Contents

A Guide to 7 Different Types of Meditation

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the process of being fully present with your thoughts. Being mindful means being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not being overly reactive to what’s going on around us.

Mindful meditation can be done anywhere. Some people prefer to sit in a quiet place, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. But you can choose to be mindful at any point of the day, including while you’re commuting to work or doing chores.

When practicing mindfulness meditation, you observe your thoughts and emotions but let them pass without judgement. (1)

2. Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental meditation is a simple technique in which a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound, or small phrase, is repeated in a specific way. It’s practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.

The idea is that this technique will allow you to settle inward to a profound state of relaxation and rest, with the goal of achieving inner peace without concentration or effort. (2,3)

3. Guided Meditation

Guided meditation, which is sometimes also called guided imagery or visualization, is a method of meditation in which you form mental pictures or situations that you find relaxing.

This process is typically led by a guide or teacher, hence “guided.” It’s often suggested to use as many senses as possible, such as smell, sounds, and textures, to evoke calmness in your relaxing space. (3)

4. Vipassana Meditation (Sayagyi U Ba Khin Tradition)

Vipassana meditation is an ancient Indian form of meditation that means to see things as they really are. It was taught in India more than 2,500 years ago. The mindfulness meditation movement in the United States has roots in this tradition.

The goal of vipassana meditation is self-transformation through self-observation. This is accomplished through disciplined attention to physical sensations in the body, to establish a deep connection between the mind and body. The continuous interconnectedness results in a balanced mind full of love and compassion, teachers of the practice claim.

Vipassana, in this tradition, is typically taught during a 10-day course, and students are expected to follow a set of rules throughout the entirety of the time, including abstaining from all intoxicants, telling lies, stealing, sexual activity, and killing any species. (2)

5. Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)

Metta meditation, also called Loving Kindness Meditation, is the practice of directing well wishes toward others. Those who practice recite specific words and phrases meant to evoke warm-hearted feelings. This is also commonly found in mindfulness and vipassana meditation.

It’s typically practiced while sitting in a comfortable, relaxed position. After a few deep breaths, you repeat the following words slowly and steadily. “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

After a period of directing this loving kindness toward yourself, you may begin to picture a family member or friend who has helped you and repeat the mantra again, this time replacing “I” with “you.”

As you continue the meditation, you can bring other members of your family, friends, neighbors, or people in your life to mind. Practitioners are also encouraged to visualize people they have difficulty with.

Finally, you end the meditation with the universal mantra: “May all being everywhere be happy.” (4,5)

6. Chakra Meditation

Chakra is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates to “wheel,” and can be traced back to India. Chakras refer to the centers of energy and spiritual power in the body. There are thought to be seven chakras. Each chakra is located at a different part of the body and each has a corresponding color.

Chakra meditation is made up of relaxation techniques focused on bringing balance and well-being to the chakras. Some of these techniques include visually picturing each chakra in the body and its corresponding color. Some people may choose to light incense or use crystals, color coded for each chakra to help them concentrate during the meditation. (6)

7. Yoga Meditation

The practice of yoga dates back to ancient India. There are a wide variety of classes and styles of yoga, but they all involve performing a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises meant to promote flexibility and calm the mind.

The poses require balance and concentration and practitioners are encouraged to focus less on distractions and stay more in the moment. (2)

Which style of meditation you decide to try depends on a number of factors. If you have a health condition and are new to yoga, speak to your doctor about which style may be right for you. (7)

To experience the benefits of meditation, you need a technique that resonates with you, so that you’re inspired to return to it again and again.

Ahhhh…meditation. Doesn’t it sound soothing? In just 10 minutes, the experienced say, you can shift your mind from a state of distraction to one of deep concentration; transform your mood from anxious to calm; and tune in to the quiet, peaceful awareness that always abides deep within. And you’ve no doubt heard about the benefits of regular meditation. Studies suggest that meditation increases activity in areas of the brain associated with positive feelings, that it supports the immune system, and that it lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It is a natural stress reliever.

But here’s the rub: Meditation—the act of residing in a deep state of concentration, uninterrupted by thoughts—is challenging. For most people, it takes a long period of daily practice to find that state of concentration and enjoy it for more than a few seconds at a time. So, to experience the benefits of meditation, you need to fall in love with your practice. To start, you need a meditation technique that resonates with you, so that you’re inspired to return to it again and again.

See also Inside the ASMR Meditation People Are Calling a Brain Orgasm

Meditation Techniques: An Overview

Meditation techniques give your mind a single object to focus on, such as an image, the breath, or a sacred sound. Jim Bennitt, a ParaYoga teacher in Chicago, explains that this focus gives the mind something to do. “Our mind’s job is to move,” he says. But instead of letting it jump between thoughts about tonight’s dinner or your work deadlines and vacation fantasies, the right meditation technique gives your mind a simple, repetitive task that will ultimately slow down its movements and lull it into a calm, even state.

The four techniques described below—a sitting meditation, a visualization practice, a mantra practice, and a walking meditation—involve activities that you do every day, but rather than doing them unconsciously, you bring your total focus and awareness to the simple task at hand. If you’re interested in establishing a regular meditation practice, you might try each technique for a full week. Keep a journal: Write down how you feel before and after each meditation session. Also, take note of how long you are able to meditate with each technique. After three weeks, you can look back over your journal to see which technique you are most drawn to. At that point, begin practicing it regularly until it becomes a habit—one that you’ll enjoy and benefit from for a lifetime.

See also This One Simple Mindfulness Meditation Can Change Your Life

4 Must-Know Meditation Techniques

Easy Pose is one of the most accessible meditation poses.

David Martinez

Meditation Technique #1: Sitting Meditation

Don’t worry, you don’t have to sit in a pretzel-like pose for meditation. “While the ancient yogis preferred to meditate in complex seated postures like Lotus Pose, most practitioners today don’t have the mobility in their hips to do so safely,” says Bennitt. But that doesn’t mean that you should just plop down without preparation. Experiment with the three options below, keeping in mind this tip from Bennitt: For maximum comfort, find a position where your hips are higher than your knees. This makes it easier to keep your spine long and your body relaxed and comfortable.

Cross-Legged: One of the most accessible meditation poses is called Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Sit on the floor and cross your shins to provide a broad base of support. If you’re more flexible, you might create a stable base by sliding one heel on top of the opposite hip crease, so that you’re sitting in Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose).

In either position, if you feel yourself slumping, sit on the front edge of a cushion, block, or folded blanket for support. Reach underneath each sitting bone with your hand and slide your flesh back so you can feel your pelvis rooting down firmly into the earth. Slide your shoulder blades down your back; broaden the collarbone. Lengthen the back of your neck. Rest your hands on the knees with the palms facing up.

Legs Out in Front: If you have knee or hip pain, extend your legs along the floor in front of you and sit with your back against a wall. Slide a cushion or a few folded blankets underneath your buttocks to bring your hips higher than your knees. Make sure that your head, neck, and torso are properly aligned. Rest your hands in your lap, palms facing up.

In a Chair: Let go of preconceived notions: It’s still meditation if you are sitting in a chair. “In this case, just make sure your feet are firmly planted and your thighs are parallel to the floor,” says Bennitt. Sit up straight and allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears. Reach the crown of your head toward the ceiling and rest your hands on the thighs with the palms facing down.

Meditation Technique #2: Visualization

The eyes are a powerful sensory organ, and they’re typically hyperalert, focusing on the outside world. A visualization meditation can help you reverse this natural tendency. “Let’s say you’re walking down Broadway in Manhattan,” says Nikki Costello, a yoga and meditation teacher based in New York. “Your eyes get pulled toward the flashing lights, the neon signs, the shop windows. When you sit for meditation, a visualization gives your mind an image to focus on, and it pulls your eyes inward.” The mind naturally follows, and meditation becomes more effortless.

Most of the visualizations Costello teaches are based on images from nature: light, water, earth, sky, and mountains. They’re soothing to the senses, they have a quality of purity, and they tend to bring us into the present moment. As a result, Costello finds, the mind relaxes and the breath deepens. Once you’re able to relax, you can begin to invoke the qualities of the images you’re visualizing—and this is where visualization can be transformative. “The idea is to picture something that’s soothing or balancing,” she says. “If you want your mind to be more clear, visualize a cloudless sky. If you want to feel grounded, visualize a mountain. Instill the quality of the mountain inside yourself.”

Nature-based visualizations, Costello says, can help you harness your power of sight and use it in a way that is calming and beneficial. “Visualization can guide you out of a narrow thought pattern to something more expansive and free,” she says.

Practice Meditation: Visualize the Spine Filled With Light

Start in a comfortable seated position with your eyes closed and your spine erect. Allow your body to gradually become still. Bring your awareness to your breath. Observe it coming in and going out until it settles into a relaxed, natural rhythm. Then bring your attention to your spine. Feel its internal support extending from the steady base of the pelvis up through the crown of your head. Allow each breath to encourage a little more space between the vertebrae, gently elongating your spine.

Next, imagine that your spine is transforming from a solid structure into a warm, brilliant ray of light. In the same way you see light passing through a window or through leaves on a tree, visualize a ray of warm, sparkling light filling your spine. We often see our bodies as dense matter—can you imagine that effervescent light from your spine dissolving any heaviness so that all of your cells are filled with light? Focus on this image of light infusing all of your being, allowing yourself to become brighter and more radiant as you sit for 5 to 10 minutes of meditation.

This meditation technique is ideal for visual learners, or people who learn best through sight. If you are an artist, painter, or designer, you might find that meditations with strong visuals are easiest for you. If you always remember faces but you struggle to remember names, you are very likely a visual learner and might enjoy this practice.

Meditation Technique #3: Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation involves silently repeating a sound to help quiet the mind. Although there is no direct translation of the Sanskrit word mantra (the syllable man means “to think”), Richard Rosen, a Yoga Journal contributing editor, the author of many yoga books, and the director of Piedmont Yoga in Oakland, California, thinks of it as an “instrument of concentrated thought.” A mantra can consist of a single letter, a word, or one or more full sentences. In the yoga tradition, Om is thought to be the “root mantra” from which all other Sanskrit mantras have emerged.

