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What is Transcendental meditation?   What (if any) are the benefits from this form of meditation?  Why is it important?

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a specific form of mantra meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.   It is often referred to as Transcendental Meditation, or simply TM. The meditation practice involves the use of a mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day while sitting with one’s eyes closed.  It is reported to be one of the most-widely practiced, and among the most widely researched, meditation techniques, with over 340 peer-reviewed studies published.  Beginning in 1965, the Transcendental Meditation technique has been incorporated into selected schools, universities, corporations, and prison programs in the U.S.A., Latin America, Europe, and India. In 1977 a U.S. district court ruled that a curriculum in TM and the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) being taught in some New Jersey schools was religious in nature and in violation of the First Amendment. The technique has since been included in a number of educational and social programs around the world.    TM is one of the most widely practiced, and among the most widely researched meditation techniques.

The Transcendental Meditation technique has been described as both religious and non-religious, as an aspect of a new religious movement, as rooted in Hinduism, and as a non-religious practice for self-development.  The public presentation of the TM technique over its 50-year history has been praised for its high visibility in the mass media and effective global propagation, and criticized for using celebrity and scientific endorsements as a marketing tool. Advanced courses supplement the TM technique and include an advanced meditation called the TM-Sidhi program.  In 1970, the Science of Creative Intelligence became the theoretical basis for the Transcendental Meditation technique, although skeptics questioned its scientific nature.  Proponents have postulated that one percent of a population (such as a city or country) practicing the TM technique daily may have an impact on the quality of life for that population group. This has been termed the Maharishi Effect.

According to proponents of TM, when meditating, the ordinary thinking process is “transcended.” It’s replaced by a state of pure consciousness. In this state, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries.

Proponents say the technique has many benefits for both mind and body, including:  (1) clearer thinking; (2) reduction of cardiovascular risk factors; and (3) Increased longevity.

The technique is recommended for 20 minutes twice per day. According to the Maharishi, “bubbles of thought are produced in a stream one after the other”, and the Transcendental Meditation technique consists of experiencing a “proper thought” in its more subtle states “until its subtlest state is experienced and transcended”.  Because it is mantra based, the technique “ostensibly meets the working definition of a concentration practice”; however, the TM organization says that “focused attention” is not prescribed, and that the “aim is a unified and open attentional stance”   Other authors describe the technique as an easy, natural technique or process, and a “wakeful hypo metabolic physiologic state”. Practice of the technique includes a process called “unstressing” which combines “effortless relaxation with spontaneous imagery and emotion”. TM teachers caution their students not to be alarmed by random thoughts and to “attend” to the mantra.

The TM technique consists of silently repeating a mantra with “gentle effortlessness” while sitting comfortably with eyes closed and without assuming any special yoga position.  The mantra is said to be a vehicle that allows the individual’s attention to travel naturally to a less active, quieter style of mental functioning.  One author discusses neurological theories about the importance of selecting the correct mantra. According to these, the mantra enters “the central nervous system via the brain’s speech area”, and represents “a direct input of ease and order”. TM meditators are instructed to keep their mantra secret to ensure maximum results (“speaking it aloud, apparently defeats the purpose”), to avoid confusion in the mind of the meditators, and as a “protection against inaccurate teaching”.

The TM-Sidhi program is a form of meditation introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1975. It is based on, and described as a natural extension of the Transcendental Meditation technique. The goal of the TM-Sidhi program is to accelerate personal growth and improve mind-body coordination by training the mind to think from what the Maharishi has described as a fourth major state of consciousness called Transcendental Consciousness.

Yogic Flying, a mental-physical exercise of hopping while cross-legged, is a central aspect of the TM-Sidhi program. With the introduction of the TM-Sidhi program in 1976 it was postulated that the square root of one percent of the population practicing the TM-Sidhi program, together at the same time and in the same place, would increase “life-supporting trends”. This was referred to as the “Extended Maharishi Effect”. These effects have been examined in 14 published studies, including a gathering of over 4,000 people in Washington DC in the summer of 1993

Scientists have been conducting Transcendental Meditation (TM) research since the late 1960s and hundreds of studies have been published.  The Transcendental Meditation technique is a specific form of mantra meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and has become one of the most widely researched meditation techniques. TM research has played a role in the history of mind-body medicine and helped create a new field of neuroscience.

