A Research and Demonstration Project:

Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program
on Neurophysiology, Cognitive Development,
and Health in College Students

What is the Transcendental Meditation technique?

The Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique is a simple, effortless mental technique practiced 15 to 20 minutes twice a day, sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. During TM, the active mind settles down naturally to quieter and quieter levels of the thinking process until the practitioner experiences the source of thought—the most settled, yet fully awake state of awareness, also called “pure consciousness.” As the mind settles down, the body also settles down and gains a state of rest and relaxation that is, in many respects, deeper than the deepest part of deep sleep. This unique state of “restful alertness” eliminates stress and fatigue and is the basis for increased creativity and intelligence, improved health, and improved relations with others.

What is the evidence that the TM technique works?

During the past 30 years, hundreds of scientific studies validating the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique have been conducted in 33 countries at 210 independent research institutions and universities, including Harvard, Stanford, and UCLA Medical School. The earliest research on the physiological correlates of the TM technique was published in Science, the American Journal of Physiology, and Scientific American in 1970 and 1972. This research found that the TM technique produces a physiological state of restful alertness, distinct from ordinary waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. During practice of the TM technique, the physiology becomes deeply rested, as indicated by significant reductions in respiration, minute ventilation, tidal volume, and blood lactate, and significant increases in basal skin resistance (an index of relaxation). At the same time, the physiology is alert rather than asleep, as indicated by an increased abundance of alpha waves in the EEG.

These initial physiological findings led researchers to investigate the long-term effects of TM practice on health. Since then, extensive research has been published in well over 100 peer-reviewed scientific journals, including The Lancet, the American Journal of Cardiology, the American Journal of Hypertension, and theAmerican Heart Association’s journal, Hypertension. During the past 15 years, the National Institutes of Health has awarded over $20 million to study the effects of the TM program on heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.

If there is already so much published research, what is the purpose of the present study at American University?

Much of the research to date has been conducted on adults and elderly people. The AU study will be the first randomized controlled trial to measure the effects of TM practice on brain, behavior, and health in college students, including blood pressure, mood, health habits (diet, exercise), smoking, alcohol and other drug use, intelligence, attentional focus, and integration of brain functioning as reflected in EEG testing.

How do you learn the TM technique?

The technique is taught through a seven-step course of instruction by a trained teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program. Any individual 10 years of age or older can learn the practice. The seven steps are as follows:

  • Introductory Lecture (45 minutes): Presents a definition of what TM is and is not and an overview of the benefits of the technique for enhancing mental potential, health, social relationships, and peace.
  • Preparatory Lecture (45 minutes): Presents an intellectual explanation of the mechanics of how TM works, why it is easy to learn and effortless to practice, how TM is different from other forms of meditation, and the origins of the TM program.
  • Personal Interview (5–10 minutes): A brief private meeting with a trained TM teacher to answer any additional questions and set a time for personal instruction.
  • Personal Instruction (90 minutes): One-on-one instruction in the TM technique from a trained TM teacher.
  • First Day of Checking (90 minutes): The first of three days of checking of TM practice to ensure that each new meditator is practicing the technique properly and gaining maximum benefits. Each session is classroom style—all those who learned to meditate on a given day meet together to raise questions and discuss experiences.
  • Second Day of Checking (90 minutes): See above.
  • Third Day of Checking (90 minutes): See above.

Once you have completed these seven steps, you have the intellectual and experiential understanding of how to meditate. Next comes a series of important weekly and monthly personal checking sessions to ensure that you are meditating properly and gaining all the benefits. This checking program is part of the AU research project. However, once the study has been completed, these checking sessions are available to you, at no cost, for the rest of your life at more than 1000 TM centers worldwide.

Does the TM program involve adopting a new lifestyle?

No, TM does not require a change in lifestyle, nor is it a philosophy or a religion. Over six million people of all ages, nationalities, and religions—and 50,000 people in the Washington area, including medical doctors, business and government leaders, lawyers, teachers, and students—have learned the Transcendental Meditation technique during the past 50 years. TM practitioners report that the reduced stress and increased clarity of mind has helped them to appreciate life more fully—and, for religious people, to follow their religions more faithfully.

Why do people learn to meditate?

For a wide range of reasons—for peace of mind, for better health, for better coping ability to handle the stresses of daily life, to do better in school. And the research confirms the benefits. Studies have consistently shown that regular TM practice increases creativity and IQ and improves learning ability among students, decreases anxiety and depression, reduces drug and alcohol abuse, and improves memory. (See “Bibliography of TM Research.”) One of the most important areas of research has evaluated the effects of TM practice in reducing high blood pressure—a silent killer that afflicts as many as 65 million Americans, many of them young. Nearly one in twelve teenagers, including one in five African American teens, has hypertension—and research on high school students in Augusta, Georgia, found TM practice to be very effective in reducing high blood pressure. This study was conducted by the Medical College of Georgia and published in the American Journal of Hypertension in April 2004.

