Transcendental Meditation: A Promising Remedy for Workplace Stress
It is a matter of broad consensus that stress in the workplace has reached epidemic proportions. So bad has the problem become, that stress is now a more common cause of long-term sick leave than stroke, heart attack, cancer and back problems, according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Workplace stress has been labeled “The Black Death of the 21st Century.”
Common causes of workplace stress include excessive workload, poor management style, workplace restructuring, and problems at home. As the great pioneer in stress research, Hans Selye, observed, it is not the stress itself, but how we react to it that affects its impact on our bodies and minds. During economic downturns, such as we are facing at present, ordinary workplace difficulties become more stressful because workers feel insecure about their job stability and fearful of losing their job, especially because it is often difficult to find a new one.
Stress takes a toll on both body and mind. It is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in developed countries. In addition, it predisposes to anxiety and depression, both enormous mental health problems. For those who of us who are concerned about performance and productivity in the workplace, it is crucial to find remedies for toxic work stresses. Such remedies will also lead to healthier workers, with fewer days off sick, lower health care bills, and extra years of productivity. There are many available “stress management” programs. In this piece, I make the case why a simple but powerful technique, Transcendental Meditation (TM), should rise to the top of the list.
TM is a simple technique of meditation, taught in a standardized one-on-one way over the course of a week. The instructor gives the student a mantra, along with instructions as to how to use it. TM is simple to learn and easy to practice. Ideally, the practitioner should sit comfortably with eyes closed for two sessions of 20 minutes each per day.
As a researcher and physician, I have been impressed by the scope and extent of research data supporting the benefits of TM (over 330 peer-reviewed articles to date). Much of this research has a direct bearing on the damaging physical effects of stress. For example, controlled studies have shown multiple physical benefits of TM versus controlled treatments, such as: (1) Reduction in blood pressure that is both statistically and clinically meaningful; (2) Actual reversal of arterial narrowing in the carotid arteries which carry blood to the brain; (3) increased longevity over the course of years (a finding that has been replicated). From the point of physical well- being alone, TM is worth practicing.
But there is more. A meta-analysis of 146 treatment groups found that TM reduced anxiety to a greater extent than other approaches. Likewise, five controlled studies in people not recruited specifically for depression showed that practicing TM was followed by a reduction in depression symptoms to a greater extent than control treatments. Evidence suggests that the improved blood pressure seen with TM is mediated by decreased anxiety. In other words, TM seems to be acting as a shock absorber, decreasing the impact of stress on both mind and body.
No other “stress management technique” has anywhere close to this amount of hard data in support of its claims to reduce stress.
Beyond its effects on stress reduction, TM has also been shown in numerous studies to improve levels of self-actualization – a term used to describe the need for people to be the best they can be. This benefit may result from the direct effects of TM on the brain, which include increased brain coherence. Brain coherence means that the firing patterns in different parts of the brain correspond to one another. Higher levels of brain coherence have been associated with higher levels of performance, both in businessmen and athletes.
To begin, let us hear from two leading business people, who are regular meditators and have praised TM’s benefits: Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the largest hedge fund in the world; and Oprah Winfrey, media icon and CEO of Harpo Studios. Dalio has said that TM has helped him make up for lost sleep and has made his patterns of thinking “more centered and creative.” With TM, he says, “Life got better and everything became easier.” He reports dealing with challenges in a calm, clear-headed way, which allows him to put things in perspective – “like a ninja.” Winfrey was so pleased with her own personal experience with TM that she provided TM training free of charge to all members of her organization. Her observations: “You can’t imagine what has happened. People are sleeping better. People have better relationships. People interact with other people better. It’s been fantastic.”
Many other CEOs and business leaders have reported similar benefits in their organizations. How can we understand these extraordinary transformations?
How can Transcendental Meditation help work-stress?
Let me count the ways. TM results in:
- Increased brain coherence that is associated with increased levels of accomplishment
- Reduced stress responses producing more clarity, less reactivity, and better decision-making. As Dalio put it, “I am centered – not hijacked by emotion”
- Enhanced creativity, even with aging
- Better physical health
- Greater harmony
At every level of organization, TM promotes harmony. This applies within the mind of the meditator, between mind and body, and in groups. Once the meditator learns the practice and develops the habit, the 40 minutes spent per day is rapidly repaid in the form of improved performance and efficiency. How wonderful it is to think that this quiet twice-daily practice might turn out to be a remedy for “The Black Death of the 21st century!”
[Video 3:59] Norman Rosenthal: How Meditation Can Help Your Business
• Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D is author of Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation (Hay House, 2012).
This article was originally published by Decision Magazine, in the Wellness section of the Summer 2012 issue.