Yoga philosophy suggests that all sound emanates from universal consciousness, or the divine source of the universe. A mantra can help lead you back to this source, which also happens to be within you. As Rosen says, “Chanting a mantra can remind us that the individual Self and the universal Self are in some way identical.”

In the traditional practice of mantra, the pronunciation of the sound is of utmost importance, and mantras were often held in secrecy, passed down from a teacher to an initiated student. “Traditional mantras have a particular energetic resonance that is conducive to concentrating the mind,” says Rosen. But, he adds, any word or sound that has meaning for you will do. “What really matters is the ability to stay focused on the sound of the mantra in order to bring the wild thoughts or emotions under control.”

Practice Meditation: The Unspoken Mantra

The Ajapa mantra, or “unspoken mantra,” presented here uses the sound of the breath as a point of focus. You can try this practice during seated meditation or any time you’d like to quiet your thoughts. “Your breath is with you all the time, so you can use it to calm yourself when you need to,” Rosen says.

Sit quietly with your eyes closed and listen carefully to the sound of your natural breath. Tune in to see if you can hear a hissing “sa” sound with each inhalation, and a breathy “ha” sound with each exhalation. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t hear the sounds right away—just pretend that you do, and eventually they will come. You can also mentally say the sounds in coordination with the breath.

Spend a few minutes following these sounds. Eventually they will merge to become the mantra Soham (pronounced “so-hahm”). This mantra, which we involuntarily utter with every breath we take from cradle to grave, means “This am I,” reminding us of our eternal identity with the soundless source. (It can also be interpreted as “I am it.”) The practice will naturally draw your awareness inward, slow the speed of your breathing, and help soothe the tumultuous fluctuations of your consciousness.

This meditation technique is ideal for auditory learners, or people who learn through hearing or speaking. If you connect easily to music or the sounds around you, or if you find it soothing to repeat sounds or phrases to yourself, mantra meditation might be a natural fit for you.

Meditation Technique #4: Walking Meditation

If you are a high-energy, restless type or if you have aches and pains that prevent you from sitting comfortably, try walking meditation.

Think of walking meditation as mindfulness in motion. Instead of focusing on your breath or a mantra, focus on the sensation of your feet touching the ground. “For some people, sitting meditation can cause a lot of restlessness,” says Paul Weitz, who teaches yoga and Thai massage in Chicago. Similar to mindfulness meditation, walking meditation focuses on observing thoughts and sensations and labeling them as they arise.

As you walk slowly, you’ll mentally note what is happening as you lift your foot, move it forward, and place it down on the ground. “You can track your movement through space as a way of staying present moment to moment,” Weitz says.

During walking meditation, you might find that you have trouble balancing or that your environment distracts you. That’s all par for the course, Weitz says. “There is a lot going on, but just allow the practice to be simple.”

If you are a high-energy, restless type or if you have aches and pains that prevent you from sitting comfortably, try walking meditation. Weitz explains that this technique was traditionally used as an adjunct to seated meditation, and it’s often used as a counterbalance for practitioners during long meditation retreats. “If you are sitting all day, it’s balancing to stand up and walk.” He also recommends using this technique if you meditate after eating, or if you tend to feel drowsy during seated meditation.

Practice Meditation: Mindful Walking

Ideally, you’ll do this meditation in a clear, open space that’s approximately 20 to 30 feet long. If you don’t have a room that big in your house, you can walk in a hallway, around the perimeter of your room, or outside in a park.

With your arms relaxed by your sides, keep your eyes softly focused about six feet in front of you. Bring your attention to your feet. As you take slow, careful steps, mentally label the actions of each foot. First, bring your attention to the back foot and feel the sensation of the foot lifting as you mentally note “Lift.” Then move that foot through space and notice the sensation of the foot and leg moving, silently noting “Move.” Then place that foot on the ground and feel the sensation of the foot connecting to the earth, noting “Place.” Continue the process for 10 minutes.

When you notice that your mind has drifted, mentally note “Thinking” and bring your attention back to your feet. If the distraction becomes especially strong, stop walking, take a breath, bring your attention back to your feet, and begin again.
If you find that the mental noting interferes with your ability to be connected with the sensations of walking, then feel free to drop it. But if your mind wanders a lot, you can use noting to tether your mind to the sensation, to what is actually happening at that moment. When you need to turn around, simply note “Turning” as you slowly pivot on your foot.

About Our Writer

Nora Isaacs, a former editor at Yoga Journal, is a freelance health and wellness writer.

See also 6 Surprising Lessons I Learned on a Silent Meditation Retreat

Learning and Practicing Transcendental Meditation

Unlike some forms of meditation, TM technique requires a seven-step course of instruction from a certified teacher.

A TM teacher presents general information about the technique and its effects during a 60-minute introductory lecture. That’s followed by a second 45-minute lecture in which more specific information is given. People interested in learning the technique then attend a 10- to 15-minute interview and 1 to 2 hours of personal instruction. Following a brief ceremony, they’re each given a mantra, which they’re supposed to keep confidential.

Next come 3 days of checking for correctness with 1 or 2 more hours of instruction. In these sessions, the teacher does the following:

  • Explains the practice in greater detail
  • Gives corrections if needed
  • Provides information about the benefits of regular practice

Over the next several months, the teacher regularly meets with practitioners to ensure correct technique.

People practice TM twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes. That usually means once in the morning before breakfast and once in the afternoon before dinner.

TM does not require any strenuous effort. Nor does it require concentration, or contemplation. Instead, students are told to breathe normally and focus their attention on the mantra.

A few reports suggest that meditation can cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric conditions. If you have an existing mental health condition, consult your doctor before starting TM. Also let your meditation instructor know about your condition.

I don’t know about you, but I am knackered. I wake up knackered, and spend each morning limply punching away at the fog inside my skull. I eat lunch knackered, then swear at every inanimate object in front of me. I try not to fall asleep at my desk, then stagger to my sofa, pass out in my clothes and crawl into bed for another night of infuriatingly broken sleep. That is my life. It’s not like I even do very much.

I daren’t complain about this out loud, of course, because I don’t want to get into a game of competitive exhaustion with anyone. I don’t want to tell somebody that I had four hours’ sleep, because they’ll reply that they had only three, plus their mattress caught fire at midnight. Worse, what if they’re a new parent? “How are you?” they’ll ask. “Bit tired,” I’ll reply. “Oh yeah?” they’ll snap back. “Well, I haven’t slept since October because I’ve been scraping baby diarrhoea off my fridge door with a spatula.” You can’t win with new parents.

But I am tired, and I blame myself. Like most people I know, my life has fallen into the quicksand of modernity, filled with a whirl of televisions and phones and sirens and emails and Twitter and lights and noise and bleeps. Simpsons quotes, video game sound effects and fairground music riverdance madly across the surface of my brain. Switching off takes deliberate effort, and even then it doesn’t always work. I’ll almost be asleep and suddenly my mind will shriek: “Have you remembered to set your alarm?” or, “You didn’t reply to that woman yesterday, you idiot” or, “Remember the Nyan Cat song? No? OK, I’m going to repeat it over and over again at the top of my voice until 6am, hope that’s cool.”

To shut out the world, I have turned to transcendental meditation. This was not my first choice. First I tried the sleep app Pzizz, where you get bombarded by binaural sound effects until you drop off. This didn’t work because I was convinced it would subliminally order me to eat my parents in my sleep. Then I tried flotation tanks, where you lie inside a tiny pod full of salty water for an hour. This didn’t work because it turns out that splashing around inside a dark plastic coffin full of boiling hot tears is the precise opposite of relaxing. After that, I tried mindfulness.

Chances are you’ve already heard of mindfulness, because people won’t shut up about it. Once, Buddhists and monks had mindfulness all to themselves, as a way of concentrating on their thought processes during meditation. Now that we’ve found a way of stripping out the spiritual aspect, it’s everywhere. There are books. There are seminars. Therapists and counsellors prescribe it. There are apps, like the incredibly popular Headspace, where you’re guided through 10 minutes of breathing exercises and top-down self-diagnostic checks on various parts of your body until you become the perfect model of beaming self-realisation.

Mindfulness helps thousands of people every day; people with depression and eating disorders and addiction problems. But it’s not for me. Mindfulness requires self-observation, and self-observation is exhausting. You have to sit and pay attention to everything. How you’re breathing, what your posture’s like, what you’re thinking about, why you’re thinking about it, what to do because you’re thinking about whatever you’re thinking. It goes on and on. I know people who have been put on mindfulness courses by doctors, only to run away screaming at the piles of homework they’re expected to do.

The modern-day resurgence of TM is often attributed to the work of film director David Lynch, whose foundation teaches TM techniques to a number of at-risk groups. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Plus mindfulness makes me neurotic. One exercise I did involved writing down every thought that passed through my mind over the course of half an hour. This taught me that I was worried about work. I didn’t know I had been worried about work, but the knowledge sent me into a panicky death spiral. In retrospect, I should have just pushed all my feelings down into the pit of my stomach and ignored them until they turned into heart disease and killed me at a tragically young age. This is the Heritage way.

So I turned to transcendental meditation. I was wary at first, because I clearly remember watching a party political broadcast for the Natural Law party, the politicised wing of transcendental meditation, about 20 years ago. I still remember how colossally creepy it was. There was a man with a thick Selleck tache sitting behind a desk and explaining, in a cartoonishly sinister way, how his party wanted to unite the country beneath a field of collective consciousness. There was a horrible purple mural of the galaxy, the sort of thing you find in shops that sell under-the-counter bongs to 12-year-olds. There were the Yogic Flyers, who were basically a couple of blokes flapping around on a mattress in their pyjamas. There was the claim that the Yogic Flyers had single-handedly reduced crime in Merseyside by 60%, presumably by bouncing cross-legged around Toxteth like a squadron of low-flying Batmen. Some of us tried to yogic-fly up and down the CDT block at school the next day. It did our knees in.

