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Does TM Produce Any Harm?

The Issue: Is there any scientific research showing that the Transcendental Meditation program has harmed anyone?

The Evidence:

This page presents critical reviews of the papers asserting that the Transcendental Meditation program has harmful effects. 

Contents:

Mental Health Studies on Different Population Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Technique. 

A Psychiatrist’s Perspective on Claims by Individuals that TM Does Harm. 

Papers Often Referenced to as Asserting that the TM Program Has or May Have Harmful Effects. 

Mental Health Studies on Different Population Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Technique.

Any attempt to say that the Transcendental Meditation program produces harm has to take into account research showing that it has beneficial effects for populations at different levels of mental health status, and under different conditions of learning the technique.

  1. Effects on the general population who voluntarily learn the technique. An epidemiological study by the Swedish government found that the rate of mental health problems among the 35,000 people in the country who practice the Transcendental Meditation program was 100 to 200 times lower than the general population. In addition, numerous studies have reported wide-spectum mental health benefits from the practice.
  2. Effects on individuals who were encouraged to learn the technique in their workplace. A study of 800 industrial workers by Japan’s National Institute of Health found a wide range of mental health benefits from the Transcendental Meditation program.
  3. Effects on individuals who are highly dedicated to TM practice and who have participated in many extended meditation courses.  A studiy of Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance statistics on 693 faculty and staff of Maharishi University of Management found they had 92% lower rates of hospital admissions for mental health problems than the norm.
  4. Effects on individuals with serious pre-existing mental health problems: Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A randomized controlled study of Viet Nam veteran’s found significant improvements in PTSS symptoms in those learning TM compared to those receiving psychotherapy.
  5. Effects on individuals with serious pre-existing mental health problems: Institutionalized Psychiatric Patients. A controlled study at a major mental health facility found the Transcendental Meditation program was highly beneficial over usual care in improving mental health status and reducing dependence on medications. 

For more details on these studies, go to Research on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on Mental Health.

A Psychiatrist’s Perspective on Claims by Individuals that TM Does Harm. 

James Krag, MD, is a psychiatrist. His letter reproduced below is a comment on an internet site by a person who formerly practiced the Transcendental Meditation program and posted that the practice did him harm. Dr. Krag points out that psychotic disorders can be triggered by any major life event—such as joining the Army, entering college, or job stress—but however unfortunate that is, one does not blame the Army, college, or the job, etc.

Read full letter 

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Papers Often Referenced to as Asserting that the TM Program Has or May Have Harmful Effects. 

Out of the over 600 studies on the Transcendental Meditation program over the past 35 years, only a dozen or so even suggest that the program has harmful effects. This amounts to only 2% "negative" papers, compared with 98% of the papers reporting beneficial effects.


Close analysis shows that the "harm" papers are all uncontrolled studies, some not on the Transcendental Meditation program at all. In some, the claim of harm is based on unfounded speculation with no evidence. Others present strong evidence that the TM program is beneficial even for seriously ill psychiatric patients, although these studies rightly warn that such patients should be closely monitored when learning to meditate. One article presents interesting experiences of "witnessing" in cosmic consciousness, which are simply misinterpreted in terms of psychiatric concepts.

The 14 papers reviewed below are ones that are often cited on the Internet and in reviews as evidence that the Transcendental Meditation program has or may have harmful effects. 

1. Leon S. Otis. Adverse Effects of Transcendental Meditation. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives Alden Publications, 1984, p. 204.

The study by Otis, which was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, makes the following errors: (1) it confounds the number of problems experienced by meditators with how long they have been meditating; (2) it compared groups that were not equivalent at pretest; (3) it reported only part of the data; (4) it changed its hypotheses to fit the data; (5) it proposed a fictitious physiological mechanism for how meditation could cause harm; (6) it has never been replicated, and (7), it is contradicted by better-designed, controlled research.

2. Arnold A. Lazarus. Psychiatric Problems Precipitated by Transcendental Meditation. Psychological Report, 1976, 39, pp. 601-602.

Arnold A. Lazarus.  Meditation: The Problems of Unimodal Technique.
Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Alden
Publications, 1984, p. 691.

The author’s main thesis is “how can anything be good for everyone” and he sets out to find a subgroup for whom TM practice would not be indicated. This is not a controlled study, and the author presents no systematic data of any kind to support his thesis. Instead, he supports his points with uncontrolled observations and hearsay. His opinions are contradicted by substantial, well-controlled research on a variety of patient groups and other populations (e.g., see Opinion on Glueck research above). These controlled studies have found TM practice to be beneficial. Conceptually, one can understand how TM practice could be universally beneficial from the physiological research, which indicates that it produces a state of deep, coherence rest. Like sleep, it is good for everyone.

3. Bernard C. Glueck and Charles F. Stroebel. Biofeedback and Meditation and the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness. Comprehensive Psychiatry, Volume 16, Number 4, 1975.

4. Bernard C. Glueck and Charles F. Stroebel. Biofeedback and Meditation and the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness. Current Psychiatric Therapies, Vol. 15, 1975, p. 109-115.

