Mary Jo Curtin, RDH, meditates in a serene setting, but she once bet a friend that she could meditate while riding in a car over rough terrain.

Close your eyes

March 1, 1999
Dentistry is hard work. Working with dental patients and dental personnel is rewarding but stressful. Curtin, a sales consultant for Sullivan-Schein based in Tucson, has a solution for dealing with that challenge.

Dental professionals find reinvigorating energy in Transcendental Meditation

Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD

Dentistry is hard work. Working with dental patients and dental personnel is rewarding but stressful. If you ask Mary Jo Curtin, RDH, BS, what has challenged her most in the 30-something years of working in the profession, she will emphatically state, "Working as a dental rep for the past 24 years." Curtin, a sales consultant for Sullivan-Schein based in Tucson, has a solution for dealing with that challenge. "What`s helped me to cope with the hectic pace of my job is my daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique, 20 minutes in the morning and evening."

Curtin`s long career in the profession hasn`t been easy. She began by working nights and weekends as a dental assistant while attending high school. Then she worked full-time as a dental assistant and went to school in the evenings until she could afford to pursue dental hygiene. Curtin graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, practiced clinical dental hygiene for a number of years, and then moved to Arizona after teaching dental hygiene at Wichita State University.

In Tucson, she became one of the country`s first female dental supply reps. "When I interviewed for the job, my boss told me that they had never hired a female sales rep before, but they would give it a try. That was in 1975," Curtin laughed. "Now the sales force is full of women."

She provides product information and services to dental professionals in 120 to 150 dental offices, laboratories, hospitals, schools, and clinics in the region. Her job is to stimulate "positive growth in my customers` businesses." "It`s a lot of fun, but demanding and stressful," she said. "I may start my day at 6:30 a.m. and return home at 6:30 p.m. Sometimes the hours and pay of a hygienist are very appealing, but I love what I do."

Curtin`s experiences after meditating are reflective of her upbeat attitude. "After I finish 20 minutes of meditation, I feel refreshed and relaxed. I`m just raring to go! Meditating in the morning clears my mind, and meditating after work totally revives me so I can enjoy getting a lot done in the evening."

Curtin started meditating in 1972 "strictly for the physiological benefits." She was impressed by her discoveries while researching TM, and friends were encouraging her to try it. "I figured, what could I lose by closing my eyes for 20 minutes twice a day? I`ve been meditating regularly for 26 years, and have maintained the practice because it`s easy and enjoyable. For me, it`s like breathing."

She explains the benefits of meditating in the morning by pointing out, "How many times have you climbed out of bed in the morning and still felt tired? Sleeping or having your eyes closed for six or eight hours at night does not necessarily mean you`re rested. With TM, even after a bad night`s sleep, I can feel rested and clear the next day." And you don`t need special conditions to do it. I can meditate any place."

Recently, a friend bet that Curtin couldn`t meditate while they were riding in a car over rough terrain in the foothills of Tucson. "I told her, `get your money out, it doesn`t matter to me where I meditate.` It`s been that way from the first day I learned, too," she said. "When people ask me about TM, I tell them it`s just like flossing. You may not see the overall benefits at the time you`re doing it, but you won`t be beset with the problems other people have if you`re practicing good oral hygiene habits. Both of my sisters, who are younger, have autoimmune disorders. I haven`t had any physical problems since I started meditating."

Twenty minutes that can improve your life

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced the Transcendental Meditation technique to the world 40 years ago. Since that time, more than 5 million people - including 2 million in North America - of all cultural, religious, and educational backgrounds practice the technique.

During TM, the individual sits quietly in a chair with their eyes closed. A simple, mental technique is practiced that allows the mind to settle down. As the mind settles down, naturally, the body settles down and experiences a profound state of rest. This unique, physiological state is called restful alertness. The mind is calm and fully awake; the body is in a deep state of rest.

Robert Roth writes in his book, Transcendental Meditation, that the technique has been used by more than 6,000 medical doctors and thousands of executives, managers, and employees of large corporations and small businesses throughout the United States. He wrote that homemakers practice Transcendental Meditation, as do attorneys, computer programmers, teachers, students, sales clerks, clergy, athletes, factory workers, architects, airline pilots, electricians, chefs, and artists.

"Hundreds of my patients have learned the technique - with excellent results," said Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, a physician from Washington D.C. "I tell everyone that the TM technique is the most effective, scientifically validated procedure to reduce stress and promote health. Of all the things you can do for your health, this has the most far-reaching, wide range of benefits."

