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Physiological changes distinguish Transcendental Meditation from other meditation practices

Ask the Doctors    Translate This Article
1 July 2011

A wide range of beneficial physiological changes, documented by scientific research, occur during the Transcendental Meditation technique, distinguishing the practice from simple relaxation and other forms of meditation.

In a series of questions and answers, Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., and Steven Rector, M.D., describe some of the research indicating the unique physiological changes during Transcendental Meditation.

Q: What's the difference between TM and other forms of meditation—can the same benefits be obtained by any other methods? 

Dr. Vernon Barnes:
Unfortunately, no. Comparative research has shown that the various forms of meditation do not produce the same effects. Because each kind of meditation practice engages the mind in its own way, there's no reason to expect the same results from the various methods or that scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation program will apply to other practices.

There have been studies comparing the effects of the TM technique, Zen, Mindfulness, Tibetan Buddhist and Vipassana meditations, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Benson's Relaxation Response—examining such factors as brainwave patterns, levels of rest, and benefits for mind and body. While some other forms of meditation have been found to produce good effects in specific areas, these various practices have their own aims and are not necessarily intended to produce the broad range of benefits that result from the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Neural imaging and EEG studies indicate that TM practice creates a unique brain pattern: it is the only meditation technique known to create widespread brainwave coherence. The TM technique also produces deeper rest than other practices, and studies show the technique to be more effective at reducing anxiety and depression and increasing self-actualization.

Q: Can you get the same results simply by relaxing?  

Dr. Steven Rector:
Not according to the science. A wide range of beneficial physiological changes commonly occur during the Transcendental Meditation technique, changes that distinguish the practice from mere relaxation and other forms of meditation.

Studies indicate that TM practice produces a state of rest much deeper than sitting with eyes-closed, and also much deeper than other meditation practices. Research consistently shows a natural decrease in breath rate during the TM technique, 25% greater than controls, and an increase in basal skin resistance (a standard measure of relaxation) up to 70% higher.

Physiological indicators of deep rest also include marked changes in respiratory volume, minute ventilation, tidal volume, blood lactate and heart rate. Studies suggest that this unique state of physiology helps regulate cortisol and other hormones associated with chronic stress—and also healthier regulation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood.

Even more significant, EEG measurements show high levels of alpha coherence over the entire brain—increased integration and orderliness of brain functioning—further differentiating the Transcendental Meditation technique from ordinary relaxation and other meditation practices.

Dr Barnes and Dr Rector are members of a panel of physicians who discuss the Transcendental Meditation technique—how it works, how it differs from other forms of meditation and relaxation, and the hundreds of scientific research studies validating the benefits of the technique. Their discussion is featured on the website Ask the Doctors.

See also 'Are all meditation techniques the same?'

Click here for more questions and answers about the Transcendental Meditation technique.

* Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., is a researcher at the Georgia Prevention Institute of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, which received $1.5 million from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on African American teens at risk for high blood pressure.
br> ** Steven J. Rector, M.D., has practiced emergency medicine for the past 18 years. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Emergency Medicine.

© Copyright 2011 American Association of Physicians Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Technique

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