Transcendental Meditation Benefits on Stress
Contrary to popular misunderstanding, it is not events themselves, but our interpretation of challenging events (e.g. work pressure, divorce, exams, bereavement, moving house) and the effect that this has on our bodies – known as the fight or flight response – which creates stress.
What is stress?
Stress is not the event, but the residual physiological imbalance, or impression left in the nervous system (known for millennia in the yoga tradition as samskara – or scars) which then inhibits our quality of performance in every aspect of life.
The ‘fight or flight’ or ‘stress’ response is our evolutionary survival mechanism, a physiological reaction that occurs in immediate response to a perceived threat, preparing our bodies to react quickly. Stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline are secreted, temporarily changing the functioning of the whole body. Stored glucose and fats are released for energy, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, muscles tense, and oxygen consumption increases, whilst other processes not needed at that time are suppressed, such as digestion, cellular repair and sexual functioning. Effects in the brain cause heightened emotional responses and reduced decision making processes.
How does stress affect us long-term?
Although rarely experiencing life-threatening situations these days, we still experience many challenges, often psychological, to which the body responds, e.g. in a traffic jam, at our office desk or watching a horror film. But we do not follow through with action, nor do we allow ourselves adequate time to rest and recover, so the physiology will stay imbalanced. Over time, repeated arousal takes its toll, and a state of continual physiological and psychological arousal and tension results.
Accumulation of stress also disturbs our sleep and distorts our perception, making us more likely to respond inappropriately to future stimulus, which will further aggravate the problem. This is a vicious cycle which is often not acknowledged until our mental or physical health is noticeably affected.
It is now widely recognised that stress has a role to play in all health problems, affecting the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, immune, and central nervous systems. Research suggests, for example, that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits precipitating heart failure, peptic ulcers from the imbalance of acids in the stomach, and skin disorders such as eczema from the abnormal chemical secretions in the skin. Other organs such as the lungs, bladder and reproductive system are also susceptible.
It is not only physical health that is affected – as stress accumulates it increases the ‘chatter’ of the mind, thinking becomes less clear, less efficient, less creative, and research indicates brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. The distortion of perception resulting from accumulated stress in the body also means that we are more likely to perceive events or challenges in a more threatening way, which in turn increases activation of the flight or flight response and continues the cycle.
“TM is one of the best things I have ever done… I was asked how I can be so calm when my life as described in my book was so stressful. Answer – TM and spirituality. Meditation really grounds you and TM is really the best there is. As a senior healthcare professional in an NHS hospital I had many years of sleepless nights and long days when the work seemed to be never ending. Meditation really helped me to stay on course. My sleeping improved and even my days seemed lighter” Acklima Akbar, Author of And then there was Swine Flu
Dissolving stress through TM (the rest response!)
Modern ‘stress management’ attempts to control our external circumstances, and particularly in business this can be very useful. Poor work practices need to be improved, but this should not be confused with stress. And whilst medication is useful in the short term management of symptoms, it is still not addressing the cause, which is actually our insufficient degree of rest which deprives the body of the opportunity to recover and return to balance.
It is a well-known principle in nature that where a problem exists, its antidote is not far away. And this is certainly true with the ‘fight or flight’ response. When we first learn TM the mind may be exposed to just a few seconds of deep silence which we may not even notice. But this is enough to give the body very deep rest, much deeper than in sleep. This has been called by scientists a ‘restructuring state’ because it produces physiological reactions exactly opposite to those of the ‘fight or flight response’.
The body’s natural healing mechanisms begin to function fully. Deep-rooted stresses and tensions are spontaneously dissolved, which clears our perceptions, reversing the cycle of stress accumulation and bringing relief to a wide range of human problems, both individual and sociological.
“I would describe (TM) as being an oasis in the midst of a dessert, a foothold in the vagaries of life… I know very, very, well how life can throw a curved ball, but having the benefit of an oasis within I have found the realities of life can be not an insurmountable trial but a challenge.” Peter Capon
Don’t we need stress to function efficiently?
This is an understandable and commonly asked question. We suggest that this is not a useful use of the word ‘stress’. Most of us enjoy some challenge in our lives which increases motivation and helps us achieve great things. But we all have a point (which varies from person to person) where that challenge can become pressure, and counter-productive. When you’re tired, feeling stressed and under pressure, you’re more likely to make mistakes.
Creativity comes from being clear-minded, calm and rested. The yogis of India have for thousands of years described the silence of meditation as a state of ‘restful alertness’, wide awake but still. When this quality is brought to the surface level of the mind after meditation, it replaces the nervous tension that so many had been relying on previously for stimulation. This has been an absolute revelation for thousands of meditators, who have found themselves more creative, clear headed, successful and stress-free as a result.
A number of studies have found that TM is more effective in reducing stress than ordinary rest. A meta-analysis of 32 studies showed that physiological and biochemical indicators of stress, such as respiration rate, plasma lactate level, and basal skin resistance decreased more than twice as much during TM as during ordinary sitting rest. [American Psychologist, 1987].
Several results suggest that the most settled periods of TM practice (known as transcendental consciousness), involve a unique physiological state, clearly distinguishable from sleep, drowsiness, or ordinary relaxation. These include: deep rest, increased orderliness and integration of brain functioning, and increased blood flow to the brain [e.g. International Journal of Neuroscience, 2000]. Also, features appear that are directly opposite to the physiological and biochemical effects of stress, such as decreased plasma cortisol, deep muscle relaxation, reduced physiological excitation with increased wakefulness [e.g. American Psychologist, 1987]. High EEG coherence during TM has been found to correlate with measures of mental development, emotional stability, self-development, self-awareness, and with lower anxiety and neuroticism [International Journal of Psychophysiology, 2001].
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
“I only learnt TM last year, and already my practice has had a huge impact on my life. I gave up a very stressful job (I had been putting it off for about three years) and have since set up as a freelancer and also started a second small business. I earn less money currently but I have felt my stress melt away and I am so much happier. My friends in their stressful jobs keep telling me how envious they are of my new life.” Helen Saunders