The Natural Law party looked like the smug dinner party guest who had it all figured out and wanted to condescend you into submission. But times change. The Natural Law party deregistered a decade ago. Every idiot’s got a beard now. More importantly, transcendental meditation has undergone an enormous PR overhaul. In recent years, it has been reframed as a practical lifestyle choice rather than something for bead-liking soap-dodgers.

According to its website, 4 million people around the world now practise it daily. It’s not even called transcendental meditation any more. They played the Kentucky Fried Chicken card, so it’s just TM.

Rather than banging on about collective consciousness, TM now sells itself as a cure for modern life. Our fight or flight responses have been mucked up, say TM’s advocates, leaving us in a constant state of stress. By spending 40 minutes a day meditating, we can learn to dim those responses a little. They point to evidence from the American Heart Association and other organisations that it lowers blood pressure and risk of heart disease. There is much anecdotal evidence that it increases creativity and efficiency. All this and you get to experience a profound sense of rest in the process.

Perhaps because it’s so beneficial – or perhaps because it sounds like a vaguely spiritual fad – a huge number of celebrities have signed on. Jerry Seinfeld does it. Martin Scorsese does it, as does Oprah Winfrey and her entire staff. Clint Eastwood does it, for crying out loud. Clint Eastwood, the opposite of a hippy, a man who shoots hippies. In this country, singer Tim Burgess of the Charlatans is a big believer in the power of TM. He has been practising since 2008, and told me it’s “one of the most important aspects of my life”. He meditates morning and evening. The morning, he says, is “a great time for ideas. Not necessarily world-changing ideas – often little ones about how to organise my day, things I have forgotten, plans and ruminations on what’s going on.”

The modern-day resurgence of TM is often attributed to the work of film director David Lynch, whose foundation teaches TM techniques to a number of at-risk groups. It helps returning soldiers deal with depression and post-traumatic stress. Under the guise of quiet time, it makes schoolchildren more productive and generally less likely to stab each other. It holds TM sessions in homeless shelters and prisons and orphanages. It has commissioned an ocean of scientific research and academic studies to back up its claims. Before he began practising TM, Lynch has said, he was “filled with worries and anxieties”. Someone had suggested psychotherapy but, scared that this might limit him creatively, he turned to TM. “When I had my first meditation,” he says, “this inner bliss revealed itself so powerfully – thick happiness came rushing in. And I said, ‘This is it.’ There it was. And everything just started getting better – way more fun, way more joy in the doing… And it just seems natural. You’re happy and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Does TM work for non-celebrities? It seems to be having a moment among 30-somethings who are quite emphatic about how calm they are. I tracked down a couple of devotees to be sure. Again, there was no word of dissent. Marketing manager Justyna Sobkowicz started practising in 2012, and happily admits it changed her life. “When someone told me that you have to give up 20 minutes twice a day, I was suspicious,” she says. “But it calmed me down. You have less stress.” She had experimented with other types of meditation, which didn’t work. “They make you try to think you’re on a beach, and it’s an effort to imagine these things.”

Tim Burgess has been practising transcendental meditation since 2008, and says it’s “one of the most important aspects of my life”. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Guardian

Maverick Gutarra (his real name) got into TM because he is a big fan of Lynch’s Twin Peaks. He had tried other kinds of meditation: “But after those you still go out to a bar and drink seven pints.” After learning TM a couple of years ago, he told me he was much healthier in every way: “You’re not as likely to drink a bottle of tequila every night.” Maverick talked about booze a lot. “I was raised in Sweden,” he offered by way of explanation.

But they would say this, wouldn’t they? They do TM, and they want everyone else to do it, too. I still wasn’t sure but it was time to try it for myself.

Through tm.org, I found an instructor, Ged Valente. An amiable Glaswegian schoolteacher who turned to TM decades ago, Ged explained how easy it is to learn. You can’t pick up TM from a book or an app or an article like this, because the instruction has to be customised to your individual needs. So, instead, an instructor comes to your house on four consecutive evenings. After that, you’re on your own. You don’t have to pay any more money. You don’t have to attend any more classes or meet any new TMers. You don’t even have to be that interested in religion or spirituality. Which is good, because I’m not.

Ged talked me through the difference between TM and mindfulness. Where mindfulness practises overt observation, he said, TM is all about letting go. You sit in silence for 20 minutes, and your mind naturally begins to quieten down. You repeat a mantra – a meaningless sound you’re not allowed to tell anyone – and eventually, if you’re doing it right, you reach a point of expansive silence, and your body floods with a warm and pleasant feeling.

This feeling has many names, but I’ll be referring to it as transcendence. Ged likes to call it “pure consciousness”, which is a little too mystical for me. Other people call it “bliss”, although I won’t because that word’s been hugely devalued since people started using it as a Twitter hashtag for whenever they get to eat a Twix in an armchair. So transcendence it is.

Training consists of an exploratory chat, an initiation ceremony and three follow-up sessions. Hearing that a ceremony was involved was a worry, but not a big one. As Ged said, “If you like ceremonies, it’s fun. If you don’t, it’s short.” It takes five minutes, and by the time you’re done, you’ve got your mantra.

‘I felt groggy after my first go. My brain didn’t quite know what to do without the usual clattering din of gibberish and retro sound effects.’ Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Guardian

After that, you can get on with meditating. TM, I quickly discovered, was pretty much designed for people as lazy as me. You sit down wherever you like, in your normal clothes, shut your eyes and repeat your mantra in your mind. That’s it. As time goes on, you stop feeling self-conscious, and your breathing slows down. Your grip on the mantra loosens and it grows more abstract. Your mind becomes stiller and less troubled by thought. It’s a nice feeling.

I felt groggy after my first go. My brain didn’t quite know what to do without the usual clattering din of gibberish and retro sound effects. And five minutes later, I told my sofa to go fuck itself. I can’t remember why. Inner peace was clearly some way off.

After a few attempts, though, I started to improve. Eventually it became easier to shut up my stupid brain. When you finally achieve this, everything just melts away. It feels like the instant before you fall asleep, but stretched out. I can’t say for sure that this was transcendence but it definitely calmed me. To be honest, I might have just fallen asleep – but even that is fine. You’re allowed to fall asleep in TM. It’s a sign of good practice.

The full benefits of TM don’t necessarily show themselves until you’ve been practising regularly for weeks or months – Maverick told me it took him a year – so it’s too soon to say if it has had any concrete results. I don’t know what it’s done to my blood pressure, or whether I am any less likely to keel over with a giant heart attack before the age of 35. I certainly haven’t yet experienced the shimmering, all-encompassing, unbound glow that comes with full-blown transcendence. But I’ve decided I’m going to stick with it, even if transcendence never comes.

Why? Because it’s an almost embarrassingly luxurious thing to do. Aside from anything else it means that, for 20 minutes twice a day, I get to shut myself away. There is no TV, no rolling news, no phone calls or emails or idiots squabbling about specific definitions of feminism on Twitter. Nobody is trying to sell me anything. There’s just me, alone, sitting quietly in a nice chair with my eyes closed. TM is the closest I can feasibly get to running off to live in a cave, which is something I’d like to do but probably won’t because I don’t think Domino’s delivers to caves.

More than anything else, TM works for me. It might not work for you, but I find it profoundly relaxing. It gives me a chance to order my thoughts. I’ve discovered that I can concentrate more easily throughout the day. Most importantly, whether it’s down to the meditation or some elaborate placebo effect, I am much less tired than I was a month ago. My sleep is deep and unbroken (so take that, new parents).

And best of all, I am still me. I haven’t suddenly got religion. I still don’t know what a collective consciousness is. I still swear at inanimate objects. Total relaxation and getting to call your printer a dickhead. That’s the dream, isn’t it?

• This article was amended on 4 March 2014 to remove an incorrect reference to Goldie Hawn leading a TM session at Davos this year.

What’s the Deal with Transcendental Meditation?

CEOs and Wall Street execs swear by it. Celebrities like Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Jerry Seinfeld, Cameron Diaz, Aziz Ansari, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, and Gwyneth Paltrow practice it. It started in the 1950s, but rose to popularity alongside the Beatles and all things psychedelic in the ’60s, and is making a comeback now.

Have you guessed it yet? If you said, “What is Transcendental Meditation?” then give yourself a mindful pat on the back (and maybe sign up for a spot on Jeopardy).

This isn’t just any “sit and breathe” meditation, though; Transcendental Meditation (or TM, for short) has an interesting history and organizational affiliation that feels more like a religious practice than a solo mindfulness experience. Here’s what you need to know:

What Is Transcendental Meditation?

Simply put, Transcendental Meditation is a meditation style. It involves a silent (mental) repetition of a mantra, and the emphasis is on effortless relaxation versus concentrated mind-clearing. The technique was created by an Indian guru named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who derived it from an ancient Vedic practice in India.

In addition to being a healing meditation and mindfulness technique, TM (or “the TM technique”) is also a trademarked global organization, estimated to be a multi-billion dollar company. The organization itself is a product of the Maharishi’s business endeavors to spread TM. He founded and oversaw the growth of the organization for 50 years before he passed away in 2008. In his time running TM, Maharishi reportedly started “opening schools and universities, offering expensive ‘advanced’ courses (including one ), printing his own currency, launching a line of health supplements and his own TV station,” and tried to open a meditation theme park, according to The Cut.

Simply put, Transcendental Meditation is a meditation style. It involves a silent (mental) repetition of a mantra, and the emphasis is on effortless relaxation versus concentrated mind-clearing.

Now, the nonprofit David Lynch Foundation is doing a lot of the work in bringing transcendental meditation to the masses, particularly in schools, and has funded a lot of the research on transcendental meditation.

“Today more than 10 million people of all ages, religions, and nationalities practice the technique,” says Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation and who Ellen DeGeneres has called “THE guy” of Transcendental Meditation. He learned from Maharishi and has been teaching TM for nearly 50 years. Note: This foundation hasn’t replaced TM, but rather “the TM organization is a separate, nonprofit organization that ‘owns’ Transcendental Meditation; the David Lynch Foundation contracts with the TM organization to teach ,” says Roth.

How Does Transcendental Meditation Work?

