What Is Transcendental Meditation And Is It Right For You?
Transcendental meditation is described as a powerful key to unlock your inner potential for self-healing and personal growth.
For the last six months I’ve been learning the transcendental meditation method under a trained teacher. I’ll share my experience, but first you might be wondering what transcendental meditation is and whether or not it’s right for you. (If you already know, scroll down to read about my experience.)
Transcendental meditation is the high profile meditation technique among all other methods. It became popular in the 1960’s with many celebrities such as the The Beatles, Clint Eastwood, Deepak Chopra, and later, Jennifer Aniston, numerous successful business leaders, and Dr. Oz plus many more high profile names becoming faithful enthusiasts. It’s also been taught to veterans, PTSD sufferers, and even prisoners with remarkable results.
Bonus: Brain wave studies show that there are no substantial differences between an expert and a beginner in transcendental meditation, which is very encouraging! You can feel better your first session!
Where did it originate?
The TM (transcendental meditation) technique (formerly transcendental deep meditation) was introduced to the wider world by Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who learned the technique while studying as a Hindu monk. He promised his late teacher to spread inner peace to the world through a non-denominational meditation practice.
He first gained recognition when he introduced it to The Beatles. When they became fans, the world became fans.
What are the benefits?
It is the most studied type of meditation boasting evidence-based proven benefits that range from lowered cortisol and stress, lowered risk for heart disease, heightened creativity and productivity, improved sleep and memory.
These benefits can show up quickly such as improved sleep and other benefits taking months (with continued practice) such as improved cardiovascular health.
What’s the difference between typical meditation techniques and transcendental?
Mindfulness meditation for instance asks you to be present with your thoughts, being aware of them, but not overly bothered by them; sitting with your thoughts. Your “anchor” (or point of focus) is usually your breath or a background noise of your choice, like a fan.
Transcendental meditation says it all; you transcend your thoughts so that you are no longer aware of them. It can even feel as if you exist outside of them, sometimes forgetting time and space. If this sounds like hallucinating on LSD, you may be on to something. I’m not keen on recreational drugs, but I’m sure it would be easy to make the connection between TM and the side effects of certain drugs.
It’s no wonder The Beatles were fans of this meditation…Lucy in the sky with diamonds…
Transcending thought is described as “pure awareness” or “oneness”- not knowing where your self begins and anything or anyone else ends. Some people describe it as losing themselves.
Remember, your ego is your identity, but it can also hold you back. With transcendence, you may forget your ego. Imagine what that opens up to you. If you could do anything without judgment or self-criticism what would you do?
Unlike mindfulness meditation, the point of focus in TM is a mantra, usually a Hindu/Indian word. Every time your mind wanders, you go back to silently repeating your mantra. A mantra is chosen for you by your “teacher” usually based on your age and gender.
How to practice Transcendental Meditation?
It is recommended that you seek a practicing teacher to properly learn the methods of TM. This of course costs money and time. I’ve seen good directions online as well. I suggest you do your research if you choose to do it yourself.
Transcendental Meditation is typically practiced for 20 minutes a day, twice a day in a seated position. During this time, you repeat your mantra as often as your mind wanders during that 20 minutes. (Here’s how to choose your mantra).
I have no doubt that if you only practiced mantra meditation with your chosen mantra, you will receive wonderful benefits!
Following your 20 minute meditation, some teachers will give you a set of Sutras to repeat to yourself. You might have heard of Sutras or Suttas in the context of Buddhism or yoga. (How to practice the Sutras for TM).
By its literal definition, a Sutra is simply a word or phrase that has been passed down as wisdom. The initiation process of the Sutras involved ancient Indian/Sanskrit text. Not all TM will involve Sutras though. The course I took implemented Sutras for the sake of offering spiritual gifts in addition to the benefits of meditation. Spiritual gifts include clairvoyance, clairaudience, healing, teaching, and more.
How can meditation be controversial?
So far I’ve introduced to you a seemingly infallible method of meditation, but it may surprise you to know TM has undergone criticism as well. In fact, it’s a highly controversial method.
The first reason is since this method is based on Hindu texts (The Vedas), which are notoriously considered religious texts by historians, how can we be certain that practicing TM is not inadvertently practicing Hinduism as a religion? Not many people can properly translate The Vedas. This is especially troubling to devout religious folks who are not of the Hindu faith.
When Buddhism became popular in the west, many practiced the principles of Buddhism without considering it a religion yet some people do actually consider it their religion. This is the same for TM. Many of the rituals that are taught within TM contain verbiage from The Vedas.
With it becoming mainstream, it is more widely accepted as simply part of a personal meditation and wellness program.
There’s a fine line between “spiritual” practices and religion so if this makes you uncomfortable TM is a meditation method you’ll want to skip.