More than 600 scientific studies have been completed in 200 universities and research centers, including Harvard, UCLA, and Stanford. "There is more research on the benefits of the TM program than on any other medical procedure to improve health," commented Dr. John Zamarra, a California cardiologist.

Drs. Hari Sharma, professor emeritus and former director of cancer prevention and natural products research at Ohio State University College of Medicine, and Christopher Clark write in their book, Contemporary Ayurveda, that TM requires no belief, "but (is) a practical technology to increase success in daily life." Although meditation is perceived to be difficult, taking years to master, the authors noted that TM "involves no concentration or mental effort. It is natural and easy to learn."

"It might seem that all relaxation is alike, but the research on TM over the last decades shows something quite different," continued Sharma and Clark. "Most relaxation leads to sleepiness and dullness. By contrast, many of the studies found that TM, while producing deep physical relaxation, also simultaneously increased mental alertness."

In 1972, Dr. R. Keith Wallace, a physiologist working at UCLA, published landmark studies on the physiological benefits of practicing TM in Science, the American Journal of Physiology, and Scientific American. Based on this notable research, researchers from the University of California-Irvine conducted detailed studies comparing TM practitioners with others sitting with eyes closed. Dr. A. F. Wilson, chief of Pulmonary Medicine, and his colleague, Dr. Ronald Jevning, found that there was a marked increase in cerebral blood flow during the practice of TM. This accounted for why people who practiced the technique reported feeling more alert and awake than usual.

"A completely new pattern of physiological activity had been discovered: overall physiological rest and relaxation combined with an enriched blood supply to the brain," commented Sharma and Clark.

Later, researchers verified that, indeed, TM was not just another relaxation technique or way to rest. Sharma and Clark reported: "To many researchers, Transcendental Meditation, viewed in detail, paints a picture of a totally new style of physiological functioning. There are many signs of deep relaxation - reduced muscle and red blood cell metabolism, more stable nervous system functioning, reduced levels of cortisol (a biochemical marker of stress) and plasma lactate (a chemical marker of metabolic activity), and reduced breath rate. At the same time, blood flow to the brain increases in a highly distinctive way, and a unique pattern of frontal and central brain-wave coherence occurs. Overall, this pattern of functioning is completely different from the patterns seen in waking, sleeping, and dreaming."

The clinical value of experiencing this restful alertness on a regular basis is significant. Dr. Kenneth Eppley, a researcher at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) compared TM to other meditation and stress management techniques and looked at their effects on anxiety. His research, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, looked at 100 studies of well-known practices, including TM, other types of meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, the relaxation response, and many others. Eppley used statistical methods of meta-analysis to compare the techniques. The results of all the tests found that the Transcendental Meditation technique reduced anxiety more than twice as much as any other technique (p<0.005).

Sharma and Clark reported that, given TM`s many physiology and stress-reduction benefits, the technique might even be expected to reduce free radical generation. "Free radical damage has been implicated in up to 80 percent of all human diseases, including atherosclerosis, cancer, heart disease, inflammatory diseases, degenerative diseases, and Alzheimer`s. More generally, free radicals may cause much of the general deterioration of mind and body associated with aging."

A number of studies have found TM to reduce or slow down the aging process. For example, a study from Harvard University by psychologists Charles Alexander and Ellen Langer compared three types of meditation and relaxation techniques - TM, mindfulness training, and mental relaxation, as well as a no-treatment group. Participants, whose average age was 81, were randomly assigned to the four groups. Three years later, the Transcendental Meditation group had the greatest reduction in stress (p<0.01) and blood pressure (p<0.01). The TM group also had a significantly higher survival rate (p<0.00025): no one had died in this group during the study even though the mortality rate for the other participants was more than one-third. After eight years, the TM group`s mean survival time was 65 percent higher than the other groups combined.

But does TM actually create better health? The research findings are abundant. A study published in Hypertension in 1995, randomized 128 elderly African-American hypertensives to groups practicing Transcendental Meditation, progressive relaxation, or diet and exercise. After three months, the reduction in blood pressure in the TM group was significantly greater.

In a 1994 special issue of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 17 articles were published on the effectiveness of TM in reducing substance abuse. Perhaps the most dramatic research on the health benefits of Transcendental Meditation have come from long-term, health care utilization and costs studies that have documented significant reductions for people practicing TM regularly.

