Transcendental Meditation Benefits on Health
The benefits of Transcendental Meditation cover every aspect of life. Millions of people practicing TM around the world testify to its wide-ranging benefits, supported by more than 650 scientific research studies spanning more than 40 years.
Many of us have observed how we, or others, appear to look older following a period of particular challenge in our lives, and now research is now indicating that stress is in fact a contributor to premature biological ageing. Although the exact mechanisms by which this occurs are not yet clear, what we do know is that the release of stress chemicals during the fight or flight response creates biological changes.
Recent research found that work-related exhaustion can have a harmful effect on critical DNA in the cells, shortening the length of sections called telomeres. This wearing effect has been linked to health problems such as Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and whilst known to occur over time, the study suggests that anxiety and stress may accelerate this.
Research has also found that in addition to speeding up heart rate and increasing blood pressure, Prolonged and repeated production of the stress hormone adrenaline creates a constriction of blood vessels, which can lead to impairment of vision and hearing. Another study found that the mere anticipation of stress can increase signs of ageing on the cellular level.
The understanding that TM practice dissolves accumulated stress in the body explains how research indicates that the long term practice of TM can create a reversal of the biological ageing process (how old a person is physiologically). One study found that a group who had been practicing TM for more than 5 years were physiologically 12 years younger, and others practicing less than 5 years were physiologically 5 years younger than their chronological age. This was measured by reduction of blood pressure, and better near-point vision and auditory discrimination (effects of diet and exercise controlled for). [International Journal of Neuroscience, 1982]. Read more on how Transcendental meditation alleviates Stress…
Asthma and Breathing
Our breath is affected by stress. The ‘fight or flight’ response causes us to take short sharp breaths in preparation for danger. The build up of stress and the chronic activation of this response can mean we constantly breathe like this, only ever using the top third of our lungs, as if we were permanently hyperventilating. This leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of both vital gases.
The physiological effect of a lack of CO2 can make us feel ‘spaced out’ and can lead to panic attacks, insomnia, dizziness and extreme fatigue, while lack of oxygen can rob our organs and muscles of a proper blood flow. Hyperventilating also increases the heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
The stress response can also create strong physiological reactions that lead to airway constriction and changes in the immune system, which can worsen asthma symptoms. Recent research has found that certain areas of the brain cause worsening asthma symptoms when a person is under stress.
The improvements in our breathing, but also in asthma symptoms, and other respiratory problems as a result of practicing TM can be therefore understood as an effect of dissolving stress and reduced ‘stress reactivity’. A study of data from a major US health insurer showed that both hospital admission and outpatient consultation rates were over 50% lower for subjects practising TM than norms or controls. Admissions were 73% less for respiratory disorders. [Psychosomatic Medicine, 1987].
A few studies have indicated that regular practice of TM can lead to improvements in Patients with Bronchial Asthma, including reduced severity of symptoms, reduced airway resistance and less need for medication. One study found these improvements in the symptoms of 21 patients over 6 months, concluding that TM is a useful adjunct to treatment [Respiration, 1975]. Other research has indicated fewer upper respiratory tract infections, improvements in chronic bronchitis, and more efficient breathing and respiratory control [Journal of Applied Physiology, 1984].
Numerous research studies and reviews have concluded that ‘stress’ is a major independent risk factor for hypertension as well as coronary artery disease and cardiovascular mortality. The ‘fight/flight’ or stress response which is triggered by our reaction to life’s challenges increases the heart rate. In cases of persistent hyperactivation, this can to lead to chronically elevated blood pressure levels. Since stress is such a major factor with blood pressure problems, it is no surprise that TM, which reverses the stress response, can have a very significant impact, occasionally dramatic, on the problem.
