Is Transcendental Meditation for Everyone?

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Editor's Note:

Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is a highly cited researcher and the author of more than two hundred scholarly articles, as well as books for the general public, including Winter Blues and The Emotional Revolution. Visit Rosenthal’s website to learn more.

Nowadays it seems as though everyone is doing Transcendental Meditation. The spectrum of people who report doing TM and benefitting from it is mind boggling. We see reports about how TM benefits veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), homeless people, those with drug and alcohol abuse problems, and other emotional and psychiatric conditions. I reviewed the substantial evidence in favor of the benefits to people in all of these categories in my 2011 New York Times Bestseller Transcendence.

More recently I have extended my description of the scope of those who can benefit from this practice to people who might be viewed as highly privileged, such as business executives, actors, and entrepreneurs. In fact, the list reads in some ways like a Who’s Who of celebrities. What do these people need TM for? you may well ask. Doesn’t money, fame, and power satisfy them? The answer is actually quite simple. Most people in society suffer from stress on a daily basis. In fact, workplace stress has been called The Black Death of the twenty-first century. Highly successful people may be just as stressed in their own way as those who struggle with the ordinary problems of daily life. It turns out that TM is an extremely effective method for decreasing stress, as evidenced by numerous studies showing that it is associated with reduced blood pressure and anxiety.

What does Transcendental Meditation consist of? It is a simple yet powerful technique, which involves sitting quietly for twenty minutes twice a day and thinking a special mantra or word sound, as taught by a qualified TM teacher over a one-week period. TM was brought to the West from its origins in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 1950s and has since spread dramatically throughout the world. One reason for this amazing acceleration, especially in the last decade, is the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), named after the iconic filmmaker who credits TM with transforming his life.  The DLF is dedicated to teaching TM to people in all walks of life, especially those who are struggling with serious problems, such as the victims of abuse and violence.

The shift in internal feelings that occurs during meditation has been called Transcendence. It is a very pleasant state in which people feel at the same time calm and alert, rested and energized. It turns out that after one has been meditating for periods of time (which may vary according to the individual from weeks to years) as stress decreases, there is growth of consciousness. The state of Transcendence moves into their daily lives, with astonishing results. I have discussed these developments in my latest book on the subject, Super Mind, which was a number one Washington Post bestseller and has just been published in paperback. In my new book I describe how TM helps people become more creative, get into the zone, which is also known as flow, become more successful financially and otherwise, and achieve a greater state of happiness.

By this time, you may well be asking who would not benefit from the TM technique? First, the technique is usually taught only to those who are eleven years of age or older, as younger children usually have not yet developed the necessary patience and skill to be able to sit with it. Second, if people have a serious mental or neurological illness, they may not be a suitable candidate for TM, and it is wise always to check in with one’s doctor before embarking on TM or any other brain-related practice. Finally, if somebody is uninterested or unwilling to undergo the simple training (approximately five one-hour teaching sessions over the course of a week) and commit to the practice as prescribed thereafter, it’s probably not going to work. But to those individuals, may I respectively suggest (albeit with tongue in cheek) that you might read Super Mind. It may change your thoughts on the matter.