Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation enables some active duty service members battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to reduce or even eliminate their psychotropic medication and get better control of their often-debilitating symptoms, researchers report in the journal Military Medicine.
PTSD is a serious mental health condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
There are two main types of treatment for PTSD: psychotherapy (“talk” therapy) and medication. Sometimes, a combination of both is used. Currently, two selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) – the antidepressants sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) – have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of PTSD in adults.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a simple, safe, and powerful technique for avoiding distracting thoughts and promoting a state of relaxed awareness. The late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi derived TM from the ancient Vedic tradition of India. He brought the technique to the U.S. in the 1960s.
TM practice involves the use of a mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day (usually before breakfast and before dinner) while sitting with the eyes closed. It is reported to be one of the most widely practiced and widely researched meditation techniques. Hundreds of published research studies show that TM offers a wide range of benefits, including greater inner calm, less stress, reduced cortisol (the “stress hormone”), normalized blood pressure, reduced insomnia, lower risk of heart disease and stroke, improved brain function and memory, and reduced anxiety and depression.
Unlike some other forms of meditation, TM does not require any strenuous effort, concentration, or contemplation. Instead, practitioners breathe normally and focus their attention on the mantra.
When meditating, the ordinary thinking process is said to be “transcended.” It’s replaced by a state of pure consciousness. In this state, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries.
TM.org describes the technique:
The TM technique allows your mind to easily settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness — pure consciousness.
Unlike other forms of meditation, TM practice involves no concentration, no control of the mind, no contemplation, no monitoring of thoughts.
The TM technique’s effectiveness is the same whether you believe it will work or are completely skeptical. That’s because it automatically and effortlessly allows your active thinking mind to settle down to a state of deep inner calm.
For the new study, researchers looked at 74 active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety disorder, often resulting from multiple deployments over multiple years, who were seeking treatment at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center’s Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
From the press release:
Half the service members voluntarily practiced Transcendental Meditation regularly in addition to their other therapy; half did not. At one month, 83.7 percent of the meditators had stabilized, reduced or stopped their use of psychotropic drugs to treat their conditions while 10.9 percent had increased their medication dosage.
Of those who did not meditate, 59.4 percent had stabilized, reduced or stopped taking psychotropic drugs while 40.5 percent were taking more medication. Similar percentages held up in the following months and by six months, non-meditators had experienced about a 20 percent increase in their symptoms compared with those using the meditation practice.
Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, physiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Barnes, the study’s lead author, explained that TM takes users from a level of active thinking to a state of inner quietness that reduces levels of stress hormones and activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which drives the so-called fight-or-flight response by increasing heart rate and blood pressure.
Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation provides a habit of calming down and healing the brain.
The researchers note that health care providers may be hesitant to reduce medication dosage in patients who experience improvement because they are not certain whether stabilization is due to meditation or medication. But previous studies, including a 1985 study in Vietnam Veterans, showed that soldiers who practiced TM instead of taking medication experienced significantly reduced PTSD symptoms.
Here, Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran Luke Jensen shares his story about how TM saved him from suicide.
Experts say that TM is best learned under the guidance of a professional. For more information on courses, please see Transcendental Meditation – How to Learn.