Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who engaged in daily rounds of transcendental meditation for a month saw significant improvements in their condition, according to a study appearing in the journal Military Medicine.
PTSD, a disorder that occurs in people who have experienced a traumatic event, can result in cognitive problems, stress, mood swings, thoughts of despair and other symptoms. While about 8 percent of the U.S. population experiences PTSD at some point in their lives, rates among members of the military are significantly higher – with an incidence as high as 20 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new study, which assessed the impact of transcendental meditation on 41 veterans and five active service members who had been diagnosed with PTSD, found that after one month of meditation therapy 37 of the participants – or 80 percent – saw a drastic enough reduction of symptoms that they were no longer considered to have PTSD.
The study participants engaged in two 20-minute sessions of transcendental meditation per day. The sessions are typically performed in the morning and again at night. Assessing the patients on a commonly used PTSD checklist, the researchers found that 87 percent of study participants saw their scores decrease by 10 points or more after a month of therapy.
“It’s remarkable that after just one month we would see such a pronounced decrease in symptoms, with four out of five veterans no longer considered to have a serious problem with PTSD,” said lead author Dr. Robert Herron.
Transcendental meditation, originally developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the middle of the 20th century, has been linked to dozens of studies touting its benefits to human health, from stress reduction to enhanced cognition.
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The technique “allows your active mind to easily settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness,” according to the official transcendental meditation website.
The study authors are optimistic that the approach can provide a big boost to returning service members and veterans who may have been struggling with depression or other symptoms of PTSD.
“Transcendental meditation is very easy to do and results come quickly,” said Dr. James Grant, Director of Programs for TM for Veterans. “[It] promotes self sufficiency – it’s a tool that the veteran can use for life, on his or her own.”
Grant said the technique “works on the neurophysiological level to reduce stress” and therefore may have a “broader impact” than cognitive-based therapies, which are often used to treat PTSD among veterans. The researchers add that satisfaction levels among the study participants were extremely high, and that a low-cost approach may be suitable for a veterans system that faces budget constraints.
“The veterans involved were pleased that they were able to do this on their own, and no doubt the VA hospitals appreciate that there are therapeutic approaches that can be undertaken without the costly intensive care of a therapist that treatment typically entails,” said Herron.
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Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.