What is it?
Made famous through celebrities since the 1970s, and currently promoted by none other than the David Lynch Foundation, Transcendental Meditation (TM) is probably the most well-known genre of meditation in the West. It is a specific technique of meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi since the 1950s based on Vedic tradition, which uses a mantra, a Sanskrit word or sound, as the focus of attention. It is the most researched meditation technique today, starting with the 1970 publication in Scientific American of a UCLA study into its effects.
According to the TM organisation, TM “allows your mind to settle inward beyond thought to experience the source of thought — pure awareness, also known as transcendental consciousness… In this state of restful alertness, your brain functions with significantly greater coherence and your body gains deep rest.”
How is it practiced?
TM is practiced by mentally repeating a mantra for 20 minutes, twice a day with closed eyes in any relaxed sitting position. Novices are taught TM through certified teachers in a seven-step process, and fees are charged for enrolment into TM practice. Mantras are selected by the TM organisation and teachers give a specific mantra to a student based on the student’s personality.
Although technically TM requires attention to a mantra, the organisation says that it is not the same as “focussed attention”. Practitioners claim that the technique easy and natural, allowing the mind to reach a unique state that is both restful and alert, that is different from sleeping, dreaming, or normal wakefulness.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is quoted to have said, “The goal of the Transcendental Meditation Technique is the state of enlightenment. This means we experience that inner calmness, that quiet state of least excitation, even when we are dynamically busy.”
Until one reaches this ultimate goal, famous practitioners such as Russell Brand, Martin Scorcese and Clint Eastwood, talk of its ability to reduce stress and bring calm, clarity and deep relaxation.
According to the TM organisation, over 350 scientific studies have been made about TM in over 250 universities. A full list of benefits can be found in the sites listed here:
In April 2013, the American Heart Foundation concluded that TM may reduce blood pressure and recommended that it be considered in clinical practice to prevent and treat hypertension.
Although the substantial body of research points to benefits correlated to positive effects of a deep restful state, the practice has yet to be integrated into medical therapy by health organisations beyond the recommendation mentioned above. A delegation of doctors in the UK are currently petitioning for TM to become more widely available on the NHS (at the time of writing, it isn’t clear if TM is at all available through the NHS).