Although research generally focuses on high blood pressure, which TM naturally reduces, this does not mean that in cases of low blood pressure it will also reduce. TM has its effect because it allows the body to gain very deep rest which activates the body’s natural healing mechanisms, which only take effect when there is a problem to be solved. So if blood pressure is low it will tend to rise, if it is already at the correct level there will be no change. The experiences of thousands of meditators has shown this to be the case. Read more on how TM alleviates Stress…
Many studies have found that TM decreases blood pressure in hypertensive patients. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 107 published studies on stress reduction and high blood pressure found that TM practice significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while other methods of meditation and relaxation, biofeedback, stress management or the usual health advice programmes did not produce significant effects. Effects were comparable to those commonly found with anti-hypertensive medication, but without adverse side-effects, and medication use was reduced [Current Hypertension Reports, 2007] A second meta-analysis confirmed that TM leads to clinically important reductions in blood pressure. The authors conclude that sustained blood pressure changes like those produced by TM would be associated with substantially decreased risk of heart attack and stroke, the leading cause of world mortality [American Journal of Hypertension, 2008]. Read more on Heart Health…
“TM has also helped me enormously with my blood pressure which began to rise this summer. I was told I needed medication for ‘life’. Hearing the word ‘life’ made my blood pressure rise even further and with the advice from my TM teacher and a blood pressure monitor I have managed to bring my blood pressure down and I am no longer being monitored by my doctor. I am thrilled about this and I know I shall always practice TM.” Shirley Bedford
People who have cancer often find the physical, emotional, and social effects to be extremely challenging. Those who attempt to manage their resulting stress with risky behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. And some data suggests that patients who develop a sense of helplessness or hopelessness when stress becomes overwhelming may have a higher instance of negative outcomes.
The practice of TM, with its significant effect in reducing an individual’s physiological stress levels indicated by scientific research, has produced a good amount of anecdotal evidence from sufferers pointing to its ability to improve, sometimes dramatically, the patient’s coping ability, and therefore their experience of the process:
“Since the transcendental meditation (TM) course two months ago, my life has been definitely challenged (so soon!) Among other things, I am shortly to undergo (minor) surgery for breast cancer. I just don’t know how I would have coped with this without the amazing strength and confidence that I seem to obtain from my meditation practice. I have come to the edge of fear and been comforted beyond understanding. I am constantly drawn into a deep sense of peace and can only feel that I was meant to meet you and receive this teaching to prepare me for this experience which I guess is another step on the spiritual path.” Ann Wilson
And research has supported that TM has a positive impact on quality of life for breast cancer patients [Integrative Cancer Therapies].
But improving a patient’s experience and coping power in the cancer recovery process is not the only potential benefit of TM’s powerful dissolving of the body’s accumulated stress. Evidence from experimental studies also suggests that stress hormones can stimulate a tumor’s ability to grow and spread, whilst the practice of TM has been found to reduce stress hormones [American Psychologist, 1987], and therefore should have potentially greater significance for patients than simply increasing coping power.
Ayurveda (‘the science of life’) the world’s oldest natural healthcare system in continuous use for more than 5000 years, has much to say on the potential of its natural approaches, such as the TM technique which is at its heart, for awakening nature’s healing intelligence. Dr Deepak Chopra explained:
“The body has a pharmacy inside us, it makes tranquilisers, sleeping pills, antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, you name it, the body can make them, in the right dose, at the right times, for the right target organ, all the instructions are there in the packaging. Every day our bodies turn over 500 billion cells, a few of these are mutations, so in fact all our bodies have cancer cells too, and yet most of us don’t get cancer because the body knows how to take care of that…”
“We are not claiming that we can cure cancer, and yet there are exceptional patients, there are patients who have spontaneous remissions, and as scientists we should be very curious, why does it happen, why does a person have cancer one day, then suddenly a few weeks or a few months later it seems to go away? Now you might say that’s extremely rare, well that’s true, but…if our body’s getting rid of cancer cells all the time, and you could amplify that response, perhaps you have a clue as to what is the mechanism and you should be able to replicate it. Ayurvedic medicine [including TM]…it has the technologies to amplify your own healing response, which doesn’t mean that you don’t take conventional medicine, you can use the two as complementary measures.”
Dr Deepak Chopra, endocrinologist, former Chief of Staff at a New England Hospital, world expert on Ayurveda and author of more than 50 books. From a UK TV interview 1994.
A recent piece of research by the American Psychological Association indicated that cholesterol levels are affected by our reactions to stress over a period of time, with some showing large increases even in the short term, while others show very little response. It was considered likely that this reflected the way people react to challenges in everyday life as well. Those with strong responses to emotional situations in their lives showed an increase in fasting cholesterol or lipid levels three years later. It seems that a person’s reaction to stressors is one mechanism through which higher lipid levels may develop, and higher cholesterol levels increase cardiovascular risk in the future.