There are a few hallmarks of the Transcendental Meditation practice:

  • Length and frequency: Twice daily 20-minute sessions.
  • Position: Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed.
  • Method: Use of a repeated mantra —”a specific word or sound that has no meaning,” according to Roth. This is perhaps the most identifiable part of the practice: a repeated mantra.

Transcendental Meditation is supposed to be completely effortless. “You feel profoundly relaxed, almost right from the start,” says Roth. “Tension eases out of your body, muscles relax, a gentle wave of ease washes over you, and yet inside you feel deeply settled but wide awake, alert.”

This is why they call it “transcendental,” explains Roth. “It is a truly transcendent experience—akin to, but actually much more than, what top athletes describe as being in the ‘zone’.”

Roth describes the TM effect with an ocean analogy—wavy surface, calm depths. “You’re on a little boat in the middle of the ocean, and all of a sudden the ocean rises up in 30-foot, 40-foot, waves and you could think the whole ocean is in upheaval,” he explains. “But in reality, the ocean is more than a mile deep. And while the ocean may be turbulent on the surface, it is also pretty darn quiet at its depth. The mind is the same.”

“I like to call the ‘gotta, gotta, gotta’ mind,” he says. “It never stops. Relentless. Agitating.”

As such, “it’s a natural desire of every human being to want some inner calm, inner equanimity, inner peace, inner ease. This is where people turn to meditation,” he says. And as an obvious proponent of Transcendental above other styles of meditation, he reiterates that not all meditations are the same.

“Mindfulness and the trend of meditation-style apps try to bring calm to the mind by dispassionately observing thoughts or visualizing peaceful images,” he says. “Those are surface approaches, like trying to stop waves on the surface of the ocean. But like the ocean, the mind has a vertical dimension, that deep within every human being there is a level where the mind is already perfectly calm, peaceful, creative, and alert. Transcendental Meditation gives effortless access to that field, which, in turn, transforms health, transforms life.”

According to TM, the other styles of meditation use practices or techniques that create activity in the brain. Whether it’s concentration or training the mind; getting transcendental is an “automated” practice.

Transcendental Meditation Mantras

As noted above, you’ll repeat a mantra—but not the mantra you’re probably thinking. You don’t say “I love myself,” or “I accept the world around me,” or “I am enough,” or anything remotely meaningful; you’re supposed to repeat a “vibration word” with no meaning, no particular rhythm, without thinking about your breathing (GASP!), for 20 minutes. It seems that the mantras and vibration words used in Transcendental Meditation are kept totally under wraps.

Apparently, each individual gets their own personal—top secret—mantra (you get one per person) during training.

“When learning TM, you’re asked to not share your mantra, as this is your own,” says San Francisco-based trainer Nicolette Amarillas, who has been practicing Transcendental Meditation for two years. “I only know mine; I don’t know, for example, my boyfriend’s or my dad’s. I can say that it feels more like a sound rather than a word or phrase. The mantra on its own or out of context holds no meaning to me. I love this because, again, I have no memories, attachments, or expectations of this mantra. It feels like my own, it feels special to me.”

Kimberly Dunn, a meditation instructor at Chill in Chicago said you can try these mantras at home. “While TM offers the practitioner a unique, individualized mantra, mantra has been used for more than 3,000 years and comes in many forms,” she said. “Silently repeating ‘So Hum,’ which translates as ‘I am that,’ is an example of a Sanskrit mantra meditation,” she says. There are also some resources online, like this YouTube video that repeats the sound “rom” for thirty minutes, though it’s not officially from the Transcendental Meditation organization.

These vibration words may relate to the Sanskrit language, according to Dunn.

“Sanskrit is an ancient language that is said to be a language of vibration,” she explains. “We are all made up of atoms and molecules and just like us, the sounds from Sanskrit are vibrating. Chanting Sanskrit mantras is a way to feel their powerful vibrational field of sound.”

“The sound of Om is the most common and often used in yoga classes,” says Dunn. “Chant Om three times and then be silent and still to feel its vibration within. This is a subtle practice that can take time to experience. Have you ever been to a loud rock concert and feel the vibration of the music even after the concert has ended? Or been to a church or temple service and felt goosebumps just from singing? This is similar to feeling the vibration of mantras.”

Some examples of vibrational words may be the sounds associated with chakras. “Chakras are energy centers within our bodies and each correlates to a specific sound,” said Dunn. “Chanting the sounds of the chakras can help balance our own energy. These sounds in order (from root to crown) are Lam, Vam, Ram, Yum, Hum, Sham, and Om.” (See: The Beginner’s Guide to Your Chakras)

That said, “to receive your particular mantra, you would have to pay the fee,” she said. “TM requires the practitioner to receive their personal and secretive mantra from a trained teacher.” Yep, transcendental meditation isn’t free—more on that next.

How Do You Get Started with Transcendental Meditation?

One of the key differences between Transcendental Meditation and other meditation practices is that you initially learn the technique during a one-on-one in-person session that’s a sort of intensive meditation training boot camp—minus the aggressive parts of a boot camp. (So, no, you can’t just turn on an app and start transcendentally meditating.)

“TM is taught one-to-one by a certified TM teacher over four consecutive days, for about 75 minutes each day,” said Roth. To start, you’ll have to find a center near you that can set up your training.

But that’s it—it’s just four days. “Within these first four days you learn how to practice Transcendental Meditation and are seeing benefits right from the start,” said Roth. “This isn’t a process that takes months of arduous practice to master. We’re all hardwired with the ability to transcend. It just takes a qualified teacher to point you in the right direction.”

There is a cost, however, which has been a hotly contested topic for some time.

Transcendental Meditation is not free. Just as you’d pay a yoga teacher or Pilates instructor (or a premium subscription for a meditation app like Calm or Headspace), you pay for your four days of education. It’s charged on a sliding scale (which you might recognize from your therapist’s office), a type of fee structure sometimes used to give people with fewer resources (aka cash) a lower fee than those who can more easily pay. In the case of TM, the most you’d pay is $960, and that’s if you make $200K+ per year; the least you’d be paying is $380 (spread over four payments) if you’re a full-time student. “The course fees are on a sliding scale based on a person’s ability to pay,” says Roth. “The TM organization does everything it can to make sure that anyone who wants to learn can do so.”

Once you’ve paid for your initial course, you’re good to go. “The TM course fee includes the four days of instruction (about one hour each day) and a lifetime of follow up whenever the student desires,” says Roth. “There are no additional costs or membership fees for the follow-up.”

“There are private follow-up sessions after the multiple training days, and free weekly classes nearby to attend to do group meditations whenever I choose to join,” says Amarillas. “These resources were especially helpful when I was first doing it on my own. My teachers were always helpful and open to assisting with any of my troubles or questions.”

Once you’ve learned the method, you practice on your own, by yourself.

“The technique is practiced alone, and can be done pretty much anywhere,” says Roth. “In the quiet comfort of your home, on an airplane, train, or in the car (if someone else is driving), etc. It can be practiced in a group, but that’s totally not necessary.” (See: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation Anywhere)

There’s no option for this to be guided because, as Roth puts it, “that would be too distracting.” The idea is to get into a silent state by using one simple mantra. “The technique allows you to access a field of silence that lies deep within the mind; speech, music, etc. is too superficial,” he says.

In theory, you could learn transcendental meditation on your own.

Any number of Reddit rabbit holes will lead you to numerous online sources outlining a simple, step-by-step guide (get comfortable, close your eyes, repeat a mantra for 20 minutes, open your eyes). TM practitioners will tell you this is the “Cliffs Notes” version of Transcendental Meditation. It appears as though the organization may police people who try to teach the practice for free. You may be able to find literary resources and books as well.

“Similar techniques would be staring at a candle flame to focus the mind, using a rosary , listening to a gong or sound bath, or any other Sanskrit mantra meditation,” said Dunn. (For example, you can use mala beads for mantra-based meditation practice.)

What Are the Benefits of Transcendental Meditation?

It’s beginner-friendly.

Transcendental meditation is particularly beginner-friendly. “In my experience, after guided meditation, TM or any mantra-based meditation is the most accessible style for beginners to learn,” says Catherine Tingey, Los Angeles yoga and meditation coach. “And because it’s so easy to learn, students tend to keep up with their practice. I tell my clients, the only way to do meditation ‘wrong’ is to not do it.”

Roth seconded this notion, saying “transcendental Meditation is fundamentally different from other forms of meditation because it is easy and accessible to learn and requires no concentration or control of the mind to practice,” he said. In terms of accessibility, he’s referring to the practice itself being easy to learn—of course, it still requires a four-day training session from a registered organization and a decent financial investment.

You get a lifelong support network.

“What Transcendental Meditation offers over other styles is the lifelong follow up with teachers,” says Tingey. “That resource is built into the cost, and can be helpful for those who need extra guidance.” You can go back in for follow up sessions and fine-tuning with your TM teacher or other teachers for free.

It’s shown to improve mental health.

“Transcendental Meditation provides access to a unique state of profound inner silence and equanimity, while the body gains a state of rest and relaxation deeper than the deepest part of deep sleep,” says Roth.

“According to hundreds of published research studies, this experience of ‘restful alertness’ reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia while simultaneously improving mental and physical health and increasing creativity, energy, focus, and intelligence,” he says.

It’s also been shown to reduce PTSD.

Roth also cited research (funded by a $2.4 million grant from the US Department of Defense) that “found TM to be more effective for reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans compared to the gold standard treatment called Prolonged Exposure”, a cognitive behavioral therapy technique that teaches you to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations.

It improves heart health.

Transcendental Meditation has been linked to “reductions in blood pressure, carotid artery intima-media thickness, myocardial ischemia, left ventricular hypertrophy, mortality, and other relevant outcomes,” according to a study published in the journal Behavioral Medicine. Read: It improved cardiovascular health in a number of important ways. A 1999 study also corroborated the finding on lowering blood pressure.

“The National Institutes of Health provided $26 million in grants to study the benefits of Transcendental Meditation on high blood pressure, which is the number one killer in the US,” says Roth. “Research found TM to be as effective for reducing high blood pressure as antihypertensive medications, but without any of the negative side effects. In fact, in 2013, the American Heart Association said that Transcendental Meditation was the only meditation technique to reliably reduce high blood pressure.”

