld by many different types of physiological, psychological and sociological measures. For example, the subjective finding that, TM can reduce stress and anxiety can be validated by physiological changes, such as a drop in levels of cortisol (the major stress hormone), decreased muscle tension and normalisation of blood pressure.
TM has been shown to produce a state, sometimes referred to as the fourth state of consciousness, called “restful alertness”. There have been several large meta-analyses which have compared TM with other forms of relaxation and meditation (J Clin Psych, 1989; 45: 957-74; J Soc Behav and Personality, 1991; 6: 189-247; Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 1994;11:13-87). These meta-analyses found that TM was the most effective technique for reducing anxiety, reducing alcohol, cigarette and drug intake, and improving psychological health.
Studies of TM practitioners also show that brain activity (Psychosom Med, 1984; 46: 267-76), and the chemical and neurological regulation of breathing are all altered by TM (J Appl Physiol, 1984; 56(3): 607-12).
Other research has shown that TM is different from eyes closed resting. Breath rate and plasma lactate decrease and basal skin resistance increases significantly more during TM than during eyes closed rest. In one study meditating subjects also displayed lower levels of breath rate and plasma lactate, spontaneous skin changes and heart rate than did controls. The authors concluded that reduced stress through TM is cumulative (Am Psychol, 1987; 42: 879-81).
High blood pressure and heart disease
TM can be one of the most effective non-drug techniques for reducing high blood pressure. A study of 127 African Americans aged between 55 and 85 concluded that it is as effective as anti-hypertensive drugs. Each individual was randomly assigned to receive TM, progressive muscle relaxation or a lifestyle modification programme, including diet. TM was found to be twice as effective as the next best technique (progressive muscle relaxation) and produced an average reduction in systolic blood pressure of 10.7 points compared with controls, more than double the reduction experienced by the progressive muscle relaxation group (Hypertension, 1995; 26: 820-27).
Another study showed that cholesterol levels decreased significantly through TM in patients with high cholesterol, when compared to matched controls, over an 11-month period (J Hum Stress, 1979; 5(4):24-7).
In another study, 21 patients with coronary artery disease were assigned either to a TM programme or a waiting-list control. After eight months the TM group had a 14.7 per cent increase in exercise tolerance, 11.7 per cent in maximal workload and significant reduction in blood pressure (AM J Cardiol, 1996; 77(10): 867-70).
Healthcare provision
A study of the insurance statistics of 2000 TM participants over a five-year period showed that the TM group used medical care, both in-patient and out-patient, half as often as controls, matched for age, gender and occupation. The TM group had lower sickness rates in all categories of disease, including 87 per cent fewer hospitalisations for heart disease and 55 percent less cancer. The difference for the TM and non-TM groups was greatest for individuals over 40 years of age (Psychosom Med,1987; 4: 493-507).
Another study of 677 TM participants enrolled in a health insurance programme in Quebec, Canada, showed similar results. In the three years before starting the technique, the group’s medical expenses had been typical for their age and sex. After taking up TM there was a 5 to 7 percent reduction in medical expenses cumulatively every year. After seven years, health costs had been cut by almost 50 percent. The group was comprised of 349 men and 329 women, with an average age of 38 years; ages ranged from 8 to 71 years at the start the of the programme (Am J Hlth Prom, 1996;10: 208-16).
These results are not new. In 1987 a five year study of approximately 2000 TM participants, out of a database of 600,000 from one health insurance carrier, showed that the TM group used less medical care in all categories (Psychosom Med, 1987,49(5): 493-507).
No technique (or drug) can promise eternal Iife or ageless ageing. But there is some evidence that those who practise TM may help their bodies maintain greater vitality for longer. A study comparing a TM group (average age 50) to matched controls using a measure called the Adult Growth Examination (a test measuring indicators of biological age: systolic blood pressure, hearing and eyesight) found that the biological age of long term participants (five years or more) on the TM programme was, on average, 12 years less than their actual chronological age (In J Neuroscience, 1982; 16: 53-8).
Another way of marking biological age is by measuring blood concentrations of the hormone dehydoepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S). It was found to be significantly higher in 326 adult TM practitioners than for 972 age and sex matched controls. The differences were largest for the oldest
age categories (J Behav Med, 1992;15(4) 327-41).
Finally, 73 residents of homes for the elderly (mean age 81 years) were randomly assigned to one of three apparently similar treatments: TM, another technique to increase self awareness, and a relaxation programme. A fourth group received usual care. The TM group improved significantly more than did all other groups on all measures tested, including blood pressure, mental health and cognitive function. Moreover, after three years the survival rate for the TM group was 100 per cent, compared to 65 per cent, 77 per cent and 88 per cent for the other treatment groups, respectively, and 63 per cent for the untreated group (J Person Soc Psychol, 1989;: 57(6) 950-64).
Cigarette smoking is the largest, non-genetic cause of death in the US; alcohol is the third largest cause of death. Research suggests that TM can be highly effective both in the treatment and prevention of substance abuse.
In a prospective study of 324 smoking adults, 110 who started TM and 224 matched controls who did not start, significantly more (51 per cent) of the TM group quit smoking, compared with 21 per cent for non-meditating controls. When reduction of smoking was considered along with stopping altogether, 81 per cent of the regular TM practitioners quit or decreased smoking, compared to 33 per cent for the non-meditation controls (Alc Treat Quarterly, 1994; 11: 219-36). Another study showed similar results ( J School Health, 1975; 45: 577-83).
In a study funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in America, 108 transient and chronic alcoholic patients were randomly assigned to learn TM, to have standard drug counselling and two other programmes. TM was found to be more effective than the other programmes: after 18 months, 65 per cent of the TM group were not drinking, compared to 25 per cent for standard drug counselling (Ale Treat Quarterly, 1994; 11: 185-218).
An 18-month study of 115 high-school and college-age drug users showed that the TM group had significantly greater reductions in drug usage and improvements in psychological health, compared to matched controls who received only out- patient drug counselling. After four months of TM, drug usage dropped 50 per cent; after 18 months, 89 percent (Zeitschrift fur Klinische Psychologie, 1978; 7: 235-55). These kinds of results have been repeated elsewhere (Bull Narc, 1988: 40(1): 516; Int J Addict, 1977:12: 729-54).
Social Behaviour
TM has been used in criminal rehabilitation programmes and has been shown to reduce the rate at which offenders return to prison. In a study conducted by Harvard researchers of 133 maximum security inmates, those who learned TM became less aggressive, had fewer mental disorders, and became more psychologically mature compared with matched controls and matched participants in four other treatment programmes. Inmates practising TM also had repeat offending rates 33-38 percent lower than those of the other treatment groups over a 3 1/2 year period (Dissertation Abstracts, 1982; 43(2): 539-B).
In a five year study of 259 paroled male prisoners in California, the TM group reoffended 35-40 per cent less often than did matched controls. Other programmes, including vocational training, psychotherapy and prison education, did not consistently reduce re-offending (J Crim Just, 1987; 15: 211-30). A narrative and quantitative review of research projects on TM in eight correctional settings indicated that regular practice of TM consistently leads to positive changes in health, personality development and behaviour, as well as lower offending rates, among inmates (In J Comp Appl Crim Just, 1987; 11:111-2).
Written by Pat Thomas
Reproduced with kind permission of PROOF! Satellite House, 2 Salisbury Rd London SW19 4EZ

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