TM practice has been found, through the experience of deep rest, to reduce stress in the physiology, and therefore the activation of the fight or flight response. Read more on how TM alleviates Stress…. Research has indicated that results include reduction of both raised serum cholesterol and blood pressure, independent of changes in diet, medication, or weight [Journal of the Israel Medical Association 1978; Journal of Human Stress 1979]. Cholesterol and other fats harm the arteries mostly when oxidised by highly reactive chemicals known as free radicals. Products of fat oxidation include lipid peroxides, which may play an important role in arterial disease. A study of elderly people who practised TM found lower blood levels of lipid peroxides compared to non-meditating peers, indicating reduced free radical activity and decreased risk of cardiovascular injury [Psychosomatic Medicine 1998]. This finding is supported by recent research showing reduced free radical activity in TM practitioners compared to both non-meditating controls and practitioners of other forms of meditation [Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2008]. Read more on how TM benefits Heart Health…
There is some evidence that stress may trigger Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS or ME) in people who are at risk because of genetic factors. Those who experienced childhood trauma are significantly more likely to develop CFS than those who did not. Researchers say the stress of abuse may trigger the condition by affecting the central nervous, immune and neuroendocrine systems. With constant activation of the fight or flight response, the adrenals can become ‘worn-out’, giving the experience of fatigue, depression, and low cortisol levels – all markers that are similarly found in CFS.
Studies have demonstrated a clear connection between stress and suppression of normal immune system functioning – many CFS sufferers seem to have been highly stressed when their illness started, through a divorce, bereavement, or even the excessive training of a highly trained athlete, which, coinciding with the start of a viral infection, seemed to trigger CFS.
Since TM practice has been found, through the experience of deep rest, to reduce stress in the physiology, and therefore the activation of the fight or flight response, it can clearly be expected to reduce the severity of CFS symptoms. Read more on how TM alleviates Stress… Meditation Trust teachers have taught many hundreds of Chronic Fatigue sufferers, across the whole spectrum of symptom severity. Some of these have been referred by their doctors who recognise the obvious connection between CFS and stress, and who have observed the improvement in symptoms, occasionally dramatic, after learning TM. One of these doctors has described TM as one of the most effective therapeutic approaches for CFS, although sufferers do have to be patient, regular with their practice and stay in touch with their teacher.
To our knowledge there is currently no research available specifically on TM’s direct effect on CFS, however research does indicate enough relief of associated symptoms to warrant further investigation. One study examining stress, health and development in employees of a company who learned TM, found that amongst other benefits was increased energy and decreased fatigue [Anxiety, Stress, and Coping 1993].
A study of a major US health insurer’s data showed that both hospital admission and outpatient consultation rates were more than 50% lower for TM meditators than norms or controls (over 70% in the over-40’s). The TM group showed relatively little rise in health care needs with advancing age, compared with controls, 60-70% lower hospital admission for medical and surgical conditions, with reductions in all 17 disease categories studied. Admissions were 30% less for infections, indicating a strengthening of the immune system through TM. [Psychosomatic Medicine 1987].
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the UK’s single biggest killer, with nearly 74,000 deaths in the UK each year, and research indicates that stress is a major risk factor, both directly, and indirectly. Chronic stress exposes the body to unhealthy, elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and research also links it to changes in the way blood clots, increasing the risk of heart attack. High stress levels may also exacerbate other risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure (BP), and lifestyle changes such as overeating, reduced exercise, and increased smoking.
The practice of TM produces the exact physiological opposite to the fight/flight response. Through the very deep rest created, it reverses the arousal of the ‘stressed state’ and research has indicated that it significantly reduces all the above symptoms as a result. Read more on how TM alleviates Stress…
Chronic stress may cause BP to be maintained at excessive levels, causing left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart responsible for pumping blood to the body) which is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease. A number of studies have found that that TM practice reduces blood pressure in those including adolescents at risk for hypertension [American Journal of Hypertension, 2004], and in adults with mild or moderate hypertension for whom there was also reduced use of medication [e.g. Hypertension, 1995]. Meta-analyses have summarised these findings [e.g. Am Jnl. Hypertension, 2008]. Read more on TM and Blood Pressure… Further analysis of one of these found significant decreases in Left Ventricular Mass, [eCAM, 2012], as well as decreased cardiovascular reactivity [J. Psychosomatic Research, 2001].
