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Stress and the Brain

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How Transcendental Meditation can reduce stress and improve brain function.

How Stress Damages the Brain

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Stress, pressure, fatigue, poor diet, alcohol, and drugs damage neural connections between the brain’s prefrontal cortex – or CEO – and the rest of the brain. When you are overtired or under intense mental or physical stress, the brain bypasses its higher, more evolved, rational frontal executive circuits. Consequently, you respond to daily demands without thinking; you make impulsive, shortsighted decisions. When the CEO goes “offline,” strong emotions, such as fear and anger, take over, adversely coloring your view of the world.

How TM Optimises the Brain

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The stress-reducing, non-religious Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique provides the experience of restful alertness, which reduces stress, strengthens communication between the brain’s prefrontal cortex and different areas of the brain, and develops total brain functioning. As a result, the Transcendental Meditation practitioner displays stronger executive functions, with more purposeful thinking and farsighted decision-making. When the CEO is fully online, the emotional response to the world is more balanced and appropriate.

Weak Executive Functioning

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  • Rigid thinking
  • Impulsive, reactive behavior
  • Shortsighted decision-making
  • Poor working memory
  • Distracted attention
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Unethical thinking and behavior

Strong Executive Functioning

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  • Purposeful, flexible thinking
  • Nonimpulsive, proactive behavior
  • Farsighted decision-making
  • Excellent working memory
  • Settled, focused attention
  • No substance abuse or addictions
  • Ethical thinking and behavior

Stressed Physiology

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  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Eating and sleeping disorders
  • Weak immune system

Stressed Physiology

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  • Energy and vitality
  • Fit cardiovascular system
  • Balanced physiology
  • Strong immune functioning

Imbalanced Emotions

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  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Worries, anxieties, and fears
  • Shallow, divisive emotions
  • Unstable relationships
  • Depression

Balanced emotions

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  • Self-confidence and secure self-esteem
  • Feelings of safety and peace
  • Compassion and empathy for others
  • Healthy interpersonal relations
  • Happiness and optimism

Promoting a Healthy Heart

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Research shows that regular practice of Transcendental Meditation reduces physical stress and promotes and maintains a healthy heart

Stress damages the heart

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Psychological stress has been shown to increase activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. This increased activation releases adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, which lead to faster heart rate, increased cardiac output, and narrower arteries.

These changes, in turn, create increased blood pressure. Activation of these systems also accelerates the progress of atherosclerosis and can lead to acute plaque rupture, which results in ischemia of the heart (angina) and coronary heart disease and stroke.

TM promotes a healthy heart

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The twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique reduces activation of the sympathetic nervous system—which, in turn, dilates the blood vessels and reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, and provides stress relief. Published research confirms that TM:

  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Reduces atherosclerosis
  • Reduces constriction of blood vessels
  • Reduces thickening of coronary arteries
  • Reduces use of antihypertensive medication
  • Reduces mortality rates

Research on Heart Disease

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The National Institutes of Health has granted over $20 million to study the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on the prevention and treatment of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. In addition, hundreds of other studies have been conducted on the beneficial effects of the TM program for mind, health, behavior, and society at over 210 independent universities and research institutions in 33 countries, including Harvard, Yale, and UCLA Medical School.

  • Reduced High Blood Pressure & Death Rates – American Journal of Cardiology
  • Reduced High Blood Pressure & Reduced Hypertensive Medication – American Journal of Hypertension
  • Reduced Atherosclerosis – American Journal of Cardiology
  • Reduced Thickening of Coronary Arteries – The American Heart Association’s Stroke
  • Reduced Constriction of Blood Vessels – Psychosomatic Medicine
  • Reduced Blood Pressure – International Journal of Neuroscience
  • Reduced Myocardial Eschemia – American Journal of Cardiology
  • Slowing of Aging – International Journal of Neuroscience
  • Stress Relief – Integrative Cancer Therapies
  • Reduced Hospitalization Rates -American Journal of Managed Care
  • Decreased Medical CareUtilization and Hospitalization – Psychosomatic Medicine
  • Increased Creativity – Journal of Creative Behavior
  • Improved Memory – Memory and Cognition
  • Increased Intelligence – Intelligence
  • Decreased Anxiety – Journal of Clinical Psychology
  • Reduced Alcohol Abuse – American Journal of Psychiatry
  • Increased Productivity – Academy of Management Journal
  • Reduced Blood Pressure:Comparisons with Other Procedures – The American Heart Association’s Hypertension

Stress Syndrome

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Doctors Sarina Grosswald and Steven Rector answer your questions on stress and the benefits of Transcendental Meditation.