5. Charles F. Stroebel and Bernard C. Glueck. Passive Meditation: Subjective, Clinical, and Electrographic Comparison with Biofeedback. In G. E. Schwartz and David Shapiro (editors) Consciousness and Self Regulation, Volume Two. Plenum Press, New York, 1978.

6. Bernard C. Glueck and Charles F. Stroebel. Meditation in the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Alden Publications, 1984, p. 150. 

A series of four papers described the results of using the Transcendental Meditation program with institutionalized psychiatric patients at a top mental health clinic in America, the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. The research was conducted by Bernard C. Glueck, MD, who was Director of Research and Psychiatrist at the Institute, and Charles F. Stroebel, MD, PhD.

Glueck and Stroebel do not report any adverse effects with practice of the technique in the psychiatric population, which included many psychotics, although they do naturally warn that such populations should be monitored closely when they learn the technique, as they would be when learning any new practice of potential therapeutic value.

Glueck and Stroebel report that patients practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique improved on all measures, including improved mental health status at the time of hospital discharge, compared to a matched group that received only usual hospital care; reduced sleep medication and other medications; improvement on psychological tests (MMPI); improvement on nurses’ daily notes of behavior; and, in teen aged patients, increased ability to concentrate and reduced impulsive behavior.

7. Heide, F. J.,& Borkovec, T. D., 'Relaxation-Induced Anxiety: Paradoxical Anxiety Enhancement Due to Relaxation Training,' Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1983, Vol. 51, No. 2, 171-182.

8. Heide, F. J. Relaxation: The Storm Before the Calm. Psychology Today, April, 1985.

The two papers by Heide et al. are an attempt to show that relaxation could cause anxiety in some highly anxious people, but the study is not on the Transcendental Meditation program at all, but on a technique made up by the author.  Moreover, there is no statistically significant evidence even supporting that the technique they constucted causes anxiety.

 9. Michael A. Persinger, Norman J. Carrey and Lynn A. Suess. TM and Cult Mania. North Quincy, Massachusetts, Christopher Publishing House, 1980.

10. Michael A. Persinger. Transcendental Meditation and general meditation are associated with enhanced complex partial epileptic-like signs: Evidence for 'cognitive kindling”? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1992.

11. Michael A. Persinger. Enhanced incidence of 'the sensed presence' in people who have learned to meditate: Support for the right hemispheric intrusion hypothesis. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1992, 75, 1308-1310.

The book by Persinger, et al., is a diatribe against the Transcendental Meditation program and TM organization that arose from his public debates with TM teachers at Laurentian University. He sees the TM program "as an assault on 20th-century Western civilization”. His book is an attempt to save Western civilization, which undoubtedly needs saving, but I don't think stopping the TM movement is the way to do it.  The two ensuing papers by Persinger, published 12 years later, are his attempt to find something wrong with the program.  From psychological tests, he speculates that meditation may predispose people to epilepsy, for which all the direct evidence is just the opposite.

12. Perez de Albeniz, A. & Holmes, J. (2000). Meditation: concepts, effects, and uses in therapy. International Journal of Psychotherapy, 5(1), 49-58.

Contrary to the impression given in a summary of this article posted on the TranceNet Web site, this review of 75 studies on meditation did not report a single study showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique has adverse effects. It does, however, mention three studies reporting negative effects from other meditation techniques. On the whole, this paper is highly favorable towards meditation.

13. Richard J. Castillo. Depersonalization and Meditation. Psychiatry:Interpersonal and Biological Processes, Vol. 53, May, 1990pp. 158-168.


This paper by Castillo on "Depersonalization and Meditation” was perhaps the most interesting, because it was based around interviews with six meditators reporting their experiences of "witnessing", an indication of Cosmic Consciousness. Castillo attempts to explain these experiences in terms of the psychiatric concept of "depersonalization", but the explanation falls short because these are all very healthy, highly functional people.  In Castillo's words "All of the meditators interviewed are successful in their careers, and apparently satisfied with their lives and optimistic about the future, and are very friendly, personable people.  Their lives seem to run smoothly, with an absence of any significant anxiety or stress.” "None of the informants reported a personal history of psychiatric disorder..." p. 166. A consideration of these experiences not only provides an opportunity to differentiate "witnessing" from "depersonalization", but also illustrates some of Maharishi’s key points on the development of Cosmic Consciousness, the Fifth State of seven states of consciousness.

14. The 'German' report

The German government never conducted its own investigation of the Transcendental Meditation program and no German court ever ruled that the Transcendental Meditation program was dangerous. Close analysis of the research referred to in Exhibit 65 indicates that it did not show that practice of this program caused adverse social relationships, or that it impaired mental faculties, or resulted in loss of self-determination and motivation, or psychological disorders or had any other adverse effects.



1. Leon S. Otis. Adverse Effects of Transcendental Meditation. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives, Alden Publications, 1984, p. 204.


The study by Otis, which was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, makes the following errors: (1) it confounds the number of problems experienced by meditators with how long they have been meditating; (2) it compared groups that were not equivalent at pretest; (3) it reported only part of the data; (4) it changed its hypotheses to fit the data; (5) it proposed a fictitious physiological mechanism for how meditation could cause harm; (6) it has never been replicated, and (7), it is contradicted by better-designed, controlled research.

