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Nunavut Health Indicators: The Role of Transcendental Meditation

by Nicola on 2012-12-05


Nunavut Health Indicators: The Role of Transcendental Meditation


Christopher Collrin (Representative of the David Lynch Foundation)


Mike Webster (Executive Director, SBHK)

Edited by Dr Nicola Davies



The 2011 Nunavut Report on Comparable Health Indicators, as prepared by Tchouaffi Paul (MSc.; DSc.) and Isaac Sobol (MD, CCFP, MHSc.), has raised some serious concerns that have significant implications for Nunavummiut in communities across Nunavut, including Kugluktuk. For example, if you were born in 2005 in Nunavut, you are expected to live for 69.8 years, compared to a life-expectancy of 80.2 years elsewhere in Canada. Cancer deaths linked to smoking, stroke, undiagnosed high blood pressure, obesity, stress and diabetes were all identified as factors likely to explain this huge discrepancy in life-expectancy.


Interestingly, Transcendental Meditation (TM), a technique that uses mantra meditation, has been shown to improve health conditions related to the aforementioned factors implicated in Inuit life-expectancy. TM is a simple, easily-learned, non-religious, stress-reducing technique that is practiced for 10 to 15 minutes twice daily, sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. Research indicates that TM can facilitate efforts to improve the health and social well-being of Inuit, as well as tackle some of the concerns raised within the Nunavut Report.




As it has been widely established, tobacco smoking has been categorically linked to lung and other cancers. Stopping smoking, or never smoking in the first place, is a proven method of avoiding cancer. The 2011 Report revealed that the percentage of smokers among all Nunavummiut over the age of 12-years was more than twice the proportion reported for Canada as a whole. Furthermore, nationally, cigarette smoking has decreased at a much faster rate than in Nunavut. 


The use of TM as a means to decrease the amount you smoke has proven to be more effective than standard treatments or standard prevention programmes (Figure 1, Alexander et al., 1994; Aron and Aron, 1983; Gelderloos et al., 1991), as has also been found with alcohol use (Figure 2).



Figure 1: Decreased Smoking through TM


Figure 2: Decreased Alcohol Use through TM

The report also identified that high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for stroke, was more prevalent amongst the Nunavut community. Many people with high blood pressure do not display any outward symptoms and will only know that there is a problem if checked by a health care professional. Reducing high blood pressure can help prevent strokes. Also, Nunavummiut are more likely to suffer a lowering of blood supply to the brain, obesity, stress and diabetes, when compared to other Canadian regions.


TM has been shown to help in all these areas (Castillo-Richmond et al., 2000; Rainforth et al., 2007; Orme-Johnson and Walton, 1998). A 2008 meta-analysis of nine studies found a statistically significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure in those who practiced TM compared to control groups (Devries, 2011).



Psychological distress has been found to be particularly prevalent among the young people of Nunavut. However, research on the benefits of TM within psychological well-being has been extremely promising. In a study comprising 106 secondary school students (68 meditating and 38 non-meditating), students’ adopting the TM program showed a significant improvement in study outcomes (Elder et al., 2011). This is likely to be attributable to significant reductions in psychological distress and anxiety among the TM group (Figure 3). 


     Figure 3: Decreased Psychological Distress in TM Group



TM has been found to be particularly effective at reducing depression (Candelent et al., 1975; Ferguson et al., 1976), a problem prevalent in Nunavut due to an array of social and economic inequalities.

Alarmingly, Nunavummiut’s rate of potential years of life lost due to suicide was more than nine times higher than the rate for Canada, according to the Nunavut report. In particular, there appears to be a high number of youth suicides. Suicide is indicative of socioeconomic distress and a strong manifestation of social exclusion, especially in Inuit males between the ages of 15 and 24 years, where it is most prevalent. From 1999 to 2003, the suicide rate among Inuit was 135 per 100,000, which is four times higher than that of First Nations and eleven times higher than the rate for all Canadians.




Most Inuit communities now offer schooling up to the end of high school. However, drop-out rates continue to be higher than the Canadian average. Additionally, educational standards are typically lower in Inuit schools than in non-Inuit schools. In Iqaluit, Nunavut, for example, teachers claim that three-quarters of grade 8 students read below their grade level. Many students who do graduate complain that they are ill-prepared for university and have to spend a year or two taking college courses to improve their literacy.