Q: I get really stressed by things that don't bother other people, like talking in front of a group or having to meet a deadline. Can TM help?

Dr. Grosswald: Well, there is no “stressometer,” or standard measure of stress. What someone considers stressful is stressful for that person, whether it is stressful for someone else or not, and your susceptibility to stress depends a lot on your physiology. With regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, your tolerance to stress increases, allowing you to become less susceptible to it, almost like a stress vaccine.

Q: Is there any research to show these effects?

Dr. Grosswald: Research shows that the Transcendental Meditation program is effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. You could think of stress as a continuum—from the lowest level of stress to post-traumatic stress disorder at the high end. The Transcendental Meditation technique has been shown to be effective across the spectrum

Q: What about stress due to sleep deprivation? I almost never get a good night's sleep. Does the Transcendental Meditation technique help with that?

Dr. Grosswald: It’s interesting that you should ask, because research shows that Americans are the most sleep deprived people in the world. The stress of not sleeping accumulates over time.

And even if you are getting normal sleep once in a while, sleep does not dissolve the accumulated stress of day-in-and-day-out pressures of daily life; it can only dissolve the fatigue of today. So fatigue and stress keep building. Even when you go on vacation, the relaxation doesn’t last very long once you get back to your usual lifestyle. That’s why everyone needs a way to dissolve the accumulated fatigue and stress of daily living, which is made worse by sleep deprivation.

Practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique on a regular basis allows you to throw off that accumulated stress. Research indicates that the regular practice of Transcendental Meditation improves health, including psychological well-being. Researchers estimate that 70 to 90% of disease is stress related, so if you have a mechanism for reducing stress, it improves your overall health and all aspects of your life.

Q: Isn't some stress a good thing? Doesn't it give us the edge to do things we might not get done otherwise, like meeting deadlines?

Dr. Grosswald: Sometimes a deadline can increase motivation to get things done, but it really is a total misconception that people perform better under stress. In fact, the people who perform better in pressured situations are the very people who do not find those situations stressful. In other words, the pressure is merely stimulating to those people; if it were stressful to them, their performance would be affected.

If you think about it, when are you most likely to make mistakes? When you’re tired, when you’re stressed, and when you’re doing things too quickly. Creativity comes from being clear-minded, calm and rested.

There’s nothing wrong with occasional stress, but chronic stress is debilitating; and when you’re really stressed, it is unlikely that creativity and performance are going to be at their peak. The reason is that nature has provided us with a survival mechanism that shuts down the prefrontal cortex—the reasoning and analytical part of the brain—when under extreme stress. And what “shutting down the brain” means is that all the energy goes to the muscles; that is called the “fight-or-flight” response. That works fine if you’re being chased by a bear, but for day-to-day life, operating within that circumstance is really counterproductive. Basically, in some circumstances one rises to the occasion when there’s pressure. But you don’t want to live your daily life like that.

Rather, you want the pre-frontal cortex, the total brain operating. Then you can plan, organize, strategize, and be as productive, effective and creative as possible. What the TM technique does is increase the communication between the pre-frontal cortex and the other parts of the brain. The Transcendental Meditation technique expands brain functioning. Stress does the exact opposite.

Q: I take a vacation at least once a year. The stress goes away for a little while, but once I'm back at work, I start to feel pressures building up?

Dr. Grosswald: The vacation helps make stress go away for a short period of time, but it really doesn’t get rid of the accumulated stress; it’s just a temporary fix. What we need is something that allows us to be less susceptible to stress on a daily basis, so that stress doesn’t interfere with enjoyment of life. Research shows that the Transcendental Meditation program not only allows the mind and body to release accumulated stress, over time it helps one to become more resistant to stress.

Q: Stress is said to cause 90% of disease. What sort of changes occur in the body as a result of stress?

Dr. Rector:It is understood, for instance, that hormones modulate the immune system. The immune system is your defense not only against infectious diseases, but also against cancer. Malfunctioning of the immune system may also contribute to heart disease, through mechanisms such as chronic low-level inflammatory hyperactivity, which may contribute to coronary artery plaque formation. You could think of this as corrosion in the arteries from excessive heat, so to speak.

When the immune system is constantly under demand and threat, and stress prevails, it gradually becomes deranged and confused, as if estranged from the systems it is intended to protect. Like a good cop gone bad, it loses the ability to be perfectly vigilant in protecting the body from real threats and gradually it can become aggressive against its own body—at first to a lesser degree, but eventually it is possible for this to happen to a flagrant degree. Autoimmune disease can occur as a result.

