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Leading neuroscientist explains how Transcendental Meditation changes the effects of PTSD in the brain
by Global Good News staff writer
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19 February 2014
In a recent webinar Dr Fred Travis, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, USA, reviewed research investigating the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in African war refugees.
Dr Travis is co-author on studies on this subject that were published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in April 2013 and February 2014.
PTSD, now recognized as a medical disorder, is caused by war, violence, abuse, and even natural disasters. Subjects in the current studies were refugees of the long civil war in the Congo who, having fled their homeland, were struggling to survive in Uganda.
In the most recent study participants were tested three times over a 90-day period for PTSD symptoms. Levels were assessed using the PCL-C (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist), which rates the level of symptoms on a scale from 17 to 85. When the study began the average score was 77.9. Participants learned Transcendental Meditation, and after 10 days of practising the technique 20 minutes twice daily the average score dropped to 48, considered to be highly clinically significant.
Thirty days later they were retested, showing an average score of 35.3. Scores below 35 are considered non-symptomatic for PTSD, so after a little more than one month practising Transcendental Meditation participants were practically symptom free.
Dr Travis described Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as 'a natural response to an unnatural situation'. Every time a person is in a situation that potentially threatens his or her survival the amygdala, located deep within the brain, is activated. This activation is a natural response that makes a person more alert. It has been called the 'fight or flight' response. When triggered in an unnatural situation—such as war, abuse, or trauma—it does not shut down.
This ongoing hyperactive survival response creates a veil of fear, of hypervigilance, and of mistrust that permeates the whole brain. People in this state repress emotions and do not trust themselves or others. They feel as if something is always ready to erupt.
The basis of PTSD lies in the way the brain functions. Trying to help PTSD suffers by talking to them does not work as they filter speech through an over-active amygdala, and are constantly distrusting the sincerity of the speaker.
Researchers conjecture that since the onset of PTSD is due to a particular type of experience, an experience that is the exact opposite in nature may be able to turn off the amygdala. This is exactly what the process of transcending does during Transcendental Meditation. It shuts down the overload. Whereas the experience of trauma is fragmented, piecemeal, and uncontrolled, the experience of transcending is one of greater wholeness, self-sufficiency, and happiness. Transcendental Meditation allows the mind and body to attain a state of restful alertness that has a profound effect on the mind and body, and this appears to 'turn off' the amygdala.
As a researcher, Dr Travis feels Transcendental Meditation is an important tool to improve the quality of life of those suffering from PTSD. He said positive changes could readily be seen in subjects' faces. Before learning the technique they kept their eyes to the ground, and looked worried or anxious. After learning TM 'they look you in the eye and smile'.
It is commonly understood in the scientific world that experience changes the way the brain functions. The PTSD research showed that the trauma that kept the brain locked into a specific functioning, 'stuck' in a set of negative thoughts and feelings, was disappearing through transcending. Relief came in the form of a new set of brain wave patterns. Now, Dr Travis said, it's as if this has been relieved, unveiled, and can take off—'Now your spirit can soar, now you can see more possibilities'.
For more information visit: African PTSD Relief, an initiative of the David Lynch Foundation.
See related articles:
∙ Researcher reports on recent studies: Transcendental Meditation reduces PTSD in African war refugees
∙ Worldwide media report effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation in reducing African war refugees' PTSD
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