Fri, Oct 28, 2016 | updated 06:06 AM IST

Transcendental meditation controls stress in prisoners, fosters transformation

Updated: Oct 08, 2016 11:08 IST

Washington D.C [USA], Oct. 8 (ANI): Prisoners have one of the highestrates of lifetime trauma, and a recent survey has shown that 85 percent have been victims of a crime-related event, such as a robbery, home

invasion, or physical or sexual abuse.

Trauma is associated with higher rates of recidivism (returning to prison) and mental and physical health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

To try to find a remedy for the high rates of trauma among prisoners, an innovative study with transcendental meditation was implemented in a large group of Oregon male inmates.

The survey found that after four months of practicing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, inmates at two Oregon prisons had significantly reduced trauma symptoms, including anxiety, depression, dissociation, and sleep disturbance, and a significant decrease in perceived stress compared to non-meditating controls.

Within the TM group, a 47 percent reduction in total trauma symptoms was observed over the course of the four-month study.

Further post-hoc analysis showed an even higher magnitude of effect due to TM practice in those with the highest level of trauma symptoms.

A 56 percent reduction was found within the TM group for those above the mean in baseline trauma scores.

Lead author Nidich said, "To date this is the largest randomized controlled trial with the Transcendental Meditation program on trauma symptoms."

"These findings, along with previous published research on veterans, active military personnel, international refugees, and other at-risk populations provide support for the value of the Transcendental Meditation program as an alternative treatment for posttraumatic stress," he added.

A total of 181 moderate- to high-risk inmates were assigned to either the TM group or a non-meditating control group, with all subjects continuing with their standard of care.

The participants were assessed using two standardized instruments: the Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale.

After four months of practicing TM, the inmates in the TM treatment group exhibited significant reductions in total trauma symptoms, anxiety, depression, dissociation and sleep disturbance subscales, and perceived stress.

Compliance with TM practice was high.

Of those randomized to learn the TM program, 88 percent completed the initial seven-step TM course (total of five sessions) and over 80 percent were regular with their daily TM practice over the course of the four-month study.

"I have watched inmates learn TM and become more human after a long and isolating period of becoming less human," said co-author Dr. Tom O'Conner.

Adding "TM helps to awaken, deepen, and solidify the kind of transformational process that we so badly need in our overburdened and costly correctional system."

Previous published studies have shown that TM decreases hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, responsible for such processes as the 'fight or flight response.'

These kinds of changes from an overly aroused style of functioning to a healthier, stable condition of physiological functioning may help explain how TM practice reduces trauma symptoms.

Brain imaging studies and other psycho physiological research has shown that TM mediators have less reactivity to stressful stimuli, further indicating a more stable and balanced style of functioning, said Nidich.

One of the participants in the study expressed his experiences with Transcendental Meditation in the following way: "As I entered the 24th year behind bars I had come to grips with most of the demons of the past but still felt fragmented. Recently I was given the chance to learn TM. As the weeks passed that sense of fragmentation started to flow into something deeper and new. A quiet that feels so natural and restful that I feel like I've finally come home. To a place where things make sense and I'm just happy. The pains of my life haven't gone away, just feels like I've grown beyond them."

The study was published in the Permanente Journal. (ANI)