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Neurophysiological research distinguishes Transcendental Meditation from hypnosis and suggestion

Ask the Doctors    Translate This Article
6 July 2011

The neurophysiology of the Transcendental Meditation technique is very different from the neurology of hypnosis, say experts in research on the practice. Transcendental Meditation produces not only deep relaxation, but heightened activation, organization, and integration of brain functioning. The mechanics of the technique and subjective experiences of those who practise it also clearly distinguish Transcendental Meditation from hypnosis or suggestion.

In a series of questions and answers, Steven Rector, M.D., William Stixrud, Ph.D., and Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., describe some of the neurophysiological research indicating the unique physiological changes during Transcendental Meditation, as well as improved integration of personality, and improved intelligence, creativity, and learning ability that develop as a result of the practice.

Q: Does TM induce a state of trance or hypnosis? 

Dr. Steven Rector:
No, the Transcendental Meditation technique does not induce a trance. Scientific research on the physiology of the TM technique shows that the technique does not remotely resemble hypnotic trance, nor is the subjective experience trance-like: mental alertness increases and the meditator does not become disassociated from surroundings, as during hypnosis.

A person can come out of Transcendental Meditation practice at any time—no one is needed to ''snap you out.'' And there is no suggestion involved in the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, whereas in hypnosis the physiology and behavior depend on the suggestion of another. (Self-hypnosis depends on a suggestion made to oneself, and such self-suggestion is also absent during the TM technique.)

Dr. William Stixrud: The neurophysiology of meditation is very different from the neurology of hypnosis. The Transcendental Meditation technique produces not only deep relaxation, but heightened activation, organization and integration of brain functioning. There is no trance, where you're disconnected from your body or your surroundings. You're actually more aware—the TM technique creates a state of heightened awareness.

Dr. Vernon Barnes: The science on this clearly shows that TM practice is nothing like a trance state. The TM technique produces a unique parameter of beneficial bodily changes, characterized by (1) a state of deep physiological rest and relaxation, and (2) enlivenment and integration of brain functioning, indicated by EEG and neural imaging research. This physiological signature (known as ''the fourth state of consciousness'') is unique to the TM technique and never appears during ordinary waking, sleeping, dreaming or during hypnosis.

Also unique to TM practice, brainwave coherence spreads over the frontal regions of the brain and over the left and right hemispheres and posterior regions, clearly distinguishing the technique from hypnosis and other forms of meditation. Researchers have long known that most experiences—including hypnosis—activate only small, specific portions of the brain. Studies clearly indicate that the Transcendental Meditation technique enlivens and coordinates brain activity over a wide area—stimulating what some researchers have called ''total brain functioning''. Neuroscience has found no instance of hypnotic trance producing such results.

People subjected to trance are said to have reduced critical evaluation. According to research studies, the Transcendental Meditation technique creates a more integrated functioning in the frontal areas of the brain—called the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher-level discrimination and decision making. Reaction time is faster after TM practice, and research shows a general increase in creativity, IQ, comprehension, and problem-solving abilities. Those who practice the technique become less susceptible to suggestion and control by other people, as shown by increased self-sufficiency and critical thinking. People practicing the TM technique also display increased field independence, which psychologists associate with leadership qualities, self-reliance and independent thinking.

Students at Maharishi School in Fairfield, Iowa, USA, where the Transcendental Meditation technique is an integral part of the curriculum, are national and world champions at competitions involving critical, creative and innovative thinking.


Dr Stixrud, Dr Barnes, and Dr Rector are members of a panel of physicians who discuss the Transcendental Meditation technique—how it works, how it differs from other forms of meditation and relaxation, and the hundreds of scientific research studies validating the benefits of the technique. Their discussion is featured on the website Ask the Doctors.

See also 'Are all meditation techniques the same?'

Click here for more questions and answers about the Transcendental Meditation technique.

* William Stixrud, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of William Stixrud & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, a group practice specializing in learning, attention, and social/emotional disorders. Dr. Stixrud is an adjunct faculty at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

** Steven J. Rector, M.D., has practiced emergency medicine for the past 18 years. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Emergency Medicine.

*** Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., is a researcher at the Georgia Prevention Institute of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, which received $1.5 million from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on African American teens at risk for high blood pressure.

© Copyright 2011 American Association of Physicians Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Technique

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