Transcendental Meditation: Unique Benefits?

Unique Benefits?

Listed below are scientific research abstracts demonstrating that TM is comparable (in some cases less effective), in terms of relaxation effects, to self-hypnosis, Jacobson's progressive relaxation, Behavior Therapy, muscle biofeedback, etc.

One of the TM Organization research claims is that TM practice induces a unique fourth major state of consciousness: "These findings led researcher Dr. Keith Wallace to conclude that restful alertness is a fourth major state of consciousness, termed transcendental consciousness, that is physiologically distinct from ordinary waking, dreaming, and deep sleep (paper 2)."
[1] A related claim is that TM practice "increased EEG coherence".[1]

However the evidence reflected in objective research is that TM practice does not produce increased EEG coherence nor does it induce a unique state of consciousness "beyond that produced by muscle relaxation and there was no evidence that the EEG changes were different from those observed in stage 'onset' sleep. No support was found for the idea that transcendental meditation is a fourth stage of consciousness."

  The Yoga and Consciousness Project. Desiraju, T. National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience. Bangalore, India: Omni magazine, November 1990, pp. 84-88.

Funded by the Indian government, a ten year investigation by the Yoga and Consciousness team (headed by the internationally recognized neurophysiologist T. Desiraju) has been unable to identify any physiological standard for so-called enlightenment; even meditation per se has been hard to define at the Bangalore lab, claimed by Indian scientists to be the world's most sophisticated center for investigating the physiological correlates of mystical experiences.

The Bangalore lab's controlled studies displayed measurements which stand in strong contrast to TM movement sponsored research. For example, they showed heart rates are as likely to increase as decrease; breath rates and skin resistance were just as eccentric; TM subjects were drowsier than subjects using other forms of meditation; their EEG's showed weaker alpha and theta waves than with other meditation techniques; physiological correlates were consistently unpredictable with TM, showing great variability from session to session.

  Transcendental meditation versus muscle relaxation: two-year follow-up of a controlled experiment. Zuroff DC, Schwarz JC Am J Psychiatry 1980 Oct;137(10):1229-21

In this questionnaire survey the authors measured the outcome among 20 students randomly assigned to muscle relaxation training and 19 assigned to transcendental mediatation at one year (the number of respondents in each group was 13 and 16, respectively) and two and one-half years (the number of respondents was 18 and 17, respectively). At both follow-ups there were no differences between the groups in frequency of practice or satisfaction. In both groups, less than 25% reported more than moderate satisfaction, and less than 20% practices as much as once per week. Subjects' expectancies at nine weeks predicted their satisfaction and frequency of practice at two and one-half years. The authors conclude that although some subjects (15%-20%) enjoy and continue to practice transcendental meditation, it is not universally beneficial.

  A comparison of somatic relaxation and EEG activity in classical progressive relaxation and transcendental meditation. Warrenburg S, Pagano RR, Woods M, Hlastala M J Behav Med 1980 Mar;3(1):73-93

Oxygen consumption, electroencephalogram (EEG), and four other measures of somatic relaxation were monitored in groups of long-term practitioners of classical Jacobson's progressive relaxation (PR) and Transcendental Meditation (TM) and also in a group of novice PR trainees. All subjects (1) practiced relaxation or meditation (treatment), (2) sat with eyes closed (EC control), and (3) read from a travel book during two identical sessions on different days. EEG findings indicated that all three groups remained primarily awake during treatment and EC control and that several subjects in each group displayed rare theta (5-7 Hz) waveforms. All three groups demonstrated similar decrements in somatic activity during treatment and EC control which were generally of small magnitude (e. g., 2-5% in oxygen consumption). These results supported the "relaxation response" model for state changes in somatic relaxation for techniques practiced under low levels of stress but not the claim that the relaxation response produced a hypometabolic state. Despite similar state effects, the long-term PR group manifested lower levels of somatic activity across all conditions compared to both novice PR and long-term TM groups. We concluded that PR causes a generalized trait of somatic relaxation which is manifested in a variety of settings and situations. Two likely explanations for this trait were discussed: (1) PR practitioners are taught to generalize relaxation to daily activities, and/or (2) according to a "multiprocess model," PR is a "somatic technique," which should produce greater somatic relaxation than does TM, a "cognitive technique." Further research is required to elucidate these possibilities.