Is Transcendental Meditation Better Than Other Forms of Meditation?

Naturally, the answer varies, depending on who you ask. It’s sort of like asking, “Is one sport better than another?” according to Dunn.

Roth says that, yes, TM takes you to a new, deeper level of rejuvenation. “Other approaches, including mindfulness, Calm, and Headspace, do have an overall soothing effect on mind and body,” says Roth. “But they don’t produce the same depths of physiological rest, nor the same overall positive influence on mind and body.”

The co-founder of Headspace tends to disagree with that claim. “Thanks to our science team and their many clinical trial partners around the world, we’ve been able to show how Headspace can reduce stress, improve focus, decrease aggression, and improve compassion, to name but a few of the outcomes,” says Andy Puddicombe, Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk (you are definitely familiar with Andy’s voice if you’ve ever used the app).

Puddicombe actually started practicing Transcendental Meditation himself at age 10. After spending many years with Transcendental Meditation, he found the Buddhist philosophy and methodology, which led him to become a monk in the mid-1990s. His experience with mindfulness led him to create Headspace (which uses “eight different techniques in total”)—a platform he said is scientifically shown to help improve health as well. “Rigorous science has been at the heart of Headspace since day one,” he says.

As long as you’re working on improving your health, you’re doing the right thing—no matter what approach you choose to adopt.

– Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace

It’s true that other forms of meditation have been proven to be effective, too. One is MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a program that’s been used in hospitals since 1979, says Dunn.

“The practice of mindfulness meditation, as well as other forms of meditation, has been proven effective in reducing anxiety, managing stress, and improving health conditions such as pain, hypertension, and depression,” she says. “The field beneath thought (‘beneath the surface of the ocean’) is accessible through all forms of meditation.”

“Scientists now have the capability to measure brain waves of meditators,” said Dunn. “These findings have shown that a mediatorʼs brain moves from beta brainwaves (active thinking) to theta brain waves (more relaxed and the place where we receive intuitive responses). Meditating Tibetan monks have even shown their brainwaves reaching the delta state, which is normally a deep, dreamless sleep, while still alert.”

Amarillas, who has tried many forms of meditation, has found that Transcendental Meditation does indeed help her get into a deeper state of relaxation compared to other practices. “The practice allows me to dive deeper because of the way I use the mantra,” she says. “The mantra provides for my mind to go to, to concentrate on. On some days my meditation is so deep that my body becomes very light, weightless—a feeling I’ve never experienced with other forms of meditation.”

She believes her mantra is the key difference. “My mantra makes the meditation feel like my own and this feels special; It makes it so much easier and less daunting when you have the ability to ‘guide’ yourself through meditation.”

Puddicombe’s opinion, though, is probably the best takeaway: As long as you’re working on improving your health, you’re doing the right thing—no matter what approach you choose to adopt.

  • By Dominique Michelle Astorino

Transcendental Meditation: How I Paid $2,500 For a Password to Inner Peace

Transcendental Meditation, that vestige of the 1960s fascination with Eastern-oriented enlightenment, is back with a vengeance. Celebs like Russell Brand and Moby swear by it. The celebrated filmmaker behind Blue Velvet and Eraserhead has made it his mission to spread the good word about TM through the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Oprah recently devoted a TV show to the TM movement.

Over a decade ago, I found myself introduced to TM in what turned out to be a very expensive, hype-filled journey to enlightenment. Allow me to share the wisdom I gained.

The Price of Inner Peace

I was dating a screenwriter when I stumbled upon TM. He was nearly two decades older than me and had come of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s, bringing with him a number of interesting relics from that era, including a twice-daily practice of TM. Each morning he would sit up in bed for 30 minutes, chin resting on his chest, looking enviably blissful as I stumbled around in a bleary funk trying to find my shoes. In the afternoon, he would repeat this sublime performance. Neither deadline nor meeting could distract him from his ritual. If necessary, he would don earplugs and conduct his journey inward on the subway or the bus. I was in awe.

My boyfriend didn’t participate in the broader Transcendental Meditation movement and insisted that there was nothing mystical, or even particularly special, about what he was doing. “Look, I took a course 30 years ago, and I liked the technique, so I stuck with it. Period.” His daily practice, he assured me, had kept him grounded and sane ever since. That sounded pretty good to me. I’ve always been a rather high-strung creative type, and at the time I was in the throes of procrastination on my doctoral dissertation and a struggle to figure out whether a career in academia or journalism would best cure me of a deep sense of futility. So I signed up for a free introductory class on TM in Manhattan.

During the free intro, I heard a lot about scientific reports on the benefits of TM, like reducing stress and releasing creativity. It sounded reasonable enough, and I was impressed that the people in the room looked pretty normal. The instructor didn’t go into any religious stuff and could have easily fit into a corporate office with his clean-cut appearance and fondness for graphs and charts. The technique, he assured the class, was easy to learn and could provide a lifetime of benefits for both mind and body. We were invited to consider taking a beginner course, after which we would have access to a lifetime of “free followup and support.” Then came the kicker: the price of a beginner course was $2,500.

I gulped. That was quite a pricetag. But at this point, I was already looking forward to my transformation. Wasn’t inner peace worth it? I rationalized that people paid far more than this for therapy in New York City, and after all, I had hard evidence from my boyfriend that the technique could have long-lasting effects. I had just landed a lucrative ghostwriting contract, and if learning TM would make me less stressed and more productive, it would be worth it, right? My inner skeptic was silenced. I went for it.

Over several courses, I learned to sit with my eyes closed and just let my thoughts flow until I began to feel a sense of peaceful awareness come over me. There was no need to concentrate or sit in any particular way, or refrain from scratching my nose. A steady flow of references to scientific studies promising increased intelligence and emotional development padded what was otherwise a pretty straightforward lesson on sitting still and chilling out. After the completion of the course, there was a special “graduation” ceremony in which students were given individual mantras to use in our practice. This was the first real whiff of spirituality. I was told to bring an offering of flowers to meet the instructor, who now appeared wearing a robe. He solemnly told me that he had a special word to give me that was mine alone and would be the key to my successful practice of TM.

“I know something about you,” he said, staring meaningfully into my eyes. “And that’s why I’m giving you this particular mantra.” I was no longer a student in a class, but an initiate into a special order of enlightened beings. I was invited to attend group meditation sessions where the combined force of our effort would increase harmonic vibrations of the universe and contribute to global peace. Or something like that.

The Big Reveal

Meditation is an ancient technique for relaxing, and it comes in a variety of forms. Some focus on breathing; others on an object, like a flame or a bowl of water. Mindfulness meditation adds on the directive to be attentive to feelings of gratitude and not to be an asshole. There’s even a form that makes the orgasm the focus in reaching a meditative state.

Transcendental Meditation is just a fancy name for a common variety of meditation in which a mantra – a word or series of syllables – is repeated with the intention of creating a meditative state. Pretty much any word or syllable will do, despite the hype of TM, which insists that a mantra can only be given by a “qualified” instructor. The TM initiate is told never to reveal her mantra under any circumstances, lest its magic be lost. My instructor suggested that he had some particular insight into me in choosing my mantra, but this is utter nonsense. People who have taught TM have admitted that they are given a list of mantras they’re supposed to divvy out according to age and gender. Nothing mystical about it. Here’s one list, which contains a version of my “personal” mantra. In violation of the sacred rules of TM, I’m now going to reveal it to you: “aima.” That’s my mantra. Two syllables. Vaguely pleasant sounding. If I repeat it consistently for several minutes, I begin to feel a little spacey. The same thing happens, I have found, when I repeat the word “Tallahasee.”

My boyfriend was horrified that I had paid $2,500 to learn TM. His course cost him a mere $50 back in 1973, and as it turns out, he had long ago dispensed with the mantra-business and simply focused on an image when he sat down to meditate, which happened to be the sound of the blind on his childhood window tapping in the wind, a sound that to him signaled relaxation. Technically, he wasn’t even doing TM; he was simply relaxing for an hour a day. To achieve a similar result, some people take a nap. Others go for a walk. You could add all kinds of fancy components to a relaxing activity like walking, and call it Globally Conscious Perambulation or some such BS and require the muttering of special words and the donning of special attire, but it would still be a walk. Its primary benefits would still come from relaxing the body and mind, and if done regularly, adding some purposeful structure to the day. Dress it up in a thousand scientific studies and it’s still just a freaking walk.

TM merely adds a scientific veneer to a simple technique and pretends that there is something unique about it. There isn’t. You could stroll down to your local community center and learn to practice meditation, perhaps for a donation of ten bucks. I paid $2,500 for a mantra, which, I will now tell you, is idiotic. I’ve tried several forms of meditation since, and I actually find other techniques better suited to me. I’ve paid a couple of hundred bucks for weekend retreats and trivial amounts for group sessions at various centers, always in the form of voluntary donations. I don’t meditate regularly these days, but when I do, I often feel refreshed. But I will never feel good about the ridiculous amount of money I forked over to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his merry band of hustlers.

The Giggling Guru

Unfortunately, one thing that links many forms of meditation is the preponderance of guru figures associated with it. This is not always the case, but it’s common enough to muddy the waters of the river of consciousness. For many practitioners, it’s not enough simply to pass on a simple technique that may be beneficial to some people. Those who aspire to gurudom have to be the voice of global consciousness. Or moral transcendence. Or whatever. They have to be the One Who Knows. And all too often, the One Who Gets Paid Big Bucks. Or perhaps the One Who is Having Sex With Disciples.

TM’s famous guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known as the “giggling guru,” was an Indian yogi who rose to notoriety as the spiritual counselor to the Beatles. The giggling guru had plenty to smile about, as he got people to pay millions for his lessons on transcendence. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, his organization, which boasts real estate holdings, schools and clinics, was worth more than $3 billion by the late 1990s. Teaching meditation was never enough for the Maharishi, or “His Holiness,” as followers called him. A marketing wiz, he launched the official TM-Sidhi program in the late 1970s that offered devotees the ability to levitate and bring about world peace. The levitation, or “yogic flying,” as followers call it, basically involves sitting on your duff in lotus position and bouncing up and down in what is possibly the most ridiculous-looking New Age practice on Earth — and that’s saying something. This is thought to bring global consciousness. You really have to see it to believe it, .

