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Health: TM & Depression

TM-quiet-roomFinding your inner bliss
With celebrities like Oprah flocking to learn Transcendental Meditation in the US, the benefits of this effective tool for stress management as well as personal growth and development have become well known. Now evidence is mounting of its use in treating anxiety, depression and ADHD. By Marion Whitehead

Even fleeting experiences of bliss on a regular basis are enough to change the way the nervous system functions, from patterns of anxiety and depression to a state of quiet inner happiness. Transcendental Meditation (TM for short) is an easy technique for accessing our inner bliss that has helped even those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When you’re depressed, it’s difficult to see beyond the stresses of daily life; compound that with big life events like loss of a partner or job and the result is often a heavy depression that’s difficult to shake.

“It’s like a dark cloud lifted,” a Cape Town mother, who hadn’t admitted to suffering from depression, said after her first few sessions of TM.

A Cape Town film intern who had battled with ADHD all through high school found that within a week of learning TM, he was able to focus better on his work and also manage his anger better.

As a student, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page was so anxious that he had a panic attack if he had to walk or catch the bus to campus. After learning TM, he began to be able to relax in all sorts of situations he had previously found terrifying. “I knew there was a sort of force or power I could tune into, which would let me get through whatever chaos I was in,” he says in Transcendence, a bestselling book by South African-born psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal.

The fight or flight response to stressful situations in the modern world gets us over-revved, high on adrenalin and, if this happens too frequently, we face burn out, chronic fatigue and more deep-rooted problems such as anxiety and depression.

tm-boatBiochemistry of bliss
Clinical research on people practising TM has found that their blood pressure drops, their brain wave patterns become more orderly and they have higher levels of a soothing hormone called prolactin in their blood. The corresponding subjective experience is one of peaceful calmness and, developing over time, moments of bliss bubbling up from within, a feeling of transcendence that is beyond time and space. This is where the transformative power of the technique lies.

Even survivors of war, violence, sexual abuse and natural disasters are able to overcome traumatic stress and re-establish a positive state of physical, emotional and social well-being by practicing TM. A recent peer reviewed study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 2013, showed that TM helped relieve PTSD symptoms in 90% of the African refugees taking part in the study. “My mind can function again. I can sleep again. TM has saved me,” a Congolese refugee told the David Lynch Foundation, which raised funds to make the programme available in Africa.

High levels of PTSD symptoms decreased to non-symptomatic levels within 30 days of learning the TM technique. In contrast, the non-meditating control group showed no reduction in PTSD symptoms. This study extends earlier research reporting that TM practice significantly reduces PTSD symptoms in Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan War veterans.

Dr Rosenthal says that TM should not be considered as a stand-alone treatment for emotional disorders, but that it is a valuable part of a mix of treatments, which vary from person to person. Over time, it may be possible to discontinue medications, as many have found.

TM-waterfallEasy to learn
With more than 600 studies conducted worldwide on TM, it is the most well researched meditation technique around. It involves neither concentration or contemplation. Those practicing this simple mental technique are not required to block out thoughts, but are taught how to deal with them. In the state of deep relaxation achieved, stresses are effortlessly dissolved without necessarily having to relive the triggers that caused them.

Those wishing to learn TM first attend a free info session and can then enroll for the course, which starts with personal instruction by a qualified teacher, followed by group meetings over the next three days to check experiences and give greater understanding of the process. The TM technique is not associated with any religion, philosophy or doctrine and is practised by millions of people around the world.

Thrive article on TM

Reasons to do TM
•    It quiets the nervous system and turns off inappropriate alarm bells.
•    It evens out moody valleys and spikes.
•    It’s easy and simple to do.
•    It’s cheaper than taking meds.
•    There are no harmful side-effects.

Useful links

Marion Whitehead is a registered teacher of Transcendental Meditation in Cape Town. For details of TM centres around the country, see

Paul’s story
Paul’s five-year roller coaster through hell started in his early 20s, with two psychotic manias that landed the aspirant filmmaker in prison and then in a mental hospital. The drugs he was treated with left him overweight and evaporated his emotions. At the end of two years of treatment for bipolar depression and a rigorous programme of healthy living, he was stable, but still not happy.

“I wasn’t really unhappy, but I didn’t laugh, feel good, or have much emotion,” he recalls. “I was basically just getting by, keeping my head above water. I resigned myself to the idea that I would never be happy – I mean truly happy.”

That changed when he met someone with a similar history who said he’d been really happy for 90% of the time since learning Transcendental Meditation. Paul started doing TM regularly, for 20 minutes twice a day, and things started improving.

“The positive effects took a couple of months to set in noticeably. When they did, they came gradually, progressively, stronger and more profound as time passed.”

Four years later, Paul is better than he’s ever been – and really happy, 90% of the time.

Note: Paul was a patient of Dr Norman Rosenthal, author of Transcendence.