"Transcendental meditation has a simple principle: we are beings of a blissful nature with infinite happiness. Life is not a struggle, not a tension... Life is bliss. It is eternal wisdom, eternal existence." - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Our lives are full of setbacks that can cause stress, anxiety, struggling to concentrate, etc. Meditation practice has become essential for anyone wanting to improve their well-being.
With all of the news and noise made about mindfulness - corporations employing mindful meditation coaches and all, meditation appears to be a potential solution for the goodly number of people who struggle with burnout. And, of all the types of meditation, transcendental meditation is one that seems to stand out as an exceptional remedy to today's high-pressure world.
While some people believe it’s nonsense and others, who actively practise transcendental meditation swear by it - especially in their times of high stress, it’s worth having a look at what this phenomenon is all about. After all, so many people wouldn't swear by it if there was nothing to it.
Let’s take a closer look at these meditation techniques to find out what the benefits of meditation are in general and, particularly, how transcendental meditation benefits us.
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What is Transcendental Meditation?
When it comes to stress reduction, there are thousands of ways to meditate. Of them, the transcendental meditation technique is thought of as one of the more alternative methods.
In fact, it’s often presented as a technique for your brain that works on your consciousness by helping you to relax. The process is shown to be almost effortless, effective in a short time, and very popular.
Is it too good to be true?
In theory, the idea is to work on these techniques twice a day for around twenty minutes. By sitting in silence and working on our emotional stability and self-esteem at the same time, we learn to relax in a profound way by healing our mind and body.
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At its simplest, transcendental meditation is repeating a mantra in your head as you sit cross-legged, preferably in the lotus position on the floor with your eyes closed. This mantra will be personally taught to you by someone involved with a Maharishi organisation.
What is a mantra and why must it be given by someone involved with that organisation?
Those are two excellent questions! Here's the short answer: a mantra is a word or sound that is repeated during the meditation session, meant to focus your concentration.
Originally, mantras were a part of lengthy Vedic chants and, because speaking these tones, words and phrases heavily steeped in spirituality is considered a sacred act, being accorded your personal mantra by a spiritual leader, in itself conveys weight, power and significance.
However, you may choose your own mantra based on what you seek. For optimal results, you should consider what brought you to meditation and why you meditate.
Are you searching for inner peace? Do you need to find balance in your life?
Some practitioners of meditation choose an affirmation, such as 'Today, I am at peace' as a mantra. Others seek empowerment with mantras such as 'I am capable of great things' and 'Just keep moving' or happiness with 'I choose joy'.
However, most devout practitioners of meditation, transcendental or otherwise, advocate for more traditional mantras:
- Moksha - liberation
- Santosa - contentment
- Veda - knowledge
- Dharma - righteous path
- Prajna - wisdom
Meditating doesn’t really require that much concentration, effort, or even a particular technique. You can do it without having to drastically change your lifestyle, especially if you’re really busy and cannot always hit the floor and adopt the lotus position.
Learning to meditate can help calm you down, which is one of the main objectives of the discipline.
So how can you learn some of these relaxation techniques and how to meditate? How can you completely liberate your thoughts?
Transcendental meditation could hold the key!
Where Does Transcendental Meditation Come from?
Transcendental meditation was inspired by Indian spiritual traditions and was introduced into the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1995. Maharishi helped give Indian meditation a new lease on life.
We’re talking about the 6 million people who were taught this technique around the world. A number who, despite a few controversies, are basically trying to find the keys to happiness.
Meditation is first and foremost a way to gain self-awareness, understand what’s happening deep inside yourself, and a way to battle stress and depression. In addition to these benefits, there are also a number of physical benefits to practising transcendental meditation such as feeling more relaxed and reducing your blood pressure.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (literally: “Great Seer”) is the man who helped popularise transcendental meditation (TM).
Born in 1917 and died in 2008, he became a symbol of an American counter-culture and was featured in a number of publications, most notably Time.
While some dubbed it a sect, Maharishi founded a university, schools, and colleges around the world. His success is in part due to just how simple the technique can be and the fact that there were a lot of stars who got involved.
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What's the Difference Between Transcendental and Other Types of Meditation?
Science has proven that not all meditation is the same.
Whereas most types of meditation attempt to focus energy, thought and effort into training one's mind and honing one's thoughts, this particular form of meditation is meant to transcend ordinary thought and carry the practitioner beyond the upper structures of the thought processes, down into 'silence' - the absolute stillness of thought.
The sensation and subsequent results of transcending one's surface thoughts are not unlike an athlete being 'in the zone' or some brave souls recounting how they simply didn't think about the danger to themselves while rescuing someone in need.
Thankfully, you don't need a dire emergency where life hangs in the balance in order to reach that state. You only need to cultivate stillness to tap into that wellspring of power.
Don't other types of meditation also cultivate that stillness?
