What is Transcendental Meditation?

I’ve been teaching Transcendental Meditation for 40 years. For the first 35, few people were interested in what I had to say. Today, it’s a different story.

I have to hand it to Hollywood: Proponents of TM include Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Naomi Watts, Russell Brand, and David Lynch. Meditation is growing among bankers, physicians, lawyers, teachers, artists. It’s practiced everywhere from financial institutions and family businesses to homeless shelters and hospitals. It’s the focus of corporate wellness programs and the buzz at cocktail parties. Transcendental Meditation is—officially—hot.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Life happened. As it got more stressful, we became more keenly aware of stress’ devastating impact on our health—like high blood pressure, chronic anxiety, acute depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders, learning disorders, and so on. There’s also a growing desire to do something about it, other than popping sleeping pills or guzzling wine.

We exercise, do yoga, eat more healthfully—and now, we meditate.

WHAT IS IT, EXACTLY?

Is meditation a jog on the beach, listening to Bach, eyes closed, counting your breath?

No: Jogging is exercise; listening to music is therapeutic. But meditation is different. There three basic types of practice. Each has a unique effect on how your brain—and the rest of your body—operates.

Focused Attention: This is your basic “clear-your-mind” technique. You concentrate on your breath, focus on a point in your body, and try to calm “the monkey mind.” Research shows that focused attention creates gamma waves in the front left part of your brain, which are indicative of high concentration. It is used cognitive training to help focus a distracted mind.

Open Monitoring: This technique is used in mindfulness practices. You observe—without emotion or judgment—your thoughts, breath, and physical sensations within your environment. This creates theta and alpha 2 waves, which indicate self-reflection. Research shows mindfulness practices are a good coping tool, even if done for a few minutes a day.

Self-Transcending: This is Transcendental Meditation, or TM. It creates alpha I waves, indicative of a deeply settled yet alert state of mind. By exploring quieter levels of the active mind, you’ll transcend to a state of restful alertness. This relaxes the body similarly to deep sleep, offsetting stress and strain.

HOW’S THIS ANALOGY?

You’re in a small boat in the middle of a vast ocean. Suddenly, 30-foot-high swells threaten to engulf you. You think, “The whole ocean is in upheaval.” But if you saw a cross-section of the ocean, you’d realize that beneath the giant waves on the surface, it is a mile deep—and at its depth, it’s almost silent.

The surface of the mind is like the active, sometimes turbulent, ocean. I call this the “gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta” mind: “I gotta do this and I gotta do that, I gotta make a list and I gotta find the list and I gotta slow down and I gotta get going and I gotta get to sleep and I gotta wake up.”

Sound familiar?

It’s natural to want to break free from that—to enjoy some inner clarity, inner peace, inner creativity. The question is, “Is there an inner? And if so, how do we get there?”

Like silence at the bottom of the ocean, there is silence at the deepest level of your thinking mind.

TM Fast Facts:

  1. You don’t have to believe in it for it to work. I am a skeptical person—downright cynical at times. But TM is a simple, mechanical, learned process. You can be skeptical about gravity, but if you drop a tennis ball, it will fall to the ground.
  2. You practice for 20 minutes, sitting with eyes closed, in the morning and late afternoon or evening. Why twice a day? The benefits are cumulative, but once is a million times better than not at all.
  3. You get your own teacher. TM is not mass meditation, nor is it taught through a book or CD or DVD. It’s a series of one-to-one guided sessions with a certified instructor over four consecutive days, an hour each day. These are all you need to master the technique.
  4. You can do it anywhere—on a plane, in a car (if you’re not driving it!), on a train. I have meditated at Yankee stadium during a blowout game and no one noticed.

WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?

So is there any proof that it works?

Actually, yes. A lot.

Over the past 40 years, there have been more than 240 studies on the benefits of TM published in peer-reviewed medical journals, including the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, and The American Journal of Cardiology.

Findings show that TM:

• Reduces high blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death due to heart attack by 48 percent.

• Reduces trait anxiety (it’s in your nature) and chronic anxiety (it builds and builds and builds)

• Reduces post-traumatic stress among veterans by nearly 50 percent

• Increases creativity and intelligence, and improves memory and focus

• Strengthens the connections between the parts of your brain (primarily the prefrontal cortex) that are crucial to decision making, planning, judgment, and sense of self

TM, FROM WALL STREET TO HOMELESS SHELTERS

I head up the David Lynch foundation, a nonprofit established ten years ago to bring the benefits of TM to people in need.

Stress has been called “the Black Plague of the 21st century” because it’s highly pervasive, and modern medicine can’t prevent or cure it. (There are plenty of pills to manage stress and substances to mask it, but there’s nothing you can take to better withstand stress or to heal the hidden wounds it can cause.)

The David Lynch Foundation has brought TM into executive suites, factory floors, and everywhere in between. We’ve provided scholarships enabling more than 500,000 inner-city kids to learn to meditate. We’ve done the same for veterans and their families suffering from PTSD, and women and children victimized by domestic violence.

The outcomes are stunning: a 90 percent improvement in graduation rates, 50 percent reduction in the symptoms of PTSD, and dramatic increase feelings of inner happiness, self-esteem, and self-worth among at-risk adults and children.

Bottom line? More and more people are turning to TM for one reason: It works.