The Maharishi’s enthusiasm for the butt-flying technique actually led to the formation of a political party in 1992, the Natural Law Party, which runs campaigns in several countries, including the U.S. It must be admitted that most politicians speak out of their rear ends, so why not just make that part of the anatomy central to an entire platform? Makes sense to me.

In 2000, the tireless Maharishi created the Global Country of World Peace, a “country without borders” that even has its own currency, the “Raam.” In 2008, the guru announced his retirement, went into silence and promptly died. Transcendental Meditation, with its expensive classes and ridiculous advanced practices, might have fallen into oblivion, but for David Lynch. Lynch paid a small fortune for his guru status within the TM movement when, in 2003, he forked over a cool million to participate in the Maharishi’s four-week “Millionaire’s Enlightenment Course.” Since Lynch came on board, TM has been on the rise, perhaps benefitting from the decreasing market share of Scientology among celebrities.

Lynch has gotten a ton of press attention, including a recent profile in the New York Times. He has not been pleased, however, with all of it. In 2010, a German TM follower and filmmaker named David Sieveking produced a Roger and Me-style documentary about his quest to meet Lynch, which he eventually accomplished. In David Wants to Fly, the young man moves from an enthusiast of TM to a critic alarmed by the shaking-down of followers and the great wealth amassed by the leaders of a movement purportedly devoted to world peace. Sieveking claims to have received legal threats from the David Lynch Foundation since releasing the film.

As a concession to recessionary times, the TM movement dropped the price of its introductory course to $1,500 in 2008. That’s still an absurd amount of money for teaching a technique that could be learned in a hour. Any organization or movement that demands so much up-front cash from followers (still more if they choose advanced courses) and proffers such BS as global peace through butt-flying is bound to have a cultic dimension. I didn’t stick around long enough to explore it myself, but there are plenty of accounts of those who go beyond the initial meditation technique and find themselves feeling ripped off, angry and spiritually abused.

We humans are anxious, tired and distracted in the modern world. We need to relax. We just don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to do it.

TM info and preparation lectures

How do I learn Transcendental Meditation?

Anyone can learn Transcendental Meditation. It is easy and enjoyable to practice and gives immediate results.

Transcendental Meditation is taught according to time-tested methods that naturally allow the mind to experience the most fulfilling state of its own true nature. There is no need for a long period of learning because the process is natural and intuitive. This means that anyone can learn TM, regardless of cultural, religious or educational background, and the results are usually noticed immediately – see what we mean by “immediate results”. Twenty minutes, twice-a-day every day, is enough to produce the desired effects.

Personal guidance is necessary.

While the basic practice of TM is the same for everyone, each individual is unique. Therefore, the experience of meditation may vary from person to person. This is why the personal guidance of a trained Transcendental Meditation Teacher is necessary. When meditation is taught in a correct, personalised way, the process develops naturally and effortlessly and then the greatest benefits and effects are obtained.

Once we have learned this perfectly natural technique, we can practice it on our own but, whenever any additional guidance is needed, it is available from any TM centre in the world. The need for further guidance varies from person to person but the important point is that the guidance is always available.

TM Course Phase 1: Learning the technique

Learning Transcendental Meditation takes place in 7 steps, spread over 4-5 consecutive days.

1. Introductory seminar: An overview of the benefits and scientific studies of TM practice. All the information that is needed to put us in a position to decide if we would like to learn the TM technique, including a question and answer session. This is free and without obligation. 1.5 hours.

2. Preparatory lecture: More details of the exact mechanics of the Transcendental Meditation technique, how it differs from other types of meditation and how it is learned & practised, in preparation for instruction. Usually the preparatory lecture is given on the same evening as the introduction seminar. 45 minutes.

3. Personal interview: Individual meeting with your TM teacher and an opportunity to discuss any private questions that you may have. 10-15 minutes.

Steps 1-3, i.e. the Introductory and Preparatory Talks as well as the Personal Interview, are normally covered in the same session by appointment. Approximately 2 hours.

4. Personal instruction: The actual personal instruction in the Transcendental Meditation technique. 1.5 hours.

5-7. Three follow-up sessions: Verification of the correct practice of the TM technique and the gaining of more knowledge, based on the growing experiences of Transcendental Meditation. 1.5 hours per session on the 3 consecutive days after personal instruction.

TM Course Phase 2: Follow-up

The follow-up is optional but recommended. Life-long follow-up, whenever necessary, is available worldwide.

Transcendental Meditation is an individually practiced technique and, therefore, the follow-up is entirely without obligation. However, the general experience is that the results obtained are better if you are regularly making use of the follow-up program – see the importance of regular follow-up.

First 12 months: A bi-weekly to monthly follow-up is recommended to verify the correctness of the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique and to gain more knowledge of the benefits.

Residence Courses (Retreat): We dive deep into the practice of meditation and will meditate more often than we normally do at home, together with other TM participants, under the strict guidance of a trained teacher. This gives deeper knowledge, deeper experience and greater appreciation of the TM technique benefits.

These courses are generally held in comfortable, custom-built facilities on the serene and magically beautiful Island of World Peace in Clew Bay, County Mayo which lies almost directly under Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain – https://www.islandofworldpeace.ie.

Lifelong right to follow-up: TM students can, for the rest of their lives, attend the monthly group meetings or ask any certified TM teacher in the world to verify the correctness of the practice. This service has a nominal charge in any one of our certified TM centres worldwide.

TM Course tuition

The personal guidance and follow-up that is required for correct practice of the TM technique has a certain cost. As long as Health Insurance companies are not reimbursing the TM course tuition, this cost has to be paid by TM course participants.

The course tuition fee depends on your personal circumstances: For more information and a full outline of the fees, please go to course tuition details.

Where can I take the TM course?

To find the nearest Transcendental Meditation Centre and to contact your local Transcendental Meditation Teacher for a free, no-obligation introductory seminar on the TM technique, go to Where can I learn Transcendental Meditation?

“I am already practicing TM for 37 years, and I still enjoy it every day. It has given me so much energy that I could build a successful career in sales, and, on top of that, I have built two houses and six apartments, all by myself, in my spare time. If someone would offer me €10,000 to stop practicing TM, I would not consider it, not even for a second.”

Johan Claes, Senior Account Manager of an international software company.

Our Advice for How to Meditate Properly

“Transcendental meditation has a simple principle: we are beings of a blissful nature with infinite happiness. Life is not a struggle, not a tension… Life is bliss. It is eternal wisdom, eternal existence.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Our lives are full of setbacks that can cause stress, anxiety, struggling to concentrate, etc. Meditation practice has become essential for anyone wanting to improve their well-being.

With all of the news and noise made about mindfulness – corporations employing mindful meditation coaches and all, meditation appears to be a potential solution for the goodly number of people who struggle with burnout. And, of all the types of meditation, transcendental meditation is one that seems to stand out as an exceptional remedy to today’s high-pressure world.

While some people believe it’s nonsense and others, who actively practise transcendental meditation swear by it – especially in their times of high stress, it’s worth having a look at what this phenomenon is all about. After all, so many people wouldn’t swear by it if there was nothing to it.

Let’s take a closer look at these meditation techniques to find out what the benefits of meditation are in general and, particularly, how transcendental meditation benefits us.

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What is Transcendental Meditation?

When it comes to stress reduction, there are thousands of ways to meditate. Of them, the transcendental meditation technique is thought of as one of the more alternative methods.

Transcendental meditation takes training. (Source: Pexels)

In fact, it’s often presented as a technique for your brain that works on your consciousness by helping you to relax. The process is shown to be almost effortless, effective in a short time, and very popular.

Is it too good to be true?

In theory, the idea is to work on these techniques twice a day for around twenty minutes. By sitting in silence and working on our emotional stability and self-esteem at the same time, we learn to relax in a profound way by healing our mind and body.

How to learn to meditate? Search for yoga near me.

At its simplest, transcendental meditation is repeating a mantra in your head as you sit cross-legged, preferably in the lotus position on the floor with your eyes closed. This mantra will be personally taught to you by someone involved with a Maharishi organisation.

What is a mantra and why must it be given by someone involved with that organisation?

Those are two excellent questions! Here’s the short answer: a mantra is a word or sound that is repeated during the meditation session, meant to focus your concentration.

Originally, mantras were a part of lengthy Vedic chants and, because speaking these tones, words and phrases heavily steeped in spirituality is considered a sacred act, being accorded your personal mantra by a spiritual leader, in itself conveys weight, power and significance.

However, you may choose your own mantra based on what you seek. For optimal results, you should consider what brought you to meditation and why you meditate.

Are you searching for inner peace? Do you need to find balance in your life?

Some practitioners of meditation choose an affirmation, such as ‘Today, I am at peace’ as a mantra. Others seek empowerment with mantras such as ‘I am capable of great things’ and ‘Just keep moving’ or happiness with ‘I choose joy’.

However, most devout practitioners of meditation, transcendental or otherwise, advocate for more traditional mantras:

  • Moksha – liberation
  • Santosa – contentment
  • Veda – knowledge
  • Dharma – righteous path
  • Prajna – wisdom

Meditating doesn’t really require that much concentration, effort, or even a particular technique. You can do it without having to drastically change your lifestyle, especially if you’re really busy and cannot always hit the floor and adopt the lotus position.

Learning to meditate can help calm you down, which is one of the main objectives of the discipline.

So how can you learn some of these relaxation techniques and how to meditate? How can you completely liberate your thoughts?

Transcendental meditation could hold the key!

Where Does Transcendental Meditation Come from?

Transcendental meditation was inspired by Indian spiritual traditions and was introduced into the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1995. Maharishi helped give Indian meditation a new lease on life.

We’re talking about the 6 million people who were taught this technique around the world. A number who, despite a few controversies, are basically trying to find the keys to happiness.

