Understanding cortisol

Cortisol is commonly known as the “stress hormone” because extra cortisol is released into the bloodstream when you are stressed. This in turn increases your heart rate and blood pressure.

It is an essential part of the body’s

that has kept humans alive for thousands of years. Cortisol performs crucial functions by suppressing inflammation, regulating blood sugar, and helping to control metabolism.

However, too much cortisol exposure can disrupt the body's processes, leading to numerous health problems.

These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Weakened immune system
  • Impaired cognitive performance

This is where the TM technique can help, alongside other healthy habits.

Your body continuously monitors cortisol levels to maintain an equilibrium, known as homeostasis. To reduce high cortisol and keep your levels optimal, there are several things you can do, including:

  • Get good quality sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit stress and negative thinking patterns
  • Practice Transcendental Meditation

How does TM reduce cortisol?

TM helps to reduce and regulate cortisol levels with several key processes:

  • Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system: TM enhances parasympathetic nervous system activity, which promotes relaxation and recovery. This shift away from the sympathetic "fight-or-flight" response leads to lower cortisol production.
  • Reduced amygdala activity: The amygdala, the region of the brain associated with stress and anxiety, shows decreased activity both during and after TM practice. This reduction in amygdala activity also lowers cortisol levels.
  • Better quality sleep: Sleep issues such as
    insomnia
    are associated with higher cortisol levels. TM practice combats insomnia at the root cause by dissolving stress and relieving anxiety.
  • Enhanced regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis: TM improves the regulation of the HPA axis, which controls cortisol production. Better regulation of this axis leads to a more balanced cortisol release in response to stress.

“My anxiety levels are lower, and I'm better able to deal with stress. I am also more focused on daily activities and better able to concentrate.”

Douglas, February 2024

The mechanics of Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural, and effortless technique that is typically practiced for 20 minutes twice a day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. Unlike other forms of meditation that may involve concentration or contemplation, TM involves the use of a mantra—a specific sound or word—to help the mind settle into a state of restful alertness. This process allows the individual to transcend ordinary thought processes and achieve a unique state of relaxed awareness.

After TM practice, meditators are often conscious of a sense of calm and inner quiet. But subtle, subconscious benefits of TM continue long after the period of meditation, when practiced regularly.

Research on TM and cortisol levels

Multiple studies have explored the relationship between the TM technique and cortisol reduction, providing compelling evidence of its effectiveness in lowering stress hormone levels.

TM has immediate and long-term effects:

Research indicates that TM practitioners experience a significant reduction in cortisol levels during meditation and these remain somewhat low afterward. A study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior found participants who meditated showed lower cortisol levels compared to those who did not, suggesting that TM has both immediate and long-term stress-reducing benefits.¹

“After being in therapy for over 10 years, being diagnosed with multiple conditions where stress was the cause - I’m finally seeing my physical symptoms heal, and mentally/emotionally I’m getting relief from the trauma I’ve experienced.”

Natalie, March 2024

Another study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that cortisol levels decreased significantly in people who practiced TM for four months compared with pre-testing.²

Interestingly, the researchers found that TM practice reduces cortisol levels, but also enhances reaction time and responsiveness to stress.

The scientists concluded that “repeated practice of the TM technique reverses effects of chronic stress significant for health.”

TM is effective for even the most extreme stress:

Studies have also focused on high-stress populations, such as individuals with

, students, and professionals in high-stress jobs. One example is a study conducted with veterans with PTSD, which found that those who practiced TM exhibited substantial reductions in cortisol levels, along with improvements in overall psychological health.³

“TM has been a game-changer already and I'm only two weeks in. I work in a very demanding, high-stress environment and I'm already calmer and more "steady" emotionally throughout the day”

Bob, March 2024

The practice of Transcendental Meditation has a significant and beneficial impact on cortisol levels, making it a powerful tool for managing stress and improving overall health.

By promoting a state of deep relaxation and restful alertness, TM helps to lower cortisol levels both immediately and over a long-term period. These findings underscore the potential of TM as a valuable practice for individuals seeking to reduce stress and enhance their well-being through natural and non-invasive means.

Find an instructor

Connect with a local, certified TM instructor to learn more about the TM course, and the many other benefits of TM practice.

By Carlos Cervantes, May 30 2024

References:

  1. Jevning R, Wilson AF, Davidson JM. Hormones and Behavior 10 (1): 54-60, 1978
  2. MacLean CR, Walton KG, Wenneberg SR et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 1997 May;22(4):277-95.
  3. Barnes, V. A., Monto, A., Williams, J. J., & Rigg, J. L. (2016). Impact of Transcendental Meditation on Psychotropic Medication Use Among Active Duty Military Service Members With Anxiety and PTSD. Military Medicine, 181(1), 56-63. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-14-00333