  Physiological anxiety responses in transcendental meditators and nonmeditators. Lintel AG 3d In Exp. I Percept Mot Skills 1980 Feb;50(1):295-300

In Exp. I, the spontaneous GSR of seven Transcendental Meditators and seven nonmeditators was measured in a sequence of five conditions: stress (shock avoidance)--rest--meditation (meditators) or rest/eyes closed (nonmeditators)--stress (shock avoidance)--rest. In Exp. II, the spontaneous GSR of a similar group of subjects was measured in a sequence of three conditions: rest--meditation or rest/eyes closed--rest. Analysis of variance did not yield significant differences between meditators and nonmeditators although analysis did verify that the shock-avoidance task effectively produced anxiety. It was concluded that Transcendental Meditation is not an effective means of reducing autonomic responses to stress under the present testing conditions.

  The effects of behavior therapy, self-relaxation, and transcendental meditation on cardiovascular stress response. Puente AE, Beiman I J Clin Psychol 1980 Jan;36(1):291-5

Compared Behavior Therapy (BT), self-relaxation (SR), transcendental meditation (TM), and a waiting-list control group (WL) on measures of cardiovascular and subjective stress response. Male and female respondents (N = 60) to an ad for therapy were evaluated in assessment sessions before and after treatment. The results indicate that BT and SR were more effective than either TM or WL in reducing cardiovascular stress response. These data were interpreted as resulting from therapeutic suggestion and positively reinforced client progress.

  Muscle biofeedback and transcendental meditation. A controlled evaluation of efficacy in the treatment of chronic anxiety. Raskin M, Bali LR, Peeke HV Arch Gen Psychiatry 1980 Jan;37(1):93-7

Recent articles have suggested that muscle biofeedback and transcendental meditation may be useful in treating chronic anxiety. To assess this, we conducted a controlled study comparing muscle biofeedback, transcendental mediation, and relaxation therapy. The study consisted of a six-week baseline period, six weeks of treatment, a six-week posttreatment observation period, and later follow-up. Thirty-one subjects completed the first part of the study and have been followed up for three to 18 months. Forty percent of the subjects had a clinically significant decrease in their anxiety. There were no differences between treatments with respect to treatment efficacy, onset of symptom amelioration, or maintenance of therapeutic gains. We found no evidence suggesting that the degree of muscle relaxation induced by any of the treatments is related to the therapeutic outcome. Relaxation therapies as a sole treatment appear to have a limited place in the treatment of chronic anxiety.

  The effect of transcendental meditation on iconic memory. Frumkin LR, Pagano RR Biofeedback Self Regul 1979 Dec;4(4):313-22

Three experiments investigated the effects of transcendental meditation (TM) on iconic memory. The task involved reporting of digits shown tachistoscopically, using Sperling's partial-report technique. Experiment 1 was a pilot study involving a meditation group and a nonmeditation group. All subjects were run in a pretest/treatment/posttest design. During the treatment phase the meditation group practiced TM for a 20-minute period and the nonmeditation group relaxed with eyes closed. The results showed that the treatment increased performance in meditators, but not in nonmeditators. In this experiment important controls such as individual administration of the task, extrinsic rewards, subject pacing, and adequate practice were lacking. Experiment 2 was a replication of the first, with these controls added. The results no longer showed a superiority for the meditation treatment. In fact, the meditation group performed worse on each day of running. Experiment 3 was a replication of Experiment 1, to assess whether the meditation effect of Experiment 1 was due to (a) differential increased attention of the meditators (minimized in subject-paced Experiment 2), (b) a gain early in learning for the meditators that was eliminated due to practice in Experiment 2, or (c) a lack of proper control procedures in Experiment 1. The performance of the meditators was, again, significantly lower. This research illustrates the importance of careful control when investigating the effects of meditation on behavior. It also suggests that the effects of meditation may depend on which hemisphere is dominant in performing the task. (Emphasis added.)