Research has also found other cardiovascular risk factors which are exacerbated by stress to reduce, including elevated cholesterol levels [Journal of Human Stress, 1979], insulin resistance [Arch Intern Med. 2006] and alcohol and smoking [e.g. Jnl. Offender Rehabil. 2002].
Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol are associated with a greater prevalence of ischemic heart disease [Jnl. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2010]. Acute cortisol levels have been shown to decrease significantly during TM practice [e.g. Psychosomatic Med. 1979] and regular TM practice produces a healthier cortisol profile of lower baseline levels over time [Psychoneuroendocrinology, 1997].
Research has also shown positive effects of TM practice on established heart disease. In patients with chronic heart failure, TM practice improved functional capacity and quality of life, and reduced depression and hospital admissions [Ethn Dis. 2007].
In patients with stable CHD, the TM decreased both blood pressure and insulin resistance – key components of the ‘metabolic syndrome’ associated with disorders including CHD, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. TM practice also increased stability of the cardiac autonomic nervous system [Archives of Internal Medicine, 2006], decreased symptoms of angina pectoris [Am Jnl. Cardiol. 1996], and carotid atherosclerosis [Stroke, 2000], and produced positive effects in patients with cardiac syndrome X (anginal chest pain, positive response to exercise stress testing, and normal coronary angiogram) [American Journal of Cardiology, 2000].
TM has also been shown to significantly reduce use of medical care for cardiovascular diseases, and significantly decrease cardiovascular and all-cause morbidity and mortality [e.g. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 2005]. One study supported by the NIH, indicated that TM practice is useful in prevention of CHD mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke [American Psychological Association; 2011].
Recent research suggests that we not only have on average 2 hours less sleep each night than we did a century ago, but also the stimulation that we receive in a day is the equivalent to that previously received in a month. Failure to adequately respond to this stimulation activates the fight or flight response and builds up stress in the physiology, which progressively spoils the quality of our sleep. The body is always wanting to throw of stress and return to balance, which is why we have a restless night and increased dreaming when we lie down to rest at night.
Insufficient or poor quality sleep has been shown to affect the brain areas responsible for complex decision-making, mental agility, and ability to consolidate memories, also activating genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response, diabetes and risk of cancer.
During the daily practice of TM, the level of rest, as indicated by research [American Psychologist, 1987], is profound and significant. The body processes both the day’s stresses and the longer-term, deeper rooted ones, releasing fatigue and other negative effects. Read more on how TM alleviates Stress… As a result, there is less work for the body to do during the night, allowing sleep to return to normal. Meditation Trust teachers have consistently found new meditators reporting deeper, more restful sleep and, if necessary at first, longer as well. Sometimes this is noticed very rapidly, but more typically will be gradual in terms of both the amount of sleep and its quality. Those with chronic insomnia, even to the extent of 20 years on sleeping tablets and less than 2 hours sleep per night, have discovered that if they are prepared to be patient, nature is capable of eventually breaking this destructive cycle and returning them to a normality of sleep that they had thought impossible.
In all cases, improvement in sleep contributes significantly to benefits being experienced in other aspects of life. It is also noticed in longer-term meditators that, having dealt with the backlog of sleep deprivation, with quality of sleep being significantly improved whilst continuing with regular TM practice, it is not uncommon for the number of hours of sleep required each night to reduce.
The above observations and reports have been supported by a number of research studies in various populations indicating that TM decreases insomnia and improves quality of sleep compared to controls [e.g. British Journal of Nursing, 1995].
