Ancient practice of meditation
gives busy students a quiet edge © Dec. 14, 2012, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich University cadets concentrate on a meditation exercise on a Tuesday morning before classes.

photo by Jordan Silverman, staffNorwich University cadets concentrate on a meditation exercise on a Tuesday morning before classes.

A basketball or football timeout is a break to relax, refocus and put things in perspective. Back in the game, you play smarter.

Sixteen students sit on dorm-room chairs on the fourth-floor “cove” of the Alumni Hall barracks. With eyes closed and arms folded, all look comfortable. Their minds have started to quiet down. Soon they will enter a different realm of consciousness; sort of an emotional, physical and mental timeout.

This is Transcendental Meditation, TM for short; and the students are the subjects of a study at Norwich University. Researchers are trying to determine what impact the practice of TM might have on the emotional makeup and mental agility of busy students. So far, they’re seeing positive results.

Twenty minutes pass. “OK, let’s take a minute or two and then open our eyes,” said Dave Zobeck, the buoyant TM trainer from Greeley, Colo., who is on loan to Norwich. The Rooks—first-year cadets in Norwich’s Corps of Cadets—rub their eyes. Some stretch. They will soon face a full day of physical and academic rigors and the emotional ups and downs that come with being a college student.

If I meditate for 20 minutes, I feel like I slept for two hours.

Sam Lieber,
Norwich senior

“It helps keep me awake during class, and it definitely helps with the grades,” said Dayne Valencia, who like others admits to having been skeptical about TM when he volunteered for the study.

“For me, TM is an energy boost though it also relieves stress,” said senior Sam Lieber, who was sergeant of the Corps platoon involved in the study last year. “If I meditate for 20 minutes, I feel like I slept for two hours.”

Jacob Girard, a lacrosse player, said he has been meditating to boost his concentration and energy rather than stress management. For him, TM “slows down things on the field,” providing a mental advantage.

Zobeck tells the Rooks to keep up the good work as they head down the stairs for classes.

“This is the best preparation for [important] activity, because it first clears the mind,” he said.

Meditation, in its various forms, has been around for millennia, often as a devotional component of established religions. TM was introduced in the 1950s, but its roots are said to reach back to ancient Hinduism. As practiced today, it is devoid of religious denomination. TM, practitioners say, allows the mind to focus inward; to go beyond thinking to a state of restful alertness.

Over the years, TM has been the subject of scores of academic studies designed to gauge its psychological and mental benefits. Researchers at Norwich hope to determine if TM might someday be useful for military personnel to enhance performance on the battlefield or behind a desk, and whether it might help combat veterans deal with social and psychological problems, such as post traumatic stress.

The Norwich study, now in its second year, receives funding from the David Lynch Foundation, Zobeck’s employer. Lynch, the filmmaker, television director and TM practitioner, has helped raise millions of dollars to promote TM programs among at-risk groups in American society, especially combat veterans.

The program has the enthusiastic support of Norwich President Richard Schneider, who has practiced TM and introduced the technique to other administrators and faculty, according to Peg Meyer, executive director of the University’s Center for Educational Effectiveness and Academic Achievement.

“Our goal at Norwich is always to maximize the opportunity for the men and women to be the best they can be,” said Meyer, who set up the TM research project.

The project’s chief researcher is psychology Prof. Carole Bandy, who said the program already is showing impressive results. Those involved in TM, when measured against their own earlier tests and assessments taken by control groups, appear to be experiencing significantly less anxiety with higher scores for attentiveness and alertness, she said.

“We have seen results right off the bat,” said Bandy.

Her two-year study involves some 120 student volunteers, half of whom were randomly assigned to control groups. The study involves questionnaires and neuro-psychological tests, including electroencephalography and a pupillometry test that measure levels of mental arousal as subjects are introduced to visual and auditory stimuli.

Bandy plans to report her findings at the end of the academic year.

Zobeck has met with the student volunteers in groups and individually to introduce them to TM. Each participant is given a mantra, “a soothing sound,” in Zobeck’s words, that the practitioner considers silently during meditation to help draw attention inward.

The idea “is to let the mind settle down to quieter states of awareness,” he said.