  A finite state model for meditation phenomena. Waxman J Percept Mot Skills 1979 Aug;49(1):123-7

Various reports of brain wave synchrony during Transcendental Meditation have appeared in the literature and have been interpreted as indicating a heightened state of integration of brain function. We suggest that this observed synchrony rather than indicating a greater integration of brain function might be an artifact of parts of the brain acting like a finite state machine. The finite state model is developed, its properties derived and a test for the hypothesis is presented.

  Renin, cortisol, and aldosterone during transcendental meditation. Michaels RR, Parra J, McCann DS, Vander AJ Psychosom Med 1979 Feb;41(1):50-4

The effects of transcendental meditation (TM) on plasma renin activity (PRA) and plasma concentrations of aldosterone, cortisol, and lactate were studied by measuring these variables before, during, and after 20--30 min of meditation. Subjects, who rested quietly rather than meditating, served as controls. There were no differences in the basal values for these variables between meditators and controls, but controls, in contrast to meditators, showed a significant increase in cortisol between the first (A) and second (B) samples of the control period. PRA increased slightly (14%) but significantly (p less than 0.03) during TM, but not during quiet rest in controls. Cortisol decreased progressively (after sample B) throughout the experiment to the same degree in both groups. Aldosterone and lactate did not change. The data do not support the hypothesis that TM induces a unique state characterized by decreased sympathetic activity or release from stress, but do suggest that meditators may be less responsive to an acute stress.

  Biofeedback and meditation: effects on muscle tension and locus of control. Zaichkowsky LD, Kamen R Percept Mot Skills 1978 Jun;46(3 Pt 1):955-8

A total of 48 subjects participated in a relaxation experiment to determine whether frontalis muscle EMG biofeedback, Transcendental Meditation, and meditation (Benson technique) produced decreased muscle tension and concomitant changes in locus of control. All three treatments resulted in significant decreases in frontalis muscle tension when compared to a control. Concomitant changes towards an internal locus of control occurred only in the subjects given biofeedback.

  Transcendental meditation and mirror-tracing skill. Williams LR Percept Mot Skills 1978 Apr;46(2):371-8

Learning, performance and patterns of inter- and intra-individual variability of 32 experienced Transcendental Meditators were compared to those of 32 non-meditators. The data indicated that certain effects attributed to the practice of Transcendental Meditation (such as increased alertness and maintenance of attention, greater consistency and less anxiety) are not manifested in terms of learning and performance of a novel perceptual-motor skill.

  Reactions of transcendental meditators and nonmeditators to stress films. A cognitive study. Kanas N, Horowitz MJ Arch Gen Psychiatry 1977 Dec;34(12):1431-6

To experimentally test the claimed stress-reducing effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM), two stress films were shown to a group of 60 meditators and nonmeditators. Stress response was observed through the use of cognitive and affective measures employing content analysis techniques and self-ratings. The meditators did not show less stress response than the nonmeditators.

  Metabolic and EEG changes during transcendental meditation: an explanation. Fenwick PB, Donaldson S, Gillis L, Bushman J, Fenton GW, Perry I, Tilsley C, Serafinowicz H Biol Psychol 1977 Jun;5(2):101-18

Two experiments were conducted to measure the oxygen uptake (Experiment II) and the carbon dioxide production (Experiment I) during transcendental meditation. A control group of non-meditators and a few meditators listening to music was used for both experiments. In Experiment I, a controlled group of fasting meditators was also included. A drop in oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production, found by previous authors during transcendental meditation, was confirmed. It was, however, possible to show that these drops were physiologically of small significance, and were of the magnitude to be expected from muscle relaxation. EEG recordings were taken during Experiment II in the meditating group. The EEG results showed transcendental meditation to be a method of holding the mediator's level of consciousness at stage 'onset' sleep. No evidence could be found to suggest that meditation produced a hypometabolic state beyond that produced by muscle relaxation and there was no evidence that the EEG changes were different from those observed in stage 'onset' sleep. No support was found for the idea that transcendental meditation is a fourth stage of consciousness.

  Sleep during transcendental meditation. Pagano RR, Rose RM, Stivers RM, Warrenburg S Science 1976 Jan 23;191(4224):308-10

Five experienced practitioners of transcendental meditation spent appreciable parts of meditation sesions in sleep stages 2, 3, and 4. Time spent in each sleep stage varied both between sessions for a given subject and between subjects. In addition, we compare electroencephalogram records made during meditation with those made during naps taken at the same time of day. The range of states observed during meditation does not support the view that meditation produces a single, unique state of consciousness.

