A new study has found that practicing transcendental meditation has significantly reduces psychological distress such as depression and anxiety and helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Mind-body techniques such as meditation, visualisation, and hypnotherapy are becoming increasingly popular as medical research results continue to break down the supposed barriers between the functioning and health of mind and body.
Research also shows that these techniques can be effective, either as primary or complementary therapies, for a range of illnesses which are usually chronic and often hard to treat by conventional means alone.
Now, in the first randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a mind-body intervention for the treatment of psychological distress and associated high blood pressure, the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program has shown a high degree of effectiveness with the results being published in the American Journal of Hypertension.
The study involved 298 university students who were randomly selected to enter the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program or simply be placed on a waiting list (the control group). Before the TM program commenced and after 3 months all participants were assessed for psychological distress, coping ability, and blood pressure (BP).
The results were impressive. Statistically significant improvements were found in total psychological distress, anxiety, depression, anger/hostility, and coping ability in the students who were enrolled in the TM program. These changes correlated with decreases in BP readings; psychological stress being a significant known risk factor for elevated BP. In contrast, the BP of the control group of students increased slightly.
TM is a form of mantra meditation; a mantra being a sound, syllable, word or phrase that is repeated over and over and in an effort to bring about spiritual enlightenment. Transcendental Meditation was developed in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1955 and introduced to the West in the 1960s and '70s after the Maharishi founded the International Meditation Society and began training advanced mediators to teach the TM program. Transcendental Meditation is taught in a standardised seven-stage course and the practice of TM involves the use of a mantra which is repeated for 15 - 20 minutes twice per day, while sitting in a comfortable position (not necessarily the popularized crossed legged, open-palmed posture) with closed eyes.
While the primary aim of this study was to assess the effects of TM on hypertension (high BP), it is its highly positive effects on psychological factors including depression, anxiety and ability to cope with stress that will be of interest to readers of this website suffering from environmental illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
This conditions although primarily physical in nature, often have a psychological component which may benefit from TM, other forms of meditation, or other mind-body techniques. At the very least, this study shows that TM could be useful in helping patients suffering from these conditions cope with their physical symptoms and disabilities.
Nidich SI Rainforth MV Haaga DA Hagelin J Salerno JW Travis F Tanner M Gaylord-King C Grosswald S Schneider RH (2009) A Randomized Controlled Trial on Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Blood Pressure, Psychological Distress, and Coping in Young Adults American Journal of Hypertension doi:10.1038/ajh.2009.184. [Epub ahead of print]