A recent study has reported that the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are reduced in children when a program of transcendental meditation was introduced into the school day. ADHD is characterised by impaired executive function, this means people (predominantly children aged 4-17) diagnosed with the condition are impulsive, unable to focus attention and have an impaired working memory.
Neuroscientist Fred Travis, PhD and colleagues trained ten students diagnosed with ADHD aged between 11 and 14 transcendental meditation techniques. Before the training began, the children completed measures of executive function and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder inventories these were repeated after three months of meditation training. The children practiced the meditation techniques twice a day at school. Additionally, in order to ensure consistency, parents of the children received some guidance on the techniques so that they could guide practice at weekends and holidays.
Transcendental meditation consists of concentrated attention on a mantra which is a word given to the students which they were instructed to silently repeat during the meditation. The aim of transcendental training is to vacate the mind of emotions, thoughts and ideas not by blocking them out but acknowledging their presence and returning the focus to the mantra.
In this instance the introduction of transcendental meditation practices was to reduce stress and its effects on executive function as it is thought that early life experiences of stress can lead to a decrease in responsiveness of the automatic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis subsequently they have a higher adrenalin threshold. This means that these children are more vulnerable to stress. Previous work in the field has shown that stress has a negative effect on concentration, executive function and working memory thus enhancing negative ADHD symptoms.
The results of the study showed that transcendental meditation practices decreased the ADHD symptoms over the three month testing period.
However the question then arises as to whether the reductions in ADHD symptoms occurred in the study due to the fact that transcendental meditation moderates levels of stress which in turn improves attention, executive function and working memory or whether the practice is directly improving these every day necessary brain functions. The fact that ADHD affects millions of school-aged children in the developed world, this psychological field could potentially benefit hugely from extended research.