Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a technique for avoiding distracting thoughts and promoting a state of relaxed awareness. The late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi derived TM from the ancient Vedic tradition of India. He brought the technique to the U.S. in the 1960s.
While meditating, the person practicing TM sits in a comfortable position with eyes closed. While sitting there, he or she silently repeats a mantra. A mantra is a meaningless sound from the Vedic tradition that’s been assigned by a certified instructor.
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According to proponents of TM, when meditating, the ordinary thinking process is “transcended.” It’s replaced by a state of pure consciousness. In this state, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries.
Proponents say the technique has many benefits. Benefits for both mind and body include:
Reduction of cardiovascular risk factors
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) reports that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and the use of health care services.
Whether the health benefits of TM and other forms of meditation are real, though, is controversial. Some researchers fault the quality of meditation studies and say meditation is no more effective than health education in addressing most common health problems.
Current evidence suggests that meditation, both Transcendental Meditation and other forms, are rarely harmful. It also suggests that meditation often improves the quality of life for many. Experts agree, however, that meditation should not be considered an effective single treatment for any particular health condition. Nor should it be used as an alternative to conventional medical care.
How Transcendental Meditation Is Learned and Practiced
Transcendental Meditation is not a religion or philosophy. And it does not require any lifestyle changes. However, unlike some forms of meditation, which can be learned from a book, CD, or video, proponents say the TM technique can only be learned through a seven-step course of instruction from a certified teacher.
Tuition for a four-month course, which includes a lifetime of free follow-up, is $1,500 for adults. For full-time students, tuition is $750. Couples who study together pay $2,250. And the fee for children under the age of 18 is $375.
A TM teacher presents general information about the technique and its effects during a 90-minute introductory lecture. That’s followed by a second 60-minute lecture where more specific information is given. People interested in learning the technique then attend a 10- to 15-minute interview and a 60- to 90-minute session. Following a brief ceremony, the prospective practitioner receives a mantra, which he or she is told to keep confidential.
Over the next three days, the learner attends three more 90-minute sessions. In these sessions, the teacher does the following:
Explains the practice in greater detail
Offers corrective advice 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.
TM is practiced 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 direct their attention to the mantra.