Imagine that a truck salesman compares how many problems his trucks had over a three-month period with the number of problems other truck brands had over an 11-months-to-10-year period. Is this a valid comparison? Of course not. Naturally, one would expect more problems to come up over the longer time period. Yet this is the essence of Otis’s claim that Experienced meditators have more problems that Novice meditators.

The study asked Experienced meditators to rate how many problems they had over the last 18+ months (and up to10 years), which was the length of time they had been meditating. It compared this to the number of problems Novice meditators had after 3-6 months of meditation, or Dropouts after the 7.4 months since learning to meditate. Clearly, the larger number of problems to emerge over the longer time period could have been due to merely to the longer time period, not to more experience meditating, as the author erroneously claims.

(1) Confounding of the data. This paper reports the results of questionnaires from two samples of Transcendental Meditation meditators. The SIMS (Students International Meditation Society) sample is a random sample of 1900 people on the SIMS mailing list, of which 47%, or 893 people, responded. The Teacher Trainees sample is a group of 832 people on a Transcendental Meditation teacher training course in Humboldt College, California, of which 71% (591 people) responded. The Behavioral Inventory questionnaire was a list of 30 positive and negative items, such as “ability to relax,” “anxiety,” “awareness,” “boredom,” “creativity,” “depression,” etc. The questionnaire asked subjects to check which of these items “Was a problem for me” “Before TM” to check how these items had changed “Since Starting TM.” Four levels of change were possible, “Little or no change (0-25%),” “Some change (26-50%),” “Considerable change (51-90%,” and “Complete change (91-100%).” Under each level of change the respondent could check either “Increased” or “Decreased.” The SIMS sample was taken in 1971 and the Teacher Trainees sample in 1972, 12 and 13 years respectively before this paper was published.

The data presented were the percentages of people who increased on negative items by 51% or more if they represented at least 5% of the subjects in each comparison group. The three comparison groups for the SIMS sample were the Dropout (who had meditated for 7.4 months), Novice (3-6 months of TM, and continuing), and Experienced (18+ months of TM). The two comparison groups for the Teacher Trainees were 3-6 months TM and 18+ months TM.

The results presented showed that a higher percentage of the longer-term practitioners in each group (18+ months) checked that various negative items had become a problem for them than the Dropouts (7.4 months TM) or Novice (3.6 months TM). The differences were small. For example, somewhere between 0 to 4.9% of the Dropouts checked increases in problems (the author hides the actual data by arbitrarily setting a 5% cutoff), compared to 5.1-11.5% of Experienced checking that problems had increased for them. This, by the way, represents only 4-8 of the 78 people in the Experienced group in the SIMS sample saying that problems increased for them.

The author interprets this small sample as evidence that meditation causes problems. But this is an error in interpretation, because consider what the questionnaire is asking. It asks subjects to rate change “Since Starting TM,” which for the Dropouts means asking them to “rate change over 7.4 months”; for the Novices, it is asking them to “rate change over the last 3-6 months”; and for the Experienced meditators, it is asking them to “rate change over the last 18+ months.” Clearly, with no intervention at all, if you asked any group to rate the number of problems that had increased in the last 18+ months it would yield a few more responses than if you asked an equivalent group, or even the same group, to rate the increase in problems over only the last 3-6 months. The study confounds length of time meditating with length of time over which problems could increase.

A proper control group, which this study does not have, would hold constant the time period of interest. For example, Experienced meditators would be compared to a control group of non-meditators or to a comparison group of Dropouts to rate change in problems over the last 18+ months. Such a study has, in fact, been conducted by the Japanese Government’s National Institute of Health on nearly 800 industrial workers at one of that country’s largest manufacturing plants. It used a questionnaire of change in various symptoms very similar to the one in the present study. It found significant improvements in physical and mental health after five months practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique relative to untreated controls over the same time period at the same industrial site. Results included decreases in physical complaints, decreased anxiety, decreased depression, reduced smoking, reduced insomnia, fewer digestive problems, decreased neurotic tendencies, and reduced psychosomatic problems. Moreover, a meta-analysis has indicated strong consistent effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on reducing trait anxiety, and a positive correlation between length of meditation and reduced anxiety.

Eppley K, Abrams AI, Shear J. Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology 1989; 45:957–974. Bates Number 3089-3106
Haratani T, Henmi T. Effects of Transcendental Meditation on health behavior of industrial workers. Japanese Journal of Public Health 1990; 37:729.
Haratani T, Henmi T. Effects of Transcendental Meditation on mental health of industrial workers. Japanese Journal of Public Health 1990; 32:177

(2) Non-equivalent groups. Another confound in the Otis study is that the groups were not equivalent at pretest. The Experienced meditators checked more items to be a problem for them before they started meditating than did the dropout group. The author writes, “In the SIMS sample the Dropouts reported significantly fewer symptoms as ‘problems’ on the Physical and Behavioral Inventory before starting TM than did either the naïve or the experienced meditators,” p. 206. A group that has more problems to begin with might be expected to have more change in problems later, regardless of Transcendental Meditation practice.
Another possible confound is that dropouts did not check any problems under the heading “since starting meditation” because they may have felt the question was irrelevant for them since they were not meditating. The author does not address this possibility, which alone could explain the data.