Specifically, what happens to the brain during TM practice?

EEG research shows that practice of the TM technique increases alpha activity (8 to 12 cycles per second) in all brain areas. Alpha activity is the hallmark of restful alertness, inner silence, and wide-awake self-awareness. In addition, TM practice increases coherence in the EEG signals in the frontal lobes—the prefrontal cortex or “CEO” of the brain. Perhaps more significantly, this increased frontal coherence is spontaneously maintained after TM practice during daily activity and has been correlated with improved executive processing—the basis of comprehensive planning, open-minded judgment, and wise decision-making.

Can the TM technique be learned from a book or a tape?

No. Many meditation techniques are available today—and they are taught in many different ways. However, the Transcendental Meditation technique cannot be learned from a book or a tape. Even though the process of TM instruction is very systematized—which makes the TM technique ideally suited for scientific research—TM instruction is very much tailored to each individual who learns the practice. Every person is different, and every person has a different pace of learning and a different set of personal experiences. So the TM technique is taught on a one-to-one basis, by a highly trained and experienced TM teacher, and in a set procedure so that everyone who learns will gain the same profound benefits.

Do all meditation techniques produce the same results?

No. That was what most people, including scientists, thought even a few years ago. But now, with sophisticated EEG and brain imaging technologies, it is clear that all meditation techniques are not the same—they produce very different effects on brain functioning. And research also confirms that different meditation techniques have different effects on anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other stress-related disorders. The unique benefits of the TM technique are well documented by extensive research.

What are the fees for learning the TM technique?

A research grant will cover the cost of the personalized instruction in the TM technique. Ordinarily, the tuition for the TM instruction, including its lifetime follow-up program, is $2500—or about the same as a three-unit course at AU. However, for those students who learn the TM technique in conjunction with this AU research program there will be an initial fee of $50 for TM instruction. Students will in turn receive $25 per pre- and post-test session of which there will be a minimum of two.

I’ve read that practice of the TM technique can help create world peace. What is that all about?

The experience of the most settled state of awareness, pure consciousness, through TM practice produces a profound state of inner peace in individual life. But this individual peace spreads naturally to the environment as well. Every individual influences his or her family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and society as a whole, every day. Not surprisingly, if enough people are experiencing inner peace, then that peace can radiate strongly enough into the environment to influence social trends. And just as extensive medical research shows that TM practice reduces individual stress and disease, a number of sociological studies, published in respected peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the Journal of Conflict Resolution (Yale University Press), suggest that large numbers of people practicing the TM technique in a given population area can reduce indicators of social stress in that area, including crime and violence. These findings appear to uphold the vision of TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose motivation for introducing the TM technique to people everywhere was to create a lasting foundation for world peace as well as enlightenment for the individual. He has said that just as light bulbs radiate light and eliminate darkness, individuals experiencing inner peace through the TM program naturally radiate that peace into their environment, contributing to the creation of harmony and peace in the world.

What is a “mantra?”

A mantra is a specific sound used during TM practice as a vehicle for the effortless settling down of the mind to the experience of the source of thought, pure consciousness. The mantra has no meaning but is known to produce beneficial, life-supporting effects. When you learn to meditate, you will receive your own mantra—and then, equally importantly, you will learn how to use the mantra properly so that your mind and body settle down to a profound state of restful alertness. It is important to receive complete instruction in how to meditate properly from a trained teacher. The reason is obvious: if you are going to take two 20-minute blocks of meditation time out of your busy schedule, you want to be sure to be meditating correctly and making best use of that time!

Where does the TM technique come from?

The Transcendental Meditation technique is thousands of years old—it comes from an unbroken tradition of meditation instruction from ancient India. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first introduced the technique to the West over 50 years ago. It was Maharishi’s idea to subject the TM technique to scientific scrutiny in order to establish its practical benefits to daily life. Maharishi has trained tens of thousands of TM teachers who are providing TM instruction in all parts of the world. In a recent cover story on science and meditation, Time magazine recently credited Maharishi for the revival of meditation and yoga in the U.S. and around the globe.

What if a person is a skeptic?

Being skeptical is a good thing these days. Fortunately, no belief or change in beliefs is required to learn and practice the TM technique—and to gain all the benefits. In fact, you can be 100 percent skeptical and the TM technique will work just fine. This is because the technique makes use of a natural mechanism within the mind and body—long forgotten by most people—to settle down and take profoundly deep rest. No amount of belief or disbelief will change that inherent ability.

Is TM a spiritual practice?

No, if you use “spiritual” in the sense of a religious practice. But yes, if you define “spiritual” as the nonreligious, holistic development of mind, body, emotions, and sense of self. In the latter case, the TM technique is a deeply healthy and satisfying spiritual practice.

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