In the areas of absenteeism and suspension rates, the use of TM has been found to be advantageous. One hundred and ninety-five students, predominantly low-income American Indian (124 TM students and 71 non-TM students) in grades 9 to 12, were evaluated for absenteeism over the 2008-2009 school year. The TM students were practicing the TM program for an average of 2 years.  A significant difference in absenteeism was found, with the group of meditating students having fewer days absent than non-meditating controls.


In the area of suspension, a descriptive study was undertaken, using school records, to track suspensions from fall to spring over the same school year. All students learned TM in the sixth and seventh grades during the fall and winter of the school year and practiced the TM program twice a day at school. Suspension rates for these students were compared to all eighth grade students, who were not instructed in TM. School data showed a 45% drop in multi-day suspensions after the first semester of implementation of TM, comparing 6th and 7th grade students who learned TM to 8th grade control students who did not learn TM.


The use of TM has also been shown to be effective amongst both teachers and college students. In a study involving educators, teachers from two secondary schools were administered the Perceived Stress Scale prior to learning TM and again 6-months later. Results indicated a significant reduction in perceived stress in subjects practicing TM.




Mary Simon, former president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said in a CBC interview that, “the problem is that it may just be 40% of the population [who are healthy], and 60% is having the difficulty and experiencing the social ills and mental health illnesses, and they overshadow and they over power in many ways the people who are healthy.” Therefore, there is a clear need for a deeper understanding of the social dynamics within the community and to offer an inclusive solution to the problems highlighted within the Nunavut Report. Such an understanding is essential for demonstrating the ‘spirit of reconciliation.’ Furthermore, the evidence within this article indicates that TM might be a key tool in efforts to mediate between diverse segments of the population while also improving health and well-being. Indeed, there is a wealth of scientific evidence supporting the role of TM in health and well-being, physically, sociologically, and socially. With this in mind, it is encouraging to see TM being adopted in initiatives throughout Canada, such as The Hawn Foundation, which incorporates the Buddhist philosophy “to help young minds by nurturing resilience, hope, and optimism” (Goldie Hawn, 2011). Given the health problems and inequalities highlighted within the Nunavut Report, there is a strong rationale for integrating TM into Inuit living and steps have already been made to do this via the piloting of a non-Shaman based Copper Inuit spirituality and nature-based self-care programme. In the next article, we show how further TM initiatives can be achieved via acculturation, natural law, and self-determination.     





Alexander C.N., et al. Treating and preventing alcohol, nicotine, and drug abuse through Transcendental Meditation: A review and statistical meta-analysis. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 11: 13-87, 1994.

Aron E.N. and Aron A. The patterns of reduction of drug and alcohol use among Transcendental Meditation participants. Bulletin of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors 2: 28-33, 1983.

Candelent T., et al. Teaching Transcendental Meditation in a psychiatric setting. Hospital & Community Psychiatry 26: 156-159, 1975.

Castillo-Richmond A., et al. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on carotid atherosclerosis in hypertensive African Americans, Stroke 31: 568-573, 2000. 

Devries, S. ed. (2011). "The Integrative Approach to Hypertension, Ch. 11". Integrative Cardiology. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 236, 237. 978-0195383461

Elder, C. et al. Reduced Psychological Distress in Racial and Ethnic Minority Students practicing the TM program.  Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 38, No. 2.

Ferguson P.C., et al. Psychological Findings on Transcendental Meditation. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 16:483-488, 1976.

Gelderloos P., et al. Effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation program in preventing and treating substance misuse: A review. International Journal of the Addictions 26: 293–325, 1991.

Hawn, G. (2011). The Hawn Foundation. Available at: [Last accessed: 05/12/12].

Orme-Johnson D.W. and Walton K. W. All approaches of preventing or reversing effects of stress are not the same. American Journal of Health Promotion 12:297-299, 1998.

Rainforth M.V., et al. Stress reduction programs in patients with elevated blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Hypertension Reports 9:520–528, 2007.

Author Bio:

Dr Nicola Davies is a Psychology Consultant and Freelance Writer with an interest in health and well-being.  Her publications can be viewed at Alternatively, you might like to sign up to her free blog:




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