(3) Only partial data presented. The paper does not present data on how many problems were reduced or stayed the same, much less on how many positive items, such as academic performance, awareness, creativity, and emotional stability, might have improved. If 5.1 to 11.5% of the Experienced meditators reported increased problems, does that mean that 88.5 to 94.9% of them reported that these problems improved or stayed the same? One does not know, because the data are not shown. One would also like to know the rate of increase or decrease in pre-existing problems. Was there an increase in problems that were not pre-existing before meditation? What was the change in positive items? None of this information is presented in any of the author’s publications or conference presentations, although I have been told by people who saw the compilation of the data that it was extremely positive, as other studies have found.

In addition, only partial data are presented even for the “adverse effects.” For example, of the 893 respondents to the SIMS sample, only 355 of these subjects (40%) show up in Table 1. What happened to the rest of the data? The author says that he only included subjects who reported a 51% or more increase in some problems. If the experimental question is, “Of the people who learn TM, is there an increase in problems?,” then the appropriate thing to do would be to look at all 893 subjects and see if there were a significant increase in problems associated with longer time meditating. By leaving out the 60% of the subjects who did not have an increase in any problems at all, the author is dramatically inflating the results of the statistical tests, because including the ones who did not change would reduce his percentages by 60%. This would change the percentages for the Experienced group, for example, from 5.1-11.5% to 2 to 4.5%, and would probably render the statistical test insignificant. One doesn’t know, because the paper does not describe what tests were done or any of the other critical details. In any event, it is a moot point, because the comparison groups are not equivalent, so any statistical tests would have been beside the point.

(4) History of the study. In a 1974 article published in a non-peer-reviewed, non-technical popular magazine, Psychology Today, the author expressed his opinion that the Transcendental Meditation technique could be good for you if you were “well-integrated but anxious,” and suggested, without any good evidence, that Transcendental Meditation practice may be harmful for some [Otis, L, Psychology Today, 45-46 (April, 1974)]. At the time there were over 2 million TM practitioners in the U.S. This irresponsible suggestion in a national magazine by a highly-credentialed psychologist led some of them to contact Otis complaining about the Transcendental Meditation program (p. 201). However, the statements by the study’s subjects do not necessarily imply that the Transcendental Meditation practice caused their problems. The paper says: “Many reported adverse effects that continued even after they had stopped meditating,” p.202. Continuation of problems after the person stopped meditating could be interpreted as indicating that meditating was not the cause of the problems, but rather that the problems had an independent dynamic. The author also stated, “A few reported that...quitting had exacerbated their symptoms, and that they started again to keep from feeling worse.” If problems were less when meditating and were more when not meditating, should not this be interpreted that meditation was helpful, not harmful?

(5) Changing hypotheses to fit the data. In examining the data, the author keeps changing his hypothesis to try to support his thesis that Transcendental Meditation practice has “adverse effects.” The initial hypothesis was that adverse effects of meditation cause some people to stop the practice. But the data indicated (as he interpreted it) that people who meditate longer report more symptoms than people who drop out. Hence, the hypothesis was changed to fit the data, to say that extended Transcendental Meditation practice is the cause of more symptoms in the long-term practitioners, which of course is confounded by differences in the time periods over which change was rated, as discussed above.

Why did the long-term practitioners continue if meditation caused problems for them? The author’s interpretation of this study is contradicted by common sense. It does not make sense that people would continue to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique and even to devote their lives to teaching it if it were causing them problems. This point is supported by the study’s finding that, on measures of self-concept, the long-term meditators had fewer negative personality characteristics than the drop-outs. On this point, the author suggests the dropouts “were realistically more self critical” rather than admit the possibility that the Transcendental Meditation practice might reduce negative personality traits, as many other studies have found. Why would the long-term practitioners continue if it were causing them problems? The author speculates that “like all well learned habits, TM is difficult to extinguish.” But this is contradicted by the author’s assertions that “35 to 70% drop out over a year” (p. 202) and that those who drop out have fewer problems. If many people drop out and if drop-outs have few problems, then would not stopping the Transcendental Meditation practice be easy, not “difficult”?


(6) Benign physiological effects. The contention that Transcendental Meditation has negative effects is also contradicted by the physiological results from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) study. The paper reports that the EEG and other physiological effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique are not different from controls, except perhaps that the Transcendental Meditation subjects tended to vacillate more between light sleep and wakefulness, as was discussed as the “junction point” under “1. Desiraju” above. If the Transcendental Meditation practice has such benign physiological effects as light sleep, then how could it have negative effects?


