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This Is Your Brain On College

Craig Pearson, PhD, Executive Vice-President, Maharishi University of Management

In 2005, Psychology Today published an article entitled “The Perils of Higher Ed.” The statement beneath the title reads, “College life can be downright detrimental. Sleep deprivation, a bad diet, and binge drinking can lead you to memory loss, alcoholism, and even Alzheimer’s.”

Here are some of the things we learn from the article:

  • 80% of undergraduates and medical students at Stanford University qualified as sleep-deprived, according to a survey conducted there—and sleep plays a crucial role in learning and memory.
  • 50% of students eat too much fat, and 70-80% eat too much saturated fat, according to a survey at Tufts University—and, as the article states, “They may literally be eating themselves stupid. Researchers have known since the late 1980s that bad eating habits contribute to the kind of cognitive decline found in diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
  • 44% of today’s college students drink enough to be classified as binge drinkers, according to a nationwide survey of 10,000 students done at Harvard University — and we now know that even limited overindulgence with alcohol can produce long-term negative effects on the brain. According to the National Mental Health Association, even one night of heavy drinking can impair your ability to think well for up to 30 days.
  • USA Today article comments, “All this news makes you wonder how anyone’s ever managed to get an education.”

And the article doesn’t mention stress, anxiety, and depression:

More than 29% of college freshmen reported often feeling overwhelmed by school, and emotional health is at a record low, according to a UCLA study. [More]

Nearly 45% of women and 36% of men reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function, according to a National College Health Assessment. [More]

College is supposed to be about learning. We know the factors that impair learning—stress, loss of sleep, alcohol, poor diet. Ironically, these are just the things that characterize the culture on many college campuses.

What happens to brain functioning?

An interesting experiment was conducted at American University in 2006. At the beginning of the spring semester, 50 students were tested on a number of measures, including brain functioning.

The brain function measure looked at brain integration. Brain integration refers to the communication and coordination among the parts of the brain. As in an orchestra or a basketball team, optimal performance depends on optimal coordination among the parts.

Of the 50 students at American University, half were randomly assigned to learn the Transcendental Meditation® technique, while the other half served as the control group, doing nothing except going about their day-to-day college activities.

They were retested three months later, toward the end of the semester, a time of rising stress. The results were striking:

The Transcendental Meditation group showed significantly increased brain integration. The TM® students reported feeling fresh and happy, and measurements found they were less sleepy and better buffered against stress.

In the control group, students reported feeling frazzled, and brain integration had actually deteriorated — after just 12 weeks of a “normal” college experience. [1]
Why is this important for students? Research studies have shown that as brain integration increases, so does intelligence, creativity, learning ability, moral maturity, grade point average, emotional stability, and self-esteem. As brain integration increases, anxiety declines, social behavior improves, and reaction time becomes faster.

In other words, the more coherent and integrated your brain functioning, the better everything gets.

The Transcendental Meditation group also became healthier, as another study revealed. Blood pressure decreased among those at risk for hypertension, and they showed reduced psychological distress and improved ability to cope with stress. They also increased in the ability to focus attention in an accepting, nonjudgmental way on whatever you are experiencing. [2]

A university where everyone meditates

As these studies and many more indicate, if you are a college student, learning and practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is one of the best investments you can make. It can help you avoid the damaging effects of college and get more out of your college education.

You may also be interested in knowing that there is one university that has taken brain integration seriously—a university where, in fact, every aspect of student experience has been tailored to support students’ rapid personal growth, good health, and deep learning.

Maharishi University of Management is the world pioneer of Consciousness-Based℠ education. At its foundation is the Transcendental Meditation program. All students, faculty, and staff practice this simple, natural, effortless technique of meditation to promote development from within—growth of intelligence, creativity, better health, and more.

But MUM is serious about the students’ growth, so it doesn’t stop there.


Almost everyone understands that you are what you eat — and so MUM offers the healthiest diet of any college in the country. Meals are all vegetarian and freshly prepared. We grow much of our produce in our own greenhouse and gardens. Milk and yogurt come from a local organic dairy.

Balanced Schedule

Students have a balanced daily schedule, with structured time for morning and afternoon meditation and a good balance between class and free time. Classes run from 10:00 to 12:00 in the morning and from 1:00 to 3:15 in the afternoon.


One of the most important things you can do to promote good health, wellbeing, and optimal learning is to get enough sleep. This means not just getting enough hours but getting those hours at the optimal time for the body, in accord with its natural, 24-hour cycle (the body begins preparing for sleep at around 9:30 pm). At MUM, students are encouraged to go to bed by 10:00. Homework assignments can typically be completed in 60-90 minutes, so no one has to stay up late.

A Clean Campus

Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs are not permitted on our campus.

One Course per Month

Most of us know how stressful it can be to take four or five courses at once. Your attention is scattered in multiple directions, term papers and finals piling up at the same time. How much authentic learning results from cramming?

