Transcendental Meditation and Depression

According to a report in the Independent today, a research study has shown that transcendental meditation could be effective in treating depression in older adults.

Two studies of more than 100 patients at risk of heart disease showed that those who practised the technique experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms of up to 48 per cent. Depression increases the risk of a heart attack even at moderate levels.

Sounds positive and  Gary Kaplan, the associate professor of neurology at New York University is quoted as saying ‘Any technique not involving extra medication in this population is a welcome addition.’


The only caveat is that the research itself comes from the Maharashi University of Management in Iowa which was founded by the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi. Hmm. Although the article explains other universities were also involved in the research study, I wonder if that is enough to allay the feelings of bias. It seems all a little too convenient.

But I doubt very much it does harm and may well be useful but I wonder if it is a general meditation and well-being/awareness kind of use – which may be cheaper to provide – or something that is particular only to transcendental meditation which would require specifically trained practitioners –  at no small cost… especially as there have been concerns (as is raised in the Independent article) about the cost of training processes.

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7 thoughts on “Transcendental Meditation and Depression

  1. I think there is some published research not produced by the TM people which shows benefits of TM – but most of the research is produced by the TM people.

    I’m not knocking it – I learnt TM and found it quite helpful for a while. However, if you want a really effective (clinically effective) meditation technique then look at papers on mindfulness-based meditation practices – particularly those by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues. Meta-analysis shows that this type of meditation practice is very helpful for a lot of conditions (physical and psychological).

    There’s also mindfulness based cognitive therapy treatment for depression which has been shown to be clinically effective.

    I’m training to be a social worker and this is an area that interests me greatly – the combination of mindfulness techniques and counselling.

    TM teaches mantra based meditation (one pointedly focusing on a mantra) whereas mindfulness meditation focuses on moment to moment awareness – of the 2 practices, I would say that I found mindfulness practice more challenging but it’s more effective in managing the stresses of day to day life.

    There were several reasons why I dropped TM – one of them was they kept pestering me to do further courses. They are not a cult but they do charge a lot for what they teach. Mindfulness meditation is drawn from the Buddhist tradition and whilst the courses are not cheap, if you are financially challenged you can learn a lot relatively cheaply by involving yourself in a Buddhist meditation group.

  2. Angela, I have a lot of time for meditation and particularly mindfulness based cognitive therapy. I think there is a lot of positives in it but my cynicism remains very much rooted in the need to pay specifically for further courses related to transcendental meditation – I’m sure it can and does help but when a lot of money is involved it is easier to question the motives of research like this..

    • Absolutely agree with you. I know when I paid out to learn TM originally it was a lot of money for me to find. I remember quizzing about the cost then – and was told that the price was set so that people would fully commit to the practice – that if it was offered for free people wouldn’t value it (currency being the way people value things in the West). Whilst I, to some extent, can see this viewpoint, I did think it was overpriced altho’ the price I paid certainly helped me to commit to practice!

      But overall, I would say you can learn meditation techniques much much more cheaply by attending a Buddhist centre. And the TM technique is a concentration meditation technique which, whilst it has it’s benefits, isn’t as useful as mindfulness meditation techniques in terms of attending to things like chronic pain.

  3. ‘Any technique not involving extra medication in this population is a welcome addition.’


    Any technique?

    I reckon we could halve depression and medication use if, when folk have low mood, we give ’em a couple weeks holiday for free in a 5 star hotel, maybe in Florida or the Maldives, say.

    Millions of people go on holiday every year and feel better for it. Rejuvenated. So it’s a type 3 evidence based intervention.

    Why isn’t a Local Authority abolishing social care funding and redirecting it into holidays abroad to promote improved wellbeing? Would tick the patient choice agenda, give good outcomes, challenge medical models and reduce medication use.

    • Fair point! I was, perhaps, a little too flighty with my words – I blame it on the Easter holidays and not quite being back in ‘work mode’!

  4. I’m sure TM is a potentially useful tool, and it’s obviously being used here to act directly on a condition. My biggest issue was our own experience a considerable number of years ago where as carers we were receiving little or no support with a severely disabled child with a life threatening condition. The NHS, whilst sympathetic, were unable to resource any assistance so we were sent on a meditation course instead (not TM). It did work and was helpful – but although it enabled us to cope with the issues a little better, assistance with care would have been much more helpful and would have obviated the need for a coping mechanism. In the end more resource was the answer.

  5. Hi Ned, I think you are entirely right about sometimes more resources are needed. My concern with this is just the amount of money this particular type of meditation is costing. I have no doubts at all that meditation is helpful in lots of circumstances!

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