The Ultimate Guide To Transcendental Meditation
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Transcendental is a meditation technique using a mantra. Practitioners experience deep inner peace and silence in their minds and many benefits for their physical and mental health. Learning more about this type of meditation can help you decide if learning how to practice transcendental meditation is right for you.
What Is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental meditation (TM) is a type of meditation in which people use a mantra to help calm the body to a place of restful alertness. During TM, the practitioner uses a mantra to guide the body to a deeply relaxed state and quiet the mind while remaining awake. The practitioner transcends or goes beyond the surface level of awareness to a deeper place of inner silence and peace.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru, developed TM in the 1950s while studying states of consciousness. He based the practice on meditative yoga practices and defined TM as a science-based practice. He did not incorporate any religion, philosophy or lifestyle components. In the U.S., TM became more popular during the 1960s.
Mindfulness vs. Transcendental Meditation
While mindfulness-based meditation and TM may appear similar to the observer, the process and experiences differ. Mindfulness-based meditation focuses on clearing the mind of thoughts and training it to focus on the present moment. Mindfulness-based meditation uses the breath, or another area of focus, to help anchor the mind into the present moment. As the mind wanders, the practitioner uses this focus point to return to the present moment.
With TM, the repetition of a specific mantra guides the mind’s attention inward to the point of silence and restful alertness. TM works to settle the mind and go beyond, or transcend, the present moment to a state of clarity and deep inner peace.
What Are Mantras?
A mantra is a word or a sound repeated during TM. The word mantra comes from Sanskrit and means “instrument of thought.” Traditionally the TM teacher assigns the student a mantra as the teacher learns more about the student. They have been studied and utilized based on the effects known for each mantra. The mantra becomes personal to the meditator and is kept private to only the meditator and teacher.
The mantra should have no particular meaning to the student. The reason for the insignificance is to prevent the mind from thinking about the mantra on any level. The mind can freely and naturally settle towards inner silence.
Repeating the mantra during TM brings attention inward and settles the mind. The more the practitioner engages in TM, the more the mind associates the mantra with settling down and feeling the inner silence and peace that can come with TM.
Example Transcendental Meditation Mantras
How Does Transcendental Meditation Work?
The traditional route to learning TM is through a teacher certified by the Maharishi International Foundation. The non-profit organization aims to help all people access and learn about TM. They offer an income-based course fee structure with available payment plans.
The process begins with a free introduction to TM with a teacher, followed by a personal discussion with the teacher. Once the student enrolls in the course, they meet with the teacher for the first in-person session. The student then has three additional sessions in a small group setting. These sessions can occur in person or virtually. The coursework concludes with a small group follow-up session about 10 days later.
TM should be practiced twice a day for about 20 minutes. During this time, the practitioner sits comfortably on the floor. The eyes are closed, and the mantra provided by the teacher is repeated. The meditation room should be quiet and free from distractions and interruptions. It is best to turn off or silence your cell phone and try to ensure that no one interrupts the meditation session. A soft and subtle timer can provide an alert for the conclusion of the meditation session.
Can You Practice Transcendental Meditation by Yourself?
While not supported by the TM community, some people choose to find a mantra and practice TM without official training and coursework. If choosing to learn and practice TM without the guidance of a certified teacher, then it is crucial to study TM through books, videos, websites or an app. Through this study, you can pick a mantra that seems most appropriate. You can also search for a local or online community for discussion and feedback on your practice.
The steps to practice TM on your own do not differ from those followed when learning from an instructor:
- Free the space from all distractions.
- Set a soft timer for 20 minutes.
- Sit on the floor in a position that is comfortable for the duration of the session.
- Relax, breathe and allow your mantra to flow into your awareness.
- Repeat the mantra in your mind at a natural pace.
- When your mind wanders, guide your focus back to the mantra.
- When 20 minutes have passed, take a few minutes to relax quietly.
- Slowly open your eyes and notice how you feel.
- Return your attention to your body and the room before you rise.
Benefits of Transcendental Meditation
Research has demonstrated that TM offers many benefits to physical health, mental health and cognition. Overall, research shows that TM can reduce stress and improve brain functioning. As a result, TM can greatly benefit functioning on many levels.
Not only has research proven that TM can help lower blood pressure, but the American Heart Association has also supported TM as an alternative treatment to reduce blood pressure. Additional research has shown that TM can help people sleep better and manage pain.
TM has been shown to have many positive effects on mental health, including:
- Lowered anxiety
- Decreased symptoms of depression
- Improved symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Greater levels of self-awareness and self-actualization
- Stronger coping skills
As people practice TM, they can also experience cognitive functioning improvements. TM has been linked to:
- Stronger social and emotional learning abilities
- Deeper levels of creative and intellectual functioning
- Improved productivity
- Greater focus and memory
Are There Any Adverse Effects?
Research has not demonstrated any significant adverse effects of TM. Overall, TM has shown to be a safe and cost-effective technique. Some caution needs to be taken around choosing TM as a primary treatment method for a medical issue, such as high blood pressure. People should consult and follow the advice of their physicians around treating their medical problems. They should also discuss the practice of TM with their doctor.
While research has demonstrated how TM can improve certain mental health functioning, there is no solid or clear research supporting TM use by people with psychotic symptoms. Depending on the severity and type of psychotic symptoms, people may have difficulty engaging in TM or find the quiet and stillness that occurs with TM triggers their psychotic symptoms.
Some people may feel increased anxiety when their goals and expectations for TM do not match their actual experiences with TM. Working with an instructor or seeking support from a community can help with this problem.
Why Is Transcendental Meditation Controversial?
Over the years, some controversy has arisen regarding TM. Many critics have questioned if TM is actually a cult, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi serving as the initial cult leader. The controversy grew during the 1960s as TM became increasingly associated with the counterculture movement.
Some people have shared their stories regarding the money they spent to be part of the TM movement, participating in TM communities, and confusing experiences with the organizational structure of TM. Another controversy has developed regarding the concept of “yogic flying” and if people could really reach this level of levitation promised by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation, the Nobu app offers several options that can provide support and assistance. Nobu offers many different guided meditations and educational information regarding meditation. The app also includes journaling prompts, goal setting and more. You can also connect with a mental health professional for online therapy sessions. The Nobu app is available for download on the Apple Store and Google Play store.
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