PETALING JAYA: Transcendental Meditation has health benefits, including reducing stress and promoting coherent brain functions, says neuroscientist Dr Fred Travis.
He said stress shuts down the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for the attention, planning, organising, impulse control and moral reasoning functions of the brain.
“The stress response system is there to allocate resources to ramp up metabolism, (with) breath rate and heart rate going up, so we can deal with a challenging situation.
“(However), if it’s activated too many times, it remains high,” he said during his talk on “Transcending, Lifestyle and Health: Optimising Brain Integration” at the National Headquarters of the Transcendental Meditation Programme.
“Transcendental Meditation is able to help the body turn off its stress response system.”
Transcendental Meditation is a technique where the active thinking mind settles down naturally to a state of “pure consciousness”, according to the Transcendental Meditation Programme.
Dr Travis said there are positive physiological effects on the body’s stress mechanism if one practises Transcendental Meditation.
“Skin conductance, a direct measure of sympathetic nervous system, is lower. Also plasma lactate, a chemical associated with stress, is lower. The breath rate is also lower.
“This turning off of the sympathetic nervous system leads to lower anxiety,” he said.
Dr Travis, who received his Master’s and PhD in Psychology from Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, showed research in which the practice could lead to a decrease in perceived stress, reduction in high blood pressure, and higher brain integration, among other health benefits.
He also explained that the thalamus in the brain has two different types of cell: the core nuclei, which is responsible for sending sensory signals to the cortex, and the matrix nuclei, which is responsible for sending wakefulness or consciousness signals to the cortex.
He said when one is transcending during Transcendental Meditation, the sensory impulse is reduced while one’s wakefulness is maintained.
He demonstrated through an electroencephalogram (EEG) test on a participant practising Transcendental Meditation that the brain waves show more coherence, which is a measure of the similarity of EEG signals between two parts of the brain.
Dr Travis said coherence is one of the signs of brain integration, the others include having higher alpha EEG signals and a more balanced brain preparatory response.