Another reason TM has come under scrutiny is it’s resemblance to a cult with it’s super-secret language. The TM movement continues to be a tight-knit community where certain teachers are the chosen ones to pass it on to others. TM can only be taught by a trained teacher, guru, or spiritual advisor who is well-versed in the practice.
This means you are putting blind faith in another person to guide you on a very personal psycho-spiritual journey that may or may not affect your mental wellbeing. Your reliance on this person who is your “superior” can seduce you into following someone who is not genuine in their intentions. Charisma can catch people off guard and the teachers I’ve met have a heaping dose of charisma.
My experience with Transcendental Meditation:
It works quickly- my first session and I felt light as a feather and freakishly friendly and loving to everyone (at the grocery store!). Please note: I made some frivolous purchases at the store that day 😉
The lure of TM is the promise of easy and natural benefits. Some teachers claim it’s the easiest of all meditations and the biggest bang for your buck. My teacher in particular advertised “spiritual gifts” too, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
My experience began several months ago. Technically the “initiation process” can be spread out in a timely 3-6 weeks, but I took my time.
I did not participate in the religious-text initiations (from The Vedas) so this could mean my experience isn’t 100% accurate as opposed to someone who completes the process more thoroughly from a teacher that also includes the Sutras.
In the first month I noticed my sleep was perfectly sound with little to no interruptions.
Interestingly, the studies on anxiety and TM are inconclusive and my anxiety was on the rise during this time even though some claim it helps with anxiety. I considered that it could be outside influences as well.
Being as objective as I can about why this occurred, I’d say it was because of the transcendence itself.
It takes a lot for me to feel grounded (feel stable and firmly planted/reassured). This is typical of those who have anxiety- we can be easily swept away by a thought, emotion, or event. Transcending my thoughts with the occasional out-of-body experience wasn’t pleasant for me (neither are recreational drugs). That being said, it may be heavenly for someone else.
The issue was not explained by my teacher or others who took this journey with me. It seemed like many people had questions like me, but the whole experience is shrouded in mystery. The teacher simply states that if you have negative effects it may not be right for you. Or negative effects can be emotional trauma clearing. That’s it?!!!
She would always say, ‘Trust the process.’ That’s not my style.
There’s all these “rules” but no explanations. I just reminded myself to keep an open mind.
I’m assuming the mystery aspect is useful considering teachers charge money. After all, if everyone knew exactly what was being taught, they could teach others for their own price.
A researcher at heart, I decided to dig into my questions and experiences with this meditation. It took some serious Google-sleuthing, but I found answers.
I questioned the religious nature of the practice and found out that there is some religious affiliation. It’s comparable to the familiar Greek mythology except we don’t believe that has any religious context. You can think of The Vedas referring to “gods” as religious in context or not- their religion today is still closely related to their myths though.
One caveat to TM is that employing a teacher costs money$$. I chose my teacher because she was running a discounted program through Mindvalley Academy. I really enjoyed her guided meditations prior to signing up for the course so I thought it was a sure bet.
Practicing TM helped me with clarity- it’s like I had super clarity and I could see what was happening in events and people around me for what it was, instead of how it was affecting me. I made some connections to my illness (Rheumatoid Arthritis) and my inner life (mind-body connection).
The biggest bang I experienced was the sense that anything is possible! We do have innate gifts and we often don’t know what we are capable of.
A downside was the 20 minutes, twice a day requirement (not to be done after 6 pm). My teacher insisted 20 minutes once a day would suffice so I went with that. However, these 20 minute sessions can turn into an hour or so. You do lose yourself and with this meditation I was especially susceptible to falling asleep and a couple times not knowing what day or world I was in (cue anxiety).
I then decided the right practice for me was every other day while I was finishing the program.
I do it once or twice a week now and considering not doing it at all for a while to see if there’s a marked difference.
I am absolutely certain it deepened my regular meditation practice and I’m forever grateful for that. If you’re wondering whether there’s a difference between TM and regular meditation? Definitely! I can vouch for that, but like regular meditation any effects will vary from person to person.
The way this type of meditation is taught…with mystery, exclusivity, and ancient/cryptic language, I almost wonder if that’s the placebo effect at work within the experience itself. Either way, you may be curious about what benefits are in it for you…and rightly so! If you are told that you are capable of so much more and feeling so much better than you do now as taught by these master gurus, these suggestions alone are enough to cultivate some pretty cool effects!
For me there’s both downsides and benefits. I personally benefit from affirmations, guided meditations, mindfulness meditation, and hypnosis.
I can see the allure of TM. TM works much faster than any other regular meditation with the bonus of full-potential human super(ish) powers 😉
One last note, TM is not for children! Also, if you have been diagnosed with any psychological disorders, it’s best you practice TM under the ongoing guidance of a mental health professional.
Peace and Be Well,