What is Transcendental Meditation (TM)?

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A technique for relaxing the mind and body through the repetition of a mantra, or a sound without meaning.
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Overview

Transcendental Meditation (TM) has its origins in ancient Vedic tradition in India. The TM technique was revived by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and has been taught since 1958. It became widely popular in the 1960s and now claims to have millions of practitioners. The technique involves fifteen to twenty minutes of quiet meditation in the morning and evening. A mantra (a sound without meaning) is used as a form of thought during the sessions.

Mechanism of Action

During TM, the mind lets go of stimuli and concentration that otherwise keep it in an agitated state. The mind enters a state of restful awareness, and the body becomes completely relaxed. The mind is then considered to be in a transcendent state beyond the normal waking, dreaming, or sleep states. The transcendent state is believed to restore normal functioning of various systems in the body, particularly those systems involved in adapting to environmental stresses. All of the alleged benefits deriving from TM can be attributed to the relaxed nonstressful state.

Uses and Applications

Proponents of TM claim that the program can benefit anyone who wants to achieve a better quality of life by reducing stress and increasing mental alertness and memory. All the secondary benefits from the use of TM can be attributed to a reduction in stress, including lowered blood pressure, reduced metabolic disease, and reduced cardiovascular disease.

The 2010s saw a resurgence in the popularity of TM and similar meditation techniques, partly driven by endorsements by celebrity practitioners. Some businesses began programs to include meditation in the workday as a means of combating stress and improving productivity. Some schools also introduced TM practices for students across a range of ages. In 2014 reports from several California middle and high schools claimed that a version of TM known as Quiet Time was highly successful in helping to reduce suspension rates and improve attendance, grade point averages, and student happiness.

Scientific Evidence

To perform a meta-analysis, data from many trials are combined for an overall statistical analysis. This procedure is thought to add strength to research findings. The value of a meta-analysis is only as strong as the quality of the component research trials.

A 2004 review article summarized controlled research studies on the effect of TM on risk factors related to cardiovascular disease. (It should be noted that most of the review articles consulted include a minimum of one author from the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Maharishi University of Management.) Several studies showed a reduction in blood pressure in both genders and in persons at high and low risk for hypertension. Two studies showed that TM reduced carotid artery thickness, a marker of atherosclerosis. Two other studies, involving elderly persons, showed a significant reduction in all-cause mortality in the groups practicing TM.

A 2002 review paper described studies on the effect of TM to change psychological or physiological indicators or consequences of stress. Several meta-analyses showed that TM significantly reduced anxiety or other negative psychological outcomes. Several studies showed TM decreased high blood pressure, compared with controls. Other studies showed TM reduced carotid artery thickness and exercise-induced ischemia, measures of cardiovascular disease.

An interesting study related TM to brain reactivity to pain. Practitioners of TM and healthy matched controls were subjected to thermally induced pain. The results indicated that TM practitioners experienced as much pain as the controls, but they were less affected by it. This was in spite of the fact that the TM mediators’ brains showed a greater response to pain (reduced blood flow through certain regions).

Metabolic syndrome can be a condition of obese people, and it is thought to be a contributor to coronary heart disease. A sixteen-week study was conducted to evaluate the effect of TM on components of the syndrome. The results found that the group practicing TM, compared with the group receiving health education, showed significant reductions in blood pressure and insulin resistance and had a positive influence on cardiac autonomic tone as measured by heart rate variability.

Patient data were pooled from two studies originally designed to study the effects of TM on blood pressure. Statistical analysis of the combined data showed that the TM groups had a 23 percent decrease in all-cause mortality, compared with control groups receiving other meditation methods or no treatments. Furthermore, the TM groups showed a 30 percent decrease in cardiovascular mortality.

A 2007 review revisited previous studies and meta-analyses of the effect of relaxation techniques on reduction of high blood pressure. The authors identified 107 reports and applied rigorous criteria for selection of studies for reevaluation. Seventeen studies were selected and compiled into groups according to relaxation technique. These techniques included simple or relaxation-assisted biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, TM, and stress management with relaxation. Meta-analysis showed that only the TM group showed significant reductions in blood pressure.

Choosing a Practitioner

Transcendental Meditation and TM are service marks registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, licensed to Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation. Only teachers certified by the foundation are permitted to teach the TM technique. The fee for the six-step process is high, but other techniques based on mantra meditation, such as primordial sound meditation and natural stress relief, are available at more accessible prices. The effectiveness of these other mantra meditation methods apparently has not been studied in randomized trials.

Safety Issues

There are no known safety risks with the use of TM, especially when taught by certified teachers.

Bibliography

"Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 July 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Kirp, David L. "Meditation Transforms Roughest San Francisco Schools." SFGate. Hearst Communications, 12 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Orme-Johnson, D., et al. “Neuroimaging of Meditation’s Effect on Brain Reactivity.” NeuroReport 17.12 (2006): 1359–1363. Print.

Paul-Labrador, M., et al. “Effects of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation on Components of the Metabolic Syndrome in Subjects with Coronary Artery Disease.” Archives of Internal Medicine (2006): 1218–1224. Print.

Rainforth, M., et al. “Stress Reduction Programs in Patients with Elevated Blood Pressure.” Current Hypertension Report 9.6 (2007): 520–528. Print.

Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi Foundation USA, 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

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