Transcending provides relief from traumatic stress (PTSD)

One pilot study showed 50% less PTSD symptoms after eight weeks of TM practice…a remarkable result

The body has an amazing power to heal itself, as long as we give it a chance to activate this power. This is seen to striking effect when TM is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), now recognised as a medical disorder, is caused by war, violence, abuse, accidents and even natural disasters. PTSD is normally considered incurable because most of these stresses involved are rooted deep in the psyche, beyond the reach of most therapeutic methods. Yet, recent studies suggest that the impact of these stresses can be reduced significantly and, sometimes, rapidly, with the practice of Transcendental Meditation.

There have been a number of recent studies on the effects of Transcendental Meditation on PTSD amongst groups of African refugees. Subjects in the most recent study were refugees of the long civil war in the Congo who, having fled their homeland, were struggling to survive in Uganda.

Most Recent Study on PTSD and Transcendental Meditation

In the most recent study, participants were tested three times over a 90-day period for PTSD symptoms. Levels were assessed using the PCL-C (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist), which rates the level of symptoms on a scale from 17 to 85. When the study began, the average score was 77.9. Participants learned Transcendental Meditation and, after 10 days of practising the technique 20 minutes twice daily, the average score dropped to 48, considered to be highly clinically significant.

30 days later, they were re-tested, showing an average score of 35.3. Scores below 35 are considered non-symptomatic for PTSD. So, after a little more than 1 month practising Transcendental Meditation, participants were practically symptom free.
Dr Fred Travis, is Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, USA. He is co-author of the studies on this subject that were published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in April 2013 and February 2014.

Dr Travis described Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as ‘a natural response to an unnatural situation‘. Every time a person is in a situation that potentially threatens his or her survival the amygdala, located deep within the brain, is activated. This activation is a natural response that makes a person more alert. It has been called the ‘fight or flight’ response. When triggered in an unnatural situation—such as war, abuse, or trauma – it does not shut down.
This ongoing hyperactive survival response creates a veil of fear, of hypervigilance and of mistrust, that permeates the whole brain. People in this state repress emotions and do not trust themselves or others. They feel as if something is always ready to erupt.

Basis of PTSD lies in style of brain functioning

The basis of PTSD lies in the way the brain functions. Trying to help PTSD sufferers by talking to them does not work as they filter speech through an over-active amygdala, and are constantly distrusting the sincerity of the speaker.

Researchers conject that, since the onset of PTSD is due to a particular type of experience, an experience that is the exact opposite in nature may be able to turn off the amygdala. This is exactly what the process of transcending does during Transcendental Meditation. It shuts down the overload. Whereas the experience of trauma is fragmented, piecemeal, and uncontrolled, the experience of transcending is one of greater wholeness, self-sufficiency, and happiness. Transcendental Meditation allows the mind and body to attain a state of restful alertness that has a profound effect on the mind and body, and this appears to ‘turn off’ the amygdala.

After learning TM, they look you in the eye and smile

As a researcher, Dr Travis feels that Transcendental Meditation is an important tool to improve the quality of life of those suffering from PTSD. He said that positive changes could readily be seen in subjects’ faces. Before learning the technique, they kept their eyes to the ground and looked worried or anxious. After learning TM, ‘they look you in the eye and smile‘.

In the scientific world, it is commonly understood that experience changes the way the brain functions. The PTSD research showed that the trauma, that kept the brain locked into a specific functioning, ‘stuck’ in a set of negative thoughts and feelings, was disappearing through transcending. Relief came in the form of a new set of brain wave patterns. Now, Dr Travis said, it’s as if this has been relieved, unveiled and can take off – Now your spirit can soar; now you can see more possibilities.

The effect on PTSD appears to be unique to the experience of Transcending

Like many of the effects mentioned on this site, the effect on PTSD appears to be unique to the experience of transcending. Ordinary relaxation does not have the same effect. This was verified through a recent analysis of 6 high-quality, randomised controlled studies, where the effectiveness (effect size) of 3 Transcendental Meditation studies was compared to the effect of Mindfulness. The results are striking.

TM is more effective than mindfulness meditation - meta analysis
While the three studies covered in this analysis are described in more detail below, the reality of  the types of human situations, which they address, are illustrated in this video from the David Lynch Foundation.


1. Transcendental Meditation compared to psychotherapy (Brooks, 1985)

A study at the University of Colorado Medical Center, in Denver, USA, compared the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation to accepted methods of psychotherapy for Vietnam war veterans receiving treatment for traumatic stress.

Several problem areas were studied, including PTSD, depression, insomnia, anxiety, emotional disconnect, family trauma and alcohol abuse.

The TM group showed a very significant improvement in all of the areas researched within 3 months. After 3 months, the TM group showed significant improvements in all of the areas studied –

– Depression p<.001*
– Post Traumatic Stress Disorder p<.001,
– Anxiety p<.001,
– Emotional Disconnect p<.005,
– Alcohol Abuse p<.01,
– Insomnia p<.001, and
– Family Trauma p<.01.

What do p values mean? See Chance of Coincidence section on TM Research – Highest Quality

The improvement was so significant that, after 3 months, 70% of the patients required no further treatment and were allowed to go home. The psychotherapy group showed no significant improvement in any area.

2. Recent study with Iraq war veterans (Rosenthal, 2011)

A recent study showed even better results. When a group of war veterans with severe PTSD participated in an experiment on Transcendental Meditation, they showed 50% less PTSD symptoms after only 8 weeks, as well a significant reduction in depression and an increase in the quality of life index (Military Medicine, June 2011). These kind of results had never been seen before.

Although this was only a small-scale pilot study, it was published in the professional journal Military Medicine (June 2011) and reported in several media, including CNN.
Watch CNN Video.
As a result of these studies the Pentagon has now commissioned a $2.5 Million large scale study to research the effect on a much larger population (with better results after 30 days of TM practice than they have ever seen before) and Norwich University, the oldest military academy in the US, has introduced TM as a standard part of the training.

However, the psychotherapy group showed no significant improvement in any area. If the Transcendental Meditation technique can be used for patients with severe symptoms of traumatic stress (these patients were war veterans), then, perhaps, it is safe to assume that it is effective to treat anyone whose symptoms are not so severe or deep rooted.

Here is a video of one of the participants in the research study. It’s an interview with the mother of the soldier, describing how TM saved her son’s life.

3. Reduction of PTSD in African refugees. (Rees, 2013)

In April 2013, the Journal of Traumatic Stress published an even more remarkable study which showed that Congo refugees with severe symptoms of PTSD, as a result of rape or other war violence, were completely free of PTSD symptoms after 30 days of TM practice. The improvement was stable after 4 1/2 months. The control group showed no improvement (Journal of Traumatic Stress 26(2), 295-298, 2013).

PTSS africa2

From TM and PTSD