Clinical Briefs

Meditation for High School Students

With Comments from Russell H. Greenfield, MD

Source: Barnes VA, et al. Impact of stress reduction on negative school behavior in adolescents. Health Qual Life Outcomes 2003;1:10.

Goal: To determine the effect of a Transcendental Meditation (TM) program on school-related behaviors in adolescents.

Design: Randomized, controlled study (part of a larger trial that suggested TM enhances cardiovascular function both at rest and during acute laboratory stress).

Subjects: Forty-five African American students (aged 15-18 years) from two inner-city public high schools with high normal resting systolic blood pressure.

Methods: Students were randomized to four months of either a TM program (n = 25, 6 females) or a control group receiving a health education class (n = 20, 7 females). The TM group participated in 15-minute group sessions at school and practiced individually at home once each school day, and twice each weekend day. The control group received 15 minutes daily of lifestyle education in school focusing on weight management, diet, and physical activity. Data were collected from school records for the four months preceding intervention and then during the four-month intervention. Subjects also completed measures of lifestyle, stress, and anger expression before and after the intervention period.

Results: Subjects in the TM group exhibited decreased absenteeism, less total school infractions, and fewer days of suspension due to negative behaviors than those in the control group. There were no significant changes in grade point averages between the two groups.

Conclusion: A school-offered standardized TM program can improve rates of absenteeism, rule infractions, and suspensions in African American inner-city high school students.

Study strengths: Standardized program employed to instruct students; compliance with TM protocol estimated to be about 70%; strongly suggests feasibility of offering TM programs in similar settings.

Study weaknesses: Sample size and variation; debatable whether the lifestyle education class functioned as an adequate control (some of the TM classes included individual instruction); unclear whether students’ behavior in the months preceding the study could have been impacted by knowledge they would soon be participating in a study of school behavior; self-reporting of TM practice at home; concomitant participation in other activities (sports, for example) could have affected student behavior.

Of note: Females in the TM group exhibited less anger than females in the control group. No significant differences were noted in male participants.

We knew that: The 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey reported that 36.6% of high school students had been in a physical fight in the past 30 days, and 5% of students had missed school out of fear for their personal safety.

Clinical import: While everyone experiences stress, few of us possess adequate tools to manage stress and lessen its potentially negative effects on our well-being. Teaching our youth optimal means of responding to stressful situations, exposing them to self-regulatory tools employable both rapidly and effectively, could help promote personal as well as community well-being during the often turbulent teenage years, and perhaps even on into adulthood. Along that line of thought, it would have been interesting to evaluate student behavior four months after the study concluded to see whether there might be longstanding benefits to exposure to the TM program. This study, weaknesses aside, offers a unique method of trying to address a growing scourge in our schools, and we can look forward to additional creative studies on school-offered stress reduction programs.

What to do with this article: Keep a copy of the article on your computer.

Dr. Greenfield, Medical Director, Carolinas Integrative Health, Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte, NC, is Executive Editor of Alternative Medicine Alert.