  Sleep during Transcendental Meditation. Younger J, Adriance W, Berger RJ Percept Mot Skills 1975 Jun;40(3):953-4

Electroencephalograms (EEGs) and DC electrooculograms (EOGs) were recorded during Transcendental Meditation periods for 8 experienced Ss. The records, scored blind showed that all but 2 Ss spent considerable portions of their meditation periods in unambiguous physiological sleep.

  Limitations of transcendental meditation in the treatment of essential hypertension. Pollack AA, Case DB, Weber MA, Laragh JH Lancet 1977 Jan 8;1(8002):71-3

20 hypertensive patients participating in a professionally supervised programme of transcendental meditation showed no significant change in blood-pressure after a 6-month study. Although there were small reductions in systolic blood-pressure and in pulse-rate early in the trial, these changes had disappeared by 6 months. At no time did the mean diastolic pressure fall significantly. Plasma-renin activity did not change during the study. It is concluded that while the general feeling of wellbeing experienced by most patients may provide a useful adjunct to conventional treatments, it is unlikely that transcendental meditation contributes directly towards the lowering of blood-pressure.

  A controlled study of the EEG during transcendental meditation: comparison with hypnosis. Tebecis AK Folia Psychiatr Neurol Jpn 1975;29(4):305-13

A controlled, quantitative investigation of the electroencephalogram (EEG) and transcendental meditation (TM) revealed that EEG changes during TM were rarely as pronounced or consistent as previous reports suggest. There was considerable variation between subjects, some displaying no EEG changes at all during TM compared with an equal period of non-meditation. Any changes that did occur in a particular individual were not necessarily repeated in a subsequent session. A comparison of mean EEG parameters of the experimental group revealed no consistent significant differences between meditation and non-meditation, although trends towards increased theta and decreased beta activity during meditation were apparent. The biggest differences in mean EEG parameters were between subject groups. In particular, the group of meditators exhibited significantly more theta activity (during both TM and non-meditation) than a randomly selected group of individuals that had never meditated or been hypnotized. The EEG characteristics of the group of meditators were similar to those of a group of subjects experienced in self-hypnosis.

  Evaluation of transcendental meditation as a method of reducing stress. Michaels RR, Huber MJ, McCann DS Science 1976 Jun 18;192(4245):1242-4

Transcendental meditation is said to induce in its practitioners an altered state of consciousness resulting in relief of stress, an increased sense of awareness, and a sense of well-being. Release of catecholamines has been associated widely with stress and lends itself to quantitation. Plasma epinephrine and norephinephrine, as well as lactate, were measured in 12 volunteers before, during, and after meditation. Values were compared with those obtained from controls matched for sex and age who rested instead of meditating. Essentially the same results were obtained for the two groups, which suggests that meditation does not induce a unique metabolic state but is seen biochemically as a resting state.

  Eye movements during transcendental meditation. Tebecis AK Folia Psychiatr Neurol Jpn 1976;30(4):487-93

Characteristic changes in eye movements occurred during meditation with closed eyes in a proportion of subjects experienced in TM. The most common changes were an increase in slow, large-amplitude, 'rolling' eye movements and a concomitant decrease in rapid, low-amplitude, 'jerky' eye movements. Much variation occurred between individuals, however, some subjects showing no differences between TM and non-meditation. Any changes that occurred were not necessarily constant for the whole recording period nor consistent between sessions. The physiological effects of TM are far more variable than previously publicized. In general, the main changes in eye movements during TM are similar to those during passive hypnosis.

  Effect of Transcendental Meditation versus resting on physiological and subjective arousal. Holmes DS, Solomon S, Cappo BM, Greenberg JL J Pers Soc Psychol 1983 Jun;44(6):1245-52

On four successive days, 10 highly trained and experienced meditators were asked to relax for 5 minutes, meditate for 20 minutes, and then relax for 5 minutes. In contrast, 10 other subjects who had no training or experience with meditation were asked to relax for 5 minutes, rest for 20 minutes, and then relax for 5 minutes. Physiological arousal (heart rate, skin resistance, respiration rate, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure) and subjective arousal (cognitive, somatic, relaxation) were measured throughout the experiment. Results indicated that (a) prior to meditating or resting, meditators tended to have higher heart rates and diastolic blood pressure than did nonmeditators, (b) meditation was associated with generally reduced arousal, but (c) while meditating, meditators did not evidence lower levels of arousal than nonmeditators did while resting. This investigation employed controls, which were not used in previous investigations, and the results place qualifications on previously reported results. The results have implications for the study of personality functioning, stress management, and psychotherapy.