(7) Fictitious physiological mechanism. To support his thesis that the Transcendental Meditation technique has adverse effects, the author proposes the following physical mechanism: “The physical variable relates to the sitting posture assumed by the meditator and the loss of support (which may be experienced as frightening) that invariably occurs if the individual enters a sleep pattern during the meditation period. The person’s head may fall forward and be snapped to the upright forcefully or he may catch himself falling from his chair. Both of these events may be experienced as an acute anxiety episode and the associated physiological state may be adversely conditioned to the practice of TM, per se,” p. 207. First, it should be explained that the Transcendental Meditation technique is not done in any unusual posture, but is done while sitting comfortably, with “comfort” being defined by the individual practitioner. If falling asleep while sitting up is a cause of “an acute anxiety episode,” then people riding on subways, cars, trains, and airplanes, watching late night movies, sitting in boring classrooms, etc., are all at risk. There is no literature saying that this is a risk for significant problems of any kind.


(8) Normalization or “unstressing.” A psychological mechanism for potential adverse effects that the author proposes is stated as follows: “The mental variable relates to the possible release of repressed material during the meditation period,” p. 207. This raises the issue of normalization of physiological abnormalities in the system, often referred to as “unstressing.” In the terminology of  Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation teachers, undue pressure of experience on either the mind (e.g., a psychological trauma or psychological stressors) or the body (e.g., a physical trauma or physical stressors) results in structural and biochemical abnormalities in the body—“stress” in the body. To repair and normalize these abnormalities, the body has innumerable self-repair mechanisms, which range from the self-repair systems of DNA on the molecular level to the homeostatic feedback loops on the systems level, such as the various sensors in arteries, set points, and feedback loops that attempt to restore blood pressure to normal levels.


Normalization or “unstressing” is a regular part of life, whether one is practicing any meditation technique or not. Sleep and dreaming are two major mechanisms for normalization. During waking activity, the physiological resources of the body are geared for interacting with the environment via dominance of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). During rest and sleep, the SNS gives way to a dominance of the parasympathetic system (PNS), which functions to restore or normalize the body. During sleep we “unstress” physical fatigue, etc. During dreams we “unstress” the physical stresses associated with mental pressures of various kinds, and the activity in the nervous system that is associated with normalization gives rise to the illusory dream world.


Other common normal, natural techniques for unstressing include the following: vacations, from small ones like a trip to the office water cooler, to longer ones like a month vacation; naps; relaxed reading; walking; playing music; painting and drawing; sports of all kinds; “goofing off”; or just kicking back in any way whatsoever. Recreation is re-creation of the body and mind. All of these activities, or non activities, allow the physiology to ease off from its goal-directed behavior, or to go into alternative activities, which relax the overused processes and allow their self-repair mechanisms to come into play to restore the systems to whatever extent these mechanisms can. Even ruminating, talking to oneself, discussing, arguing, psychotherapy, etc., are forms of unstressing in that they are attempts to normalize and resolve psychic and emotional stresses. In a word, in this context, life is a constant process of unstressing or normalizing stresses that block one’s path as one evolves towards one’s goals.
What the Transcendental Meditation technique adds to all this is that it produces a unique state of restful alertness, which sets the optimal conditions for normalizing stresses that other types of rest and recreation do not. The evidence that this is true is the broad scope of positive benefits shown by the research in all kinds of populations.


(9) Lack of replication. It is telling that this widely quoted paper has not been replicated in the 35 years since the data were collected or the 23 years since it was published. A paper by Shapiro (1992) presented itself as a replication, but it was on a completely different meditation technique (Vipassana), so the study is not relevant to the Transcendental Meditation technique. [Shapiro, D. (1992) Adverse Effects of Meditation. International Journal of Psychosomatics 39, 62-67.]

 
On the other hand, large scale and well designed research has shown that the Transcendental Meditation program has beneficial effects on mental health in many different clinical and normal populations.


(10) How the Transcendental Meditation technique should be presented to the public. In the conclusion of his paper, which is not cited on the “anti-TM websites,” Dr. Otis states: “We hope that the data reported here will not discourage people from taking up TM or clinicians from using TM as an adjunct to traditional therapeutic interventions. It is clearly of benefit to many people,” p. 207. He advises, however, that the public should be warned that Transcendental Meditation practice may have adverse effects. I see no good evidence supporting this view. In my opinion, for the normal population, normalization during practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique does not pose a problem, and people do not need to be warned. However, for the neurotic and psychotic populations, etc., I completely concur with Dr. Otis and others who have advised that such populations should be carefully supervised, as they should be in starting any new treatment modality.


Conclusion. This is a poorly designed and badly represented presentation of the data that were collected and the paper would have been rejected by the normal peer-review process. The fact that it was published illustrates a bias against the subject matter by the author and by the paper’s publisher.

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2. Arnold A. Lazarus.  Psychiatric Problems Precipitated by
Transcendental Meditation. Psychological Report, 1976, 39,
pp. 601-602.


Arnold A. Lazarus.  Meditation: The Problems of Unimodal Technique.
Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Alden
Publications, 1984, p. 691.

