Longtime listeros know I’ll go off from time to time about science or surveys linked to religion that I find questionable. I had an example of each drop into my e-box this week.
We’ll take science first. The Archives of Internal Medicine is a peer-reviewed publication of the American Medical Association. It reported a study looking at the effects of Transcendental Meditation on people with chronic heart disease (CHD).
The study found that patients who used TM had “improved blood pressure and insulin resistance components of the metabolic syndrome as well as cardiac autonomic nervous system tone compared with a control group receiving health education. These results suggest that TM may modulate the physiological response to stress and improve CHD risk factors, which may be a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of CHD.”
So what’s my beef? I know a bit about TM, which was founded in 1956 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Practitioners pay to get a mantra – a person-specific but apparently meaningless several-syllable word – that they are to repeat silently to themselves while seated with their eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day.
Practitioners are supposed to keep their mantra secret. The implicit claim is that there is something special – sacred, even – about the particular syllables that you get. So I won’t tell you mine.
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I’ve not been a regular meditator for many years. But I can drop my blood pressure significantly if I use my mantra for five minutes in a doctor’s office. And I can use it to help me get to sleep. YMMV, as they say in the car ads.
But is there anything special about the TM mantra? That’s a question this study does not address. What if any short nonsense word works? Or if a non-nonsense word works? If so, then it’s not “TM” that’s helping. Just “M.”
While TM officials say one need not believe anything for it to work, the whole “Eastern mystic” aura is still a turnoff to some folks who might benefit if it actually helps. So I would have liked this government study also to have tested a non-TM form of meditation.
– From the Religion Sneak Peak Newsletter provided by the Dallas Morning News. Subscribe here.