In fact, they don't.
Ironically, the most popular types of meditation, such as Qi Gong (Chinese) or Zen, the Japanese style of meditation that evolved out of the Chinese Chan school all call for a focus onto an object, be it a mantra or something tangible. Such thinking causes more activity in various parts of the brain, not less.
Equally, today's buzzword in meditation, mindfulness, also spurs brain activity even though the practitioner is merely visualising events, rather than targeting thoughts.
The critical difference between mindfulness and transcendence is that the former places your focus on the 'now' and the latter takes you to where 'the now' originates.
Transcendental meditation cuts through all of the noise and busy-ness to get you to a state where nothing, including your thoughts, clamours for attention. In this time of quiet and stillness, your brain enjoys the same restorative effects as it would in a deep sleep: more oxygen and increased blood flow.
Nevertheless, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that every type of meditation has its benefits. One mustn't discount other categories of meditation in favour of transcendence exclusively!
For example, you may not have time to plunge yourself into a transcendental state in the minutes before your big presentation but you certainly would have time to practice focused attention (Zen and the like) or open monitoring (mindfulness).
Find out also if guided meditation is right for you...
A Breakdown of Transcendental Meditation
In Scotland, on the Isle of Skye, people from all over the world are stacking stones. Granted, their doing so has more to do with the film BFG than with any type of meditation. However, stone stacking is considered a meditative act associated with Zen Buddhism.
The stacks of stones are a metaphor for balance.
By restoring these Zen stones to their proper order, so too will you regain your balance. Not physical balance, obviously.
Meditation in general is, in part, the act of rebalancing your life: letting go of excessive negative energy and thoughts, permitting the positive to flow. Relinquishing the need for stress as a form of self-validation and allowing positive affirmation to radiate from you.
While other types of meditation make use of concentration, focus and control to achieve those results, transcendental meditation is predicated upon the absence of control and focus.
While the technique may be simple, what are the benefits?
Most people who practise transcendental meditation will tell you how it can reduce stress, help you sleep better, and make you feel energised.
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Practising transcendental meditation and emptying your mind can help make you more attentive, improve your self-confidence, and generally improve your quality of life.
“In this meditation, we do not concentrate or control the mind. We let the mind follow its natural instinct toward greater happiness, and it goes within and it gains bliss consciousness in the being.” - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
According to Maharishi, transcendental meditation creates an awakened state when you’re resting which can help alleviate tension and anxiety. It also spurs creativity and self-awareness.
That self-awareness can help you manage stress and make you more aware of what’s happening to you.
It can also help those with high blood pressure and it helps with pain management, either from a chronic condition or an acute trauma. It can improve your body overall and help regulate your nervous system. There are so many different benefits to practising transcendental meditation.
However, there’s no proof that this type of meditation is better than any other type of meditation. Let’s not forget that those listed above and others not mentioned are also the general benefits of meditating; essentially the benefits of any type of meditation depend on what you are trying to achieve.
If being in touch with yourself is what you aspire to in your meditation sessions, you should give transcendental meditation a try!
As with all forms of meditation, one by-product of transcendental meditation is to improve your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
In summary, transcendental meditation allows you to:
- Reduce anxiety
- Be aware of your body and yourself
- Maintain a daily practice
- Help alleviate a number of physical worries
Whether you’re an expert of meditation or don’t know the first thing about it, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. Getting involved is pretty easy, however, getting stuck in can be much harder.
You may find yourself in such a state of relaxation that calling yourself away from it might be difficult!
For that reason and others, it is recommended that transcendental meditation be done in the presence of a teacher, at least at the outset of your spiritual journey.
Another reason why a guide is recommended is so that you will be gifted a mantra that suits your physique and conditions exactly. As mentioned above, some mantras target certain aspects of the human experience such as achievement, while others focus more on personal growth.
Working with a guide or instructor will ensure that you have the proper mantra, that you understand the ideals and practices of this type of meditation and that you remain safe as you meditate. In short: they play an essential role for a lot of people practising meditation.
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Practising Transcendental Meditation with a Teacher
Transcendental meditation is a relaxation and personal development technique which is a bit different from some of the other types of meditation. In fact, unlike some of those more mainstream meditation activities such as mindfulness, you don’t need to put in that much effort or concentrate that much.
However, you will need a guide who’s happy to practise daily and you will need some training, which we’ll cover later.
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Transcendental meditation centres on an awareness of your body and a sense of inner peace, using a mantra, silently repeated, to reach beyond conscious thought.
Your mantra can be a word, sentence, or idea which your tutor will help you discover or will assign to you. The idea is to repeat this mantra, in accordance with what your instructor is telling you to do.
For authentic transcendental meditation training, your teacher should have been trained by a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi organisation.
Your given (or chosen) mantra is a more thorough, more personal message than Zen meditation, for example, which many people commonly associate with religion.