The author’s main thesis is “how can anything be good for everyone” and he sets out to find a subgroup for whom TM practice would not be indicated. This is not a controlled study, and the author presents no systematic data of any kind to support his thesis. Instead, he supports his points with uncontrolled observations and hearsay. His opinions are contradicted by substantial, well-controlled research on a variety of patient groups and other populations (e.g., see Opinion on Glueck research above). These controlled studies have found TM practice to be beneficial. Conceptually, one can understand how TM practice could be universally beneficial from the physiological research, which indicates that it produces a state of deep, coherence rest. Like sleep, it is good for everyone. See Hans Selye on the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Evidence that the TM technique does not produce psychiatric problems. The author argues that "Transcendental Meditation (TM) proves extremely effective when applied to properly selected cases by informed practitioners... [but] when used indiscriminately, there are clinical indications that the procedure can precipitate serious psychiatric problems." p.601.

First, the program is never "used indiscriminately." TM teachers are highly sensitive to the fact that everyone comes to meditation looking for something, and that some people come with pre-existing conditions of anxiety, depression, and other problems. The policy of the TM organization, which is practiced by all of its teachers, is that anyone undergoing psychoanalysis or other modalities of psychological treatment, including psychotropic medications must complete their treatment and/or bring a letter of consent from their attending physician, psychiatrists, or psychologist before they are allowed to learn the technique.

The author further argues that there may be "persons who are temperamentally and otherwise unsuited to their procedures”, pointing out that “virtually everything has contraindications." p. 601 That may sound reasonable, but what about sleep?  Isn't this a biological function so basic that it is indicated for the health and well-being of everyone? 

What empirical evidence does Lazarus present to support his thesis?  Only a few uncontrolled clinical observations, and hearsay, which are highly open to speculation as to the cause. A person may come to learn to meditate with a pre-existing problem, or it could happen that the problem came up at the same time that the person learned to meditate, resulting in interpreting meditation as the cause.  However, there could be many other possible reasons causing the problem at that time, and the weight of the research makes it highly unlikely that it is due to meditation.

In virtually every case mentioned by Lazarus, there was a pre-existing condition, such as depression, ongoing tension and restlessness, which meditation was said to exacerbate. Every teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program knows and teaches their students that during the deep rest of meditation pre-existing stresses in the physiology may begin to normalize, giving rise to various sensations and thoughts.

If a meditator is having excessive mental or physical symptoms, they are advised to see a doctor.  They are never told to simply ignore any major symptoms.  This is particularly the case for more extended meditation periods during special courses, in which the extra deep rest could result in more stress normalizing. Whether on a special course or at home, the meditator is advised to stay within their comfort zone. If they get out of their comfort zone, or for any reason feel that their meditation is not working for them, there is a very highly effective checking procedure with the teacher that puts the meditator back on track of meditating correctly. If the individual continues to have difficulty, the policy is to instruct them to seek professional attention, which is apparently what Lazarus’s patients did. The physician should not confuse the patient with the medicine. He/she should not attribute symptoms from pre-existing conditions in the patient with the effects of meditation.

The author further argues that there may be "persons who are temperamentally and otherwise unsuited to their procedures”, pointing out that “virtually everything has countaindications." p. 601 That may sound reasonable, but as mentioned above, what about sleep?  Isn't this a biological function so basic that it is indicated for the health and well-being of everyone? 

In fact, many researchers have noted that the physiology of Transcendental Meditation is very similar to stage 1 sleep. Dr. Fred Travis has empirically shown at the physiology of the Transcendental Meditation technique is similar to the junction point between waking dreaming and deep sleep.  Forty years ago in his 1966 book The Science of Being an Art of Living Maharishi stated that "through the practice of Transcendental Meditation the nervous system... receives a new status.  This status can be located at the junction of any two of the three states of consciousness [waking, dreaming, and sleep]”, p.134.  In 1972 Maharishi devoted Lesson 22 of the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) to the junction point.  "A definite change in physiology will bear witness to a style of functioning of the nervous system which corresponds to none of the three commonly experienced states.  There is a state of functioning of the nervous system which is a transitional state.  This is the junction point.” p. 22-5.  

Travis, F. T. (1990). An empirical test of Maharishi's junction point model of states of consciousness. Modern Science and Vedic Science, 4(1), 42-55.
Travis, F. T. (1994). The junction point model: A field model of waking, sleeping, and dreaming relating dream witnessing, the waking/sleeping transition, and Transcendental Meditation in terms of a common psychophysiologic state. Dreaming, 4(2), 91-104.

Also see discussion of Dr. Desiraju's research.

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3.  Bernard C. Glueck and Charles F. Stroebel.  Biofeedback and Meditation and the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness.  Comprehensive Psychiatry, Volume 16, Number 4, 303-321, 1975.


This is the first of four papers published by Bernard Glueck, M.D. and Charles Stroebel, M.D., Ph.D. on their research on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program and a variety of biofeedback procedures in the treatment of very serious psychiatric patients at the Institute of Living in Hartford Connecticut.  Forty percent of the patients were schizophrenics, and the others had serious psychiatric problems, so this study is a critical test of whether TM is indicated with extremely unstable people.
An anti-TM web site states that this study “discloses that the release of repressed subconscious impressions [stress] from the TM practice can be handled by some but has also been seriously destabilizing for others.”  Although the papers by Glueck and Stroebel rightly contain cautionary notes, the objective results reported in these papers is overwhelmingly positive. The authors caution that teaching meditation to psychiatric patients obviously should only be undertaken in the context of a medical facility under the close supervision of the attendant physicians, as it was in the Institute of Living.
The papers published by Bernard Glueck, M.D. and Charles Stroebel, M.D., Ph.D. compared the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program to a variety of biofeedback procedures in the treatment of very serious psychiatric patients. Forty percent of the patients were schizophrenics, and the others had other serious psychiatric problems, so this study is a critical test of whether the technique is indicated for extremely unstable people.

