Neurofeedback Transcendental Meditation

Also called EEG biofeedback or neurotherapy, neurofeedback is a procedure that provides real-time feedback on one’s brain wave activity, typically through video or audio signals, aimed at training the user to produce specific brain wave patterns. Advocates say neurofeedback therapy can help people overcome ADHD, reduce depression and anxiety, improve sleep and produce other benefits.

A basic difference between the Transcendental Meditation technique and neurofeedback is that during TM practice, the change in brain functioning is a natural by-product of transcending: the mind naturally settles inward to the state of restful alertness, or pure consciousness—experienced as the deepest, most settled state of one’s mind. Because of the natural connection between mind and body, when the mind settles into this peaceful inner wakefulness during TM practice, the physiology also enjoys a state of restful alertness—measured as deep relaxation and increased brain wave coherence.

Through neurofeedback, the user strives to self-regulate one aspect of their physiology, brain waves, to affect mental functioning and other aspects of the nervous system. In contrast, the TM technique allows the meditator to first experience a coherent, deeply settled state of consciousness, which then spontaneously creates brain wave coherence and stimulates the system’s natural balancing mechanism. This holistic balancing of the system does not result from manipulating an individual part, but happens as a natural by-product of the experience of restful alertness during meditation. Coherent brain functioning during TM practice is only one of the many, holistic mind-body changes common to the technique ("12 Scientific Findings Distinguishing the TM technique").

More on the distinctions between neurofeedback and the Transcendental Meditation technique—and effects for ADHD

How neurofeedback works: The theory behind neurofeedback is that training the brain to sustain certain brain wave patterns can help with a range of mental disorders or improve cognitive function, because specific brain wave patterns are associated with specific mental states. For example, studies suggest that the brain of someone with ADHD typically generates insufficient beta waves (which are associated with focus and attention) and an overabundance of lower-frequency theta waves (produced during daydreaming or drowsiness). Stepping up beta wave production and reducing theta activity through neurofeedback may thus improve concentration and focus.

While in many cases neurofeedback has been shown to produce positive results, much is still unknown about the psycho-physiological mechanism. As with all interventional therapies for mental disorders or brain development, it is advised to consult your doctor before using neurofeedback.

Key distinctions: Neurofeedback and the TM technique
Although the Transcendental Meditation technique is not intended as an alternative treatment for any specific disorder, numerous scientific research studies show that the TM technique achieves many of the aims of neurofeedback—such as improved focus and attention, reduced anxiety and depression and improved brain functioning.

Neurofeedback: Many experts acknowledge that the latest research findings are encouraging for using neurofeedback to treat ADHD. Researchers call for further studies to verify benefits for depression, anxiety and other disorders. 

TM technique: Numerous studies have shown that the state of restful alertness gained during TM practice provides deep relaxation and more integrated, efficient brain function, leading to increased creativity, higher IQ, improved grade point average, increased wakefulness and higher moral reasoning.

Research findings also show that the TM technique reduces stress and anxiety, alleviates depression, increases self-actualization, and produces a range of benefits for health and longevity.

ADHD and meditation
A pilot study on the effects of TM practice on ADHD students showed significant improvement in behavior and cognitive function (including attention, working memory, and organization) and 53% reduction in anxiety and depression. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of TM practice on ADHD, soon to be published, showed better brain function and improvements in language skills.

Brain functioning and meditation
The Transcendental Meditation technique improves connectivity in the “executive center” or frontal areas of the brain, the areas that control impulsive actions, judgment and social cues. Heightened brain wave coherence gained during TM practice, identified in 25 separate studies, creates more efficient, integrated brain function and better communication between the different parts of the brain. In ADHD children, theta/beta ratios are found to improve with TM practice (less theta, more beta), which is the goal of ADHD neurofeedback therapy.

Ease and Practicality
Neurofeedback: Requires that the participant go to the therapy location and be connected to the neurofeedback monitoring equipment for an average of one hour per session.  The ease or difficulty of the therapy and rate of progress is said to vary according to the participant’s aptitude. Undergoing 20-40 visits is commonly recommended by neurofeedback specialists.

TM technique: Easily learned and can be practiced any place that one can sit comfortably and close the eyes. The technique is effortless and enjoyable. Benefits are cumulative and typically reported from the very first sitting. Recommended practice time is 20 minutes twice daily, morning and evening.

 “Extensive research on the Transcendental Meditation technique suggests that by reducing stress it can help students develop their brain to work efficiently, creatively and flexibly. The TM technique can also reduce the risk that children and adolescents will be burdened by depression, anxiety, chemical abuse, eating disorders or self-injury.”

Dr. William Stixrud, clinical neuropsychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Behavior Science and Pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine; Health Sciences Adjunct Faculty, Children’s National Medical center, Washington, D.C.

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