Students with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) who practiced the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique experienced an improvement in ADHD symptoms, academic skills, and brain functioning, according to a new study published in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry. The practice of TM does not require concentration, something that is difficult for people who have ADHD.
ADHD affects about 8% of children ages 4-17
The three main characteristics of ADHD, a developmental condition that affects about 8 percent of school age children in the United States, are impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. For a diagnosis of ADHD, some symptoms that cause impairment must be apparent before a child is seven years old, and they must be present in more than one situation, such as at home, at school, and in social settings.
At an independent school for children with language-based learning problems, investigators explored the impact of Transcendental Meditation on 18 students ages 11 to 14 years who have ADHD. The six-month study was led by neuroscientist Fred Travis, PhD, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition.
Previous research has shown that the ratio of theta brain waves to beta brain waves can accurately identify students with ADHD. Brain waves can be measured using an EEG. According to Dr. Travis, people without ADHD demonstrate theta activity during tasks which “suggests that the brain is blocking out irrelevant information so the person can focus on the task.” People with ADHD have higher theta activity, which suggests their brain is blocking out relevant information.
Before they were assigned to a TM practice group or to a delayed-start comparison group, the 18 students underwent an EEG and took a verbal fluency test. They were retested at 3 and 6 months after start of the study. Students in the delayed start group began TM after their 3-month test.
Studies have shown that TM can reduce stress and increase brain function. Children with ADHD are less able to deal with stress and also have slower brain development. Stress also compromises the ability to learn, resulting in problems with attention, organizational skills, and memory.
Transcendental Meditation is a unique type of meditation in that it “does not require concentration, controlling the mind or disciplined focus—challenges for anyone with ADHD,” explained Sarina J. Grosswald, EdD, the study’s principal investigator and a cognitive learning specialist. She noted that “the fact that these children are able to do TM, and do it easily, shows us that this technique may be particularly well-suited for children with ADHD.”
After three months of TM practice, the participants showed significant decreases in theta/beta ratios and an increase in verbal fluency. Students in the delayed-start group showed an increase in ratios during the first three months, but a dramatic decrease in ratios, along with an increase in verbal fluency, after they started TM.
The students reported they enjoyed doing TM and that they felt calmer, could concentrate better on their schoolwork, felt less stressed, and were happier. Parents of the students completed questionnaires at the end of the study and noted statistically significant improvements in their children’s ability to focus on schoolwork and to work independently, happiness, sleep quality, and organizational skills.
Transcendental Meditation is an effortless technique that produces restful alertness. This state of alertness is characterized by higher metabolic activity in the frontal and parietal areas of the brain and decreased metabolic activity in the thalamus, the area associated with hyperactivity.
When students practice TM, they eventually learn to bring the state of restful alertness they learn outside of their meditation. According to Dr. Travis, “the repeated experience of the Transcendental Meditation technique trains the brain to function in a style opposite to that of ADHD.”
Comparison studies of TM and other types of meditation show that it is more effective at reducing depression, hypertension, and anxiety. TM also shows more coherence throughout the brain than do other meditation practices.
The authors concluded that their findings warrant further research on the effects of Transcendental Meditation as a treatment for ADHD. Co-researcher and clinical neuropsychologist Willliam Stixrud, PhD, remarked that “The fact that TM appears to improve attention and executive functions, and significantly reduces stress with no negative side effects, is clearly very promising.”
Travis F et al. Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry 2011 Jul 25; 2(1)