Q: On the more positive side, would hormone levels become more balanced when stress is decreased through the Transcendental Meditation technique?

Dr. Rector:Yes, when the body is less stressed as a result of the practice of Transcendental Meditation, hormone levels also change in the direction of less stress. As a powerful antidote to stress, the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique results in restoration of harmony, integration and balance. These healing mechanisms function at every level of the complex human physiology. Without having to think about it, the entire organism becomes holistically reintegrated and balanced.

This happens at the silent source of the physiology. Therefore, the TM technique can result in healing and reintegration of the entire physiology in a way not otherwise available or expected through any other stress management technique. This is an extraordinary claim, yet it is well justified on the basis of the overwhelming support of over forty years of scientific research from around the world.

Our Medical Experts

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Sarina Grosswald, Ed.D.  is an expert in cognitive learning who recently directed the first-of-its-kind research study on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on children with language-based learning disabilities. Dr. Grosswald and her work have been extensively featured in the national media, including PBS and ABC News.


Steven Rector, M.D.  has practiced emergency medicine for the past 18 years. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Emergency Medicine.


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Drs. Molina and Schneider answer your questions on stroke how Transcendental Meditation can help in prevention and recovery.

Q: Does practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique decrease the risk factors of stroke?

 Dr. Molina: The Transcendental Meditation has been shown to DECREASE CAROTID ARTERY ATHEROSCLEROSIS, the thickening of the carotid artery. Carotid artery atherosclerosis, after hypertension, is one of the top three risk factors for stroke. (The three top risk factors are high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and carotid atherosclerosis.) The Transcendental Meditation program has also been shown to DECREASE HYPERTENSION.

Q: Do you recommend the Transcendental Meditation technique to help reduce the risk factors for heart attack and stroke?

Dr. Molina: Actually, I recommend the Transcendental Meditation technique to anyone, because you don’t have to be sick to meditate.

There have been studies showing that Transcendental Meditation technique increases longevity and decreases cardiovascular death, as compared to control groups that did nothing, received regular medical care and practiced other relaxation techniques. Also, the TM technique does reduce the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a very simple mental technique, and when practiced regularly, it is associated with a decrease in blood pressure and improved neuro-physiological integration and endocrine integration; therefore, it is a process in which you can decrease high blood pressure, decrease atherosclerosis, and at the same time become more awake, alert, bright and happy.

Q: I recently suffered from a stroke. Will practicing the TM technique reduce my chances of having another stroke?

Dr. Molina: Having a stroke is an important risk factor for having subsequent strokes. Practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, along with the recommendations of your physician (such as anti-platelet medications, statins and anti-hypertensives), may reduce the chances of having another stroke.

Dr. Schneider: Research shows that practicing the >TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION PROGRAM REDUCES RISK FACTORS for recurrent stroke, such as high blood pressure. TM practice might aid stroke recovery due to its effects on enhancing brain integration and mental functioning. For example, Professor Lubimov, a member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, found that the Transcendental Meditation technique enlivens brain reserve capacity, resulting in improved speed and efficiency of brain-body coordination.

Q: Besides lowering blood pressure, how does practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique reduce the risk of stroke?

Dr. Schneider: The Transcendental Meditation technique reduces the risk of stroke by reducing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk factors. The risk factors for stroke are basically the same as the risk factors for coronary artery disease, including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

Our Medical Experts

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César Molina, M.D., F.A.C.C. is Medical Director of the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA. He is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine and a fellow of the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Molina has recently appeared in the international edition of CNN discussing the benefits of diet and exercise in the treatment and prevention of coronary heart disease.

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Robert Schneider, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.B.M.R. has been awarded more than $20 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his pioneering research on natural approaches to heart disease. Dr. Schneider is the author of Total Heart Health and 100 medical research articles, and he has been featured in more than 1,000 media reports, including CNN Headline News, The New York Times, and Time magazine.

Weight Problems

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Doctor Sandeep Chaudhary answers your questions on weight problems, outlining the benefits of Transcendental Meditation.

Q: I'm one of those people who gains weight just by looking at food. How can TM help me lose weight?

 Dr. Sandeep Chaudhary: Many people have problems controlling hunger and appetite, and science explains that there are hormonal reasons for this. The secretion of many of these hormones is directly effected by stress. Under stress one loses the natural intuition of knowing what the body does need and does not need. The Transcendental Meditation technique allows people to develop a state of mental and physical balance, where one naturally begins craving the foods that the body needs. When the body is getting what it craves, one tends to have a more balanced appetite.

