A study published in Health Care for Women International shows how the Transcendental Meditation technique can empower women’s lives, using measures of self-efficacy, perceived stress, and mental and physical quality of life.
The practice was shown to help single, disadvantaged, illiterate mothers in Uganda deal with high levels of physical and psychological stress in their daily lives while improving their health, well-being, and ability to support themselves and their children.
“Transcendental Meditation has been in the news in recent years, with many celebrities talking about how they’ve benefitted,” said lead author Leslee Goldstein. “Moreover, many educational institutions and organizations around the world have successfully adopted Transcendental Meditation in programs for students, veterans, and the general population. This pioneering research shows that it can also aid vulnerable women in Africa who’ve never before heard about meditation.”
Impoverished mothers able to help themselves
A top leader in the Uganda Ministry of Health, Dr. Grace Nambatya, said the findings are extremely important in showing how this simple meditation technique can provide a platform for impoverished mothers to help themselves.
“There is a significant need for evidence such as this to help us improve women’s health and promote empowerment for vulnerable women in Uganda and worldwide,” she said. “Given the global impact of stress on women’s health and self-efficacy, this study has wide, interdisciplinary applicability.”
How it began: Uganda NGO introduces Transcendental Meditation
The research was conducted under the auspices of the United Women’s Platform for Empowerment and Development (UWOPED), a registered non-governmental organization (NGO) that offers training and educational programs to impoverished women to build practical skills to help empower their lives and increase their competencies and productivity.
UWOPED founder Brenda Nakalembe learned the Transcendental Meditation technique in 2012, and due to the benefits she experienced, decided to offer it as one of her training programs for women to help them cope with the challenges they face.
“These women face serious deprivation, and have so much stress in their lives that they become hopeless,” Ms. Nakalembe said. “The result is that it’s a real challenge for them to engage in meaningful action.”
Ms. Nakalembe collaborated with the African Women and Girls Organization for Total Knowledge (AWAGO) to provide instruction in the Transcendental Meditation technique. Licensed in 2011, AWAGO offers programs, including Transcendental Meditation, to develop the full potential of women and girls in Uganda.
Single-blind, controlled study
AWAGO’s certified Transcendental Meditation teachers initially taught the technique to 60 women in the village of Nsambya in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. After observing the benefits experienced by their neighbors, 81 more women requested to learn. UWOPED and AWAGO then elected to invite these 81 women to participate in a single-blind, controlled study.
Of these 81, 42 of the women learned Transcendental Meditation immediately, and the rest (39), were put on a waitlist to learn the technique after three months, serving as a control group. All subjects were assigned to groups without known bias, and there was no significant difference between the groups in terms of demographics or study outcomes at baseline. The women on average were 28 years old and instruction was conducted in their mother tongue. The participants practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day for about 20 minutes. Twice a month they attended group follow-up meetings.
Improvements in self-efficacy, stress, and mental/physical health
Assessment after three months of practicing Transcendental Meditation found benefits on standardized measures of self-efficacy, perceived stress, and mental and physical quality of life. Further questionnaires after 8 and 36 months suggested that the women enjoyed improved health, better relationships with others, and increased employment rates.
A total of 71 participants completed the three-month post-test. The primary outcome was a significant improvement in self-efficacy in the Transcendental Meditation group, as measured by the 10-item General Self-Efficacy Scale, which assesses the ability to cope with difficult life challenges. These outcomes are particularly relevant because self-efficacy is considered a critical element of empowerment.
“This Self-Efficacy Scale, which has been in use for nearly 40 years, is a good way of getting a sense of how optimistic a person is, and how much belief a person has that she or he can overcome obstacles,” Dr. Goldstein said. “Those in the Transcendental Meditation group clearly had a changed attitude and greater confidence in their ability to overcome difficult demands in life.”
Secondary outcomes in the study included the 10-item Perceived Stress Scale, which measures the degree to which situations are perceived as stressful and the Medical Outcomes Survey, which measures general physical and mental health as well as social functioning. Again, there was a significant difference between the Transcendental Meditation group and controls.
“These instruments used in the study measured energy and vitality, decision-making, problem-solving, and how overloaded the respondents feel,” Dr. Goldstein said. “What’s really interesting is that the participants simply learned a meditation technique that’s been shown scientifically to provide deep rest and relieve stress. After three months of practice so many aspects of the participant’s lives were greatly improved.”
A follow-up questionnaire was completed by 54 of the original 81 participants after 8 months, and 56 of the original participants completed a questionnaire after three years. All of the women who completed the questionnaire at three years were still practicing Transcendental Meditation.
The women’s self-reported benefits included improved general physical health, fewer headaches, better sleep, greater ability to deal with HIV, greater calm and peace, and less worry and anxiety. There were also reports of decreased drug use and prostitution.
Furthermore, women reported that their employment situations improved, as did their social relationships at home, at work, and in their community – such as more cooperation, love, respect, trust, and friendliness.
Comments from participants
“I used to be stressed to get enough to eat. I would cry and argue with my husband. I used to get so angry I would get a headache and fever from the stress. TM has calmed me down and I feel happy from inside because I can manage stress better. I am thankful for my TM training for giving me self-control and a better feeling about myself as a woman and that I can do something to take care of myself and my children.” (NA)
“Before TM I was unable to get myself going to find work, I couldn’t even think of working. TM has opened up my mind, and help me think better, and now I have a job selling bananas and my children are going to school and feeling happy.” (NG)
Listen to a Radio Interview with Dr. Leslee Goldstein on WPKN Community Radio