Additionally, research has verified that the TM technique provides the following benefits:

* Reduces stress

* Increases creativity and intelligence

* Improves memory and learning ability

* Increases energy

* Increases inner calm

* Reduces insomnia

* Increases happiness and self-esteem

* Reduces depression

* Improves relationships

* Improves health

* Promotes a younger biological age

Other dental professionals benefit as well

After practicing general dentistry in Little Rock, Ark., for 11 years, Dr. John Tower moved to Fairfield, Iowa. A University of Tennessee-Memphis dental school graduate, Tower has practiced general dentistry in this small, but cosmopolitan town for the past 16 years.

"Quality dentistry is very demanding, and I`m a perfectionist," said Tower. "Everyday we`re working in a very confined space with a patient who typically is nervous. Personally, I find it very refreshing to practice TM every afternoon when I get home from the office. After meditating, I have more energy and my mind is clear. Not having used up all of my empathy and energy on my patients, I still have some left so that my wife and I can enjoy the evening together."

"My health has improved since I began meditating," Tower continues. "Before I learned TM, I was beginning to experience some stress-related hypertension and digestive problems, even though I was a good athlete. Now, my blood pressure is 110/60. I suspect that if I were not practicing TM, I would be taking blood pressure medication."

Tower explained that it was the research on TM and a cousin`s recommendation that stimulated him to learn the technique. "My wife and I have been meditating regularly for the past 25 years. The results were apparent immediately. Practicing TM has brought a lot of creativity to my dental practice. In general dentistry, there are so many challenges. Meditating has broadened my awareness. When problems arise, I am more understanding now. My staff, patients, and family all have benefited indirectly from this technique."

Tower explained that he had thought about meditating while a youth, but always felt it would be too difficult. He was 34 years old before he learned TM. "I was encouraged when I first heard about this form of meditation. The Transcendental Meditation teacher said, `The important thing is not to try too hard. The practice of TM is completely effortless. If you can think a thought, you can meditate.` And, that`s what we have experienced. Even children practice this technique."

Dr. Al Lopez has a different story to tell about his introduction to TM. At the time, Lopez was director of residency training in periodontology at the Veteran`s Administration Hospital in Levenworth, Kan. The Meninger`s Foundation in Topeka, Kan., was sponsoring a lecture by Dr. Keith Wallace, a UCLA physiologist.

Lopez said, "Dr. Wallace had been invited to talk about his research on Transcendental Meditation. So I invited him to speak to our staff at the VA. The Vietnam War was going on during this time. Because of all the extensive oral rehabilitation we were performing on the veterans, it was pretty stressful in the dental clinic. After Dr. Wallace`s presentation, about half of the dental clinic staff learned TM. The first thing we noticed was the increase in productivity. Within a month, we were enjoying our jobs so much that we began sponsoring softball games within the hospital, which brought about a lot of good will."

Lopez, a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Dentistry, has practiced periodontics in Albuquerque, N.M., for the past 11 years. "The main benefit I have experienced from practicing TM, is profound, deep rest, which has increased my ability to deal with stress," said Lopez. "Our actions are based on the thinking process, and when the mind is rested and relaxed, we perform better."

"Periodontal patients are very fearful. Even the newspaper columnist, Dave Barry, wrote a funny article recently on the most feared word in the English language - periodontist," Lopez laughed. "Fear is eliminated by trust. Trust between the patient and the doctor. The daily practice of Transcendental Meditation, in the morning and evening, has helped me to clearly understand the needs of my patients, which has enabled me to secure their trust."

He said TM has helped him to feel "happier and stronger inside" on a day-to-day basis. His blood pressure is 110/70 and pulse rate is 65.

"When I meditate, it drops to the low 50s. In our fast-paced society, where dental practices are larger, the stress levels are naturally higher. Physicians today are saying that approximately 80 percent of disease, in one way or another, is associated with high levels of stress and anxiety. Just being able to reduce those stress levels allows us to enjoy life more. Practicing TM will do that. This is not to ignore the importance of diet, exercise, and moderation in lifestyle habits. People who follow these rules, are healthier overall."

Lopez was reflective when talking about the long-term benefits he had experienced with TM.

