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Medication or meditation?
by Juan Fernando Merino

El Diario/La Prensa    Translate This Article
New York City, United States
9 June 2004

A report issued in mid-May by Medco, one of the primary healthcare organizations in the country, presented some surprising findings: The major medical expense for children of North American families has stopped being that of antibiotics, and is now spent on drugs to treat behavior.

The fact that an entire generation is growing up with such a high dependence on medication to treat mental health and behavior problems is alarming and requires a serious look at alternatives.

According to groups of parents, educators, and doctors in various parts of the country, one such alternative is meditation, specifically the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in classrooms, after class or in charter schools. The New York Committee for Stress-Free Schools (NYCSFS) has taken this initiative in our city.

The practice of TM came from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who practiced this type of meditation as a recluse in the Himalayas and then dedicated his life to spreading knowledge about TM. It is a mental technique that takes a person to a state of internal relaxation. . . .

Different studies have shown the benefits of TM in patients with heart problems and hypertension. In the specific case of child studies that were done in different parts of the country over the last few years it seemed to show its effectiveness in reducing stress, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

It also showed the potential to improve scholastic performance and the capacity to learn. In part, its effectiveness can be attributed to the fact that there is one area of education which has not received enough attention: the child's nervous system, subject to so many internal and external pressures, has not been prepared to improve the learning experience.

'One in 5 children experiences problems with mental health in our society,' explains Dr. Rita Benn, Director of the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan, who affirms that groups of students who practiced TM had a higher level of self-esteem, a higher level of well-being and optimism, were better able to handle stress and interpersonal relationship, and are less verbally aggressive, anxious and lonely.

'If TM offers the possibility that children can feel better about themselves', she said, 'it has as a consequence, tremendous influence over other areas of their lives. It could prevent certain difficulties with mental health and reduce the necessity to use so much medication.'

One of the pioneers of this initiative in our city is Dr. Gary Kaplan, director of the Neurophysiology Clinic of the North Shore University Hospital and professor of neurology at NYU. Dr. Kaplan, the president of NYCSFS spoke to LA PRENSA on this subject.

'Children in our society are experiencing a high level of stress in the home, school and on the street, and this type of meditation provides an easy and fun way to regain calmness and energy to alleviate this stress. It can be done with two short sessions a day, one in the morning and the other in the evening.'

What are the main advantages of TM?

'In my opinion the fact that there is no side effect is very important, along with the fact that children can do this in groups or on their own time and that they find stimulation to exercise control over their emotions and behavior. And of course there is the fact that it is something completely natural and can be administered without the dependence of medications. This includes ADD which is one of the most common things children take medication for.'

How can someone begin TM?

'In many cities, there are centers where people can take courses. There are 7 steps, which are simple enough to be completed in a few days. Children and their families can take them together. Also, if teachers are interested, they can do this with their students. The meditation can be done in their own classroom or before or after classes.'

To find your nearest TM center, please visit

Copyright © 2004 El Diario

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