At MUM, students take one course per month. This means immersing yourself in what you’re studying—which is the easiest and least stressful way to learn. You never have more than one paper and one exam at a time. Courses end on Thursday afternoon of the fourth week, leaving Friday, Saturday, and Sunday free between each block—three free days for rest, relaxation, and recreation, mini-vacations sprinkled through the year.

Healthier when you graduate

MUM uses the Duke Health Profile, developed at Duke University, to measure changes in our students’ overall health during their years here. We have found that students are actually healthier when they graduate—physically, mentally, and emotionally—than when they enroll.

As for brain functioning, MUM students can also take advantage of the Brain Integration Progress Report, to see for themselves how their brain functioning becomes more coherent and integrated during their years here—the foundation for success and fulfillment in whatever path they choose to pursue.

What Students Say

Chris Smith

"I am fully supported to be my absolute best."

“I am fully supported to be my absolute best.”

Chris Smith, from Danvers, Massachusetts, just northeast of Boston, attended a community college before coming to MUM. He is currently majoring in Maharishi Vedic Science.

“High school and my first attempt at college left me in such a state of constant stress and anxiety that I could not sleep at night, felt overwhelmed by everything, and I slowly started to lose my desire to fulfill my dreams. I never was able to think about eating right, exercising, or even the material I was supposed to be learning. The best thing I ever did was admit to myself that what I was doing was not working and was not making me into the person I wanted to become.

“Being a student at MUM is very special. Consciousness-Based education allows me to have a deeper understanding of my subjects and to enjoy the process of learning. I am fully supported to be my absolute best while always being able to maintain an inner calmness, my health has never been better, and my dreams have never been bigger.”

Graham Torpey

Graham Torpey

“My entire experience is thriving.”

Graham Torpey did his undergraduate degree at Syracuse University in New York, where he served as a residence hall director for several years. Then he came to MUM for his MBA. He was so inspired by the culture of learning and personal growth here that he switched from the full-time MBA program to the evening-weekend program so that he would work in the Student Life area, where he has been the director of residential life for the past two years.

“It is one thing to express what enlivened creative intelligence is like, and it is yet another to be living it. My experience of being at MUM compared with Syracuse is like this contrast. Life at MUM attends to the relative aspects of living and learning while integrating profoundly with the principles of being that inspire, fulfill, and nourish my soul. The simple awareness of well-being—and the conscious effort that is taken to care for the total health of the individual (on the feeling, physical, and mental levels) is so important for top performance, and I personally know that my entire experience is thriving in ways that were simply unattended to at Syracuse.”

Cassie Forward

Cassie Forward

“For the first time in my life am finding myself actually looking forward to going to class every day.”

Cassie Forward is here from Bedford, New York, majoring in Sustainable Living.

“I went to a few other colleges before attending MUM. Having five or six classes going on at once was stressful and disorienting, and I was unable to keep up with schoolwork, let alone get excited about what I was learning. I ended up excelling in one subject at a time and failing most of the others. Having one class at a time allows me to really immerse myself in the subject I’m learning without having to neglect other courses. I’m finally able to retain what is being taught, and for the first time in my life am finding myself actually looking forward to going to class every day.”

Cassie’s mother, Ellie, noticed the changes in Cassie and wrote the following to the MUM Dean of Student Life:

“When she came home for the winter holidays [after her first months at MUM], she was radiant. She is so very happy in Fairfield and has grown so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

“One morning she explained to me that she now knows what it feels like to be herself and that as long as she continues her regular TM practice, she is just that—the very best of herself. I can’t tell you how deeply gratifying that was for me.

“I have seen Cassie grow in almost every way imaginable since she started school at MUM. Her artwork is so much more creative now. Her ADD that she has suffered with all of her life has disappeared. She is away from home on her own for the first time and tells me that she feels completely at home in Fairfield. She has made so many friends so quickly. Her convictions have become stronger. Her mother is so thankful!

“Cassie has loved the classes she has taken so far. When she was home, she spoke of all of the classes that she was truly looking forward to taking in the future. This is another area of growth for her, and one that I think was facilitated in a big way by the block program at MUM. She has learned to love learning. She has gained so much knowledge.

“I can say without any reservation that Maharishi University of Management has done more for my daughter than either she or I knew was possible. I can’t say enough about how wonderful all of you at MUM have been to Cassie, and about how enlivening and enriching her experience there has been so far!”



[1] Fred Travis, David A.F. Haaga, John Hagelin, Melissa Tanner, Sanford Nidich, Carolyn Gaylord-King, Sarina Grosswald, Maxwell Rainforth, and Robert H. Schneider, “Effects of Transcendental Meditation Practice on Brain Functioning and Stress Reactivity in College Students,” International Journal of Psychophysiology 71 (2009): 170–176.

[2] Sanford I. Nidich, Maxwell V. Rainforth, David A.F. Haaga, John Hagelin, John W. Salerno, Fred Travis, Melissa Tanner, Carolyn Gaylord-King, Sarina Grosswald, and Robert H. Schneider, “A Randomized Controlled Trial on Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Blood Pressure, Psychological Distress, and Coping in Young Adults,” American Journal of Hypertension 22, no. 12 (2009): 1326-1331.

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