Transcendental meditation relieves perceived stress and leads to specific cerebral changes

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For researchers at IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, a study evaluating the effectiveness of Transcendental meditation (TM) among healthy participants led to promising findings.

According to new research, released in the journal Brain and Cognition, Transcendental meditation was linked to reductions in perceived stress. The technique, first developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, involves the use of a mantra practiced with eyes closed, a few times a day.

Researchers studied 34 healthy participants, half of which incorporated Transcendental meditation to their daily routine for 40 minutes per day. The other half carried on without meditation implemented into their normal daily routine.

Before the participants began their routines, psychometric questionnaires were administered to measure levels of anxiety and stress. Additionally, functional magnetic resonance imaging tests were conducted to gain further insight into stress levels at a neuropsychological viewpoint, by measuring brain activity and changes in functional connectivity in certain brain areas. The tests were then initiated again at the conclusion of the study.

“Transcendental Meditation (TM) is defined as a mental process of transcending using a silent mantra. Previous work showed that relatively brief period of TM practice leads to decreases in stress and anxiety,” researchers stated.

“Using a longitudinal design, we combined psychometric questionnaires, structural and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (RS-fMRI) to investigate the potential brain modifications underlying the psychological effects of TM.”

Based on the results, data analysis showed reductions in levels of stress and anxiety following meditation sessions. The beneficial effects were considerably higher compared to the participants who did not take part in Transcendental meditation.

From the brain scans, researchers also found the reduced levels of anxiety were correlated with changes in various brain areas like the insula, left parietal lobe, and precuneus. Increased activity between the posterior cingulate cortex and the right insula was presumably the result of alterations in interoceptive awareness.

Overall, the new findings suggest the use of Transcendental meditation to reach beneficiary effects for psychological well-being.

“These preliminary findings indicate that beneficial effects of TM may be mediated by functional brain changes that take place after a short practice period of 3 months,” the findings concluded.

The study was funded by the David Lynch Foundation and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca.

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