“I first decided to learn meditation after suffering from sleep problems in a difficult period of my life. Within months of meditating regularly, my sleep improved dramatically and become more restful and satisfying. TM has been a very positive experience and if I do occasionally miss my daily meditations, I feel like something important is missing from my day.” Robin Howorth
“I had been experiencing difficulty sleeping on and off for the last few years and had been taking anti-histamines to help me sleep around 8 out of 10 nights. Since a residential TM course six months ago at Oxon Hoath I have only taken medication a few times and have slept better most of the time. I’m also finding that stressful situations are easier to deal with as I don’t get myself as wound up as I used to.” Rachel Sandhurst
Jet Lag is caused not only by the fatigue of the journey, but also by the disruption to the ‘body clock’ from the change in time zones. The body is out of harmony with nature and the mind experiences exhaustion and disorientation. Many frequent flyers who practise TM during flights have reported a significant reduction in symptoms, which over some years can become almost non-existent. These results come from a gradual grounding of the mind in deep silence, beyond the influence of time, experienced first as periods of extended meditation seeming to pass in an instant, and later as an omnipresent mental vastness which is unaffected by external circumstances.
Whatever the origins of pain in our body, the coexistence of stress will amplify the pain. The ongoing experience of chronic pain in turn will create further stress in the system. A vicious cycle is created, amplified by the anticipatory anxiety and reactivity to the pain.
Research suggests that the regular practice of TM, by first allowing extraordinarily deep levels of rest, awakens the body’s natural healing power by dissolving the stress. Reduced stress strengthens both body and mind, reducing both the experience of pain and the anxiety and tension caused by its anticipation. An underlying feeling of wellbeing, and even happiness, are able to be experienced, despite whatever levels of pain may still be lingering. As a result, many people have also experienced a reduced reliance on medication.
Meditation Trust teachers have noticed that quite frequently, sufferers of acute pain are anxious before taking the TM course that they will not be able to endure a 2 hour meeting because of the pain. But after learning to meditate they have expressed astonishment at being able to sit through 3 meetings. (Please note that participants are not expected to sit still, but are encouraged to move around or change their position to whatever extent they may need in order to be comfortable).
Research has indicated that regular TM practice addresses the physical source of pain in the body with reduced frequency of pain symptoms in industrial workers [Jpn Jnl. Public Health, 1990], reduced headaches and backaches [Anxiety, Stress and Coping: Intern Jnl. 1993], and reduced use of medical care for pain-related conditions, including chest and abdominal pain [Am Jnl. Manag Care, 1997].
Research also showed that TM practice reduces trait anxiety [Jnl. Clin. Psychol, 1989], produces lower resting baseline levels of sympathetic arousal outside the practice as well as improving stress reactivity [Am Psychol 1987].
Another result found that whilst long-term TM meditators sensory experience of pain is just as intense as controls, they are less distressed by it [NeuroReport, 2006].
Scientists have claimed that whilst the challenges we now face in a day are equivalent to those we faced in a month a century ago, we are also now sleeping on average 2 hours less per night than at that time. Research also suggests that the resulting chronic stress now prevalent might contribute to obesity, both directly (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing exercise and sleep). Studies have shown that inadequate sleep, either in quantity or quality, contributes to obesity because it affects both particular areas of the brain and ‘hunger hormones’ which cause us to favour unhealthy foods and increase appetite.
Of course, there are also a large number of illnesses, and/or their accompanying medications, which are known to cause ‘unintentional’ weight gain (without an increase of food or liquid intake). Stress is now widely acknowledged as a major contributory factor, if not the cause, of all illness.
Research suggests that the regular practice of TM, by first allowing extraordinarily deep levels of rest, awakens the body’s natural healing power by dissolving the stress. Read more on how TM alleviates Stress… This affects all the contributory factors to obesity. As symptoms of underlying illness reduce, tendency to ‘unintentional’ weight gain will generally follow, and as our emotional state is improved and our digestive system becomes stronger, we are better able to metabolise our food and we find ourselves spontaneously eating a more balanced diet. Other important contributory factors will begin to improve as stress levels are reduced, including hormonal balance [hormonal behavior, 1978] and quality of sleep [e.g. British Journal of Nursing, 1995].
A study of adolescents with high-normal blood pressure found those practicing TM over an eight-month period to gain significantly less weight and body mass index (BMI) than the health-education control group [Am. Jnl. of Hypertension, 2009].
Please note: TM is not a replacement for your prescribed treatment, although it is likely to reduce your reliance on it over time. Always take medical advice and never decrease any medication unless advised by your doctor to do so