Meta-Analysis Reveals the Power of the TM Technique
by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D.
March 1999 * Enlightenment Magazine
One day early in 1998 I was walking on air. I received a letter from the prestigious American Journal of Health Promotion saying that not only had our paper been accepted for publication, but that it was slated to be the lead article* in the May/June 1998 issue.
Receiving a letter of acceptance is always a great joy because it means that months and sometimes years of work have finally come to fruition. It means that the reviewers-top researchers and statisticians-have scrutinized the paper and concluded that it is a valid piece of knowledge. It will go out to thousands of scientists, doctors, business people, and policy makers around the world. And being the lead article means highest visibility.
But publication of this paper was particularly exciting because its scope was huge-an overview of a total of 597 studies involving an estimated 20,000 subjects. It showed the Transcendental Meditation technique to be far superior to all other forms of meditation and relaxation in the areas of anxiety reduction, blood pressure reduction, physiological relaxation, self-actualization, improved psychological outcomes, and decreased use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. And yet the paper was only three pages long!
How did we pack so much information into such a small space? The key was a technique called meta-analysis. Meta-analysis allows one to compare a wide variety of research designs and measurement scales by creating a standardized measure that can be applied to all the studies. It's like creating a "common denominator" for the research results from many different universities and research institutions. Then all the research on different techniques can be directly compared and grand conclusions can be drawn.
Dr. Ken Walton of the Department of Chemistry at Maharishi University of Management and I decided to collect all the meta-analyses on the TM technique and other meditation and relaxation techniques together and consolidate these findings into one short paper.
The first meta-analysis on the Transcendental Meditation technique appeared in 1981 by Dr. Philip Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson found that the Transcendental Meditation technique improved psychological health significantly more than Zen meditation or relaxation response techniques. Then in 1987, Dr. Michael Dillbeck and I published a meta-analysis in the American Psychologist, showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique produces a greater reduction of stress parameters and deep rest than does ordinary rest.
In 1989, Dr. Kenneth Eppley at Stanford University and colleagues published a meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Psychology on 146 studies showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique was far superior to other techniques in reducing trait anxiety. The beauty of this study is that it cross-validates the physiological results. Research in two domains, physiology and psychology, all pointed to the same conclusions. This is also a wonderful study because it shows that the results are 1) upheld by the strongest experimental designs, 2) get stronger the longer one meditates, and 3) are valid no matter who does the research or where it is published.
For blood pressure, we added the results of Dr. Robert Schneider and Dr. Charles "Skip" Alexander's study of hypertension in Oakland to a meta-analysis that came out in the Annals of Internal Medicine. While Schneider and Alexander's study showing that the TM technique is effective in reducing hypertension, the meta-analysis found that other techniques are simply not effective. In fact, the Sixth Joint National Committee on the Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure concluded that this research on the TM technique is the only properly controlled trial of stress reduction that has shown effectiveness in reducing blood pressure among people with hypertension.
The other four meta-analyses we used were the work of Skip, Maxwell Rainforth, and colleagues. Their 1991 paper in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality shows that the Transcendental Meditation technique is far superior to other meditation and relaxation technique in increasing self-actualization because it provides the experience of transcendental consciousness. Their 1994 paper in the Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly included three meta-analyses showing that the TM technique is highly effective in reducing cigarette, alcohol, and drug abuse, indicating the power of the technique in normalizing physiological and psychological
When we consider the billions of dollars spent every year on tranquilizers and antihypertensive medication, and add he toll to the national budget that cigarettes, alcohol and drug abuse take, the clear conclusion from these meta-analyses is that the T M program is not only highly effective-it's the biggest bargain in America!
*Orme-Johnson DW, Walton KG. All Approaches to Preventing and Reversing the Effects of Stress Are Not the Same. American Journal of Health Promotion 1998;12(5):297-299.
David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., is the founding chairman of the Psychology Department at Maharishi University of Management. He has published over 50 papers and is an internationally recognized expert on the effects meditation.