Nevertheless, we can illustrate, in broad strokes, essentially how a transcendental meditation session would go:
You should be seated in a comfortable position where your body is fully supported. Such a place may be on the floor or in a chair; as you will be sitting for around 30 minutes, it would be a good idea to choose a setting most conducive to relaxation.
1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Slowly loosen the tension in your body.
2. Silently, repeat your mantra. If you're doing this on your own, you will have to choose a mantra for yourself.
3. Should you find yourself distracted while meditating, you may again silently 'chant' your mantra
4. To return to consciousness, wriggle your extremities - your toes and fingers, until you feel yourself being fully present.
5. When you feel ready, open your eyes
Some of the more pointed questions you may ask: how do you know you've meditated enough? How do you know when it's time to end the sessions? If you're meditating with no guidance, how do you know you're doing it right?
Those are all great questions whose answers are obvious: a tutor is very important and, in some cases, fundamental.
However, the fact that you should have a teacher with you is one of the main weaknesses of transcendental meditation.
In addition to the teacher being essential, this also means that you have to be committed to your lessons, want to attend the lessons, and be willing to pay for them. While the latter is often seen as a big negative, don’t forget that you don’t need a lot of gear to practise it, just your body, mind, and spirit.
Generally, in such a transcendental meditation centre, intensive training with tutors takes place over four days followed by continued “check-ups” over the next six months. Depending on which centre you learn at, the cost is based on your income. Other centres charge a flat rate.
As you’ll have guessed, transcendental meditation isn’t quite like other types of meditation where you can just get random classes at any time. Here, training is a necessity for ensuring that you enjoy all the spiritual benefits of the practice.
While it’s a bit like guided meditation, personal development and letting go are achieved through a specific process.
What if you are committed to learning this type of meditation but there is no centre near you? Or, there is a centre but their fees are far too high?
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Resources for Practicing Transcendental Meditation on Your Own
As mentioned before, one of the biggest questions is: when does one know one's time to meditate is through?
One way to measure time is with a selection of music; my personal favourite is the soundtrack to Johnathan Livingston Seagull.
It was a simple task to select tracks totalling about 30 minutes into play files; come time to disconnect from the world, I simply choose one of the files and drift away on the sound of waves and soaring chords.
Naturally, there are other musical selections that are ideal for meditation; perhaps you already have some in your music collection.
Your meditation music should be tranquil; no peaking vocals and only gentle percussion. Repeating themes would also help, especially if you are new to meditation. The tempo should be about the same throughout; you may even enjoy music with water trickling in the background.
YouTube has a whole list of videos for meditation; some play continuously and others last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Some are narrated, meaning a soothing, pleasant voice directs your meditation while peaceful music plays in the background.
Other websites, such as Music 2 Meditate and Free Meditation Music have created meditation playlists. You may choose from piano or strings, from Devotional or the intriguing-sounding Mantra, a collection of music with traditional Indian tones.
That would be highly appropriate, seeing as meditation is an ancient Indian art!
Especially if you are new to meditation, you must ensure a way to limit the time of your sessions. Once you have a few sessions under your belt, when meditating feels more a part of you, you won't necessarily have to set a time limit on your sessions because your mind/body will be 'trained' to meditate for that amount of time.
Final note: please do not use an egg timer or alarm on your phone to time your meditation sessions!
As they are designed to get your attention, the tones of these devices tend to be discordant and disruptive. From a meditation point of view, there are few things worse than being yanked out of a relaxing session by some shrieking, jangling noise that won't stop unless you rush to silence it!
We may go so far as to aver that such an intrusion might undo all of the peace you've attained while meditating and set your teeth on edge anew.
Talking About Transcendental Meditation
We have to talk about the limits of transcendental meditation.
It’s often shown in the media as solely a relaxation technique where you focus on the present moment. However, they rarely mention that it’s something you have to learn, the personal development it entails, or the benefits it can bring.
This is because the founder of the discipline was regularly in the media. In fact, the practice has been popular since the 1960s and is recommended by stars such as Stevie Wonder, Hugh Jackman, and Oprah Winfrey.
The founder appeared on American television shows, which helped transcendental meditation become popular as well as making him subject to a number of controversies.
The religious, political, and financial aspects of the practice were questioned. While it’s considered a branch of meditation, which won’t appeal to everyone, it would be silly to immediately dismiss it when it could actually be really helpful!
If you're not convinced about meditation, why not consider looking at mindfulness meditation instead?
After all, something that may work for one person may not necessarily work for another and you'll never know if you don't try!
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Great article! This presents TM nicely. One historical point of note: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought this form of meditation to the West long before 1995. In the 1950’s in fact. Famously, the Beatles took up this form of meditation with him in the 1960’s and it became popular for a while in the 1970’s.