Early studies examined the physiological parameters of the meditation technique. Subsequent research included clinical applications, cognitive effects, mental health, medical costs, and rehabilitation. Beginning in the 1990s, research focused on cardiovascular disease supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.   Research reviews of the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique have yielded results ranging from inconclusive to clinically significant.   More research is needed to determine the therapeutic effects of meditation practices and sources vary regarding their assessment of the quality of research. Some cite design limitations and a lack of methodological rigor, while others assert that the quality is improving and that when suitable assessment criteria are applied, scientific evidence supports the therapeutic value of meditation.

According to the Maharishi, there are seven levels of consciousness: (i) waking; (ii) dreaming; (iii) deep sleep; (iv) transcendental consciousness; (v) cosmic consciousness; (vi) God consciousness; and, (vii) unity consciousness.  The Maharishi says that transcendental consciousness can be experienced through Transcendental Meditation, and that those who meditate diligently could become aware of cosmic consciousness.An indication of cosmic consciousness is “ever present wakefulness” that is present even during sleep. Research on long term TM practitioners experiencing what they describe as cosmic consciousness, has identified unique EEG profiles, muscle tone measurements, and REM indicators that suggest physiological parameters for this self-described state of consciousness.

Characterizations of the TM technique vary amongst scholars, clergy, notable practitioners and governments. According to the Maharishi his technique requires no preparation, is simple to do, and can be learned by anyone.   The technique is described as effortless and without contemplation or concentration.  The TM technique utilizes the tendency of the mind to move towards greater satisfaction.  According to TM advocates, the technique is “purely a mechanical, physiological process”, the “two-minute ceremony” invokes no deities, the mantras are “sounds without meaning” and the technique “pre-dates Hinduism by 5,000 years”.

Some religious leaders and clergy find Transcendental Meditation compatible with their religious teachings and beliefs while others do not.   Catholic monk Wayne Teasdale  has written in his book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions, that Transcendental Meditation “is what is called an open or receptive method” that can be described as giving up control and remaining open in an inner sense.  In 2003, the Roman Curia, a Vatican council, published a warning against mixing eastern meditations, such as TM, with Christian prayer.   There have been many clergy who practice the TM technique and find it compatible with their religious beliefs.

There are those who find Transcendental Meditation to be a “…highly simplified form of Hinduism, adapted for Westerners who did not possess the cultural background to accept the full panoply of Hindu beliefs, symbols, and practices”, and describes the Transcendental Meditation puja ceremony as “…in essence, a religious initiation ceremony”.  Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh of the Greek Orthodox Church describes TM as “a new version of Hindu Yoga” based on “pagan pseudo-worship and deification of a common mortal, Guru Dev”.

Others say that “although there are some dedicated followers of TM who devote most or all of their time to furthering the practice of Transcendental Meditation in late modern society, the vast majority of those who practice do so on their own, often as part of what has been loosely described as the New Age Movement.” They say that most scholars view Transcendental Meditation as having elements of both therapy and religion, but that “Transcendental Meditation has no designated scripture, no set of doctrinal requirements, no ongoing worship activity, and no discernible community of believers.” They also say that Maharishi did not claim to have special divine revelation or supernatural personal qualities.

TM is unlike religion in its “key elements”: “there is no public worship, no code of ethics, no scriptures to be studied, and no rites of passage that are observed, such as dietary laws, giving to the poor, or pilgrimages.”

Some studies have found that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and the use of health care services but more research is needed.

Continue reading below…

Whether the health benefits of TM and other forms of meditation are real, though, is controversial. Some researchers fault the quality of meditation studies and say meditation is no more effective than health education in addressing most common health problems.

Current evidence suggests that meditation, both TM and other forms, are generally safe for healthy people. It also suggests that meditation may improve the quality of life for many. Experts agree, however, that meditation should not be considered an effective single treatment for any particular health condition. Nor should it be used as an alternative to conventional medical care.

Kathy Kiefer


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