He said, "We`re living in an information age. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep up with all the new information. Everything from how to practice dentistry and manage people to how to be a better businessman. The longer I meditate, the easier it is to assimilate and integrate this information. After a hard day at the office, I`m usually exhausted. When I get home, I shower and meditate for 20 minutes. I feel like a new man, ready to enjoy the evening?s activities.O

When I asked Lopez why TM can?t be learned from a book, he replied, OTM is a very simple, delicate technique. It?s something that would be very difficult to learn by reading a book. It needs to be taught by a teacher who has been trained to teach it the way it was taught 5,000 years ago, when it originated. Then you can be sure of the results.O

How do you learn TM? Roth provides a detailed description in his book about how one learns the TM technique:

OThe Transcendental Meditation program is taught through a seven-step course of instruction offered through hundreds of Maharishi Vedic Universities and Schools throughout the United States and the world. The course includes two lectures that provide the necessary intellectual understanding to start the technique and four consecutive days of actual instruction ? about two hours each day ... There are few practical requirements to start the technique ? two hours a day over four consecutive days ? and a course fee ... Following these seven steps of Transcendental Meditation instruction, there is a complete, optional lifetime followup program (covered in the initial fee) that is available for every meditator.O

Curtin, Tower, and Lopez unanimously recommend TM to other dental professionals. Curtin summed it up by saying, ONot only would I recommend this technique to other dental professionals, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to significantly improve the quality of their life. TM has helped me to cope with the stress of life in general, especially the complexities of business. It has helped with life?s losses and changes, of which we have no control. Things don?t bother me the way they do other people, and I can attribute that to my daily practice of TM.O

Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD, is an RDH consulting editor. For many years, she was manager of health and wellness for Puritan-Bennett Corp. Currently, she is clinical associate professor, UMKC School of Dentistry. She can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].

References available upon request.

A personal experience with TM

In 1993, I was Manager of Health and Wellness for the Puritan-Bennett Corp. in Overland Park, Kan. After four years with the company, I was charged with addressing the issue of "stress in the workplace," which had been identified by 2,600 employees worldwide as being one of their major concerns. At the time, the 80-year-old corporation was the leading maker of respiratory care equipment throughout the world. But somehow, in the midst of their enormous success, everything that could go wrong had gone wrong.

Having spent over 25 years researching stress management and self-development programs, I knew that the Transcendental Meditation® technique was the easiest, most effective stress elimination technique on the market today. Its effects had been verified by hundreds of scientific studies. But, the question I kept asking myself was, what was it going to take to sell a "do less" technique to a "do more" culture?

Approximately 90 Kansas City-based, Puritan-Bennett executives were invited to attend a day-long seminar on the benefits of practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. The managers began calling me the next day to ask what they needed to do to learn to meditate. Fifty percent of the managers who attended the seminar wanted to learn immediately. One of the vice presidents suggested that we design a research project to measure the results of the program. Then, if the managers liked the technique and the research showed significant results, Puritan-Bennett would make the TM technique available to interested employees throughout the company.

A pre- and post-assessment of the managers` experiences was designed to measure the effects of practicing TM over a three-month period. The Puritan-Bennett managers who were not participating in the project agreed to act as controls. Strangely enough, the groups were well matched with one exception: There were more women managers in the TM group. (Not surprising. Women are smarter than men! They know a good thing when they see it.)

The TM group improved significantly relative to the control group for each of the following measures:

(1) mental health

(2) energy/vitality (experiencing more energy and pep, less fatigue)

(3) perceived stress (perception of the environment as uncontrollable, unpredictable, and overwhelming)

(4) somatic symptoms of stress (physical complaints associated with stress such as chest pain, headaches, backaches, or shortness of breath)

(5) total cholesterol (a 7 to 10 percent reduction in heart attack risks based on cholesterol reduction)

At the end of practicing TM for two months (twice a day for about 20 minutes), a survey of the managers` subjective experiences was administered. Some of their comments were as follows:

* Feel less hassled and pushed - more patience with family.

* Feel refreshed and able to focus on outside demands.

* Calmer at work.

* TM has eliminated the extreme run-down feelings which included: inability to concentrate; negative attitude; white noise in my head at the end of the day; not rested after sleeping; waking during the night; feeling overwhelmed all the time; and losing my train of thought.

* Less physical response (headache, stomach distress) to stressful conditions.

* Seem better able to organize and accomplish objectives.

* Less reactive to stressful situations.

* I can accomplish more in short periods of time.

* More sustained energy - I don`t get tired in the afternoons while at work.

* Time deadlines are not as stressful.

* Ability to focus more clearly on priority tasks.

* Ability to stay centered on a particular job until completed.

* Virtually eliminated feeling of "panic" at too many things to do.

* Feeling less agitated in general.

These were just a few of the comments that came from all levels of management. The CEO of the company received many letters of thanks for introducing and sponsoring the Transcendental Meditation technique. Two years after the project began, Puritan-Bennett managers were still so impressed with the results that I was allowed to produce a videotape documenting their personal experiences and the research results. The videotape was used to introduce the TM technique to employees throughout the company.