Transcendental Meditation acceptance. “Some indication of the acceptance of the Transcendental Meditation program in the hospital might be gathered from the fact that, in addition to randomly selected patients, we have been running a waiting list for the project of from 17 to 25 patients; these patients have either been referred by their treating psychiatrist or have heard about the Transcendental Meditation study and have asked their therapist about starting in the project and have received his approval. The delay in starting these patients is due to the rather extensive workup required in order to collect data for the study before the patient can start meditating.” p. 308.

Clinical outcomes. “One criterion of the effectiveness of any intervention, even though it is a rather crude global judgment, is the condition on discharge from the hospital. An evaluation of the condition on discharge was condensed into three levels; recovered or much improved, moderately improved, and slightly improved or unimproved. Fifty-four Transcendental Meditation patients who had completed more than eight weeks in the study before discharge have been matched with the comparison twin.  They showed a greater level of improvement than the improvement rates for all hospital discharges in the 1972-73 year. The difference is significant at better than the 0.001 level (chi-square =19.69 [2 df]) (Fig. 1.) Similar differences in level of improvement are seen in the Transcendental Meditation patients compared with the matched twin comparison group, the Transcendental Meditation patients showing a higher level of recovery than their twin. This difference is significant at the 0.001.” p. 308-309.

Psychophysiological effects. “The most consistent finding across all of the psychophysiological variables was the increase in skin resistance (GSR) that was seen in all of the Transcendental Meditation patients at every session where this was monitored.  The consistency of this finding was quite surprising, since one would expect some variability, even in the same patient, with evaluations on a number of occasions in the course of 12-16 weeks.

“A second finding is a rather consistent change in the EEG record as analyzed by a power-spectrum analysis... While there was considerable variability among our patients and their ability to produce alpha EEG during the control session, most began to show significant increases in the density and duration of the alpha wave production as they began to meditate. While this would appear to be an important finding, correlated perhaps with subjects’ reports of increased feelings of tranquility and inner calm, we have been more impressed by the appearance of rather unique patterns of alpha wave production that appear to involve the entire dominant hemisphere within a few minutes of starting to meditate, and that spread quite rapidly to the opposite hemisphere. This same phenomenon has been described by Banquet, who studied experienced meditators, mainly teachers of the Transcendental Meditation technique, while working at the Stanley Cobb Laboratories for Psychiatric Research, Massachusetts General Hospital. We have been very intrigued by this finding and are currently in the process of evaluating all of the records of our meditating patients to see how consistently, and at what point in time, these episodes of synchronous alpha-wave pattern occur.” p. 310.

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4.  Bernard C. Glueck and Charles F. Stroebel.  Biofeedback and Meditation and the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness.  Current Psychiatric Therapies, Vol. 15, 1975, p. 109-115.


Rationale for using meditation with psychiatric patients. “Transcendental Meditation (TM), which may be learned in about six hours, is compatible with the Western lifestyle, and produces an alert but restful physiological state incompatible with the emergency response.” p. 110.
Clinical indications: “As a result of approximately 4 years of experience with a variety of biofeedback procedures and teaching TM to psychiatric in- and outpatients, we feel that to impart general relaxation and create a state incompatible with the emergency response, TM is preferable to biofeedback... The generalized relaxation state TM produces seems to affect most immediately and dramatically those psychiatric patients showing considerable amounts of overt anxiety, manifested by symptoms such as hand tremors, perspiration of hands and feet, ‘a knot in the pit of the stomach,’ or, in the present jargon, being ‘uptight.’  These individuals often are relieved of anxiety symptoms after the first meditation. Typically, the symptoms returned after an interval of one-half an hour to several hours, but during the next 3 to 4 weeks symptoms gradually subside. Thus, if the patient meditates properly twice a day for 20 minutes each time, by the end of an 8-week period most of the overt anxiety symptoms disappear.

“Another index of change is seen in the rapidly decreased requirement for night sedation as chronic insomnia is replaced by a normal restful 7 to 8 hours of sleep. The need for various anti-anxiety psychotropic agents also seems to decrease. Patients with marked anxiety symptoms also seem to be more consistent in continuing meditation once they leave the hospital and returned to the community.