  A physiological and subjective evaluation of meditation, hypnosis, and relaxation. Morse DR, Martin JS, Furst ML, Dubin LL Psychosom Med 1977 Sep-Oct;39(5):304-24

Subjects were monitored for respiratory rate, pulse rate, blood pressure, skin resistance, EEG activity, and muscle activity. They were monitored during the alert state, meditation (TM or simple word type), hypnosis (relaxation and task types), and relaxation. Subjects gave a verbal comparative evaluation of each state. The results showed significantly better relaxation responses for the relaxation states (relaxation, relaxation-hypnosis, meditation) than for the alert state. There were no significant differences between the relaxation states except for the measure "muscle activity" in which meditation was significantly better than the other relaxation states. Overall, there were significant differences between task-hypnosis and relaxation-hypnosis. No significant differences were found between TM and simple word meditation. For the subjective measures, relaxation-hypnosis and meditation were significantly better than relaxation, but no significant differences were found between meditation and relaxation-hypnosis.

  Meditation and Somatic Arousal Reduction. David S. Holmes. American Psychologist, January 1984, pp. 1-10. Ensuing discussion follows in four more issues: June 1985, pp. 717-731; June 1986, pp. 712-713; September 1986, pp. 1007-1009; September 1987, pp. 879-881.

An exhaustive TM research review and further controlled testing demonstrated that TM produces no more physical relaxation than just sitting with the eyes closed. His findings here stand in sharp contrast to widely held beliefs about the effects of TM which are based on TM-movement-controlled experimental tests.

Between meditating (TM) and just-resting subjects, no reliable differences were found by Holmes in plasma renin or aldosterone, plasma adrenaline, growth hormone, testosterone, norepinephrine or epinephrine, plasma lactate, threonine, serine, asparagine, valine, isoleucine, leucine, or tyrosine. Meditating subjects were found to have higher levels of phenylalanine than resting subjects, a finding which reflects high arousal in meditators.

  Psychotherapeutic Effects of Transcendental Meditation with Controls for Expectation of Relief and Daily Sitting. Jonathan C. Smith. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1976, pp. 630-637.

A well-controlled landmark study. Using equivalent expectancy controls, Smith clearly demonstrates that a person's predisposition toward anxiety (trait anxiety) is not reduced by the practice of TM per se, but that it can be reduced by sitting with closed eyes in conjunction with an expectation of relief.

  Hormonal and biochemical responses to transcendental meditation. Cooper R, Joffe BI, Lamprey JM, Botha A, Shires R, Baker SG, Seftel HC Postgrad Med J 1985 Apr;61(714):301-4

This study was designed to assess whether transcendental meditation (TM) could influence various endocrine responses in 10 experienced male meditators. Nine matched subjects, uninformed of the TM procedure, acted as controls. Meditators successfully practised their technique for 40 min in the morning while controls relaxed for this period. No significant differences emerged between these 2 groups with respect to carbohydrate metabolism (plasma glucose, insulin and pancreatic glucagon concentrations), pituitary hormones (growth hormone and prolactin) or the 'stress' hormones, cortisol and total catecholamines-although meditators tended to have higher mean catecholamine levels. Plasma free fatty acids were significantly elevated in meditators 40 min after completing the period of TM. No clear evidence was thus obtained that any of the stress, or stress-related, hormones were suppressed during or after meditation in the particular setting examined.

Notes to text:
[1] Maharishi University of Management -

[2] Metabolic and EEG changes during transcendental meditation: an explanation. Fenwick PB, Donaldson S, Gillis L, Bushman J, Fenton GW, Perry I, Tilsley C, Serafinowicz H Biol Psychol 1977 Jun;5(2):101-18