Women have become the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons, nearly double the rate of increasing male incarcerations. Along with the increasing confinement of female offenders, researchers have found that women carry the burden of proportionally higher amounts of traumatic experiences, with higher rates of mental/emotional trauma and sexual abuse than men. High levels of trauma contribute to poor lifestyle choices, psychological and physical comorbidities, and increased risk for recidivism. Further research has shown an association between traumatic stress exposure and various forms of cancer in a predominantly female population.
The inmates in the current study were taught Transcendental Meditation by certified teachers, and practiced this simple meditation technique 20 minutes twice a day. Unlike most other meditations, Transcendental Meditation is easy to practice because it doesn’t require concentration or focus or consciously attending to one’s thoughts and sensations. Instead, a very simple procedure allows the person’s mind to settle down to quieter states in a very natural way.
Many studies spanning decades have shown that these periods of allowing the mind to transcend to quieter levels have very specific effects on the body – effects that are the opposite of the body’s hyperaroused state known as the flight-or-fight response. The system involved in this arousal, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, is significantly decreased in its activity. Studies have shown that the physiologies of people who practice Transcendental Meditation naturally don’t react as sharply to stressful stimuli.
Those practicing Transcendental Meditation said they felt a lot better – less stressed along with a greater sense of inner freedom and resilience.
“It has been difficult to find peace and happiness in such an environment (prison)…. ,” one subject said. “Meditating twice a day has helped lessen my stress levels, allowed me to connect to and center myself at deeper levels, and to retreat, reflect, and problem solve…. Meditating helps facilitate my mental clarity, while at the same time calming me. TM has not only helped me mentally, my physical health has also improved. My blood pressure has gone down and my sleep, though I have insomnia, is deeper and more relaxed. I feel more energized.”
In one case, an inmate who had been suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced significant relief.
“Before I learned TM I was waking up several times a week with night terrors – literally screaming. I would only sleep a few hours per night because I was so frightened of my dreams. I had horrible flashbacks, nightmares, and severe PTSD. Almost immediately I saw the beneficial effects of TM…. I am able to fully focus throughout the day and have an inner peace and understanding…”
Transcendental Meditation has been implemented in other prison settings for the purpose of studying other mental health and behavioral factors. At La Tuna federal penitentiary near El Paso, Texas, findings suggested that Transcendental Meditation reduces obsessive-compulsive behavior, decreases social introversion, and increases positive social relations. A study at Folsom State Prison in California found a reduction in anxiety and neuroticism, as well as improved sleep.
Research in several prisons, including Folsom State Prison and San Quentin State Prison in California and Walpole State Prison in Massachusetts. found reduced rates of recidivism, ranging from 33% to 47%.
(Source: Maharishi University of Management)