“Patients with more clear-cut overt psychiatric symptoms, especially of the schizophrenic variety, also seem to be able to learn to meditate quite easily and show a somewhat slower, but nevertheless impressive, shift in the level of anxiety, if this can be inferred from a decrease in overt psychotic symptoms. However, patients who are suffering from serious depressive symptoms, while able to learn the meditation technique fairly readily, seemed to have considerable difficulty in being able to meditate comfortably and successfully twice a day without a great deal of encouragement and support. Of course, this is no different from these patients’ impaired ability to perform any daily tasks because of the impact of the depression. Meditation does not seem to have the same immediate and obvious impact on depression that it does in the anxiety states mentioned above. In fact, four of the patients who were terminated early in the authors’ research project were stopped because they received electroconvulsive therapy. All four were able to resume meditating successfully after a series of ECT's, but the memory loss occasioned by the treatments required relearning of the meditation technique.

“The single most difficult group within the hospital setting appears to be patients under age 21. These patients, most of whom have been heavy users of various drugs, seemed to show the least response to the initial meditation experience. To quote one of them, ‘there is nothing to this compared to the turn on I get with my drugs.’  In order to keep such patients meditating regularly, the authors found it advisable to establish courses in the high school program at the hospital on the ‘science of creative intelligence.’  This is the name given by the International Meditation Society to various discussions covering the background philosophy of TM and its applications to a fuller comprehension of many areas of knowledge. Discussions of the consciousness-expanding aspects of TM are quite intriguing to these youngsters, and the formal course setting allows for at least once a day group meditation sessions that controls the regularity of their meditation experience somewhat. Without this kind of highly structured setting, continued for a period of at least 10 to 12 weeks, most of these youngsters meditate irregularly and continue to complain that they see little or no benefit from the technique. However, those who meditate regularly began to admit, albeit grudgingly, after a period of 8 to 9 weeks that they sense some changes. These changes seem to be in the general area of improved concentration, improved attention in class, and a general decrease in restless, impulsive, activity that is part of their general clinical picture.

“In contrast to the above, for patients who complain of specific psychosomatic symptoms-such as migraine headaches, Raynaud's syndrome, and similar physiological manifestations of the underlying chronic anxiety and tension--biofeedback intervention appears to be most effective. In general, the attempts to use TM to relieve psychosomatic complaints, e.g., migraine headaches or hypertension, have not been very effective.  Perhaps if TM is continued over a period of years it will affect these stress-related conditions, but the life-threatening physiologic changes that are associated with the psychosomatic illness do not permit this sort of slow, long-term intervention.” pp. 111-113

No side effects. The authors caution that psychiatric patients must be carefully monitored by medical personnel in trying any new procedures, such as the ones they studied at the Institute of Living (alpha enhancement biofeedback, EMG-thermal biofeedback, Progressive Relaxation, the TM technique, Benson’s relaxation response, Carrington’s Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM)). Although they caution that mental patients must be closely supervised when learning and practicing these techniques, as they would for doing anything new, they did not report any cases in which these procedures caused problems for the psychiatric patients.

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5: Charles F. Stroebel and Bernard C. Glueck.  Passive Meditation: Subjective, Clinical, and Electrographic Comparison with Biofeedback.  In G. E. Schwartz and David Shapiro (editors) Consciousness and Self Regulation, Volume Two. Plenum Press, New York, 1978.

6. Bernard C. Glueck and Charles F. Stroebel.  Meditation in the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness. In Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives.  New York: Alden Publications, 1984.

The authors note a high level of acceptance of the Transcendental Meditation program by psychiatric patients, as reflected in a low attrition rate. “For general relaxation purposes, we have observed the following rank order of attrition rate with compliance from high to low as three-months follow-up: TM (80%) > Carrington's CSM, (60%) > Benson relaxation response (25%) > EMG-thermal biofeedback (10%).” p. 415.

Clinical outcomes.  “Clinical outcome data comparing TM patients and their matched controls receiving just the usual hospital treatment plan overwhelmingly favored the TM group by whatever measure has been evaluated (condition on discharge, MMPI admission-discharge difference scores, daily automated nursing-note evaluation of psychopathology, decrease in medication for insomnia, etc., with TM versus matched control group p values ranging from .05 to .001 using t tests and chi-square tests of significance, as appropriate). (Glueck & Strobel, 1975).

“What can be concluded from the clinical data of this study?  First, passive meditation did not have an adverse effect on psychiatric inpatients, 40% of whom were diagnosed as schizophrenic. Second, a majority of patients subjectively reported that the calming effect of TM played a significant role in their recovery. Third, passive meditation is accepted more readily with longer compliance than training in progressive relaxation or EEG alpha rhythm enhancement.” pp. 413-414. [Emphasis added].

EEG Results.  “In general, the higher the level of psychopathology, the greater the difficulty experienced by the subjects in producing spontaneous alpha rhythms during eyes-closed control sessions.” p. 410.

“Our further, more sophisticated evaluation of meditators’ EEG records revealed remarkable affects of intrahemispheric alpha-theta synchrony for experienced subjects.  This observation was subsequently confirmed by Banquet (1973) and Levine (1975) in their studies of intra-and interhemispheric EEG synchrony in experienced meditators.” p. 418.

The authors report that the EEG signature of the TM technique was different from biofeedback and from the relaxation response. EEG biofeedback subjects demonstrated virtually no interhemispheric synchrony and relaxation response subjects showed virtually no occipital synchrony, whereas TM subjects showed synchrony in both of these areas. p. 418.

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