Break for meditation, anyone?
A study 17 years in the making is being hailed as a landmark in the field of meditation, demonstrating that widespread practice makes a positive impact on the US population — even on those who don’t partake.
Published in the World Journal of Science, this research is the “longest and most comprehensive” of dozens of studies that have tested the benefits of meditation, otherwise known as the Maharishi Effect. The theory was named for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who pioneered this research, and founded Maharishi International University and Transcendental Meditation in Fairfield, Iowa, where the new study took place.
“What is unique about this study is that the results are so visually striking and on such a large scale,” Dr. David Orme-Johnson, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We see reduced stress on multiple indicators at the predicted time for the entire United States over a five-year period. And when the size of the group declined, national stress began increasing again. Clearly, the group was causing the effect.”
To be able to measure the longterm effects of group meditation, Maharishi International researchers needed to ascertain a baseline of average stress levels in the US during a period before mass meditation began, from 2000 to 2006. They counted tens of thousands of stress-related “tragedies” in that time: 15,440 murders, 93,428 rapes and 86,348 child and adolescent accidental mortalities, for example.
Between 2007 and 2011, researchers then began following a group of 1,725 participants who meditated everyday.
Those five years brought something astonishing. The data showed that stress-related incidents overall had significantly decreased while a mere fraction of the US — the approximate square-root of 1% of the population — meditated together.
In a graph that demonstrating the study results (above), the prominent blue line represents the study’s meditating group size. As the group’s meditation began and continued, the occurrence of murders, rape, assault, robberies and more trended downward.
When the five years were over and the study entered its “post” period, from 2012 to 2016, the same stress-related incidents began to trend upward again, like before — and quite suddenly. When group participation plummeted in 2013, it took just one to two years before the beneficial effects wore off, and stress-related tragedies spiked.
“This study used state-of-the-art methods of time series regression analysis for eliminating potential alternative explanations due to intrinsic pre-existing trends and fluctuations in the data,” said co-author Dr. Kenneth Cavanaugh said. “We carefully studied potential alternative explanations in terms of changes in economic conditions, political leadership, population demographics, and policing strategies. None of these factors could account for the results.”
Meditation has been touted as a way to reduce individual stress, lower anxiety, reduce chronic pain and depression, lower the risk of heart disease and relieve sleep problems and headaches. While there are apps and classes to guide people through meditations, this research shows that on a larger scale, meditation can do more than just keep your heart rate down.
Maharishi International researchers believe that meditation could be the key to quelling crime and tragedy. In a plea to diminish more disasters, they called to create a “permanent” group of 8,000 people — more than four times the original study cohort — who would meditate, in perpetuity, using their program. This, they hope, could produce benefits reaching far beyond US borders.
As a “safety factor,” researchers also advised global leaders to establish large scale meditation groups on every continent.
Researchers received a $75 million grant from the Howard and Alice Settle Foundation to conduct the study, which included stipends for group participants and meditation leaders.
MIU’s Orme-Johnson concluded in his statement, “This is a lot of money, but the savings from the 10% reduction in crimes would save over 200 billion dollars, not to mention all the other savings from reducing other sources of stress in the country.”