Meditation is first and foremost a way to gain self-awareness, understand what’s happening deep inside yourself, and a way to battle stress and depression. In addition to these benefits, there are also a number of physical benefits to practising transcendental meditation such as feeling more relaxed and reducing your blood pressure.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (literally: “Great Seer”) is the man who helped popularise transcendental meditation (TM).

Born in 1917 and died in 2008, he became a symbol of an American counter-culture and was featured in a number of publications, most notably Time.

While some dubbed it a sect, Maharishi founded a university, schools, and colleges around the world. His success is in part due to just how simple the technique can be and the fact that there were a lot of stars who got involved.

It doesn’t take a group of monks to assure us that not all meditation is the same! Source: Credit: Suc

What’s the Difference Between Transcendental and Other Types of Meditation?

Science has proven that not all meditation is the same.

Whereas most types of meditation attempt to focus energy, thought and effort into training one’s mind and honing one’s thoughts, this particular form of meditation is meant to transcend ordinary thought and carry the practitioner beyond the upper structures of the thought processes, down into ‘silence’ – the absolute stillness of thought.

The sensation and subsequent results of transcending one’s surface thoughts are not unlike an athlete being ‘in the zone’ or some brave souls recounting how they simply didn’t think about the danger to themselves while rescuing someone in need.

Thankfully, you don’t need a dire emergency where life hangs in the balance in order to reach that state. You only need to cultivate stillness to tap into that wellspring of power.

Don’t other types of meditation also cultivate that stillness?

In fact, they don’t.

Ironically, the most popular types of meditation, such as Qi Gong (Chinese) or Zen, the Japanese style of meditation that evolved out of the Chinese Chan school all call for a focus onto an object, be it a mantra or something tangible. Such thinking causes more activity in various parts of the brain, not less.

Equally, today’s buzzword in meditation, mindfulness, also spurs brain activity even though the practitioner is merely visualising events, rather than targeting thoughts.

The critical difference between mindfulness and transcendence is that the former places your focus on the ‘now’ and the latter takes you to where ‘the now’ originates.

Transcendental meditation cuts through all of the noise and busy-ness to get you to a state where nothing, including your thoughts, clamours for attention. In this time of quiet and stillness, your brain enjoys the same restorative effects as it would in a deep sleep: more oxygen and increased blood flow.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that every type of meditation has its benefits. One mustn’t discount other categories of meditation in favour of transcendence exclusively!

For example, you may not have time to plunge yourself into a transcendental state in the minutes before your big presentation but you certainly would have time to practice focused attention (Zen and the like) or open monitoring (mindfulness).

Find out also if guided meditation is right for you…

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A Breakdown of Transcendental Meditation

In Scotland, on the Isle of Skye, people from all over the world are stacking stones. Granted, their doing so has more to do with the film BFG than with any type of meditation. However, stone stacking is considered a meditative act associated with Zen Buddhism.

The stacks of stones are a metaphor for balance.

By restoring these Zen stones to their proper order, so too will you regain your balance. Not physical balance, obviously.

Meditation in general is, in part, the act of rebalancing your life: letting go of excessive negative energy and thoughts, permitting the positive to flow. Relinquishing the need for stress as a form of self-validation and allowing positive affirmation to radiate from you.

While other types of meditation make use of concentration, focus and control to achieve those results, transcendental meditation is predicated upon the absence of control and focus.

While the technique may be simple, what are the benefits?

Most people who practise transcendental meditation will tell you how it can reduce stress, help you sleep better, and make you feel energised.

Fancy it?

There are a number of benefits to transcendental meditation. (Source: Devanath)

Practising transcendental meditation and emptying your mind can help make you more attentive, improve your self-confidence, and generally improve your quality of life.

“In this meditation, we do not concentrate or control the mind. We let the mind follow its natural instinct toward greater happiness, and it goes within and it gains bliss consciousness in the being.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

According to Maharishi, transcendental meditation creates an awakened state when you’re resting which can help alleviate tension and anxiety. It also spurs creativity and self-awareness.

That self-awareness can help you manage stress and make you more aware of what’s happening to you.

It can also help those with high blood pressure and it helps with pain management, either from a chronic condition or an acute trauma. It can improve your body overall and help regulate your nervous system. There are so many different benefits to practising transcendental meditation.

However, there’s no proof that this type of meditation is better than any other type of meditation. Let’s not forget that those listed above and others not mentioned are also the general benefits of meditating; essentially the benefits of any type of meditation depend on what you are trying to achieve.

If being in touch with yourself is what you aspire to in your meditation sessions, you should give transcendental meditation a try!

As with all forms of meditation, one by-product of transcendental meditation is to improve your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

In summary, transcendental meditation allows you to:

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Be aware of your body and yourself
  • Maintain a daily practice
  • Help alleviate a number of physical worries

Whether you’re an expert of meditation or don’t know the first thing about it, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. Getting involved is pretty easy, however, getting stuck in can be much harder.

You may find yourself in such a state of relaxation that calling yourself away from it might be difficult!

For that reason and others, it is recommended that transcendental meditation be done in the presence of a teacher, at least at the outset of your spiritual journey.

Another reason why a guide is recommended is so that you will be gifted a mantra that suits your physique and conditions exactly. As mentioned above, some mantras target certain aspects of the human experience such as achievement, while others focus more on personal growth.

Working with a guide or instructor will ensure that you have the proper mantra, that you understand the ideals and practices of this type of meditation and that you remain safe as you meditate. In short: they play an essential role for a lot of people practising meditation.

Join the discussion: is meditating with YouTube effective?

Practising Transcendental Meditation with a Teacher

Transcendental meditation is a relaxation and personal development technique which is a bit different from some of the other types of meditation. In fact, unlike some of those more mainstream meditation activities such as mindfulness, you don’t need to put in that much effort or concentrate that much.

However, you will need a guide who’s happy to practise daily and you will need some training, which we’ll cover later.

It’s a good idea to learn about TM from an expert. (Source: unclelky)

Transcendental meditation centres on an awareness of your body and a sense of inner peace, using a mantra, silently repeated, to reach beyond conscious thought.

Your mantra can be a word, sentence, or idea which your tutor will help you discover or will assign to you. The idea is to repeat this mantra, in accordance with what your instructor is telling you to do.

For authentic transcendental meditation training, your teacher should have been trained by a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi organisation.

Your given (or chosen) mantra is a more thorough, more personal message than Zen meditation, for example, which many people commonly associate with religion.

Nevertheless, we can illustrate, in broad strokes, essentially how a transcendental meditation session would go:

You should be seated in a comfortable position where your body is fully supported. Such a place may be on the floor or in a chair; as you will be sitting for around 30 minutes, it would be a good idea to choose a setting most conducive to relaxation.

1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Slowly loosen the tension in your body.

2. Silently, repeat your mantra. If you’re doing this on your own, you will have to choose a mantra for yourself.

3. Should you find yourself distracted while meditating, you may again silently ‘chant’ your mantra

4. To return to consciousness, wriggle your extremities – your toes and fingers, until you feel yourself being fully present.

5. When you feel ready, open your eyes

Some of the more pointed questions you may ask: how do you know you’ve meditated enough? How do you know when it’s time to end the sessions? If you’re meditating with no guidance, how do you know you’re doing it right?

Those are all great questions whose answers are obvious: a tutor is very important and, in some cases, fundamental.

However, the fact that you should have a teacher with you is one of the main weaknesses of transcendental meditation.

In addition to the teacher being essential, this also means that you have to be committed to your lessons, want to attend the lessons, and be willing to pay for them. While the latter is often seen as a big negative, don’t forget that you don’t need a lot of gear to practise it, just your body, mind, and spirit.

Generally, in such a transcendental meditation centre, intensive training with tutors takes place over four days followed by continued “check-ups” over the next six months. Depending on which centre you learn at, the cost is based on your income. Other centres charge a flat rate.

As you’ll have guessed, transcendental meditation isn’t quite like other types of meditation where you can just get random classes at any time. Here, training is a necessity for ensuring that you enjoy all the spiritual benefits of the practice.

While it’s a bit like guided meditation, personal development and letting go are achieved through a specific process.

What if you are committed to learning this type of meditation but there is no centre near you? Or, there is a centre but their fees are far too high?

Resources for Practicing Transcendental Meditation on Your Own

As mentioned before, one of the biggest questions is: when does one know one’s time to meditate is through?

One way to measure time is with a selection of music; my personal favourite is the soundtrack to Johnathan Livingston Seagull.

It was a simple task to select tracks totalling about 30 minutes into play files; come time to disconnect from the world, I simply choose one of the files and drift away on the sound of waves and soaring chords.

Naturally, there are other musical selections that are ideal for meditation; perhaps you already have some in your music collection.

Your meditation music should be tranquil; no peaking vocals and only gentle percussion. Repeating themes would also help, especially if you are new to meditation. The tempo should be about the same throughout; you may even enjoy music with water trickling in the background.

YouTube has a whole list of videos for meditation; some play continuously and others last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Some are narrated, meaning a soothing, pleasant voice directs your meditation while peaceful music plays in the background.

Other websites, such as Music 2 Meditate and Free Meditation Music have created meditation playlists. You may choose from piano or strings, from Devotional or the intriguing-sounding Mantra, a collection of music with traditional Indian tones.

That would be highly appropriate, seeing as meditation is an ancient Indian art!

Especially if you are new to meditation, you must ensure a way to limit the time of your sessions. Once you have a few sessions under your belt, when meditating feels more a part of you, you won’t necessarily have to set a time limit on your sessions because your mind/body will be ‘trained’ to meditate for that amount of time.

Final note: please do not use an egg timer or alarm on your phone to time your meditation sessions!

As they are designed to get your attention, the tones of these devices tend to be discordant and disruptive. From a meditation point of view, there are few things worse than being yanked out of a relaxing session by some shrieking, jangling noise that won’t stop unless you rush to silence it!

We may go so far as to aver that such an intrusion might undo all of the peace you’ve attained while meditating and set your teeth on edge anew.

Talking About Transcendental Meditation

We have to talk about the limits of transcendental meditation.

When discussing TM, you need to remain grounded. (Source: leninscape)

It’s often shown in the media as solely a relaxation technique where you focus on the present moment. However, they rarely mention that it’s something you have to learn, the personal development it entails, or the benefits it can bring.