Q: Does stress affect obesity?

Dr. Sandeep Chaudhary: Stress plays an important role in causing obesity. The hormone cortisone, for instance, is released as a response to stress. Cortisol increases insulin resistance, and insulin is a hormone that makes you gain and hold onto weight. When your body has increased insulin resistance, it has to secrete more insulin to metabolize the food you’re consuming. So if you have higher cortisone levels, then you have more insulin resistance, which in turn causes weight gain. Several studies have shown that the Transcendental Meditation technique, by decreasing stress, causes baseline cortisone levels to drop.

Q: Isn't what I eat, when I eat and how much I eat more important than practicing TM?

Dr. Sandeep Chaudhary: Yes, of course, what you eat and the quality of foods that you eat are very, very important to your health. However, when people experience lower stress levels, they are better able to select the foods and the quantity of foods that will meet their natural metabolic needs. Research has shown that the TM program is the most effective stress management technique available.

Q: I get hungry between meals. Will TM help me resist hunger?

Dr. Sandeep Chaudhary: I don’t think it is a matter of resisting hunger, because in general when people start resisting something, their attention goes to it and they tend to desire it even more. A common problem people with weight problems notice is when they start restricting what they eat by dieting, they start craving the very foods they are trying to avoid. I would say that the TM technique reduces one’s need to resist hunger by bringing more balance to one’s appetite and awareness of one’s true needs. This results in a natural reduction of the amount of food taken in. The TM technique reduces stress and brings more balance to one’s body and mind so one spontaneously starts eating the foods that are good, at the right times of day, in the right quantities without having to resist hunger.

Q: So it happens spontaneously—it's not something you have to force yourself to do?

Dr. Sandeep Chaudhary: Yes, absolutely. Research shows that with other harmful habits such as smoking, many people who start the Transcendental Meditation technique quit smoking spontaneously rather than having to go on nicotine patches. In a similar way, a person may spontaneously and naturally stop behaviors such as over- eating and binge eating, which aren’t in accordance with what one’s body needs or requires.

Sandeep Chaudhary, M.D.

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Sandeep Chaudhary, M.D. earned a double board certification in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Loma Linda University Medical School and later earned his board certification in Endocrinology at the University of California, San Diego. He is currently the Medical Director of Wellspring Endocrinology at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California.

Giving up Smoking

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Doctors James Krag and Robert Schneider answer your questions on giving up cigarettes and how Transcendental Meditation can help.

Q: One of the major risk factors for heart disease is cigarette smoking. What can the Transcendental Meditation technique do to help people stop smoking?

Dr. Schneider: Smoking is, indeed, a major risk factor for heart disease, for lung cancer and for many other conditions that produce mortality, disease and disability. As a matter of fact, it’s considered to be the leading cause of death today by the Surgeon General of the United States.

It’s actually difficult for doctors to get their patients to stop smoking. However, the Transcendental Meditation program has been shown to be quite effective in helping people to quit.

In a meta-analysis, or study, of all available research on cessation of smoking published in the Alcohol Treatment Quarterly and the Journal of Health Promotion, the Transcendental Meditation technique was shown to be twice as effective in helping people to stop smoking as the other treatments, including pharmacological therapy, individual counseling and self-help kits. This result is very significant for the 25-30% of the population who smoke today

Q: Even if I learn the Transcendental Meditation technique, won't I still have to try hard to give up smoking?

Dr. Krag: I would not expect your TM instructors to ever give you instructions on quitting smoking. They teach Transcendental Meditation. However, by regularly practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, I do expect that you will simply not be as interested in smoking. Just meditate regularly and see what happens. I predict you will be pleasantly surprised.

Q: I like to drink two cups of coffee in the morning. Will I have to stop in order to learn the Transcendental Meditation program?

Dr. Krag: No but I recommend that you wait until after meditating to drink the coffee. Over time you may find you “need” or want less, not only in the morning but during the day as well.

Our Medical Experts

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James Krag, M.D. is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, president of the Psychiatric Society of Virginia, and former president of the Virginia Association of Community Psychiatrists for four years. He is currently Medical Director of Liberty Point, a residential treatment program for adolescents with psychiatric problems.

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Robert Schneider, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.B.M.R. has been awarded more than $20 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his pioneering research on natural approaches to heart disease. Dr. Schneider is the author of Total Heart Health and 100 medical research articles, and he has been featured in more than 1,000 media reports, including CNN Headline News, The New York Times, and Time magazine.

“Life finds its purpose and fulfilment in the expansion of happiness”

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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Founder of Transcendental Meditation

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