Myth #2: Meditation and relaxation practices are all the same and produce the same effects

The scientific literature on meditation shows that not all meditation practices produce the same effects. Different types of meditation practices engage the mind in different ways and employ a variety of methods for different results. 

For example, numerous independent scientific studies have found consistent distinctions between the Transcendental Meditation technique and other practices on measures of deep relaxation, anxiety reduction, growth of intelligence, normalization of high blood pressure, reduction of drug and alcohol abuse and self-actualization.* A recent study published by the American Heart Association found that TM practice reduces the chance of heart attack and stroke among those at-risk by 48% — an effect not found in research on other meditation practices. The TM technique is the only form of meditation recommended by the American Heart Association.

*Cognitive Processing, 11, 1, 2010; American Journal of Health Promotion, 12, 297-299; American Psychologist [42] 879-81, 1987; Intelligence 29: 419-440, 2001; Journal of Social Behavior and Personality (6) 189–247, 1991; International Journal of Neuroscience 100, 77-89, 2000; Journal of Clinical Psychology [45] 957-974, 1989; American Journal of Hypertension 21(3): 310-316, 2008

Three areas of research showing distinctions between meditation techniques:

1. Meditation and brain function: 

In recent decades, neuroscientists have researched the brain patterns of various meditative practices — studying Tibetan monks, Indian yogis, trained Western meditators and many other groups as subjects. Out of this research has emerged the understanding that different meditation techniques have very different effects on the brain.

For example, EEG research on mindfulness meditation (Cahn et al, Cognitive Processing, 2010) reports an increase in frontal theta brain waves (4-8 Hz) during mindfulness practice, as well as possible gamma waves (35-45 Hz) in the back of the brain, but no continuous or “state” effects were found for theta, alpha, or beta. Studies have found that during concentration meditation the brain shows increased frontal gamma, a frequency commonly associated with controlled focus (Lutz A, et al, 2004).
Research on the Transcendental Meditation technique reports patterns of highly coherent and synchronous alpha waves ("high amplitude" alpha, 10-12 Hz) throughout the entire brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s “CEO”). Heightened alpha activity is associated with relaxed wakefulness, and high amplitude alpha is associated with heightened awareness. 

This continuous state of increased widespread EEG coherence seen during TM practice also carries over into daily activity outside of meditation, indicating more efficient overall brain functioning. Coherence is associated with increased learning ability, higher IQ, better moral reasoning and improved neurological efficiency — all of which result from TM practice according to numerous studies. This heightened state of EEG coherence is not reported from ordinary relaxation or other meditation practices (Travis et al, 2010).

2. Deep Relaxation: Although the Transcendental Meditation technique is a mental process, it produces extensive physiological effects. The TM technique allows the mind to settle very deeply inward, beyond thinking, in an effortless, natural way. This is called transcending — going beyond all mental activity to experience the state of restful alertness or pure consciousness at the basis of the mind.

Due to the natural relationship between mind and body, when the mind becomes deeply settled during TM practice, the body also experiences deep relaxation. The TM technique is the only mind-body practice shown by scientific research to provide a state of rest more than twice as deep as ordinary, eyes-closed relaxation (American Psychologist [42] 879-81, 1987). Meditation practices that keep the mind engaged in thinking or mental activity (such as mindfulness or the "relaxation response" technique) have not been found to produce this degree of deep rest.

3. Reducing Anxiety: A meta-analysis (critical review of all available research data) conducted at Stanford University found the Transcendental Meditation technique significantly more effective in reducing trait anxiety than concentration and contemplation procedures or other techniques (Journal of Clinical Psychology [45] 957-974, 1989). The research project analyzed 146 independent study results, and found that the increased effectiveness of TM practice could not be attributed to subject expectation, experimenter bias or quality of research design. In fact, the studies with the most rigorous design showed the most significant results for the Transcendental Meditation technique.

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