The Transcendental Meditation® technique was not only found to reduce perceived depression, anxiety, and stress in a new study, but also magnetic resonance imaging of the subjects while resting with their eyes closed showed the associated changes that took place in their brains as a result of their meditation practice.
The areas of the brain affected were those known to have a role in modulating stress and anxiety, specifically the posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, and left superior parietal lobule. The study found greater connectivity among these areas.
In contrast, the control group showed no decrease in perceived anxiety and stress and no such change in the brain.
The 19 subjects in the Transcendental Meditation group and 15 in the control group were tested on perceived stress and anxiety, and on brain function, at the beginning of the study and after three months. Those in the Transcendental Meditation group learned the technique at the beginning of the study.
“What this shows is that with regular Transcendental Meditation practice, these subjects’ nervous systems were strengthened to be less impacted by stressful situations after just three months,” said Professor Fred Travis. “They evolved. This is a significant finding that supports what Maharishi said were the benefits of the technique. Transcendental Meditation deeply relaxes the nervous system not only during the 20 minutes of practice, but outside of meditation throughout the day, as a result.”
The study also found that Transcendental Meditation was associated with increased connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex and the right insula. This connectivity is also seen in other meditations and appears to indicate a state in which one is increasingly aware of internal physiological processes, such as one’s breathing.
Unlike other meditations, this study didn’t find increased thickness in the brain cortex. However, studies showing this have typically been done on subjects who have been meditating for years and practice techniques involving concentration or monitoring one’s thoughts.
Another possibility, however, is that this indicates that Transcendental Meditation is effortless and natural.
“The cortex may be like a muscle that grows with use, but with Transcendental Meditation, the brain is not straining or focusing, it’s relaxing,” Dr. Travis said. “So it makes sense that there was no growth in cortical thickness.”
The study was published in the journal Brain and Cognition.