This is because the founder of the discipline was regularly in the media. In fact, the practice has been popular since the 1960s and is recommended by stars such as Stevie Wonder, Hugh Jackman, and Oprah Winfrey.

The founder appeared on American television shows, which helped transcendental meditation become popular as well as making him subject to a number of controversies.

The religious, political, and financial aspects of the practice were questioned. While it’s considered a branch of meditation, which won’t appeal to everyone, it would be silly to immediately dismiss it when it could actually be really helpful!

If you’re not convinced about meditation, why not consider looking at mindfulness meditation instead?

After all, something that may work for one person may not necessarily work for another and you’ll never know if you don’t try!

Now discover mindfulness meditation…

Transcendental Meditation, that vestige of the 1960s fascination with Eastern-oriented enlightenment, is back with a vengeance. Celebs like Russell Brand and Moby swear by it. The celebrated filmmaker behind Blue Velvet and Eraserhead has made it his mission to spread the good word about TM through the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Oprah recently devoted a TV show to the TM movement.

Over a decade ago, I found myself introduced to TM in what turned out to be a very expensive, hype-filled journey to enlightenment. Allow me to share the wisdom I gained.

The Price of Inner Peace

I was dating a screenwriter when I stumbled upon TM. He was nearly two decades older than me and had come of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s, bringing with him a number of interesting relics from that era, including a twice-daily practice of TM. Each morning he would sit up in bed for 30 minutes, chin resting on his chest, looking enviably blissful as I stumbled around in a bleary funk trying to find my shoes. In the afternoon, he would repeat this sublime performance. Neither deadline nor meeting could distract him from his ritual. If necessary, he would don earplugs and conduct his journey inward on the subway or the bus. I was in awe.

My boyfriend didn’t participate in the broader Transcendental Meditation movement and insisted that there was nothing mystical, or even particularly special, about what he was doing. “Look, I took a course 30 years ago, and I liked the technique, so I stuck with it. Period.” His daily practice, he assured me, had kept him grounded and sane ever since. That sounded pretty good to me. I’ve always been a rather high-strung creative type, and at the time I was in the throes of procrastination on my doctoral dissertation and a struggle to figure out whether a career in academia or journalism would best cure me of a deep sense of futility. So I signed up for a free introductory class on TM in Manhattan.

During the free intro, I heard a lot about scientific reports on the benefits of TM, like reducing stress and releasing creativity. It sounded reasonable enough, and I was impressed that the people in the room looked pretty normal. The instructor didn’t go into any religious stuff and could have easily fit into a corporate office with his clean-cut appearance and fondness for graphs and charts. The technique, he assured the class, was easy to learn and could provide a lifetime of benefits for both mind and body. We were invited to consider taking a beginner course, after which we would have access to a lifetime of “free followup and support.” Then came the kicker: the price of a beginner course was $2,500.

I gulped. That was quite a pricetag. But at this point, I was already looking forward to my transformation. Wasn’t inner peace worth it? I rationalized that people paid far more than this for therapy in New York City, and after all, I had hard evidence from my boyfriend that the technique could have long-lasting effects. I had just landed a lucrative ghostwriting contract, and if learning TM would make me less stressed and more productive, it would be worth it, right? My inner skeptic was silenced. I went for it.

Over several courses, I learned to sit with my eyes closed and just let my thoughts flow until I began to feel a sense of peaceful awareness come over me. There was no need to concentrate or sit in any particular way, or refrain from scratching my nose. A steady flow of references to scientific studies promising increased intelligence and emotional development padded what was otherwise a pretty straightforward lesson on sitting still and chilling out. After the completion of the course, there was a special “graduation” ceremony in which students were given individual mantras to use in our practice. This was the first real whiff of spirituality. I was told to bring an offering of flowers to meet the instructor, who now appeared wearing a robe. He solemnly told me that he had a special word to give me that was mine alone and would be the key to my successful practice of TM.

“I know something about you,” he said, staring meaningfully into my eyes. “And that’s why I’m giving you this particular mantra.” I was no longer a student in a class, but an initiate into a special order of enlightened beings. I was invited to attend group meditation sessions where the combined force of our effort would increase harmonic vibrations of the universe and contribute to global peace. Or something like that.

The Big Reveal

Meditation is an ancient technique for relaxing, and it comes in a variety of forms. Some focus on breathing; others on an object, like a flame or a bowl of water. Mindfulness meditation adds on the directive to be attentive to feelings of gratitude and not to be an asshole. There’s even a form that makes the orgasm the focus in reaching a meditative state.

Transcendental Meditation is just a fancy name for a common variety of meditation in which a mantra – a word or series of syllables – is repeated with the intention of creating a meditative state. Pretty much any word or syllable will do, despite the hype of TM, which insists that a mantra can only be given by a “qualified” instructor. The TM initiate is told never to reveal her mantra under any circumstances, lest its magic be lost. My instructor suggested that he had some particular insight into me in choosing my mantra, but this is utter nonsense. People who have taught TM have admitted that they are given a list of mantras they’re supposed to divvy out according to age and gender. Nothing mystical about it. Here’s one list, which contains a version of my “personal” mantra. In violation of the sacred rules of TM, I’m now going to reveal it to you: “aima.” That’s my mantra. Two syllables. Vaguely pleasant sounding. If I repeat it consistently for several minutes, I begin to feel a little spacey. The same thing happens, I have found, when I repeat the word “Tallahasee.”

My boyfriend was horrified that I had paid $2,500 to learn TM. His course cost him a mere $50 back in 1973, and as it turns out, he had long ago dispensed with the mantra-business and simply focused on an image when he sat down to meditate, which happened to be the sound of the blind on his childhood window tapping in the wind, a sound that to him signaled relaxation. Technically, he wasn’t even doing TM; he was simply relaxing for an hour a day. To achieve a similar result, some people take a nap. Others go for a walk. You could add all kinds of fancy components to a relaxing activity like walking, and call it Globally Conscious Perambulation or some such BS and require the muttering of special words and the donning of special attire, but it would still be a walk. Its primary benefits would still come from relaxing the body and mind, and if done regularly, adding some purposeful structure to the day. Dress it up in a thousand scientific studies and it’s still just a freaking walk.

TM merely adds a scientific veneer to a simple technique and pretends that there is something unique about it. There isn’t. You could stroll down to your local community center and learn to practice meditation, perhaps for a donation of ten bucks. I paid $2,500 for a mantra, which, I will now tell you, is idiotic. I’ve tried several forms of meditation since, and I actually find other techniques better suited to me. I’ve paid a couple of hundred bucks for weekend retreats and trivial amounts for group sessions at various centers, always in the form of voluntary donations. I don’t meditate regularly these days, but when I do, I often feel refreshed. But I will never feel good about the ridiculous amount of money I forked over to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his merry band of hustlers.

The Giggling Guru

Unfortunately, one thing that links many forms of meditation is the preponderance of guru figures associated with it. This is not always the case, but it’s common enough to muddy the waters of the river of consciousness. For many practitioners, it’s not enough simply to pass on a simple technique that may be beneficial to some people. Those who aspire to gurudom have to be the voice of global consciousness. Or moral transcendence. Or whatever. They have to be the One Who Knows. And all too often, the One Who Gets Paid Big Bucks. Or perhaps the One Who is Having Sex With Disciples.

TM’s famous guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known as the “giggling guru,” was an Indian yogi who rose to notoriety as the spiritual counselor to the Beatles. The giggling guru had plenty to smile about, as he got people to pay millions for his lessons on transcendence. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, his organization, which boasts real estate holdings, schools and clinics, was worth more than $3 billion by the late 1990s. Teaching meditation was never enough for the Maharishi, or “His Holiness,” as followers called him. A marketing wiz, he launched the official TM-Sidhi program in the late 1970s that offered devotees the ability to levitate and bring about world peace. The levitation, or “yogic flying,” as followers call it, basically involves sitting on your duff in lotus position and bouncing up and down in what is possibly the most ridiculous-looking New Age practice on Earth — and that’s saying something. This is thought to bring global consciousness. You really have to see it to believe it, .

The Maharishi’s enthusiasm for the butt-flying technique actually led to the formation of a political party in 1992, the Natural Law Party, which runs campaigns in several countries, including the U.S. It must be admitted that most politicians speak out of their rear ends, so why not just make that part of the anatomy central to an entire platform? Makes sense to me.

In 2000, the tireless Maharishi created the Global Country of World Peace, a “country without borders” that even has its own currency, the “Raam.” In 2008, the guru announced his retirement, went into silence and promptly died. Transcendental Meditation, with its expensive classes and ridiculous advanced practices, might have fallen into oblivion, but for David Lynch. Lynch paid a small fortune for his guru status within the TM movement when, in 2003, he forked over a cool million to participate in the Maharishi’s four-week “Millionaire’s Enlightenment Course.” Since Lynch came on board, TM has been on the rise, perhaps benefitting from the decreasing market share of Scientology among celebrities.

Lynch has gotten a ton of press attention, including a recent profile in the New York Times. He has not been pleased, however, with all of it. In 2010, a German TM follower and filmmaker named David Sieveking produced a Roger and Me-style documentary about his quest to meet Lynch, which he eventually accomplished. In David Wants to Fly, the young man moves from an enthusiast of TM to a critic alarmed by the shaking-down of followers and the great wealth amassed by the leaders of a movement purportedly devoted to world peace. Sieveking claims to have received legal threats from the David Lynch Foundation since releasing the film.

As a concession to recessionary times, the TM movement dropped the price of its introductory course to $1,500 in 2008. That’s still an absurd amount of money for teaching a technique that could be learned in a hour. Any organization or movement that demands so much up-front cash from followers (still more if they choose advanced courses) and proffers such BS as global peace through butt-flying is bound to have a cultic dimension. I didn’t stick around long enough to explore it myself, but there are plenty of accounts of those who go beyond the initial meditation technique and find themselves feeling ripped off, angry and spiritually abused.

We humans are anxious, tired and distracted in the modern world. We need to relax. We just don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to do it.

For more on TM, visit Skepdic.com.

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