reports subjective experiences and cortical activation patterns that
distinguish the Transcendental Meditation technique from other
‘Subjective experiences and cortical activation patterns distinguish the Transcendental Meditation technique from other meditation practices.’
"Transcendental Meditation uses a mantra, and for this reason some
researchers maintain that it involves focused attention and controlling
the mind," said lead author Fred Travis. "Those who practice TM know
this is not the case. This study supports their experience that
Transcendental Meditation is easy to learn and effortless to practice."
Self-reports and brain patterns support unique nature of Transcendental Meditation practice
This study involved 87 students at Maharishi University of Management
in Fairfield, Iowa who had been practicing the Transcendental
Meditation technique from one month to five years. Researchers
investigated experiences and brain patterns of students as they rested
with eyes closed, during Transcendental Meditation practice, and while
engaging in a challenging computer task.
"There are two key findings from this study," said lead author Dr.
Travis. "First, individuals practicing Transcendental Meditation for
just one month reported the same frequency of Transcendental
Consciousness experiences during their practice as individuals
meditating for five years. This supports the understanding that
Transcendental Meditation uses the natural tendency of the mind to
transcend - to move from active thinking to deep, inner silence.
Extensive practice doesn't make a natural process go any better."
The second finding deals with activity in the "default mode
network," which is a large-scale brain network involving areas in the
front and back of the brain that are active during internal thinking and
self-referential activity, such as creating an autobiographical story.
Default mode network activity is high when a person just sits with his
or her eyes closed, and low when one opens one's eyes and begins to
interact with the world.
The study reports that activity in the default mode network remained
high during Transcendental Meditation practice. Activity in the default
mode network is reported to go down in all other types of meditation -
since they involve focus and control of the mind.
"Deactivation of the default mode network indicates how much effort
we are using," Dr. Travis says. "While people may not have had the
experience of effortless transcending and so do not know what it feels
like to transcend, they can now see the objective high activation in the
default mode network - and see that something different is happening
during Transcendental Meditation practice."
Transcendental Meditation different from resting with one's eyes closed
The study found that the default mode network was as high during Transcendental Meditation practice as during eyes-closed rest.
"This is an important finding, since eyes-closed rest is usually
used as the benchmark for default mode network activity," Dr. Travis
However, Dr. Travis found two important differences when comparing
the brain states during Transcendental Meditation and eyes-closed rest.
Eyes-closed rest had more beta brain waves in areas of the brain
associated with memory and motor aspects of speech production.
"This could reflect the mental chatter that goes on when one's eyes are closed," Dr. Travis said.
Transcendental Meditation had more theta brain waves in
orbitofrontal areas associated with reward anticipation. This could
indicate the movement of the mind to more charming levels of thought
The meditators' attention was absorbed in the inner march of the
mind, attracted by the increasing charm of finer levels of mental
functioning. This process did not involve effort or control of the mind
since default mode network activity was high.
The importance of characterizing meditation methods accurately
These differences - the activity in the default mode network, as
well as the fact that the frequency of transcending is the same
regardless of how long one has been practicing - contrast
Transcendental Meditation with other meditation practices.
"It's a critical point," Dr. Travis said. "Researchers,
commentators, and popular media often lump meditation practices
together. This distorts understanding the benefits of different
meditations and confounds applying these approaches to different subject