Lifetime trauma rates is highest among prisoners compared to any other segment of the society. Recent surveys have shown that 85% have been a victim of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion, or physical or sexual abuse.
Trauma is associated with higher rates of recidivism (returning to prison) and mental and physical health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.
In the process of finding a remedy for the high rates of trauma among prisoners, an innovative study with Transcendental Meditation was implemented in a large group of Oregon male inmates.
The results, published in The Permanente Journal online, found that after four months of practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, inmates at two Oregon prisons had significantly reduced trauma symptoms, including anxiety, depression, dissociation, and sleep disturbance, and a significant decrease in perceived stress compared to non-meditating controls. Within the TM group, a 47% reduction in total trauma symptoms was observed over the course of the four-month study.
Further post-hoc analysis showed an even higher magnitude of effect due to TM practice in those with the highest level of trauma symptoms. A 56% reduction was found within the TM group for those above the mean in baseline trauma scores.
"To date this is the largest randomized controlled trial with the Transcendental Meditation program on trauma symptoms," said Dr. Nidich, lead author of the study and director of Maharishi University of Management Center for Social and Emotional Health. "These findings, along with previous published research on veterans, active military personnel, international refugees, and other at-risk populations provide support for the value of the Transcendental Meditation program as an alternative treatment for posttraumatic stress.
Previous published studies have shown that Transcendental Meditation decreases hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, responsible for such processes as the 'fight or flight response.'
"These kinds of changes from an overly aroused style of functioning to a more healthy, stable condition of physiological functioning may help explain how TM practice reduces trauma symptoms," said Dr. Nidich. "Brain imaging studies and other psychophysiological research have shown that TM meditators have less reactivity to stressful stimuli, further indicating a more stable and balanced style of functioning."