Few of us get through life without experiencing trauma of some sort, be it a frightening accident, worrisome illness or heart-breaking loss. Distressing thoughts and internal stress can reverberate long after a traumatic incident. Transcendental meditation (TM) can help.

What is TM? Given its profound effects, you may be surprised to hear that TM is easy to learn and do. There's nothing mystical, religious or cult-like about the practice (despite what the media put forth in the 1960s when the Beatles embraced the practice). TM is a straightforward technique involving silent repetition of a mantra, a particular sound with no meaning that serves as a vehicle to settle the mind into a profound state of restful alertness. Once mastered, TM ideally is practiced with eyes closed for 20 minutes twice per day.

How it works: Psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, MD, author of Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation, explained that TM is among the most powerful stress busters" he has encountered in his many years of psychiatric practice and confirmed that it is a useful tool for getting through painful times or recovering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Reason: People who have experienced intense stress often have difficulty calming down because the body's alarm-signaling mechanism goes awry and the "fight or flight" response becomes their normal state of being "Stress can be like an alarm bell that just keeps ringing. Transcendental meditation helps to settle down both the mind and body, so people become more resilient and less vulnerable to stress," Dr. Rosenthal said.

Research has demonstrated that TM helps people to achieve equanimity because it literally changes their brain waves. TM promotes alpha brain waves, slow-frequency signals that are associated with calmness.

Meditation Staves Off Loneliness and Disease

Forty healthy adults were divided into two groups--one group attended an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation, an ancient practice that focuses on creating awareness of the present moment, while the other group did not

Result: The meditation group reported lower levels of loneliness a risk factor for death) and had lower levels of C-reactive protein and pro-inflammatory gene expression (which contribute to cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and cancer). Mindfulness meditation is taught throughout the US. For locations, consult the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, http://umassmed.edu/cfm/stress.

So That's Why Some People Clam Up

Researchers recently found that alexithymia, a condition marked by an inability to identify and express emotions, occurs in about 6.5% of women and 7.5% of men. Alexithymics tend to avoid intimate relationships, but many do get married-often to the detriment of their spouses' emotional health.

There also is an increase in coherence, meaning that brain waves from different parts of the brain are more closely in step with one another. In other words, "TM spreads a great wave of calmness across the brain," Dr. Rosenthal said. Brain scans have shown that this can happen the first time a person meditates...with regular practice, those changes become lasting and can be seen even at times when the person isn't meditating, Dr. Rosenthal added, "TM also may help by a process of systematic desensitization allowing worrisome thoughts and feelings to emerge in the context of profound relaxation and transcendent joy, thereby weakening the neural links that were forged by the trauma."

To learn TM: For maximum effectiveness, TM is taught through personalized instruction tailored to each individual, as it has been for thousands of years. Just as you can't master playing piano or swinging a golf club by reading about it, you can't really learn TM from a book. You can find a certified TM teacher through the Maharishi Foundation USA (www.tm.org), a nonprofit educational organization. (Dr. Rosenthal receives no financial compensation from this or any other TM organization.)

You may think a private TM tutor is more expense than you wanted to pay for meditation. Consider this–a study in American Journal of Health Promotion recently reported that people with consistently high health-care costs experienced a 28% cumulative reduction in physician fees after practicing TM for five years.

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