Globally, one of the most widely studied meditation and relaxation programs is transcendental meditation (or TM). To date, over six million people have been taught transcendental meditation techniques. Many people who practice transcendental meditation describe TM as being the most important piece of their wellness regime. Practitioners will tell you that 20 minutes sitting in silent meditation, ideally twice daily, is a sure way to increase energy levels, creativity and happiness.
The TM technique, which has roots that are thousands of years old but was formally founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi over 50 years ago, first gained notoriety in “the West” in the late 1960s, when the Beatles traveled to India and spread the word about their transformative, meditative experience.
Over the past several decades TM has been focus of dozens of published research studies, which suggest that TM techniques can offer benefits including: relieving stress and anxiety, boosting mental performance and brain function, lowering pain intensity, managing PTSD symptoms, supporting cardiovascular health, and more.
What Is Transcendental Meditation?
What exactly is transcendental meditation? Transcendental meditation (or TM) is defined as “A technique, based on ancient Hindu writings, by which one seeks to achieve a relaxed state through regular periods of meditation during which a mantra is repeated.”
According to the Transcendental Meditation Organization’s website, “The TM technique allows your active mind to easily settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness — pure consciousness.” The idea is that all of us, at all times, have a quiet, peaceful place in our minds that we can tap into by focusing inward.
The goal and purpose of TM is to focus your mind by concentrating on a mantra that you silently repeat to yourself. While practicing TM you sit quietly with your eyes closed in a comfortable position, blocking out stimulation from the outside world as much as possible. The traditional way that TM is practiced is for 20 minutes, twice daily.
In 2005, the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace (DLF), a global charitable foundation that funds teaching of TM, was founded by film director and Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioner David Lynch. The foundation has since sponsored hundreds of thousands of students who have wished to learn TM, including at-risk groups like U.S. veterans, war refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), inner city students, American Indians, homeless and incarcerated men.
What is the difference between transcendental meditation and other forms of meditation?
As Bob Roth, the executive director of the David Lynch Foundation, explained to GQ Magazine,
Other forms of meditation require a far greater commitment and can be more difficult to adopt. They teach either extreme concentration (an intense focus on one particular thing, and only that thing) or contemplation (thinking as hard as you can about the present, which is often referred to as mindfulness), but what makes TM so user-friendly is that you don’t have to do either.
TM differs from other forms of meditation because it doesn’t require emptying the mind of thoughts, forceful concentrating or control of the mind that can feel very difficult. TM technique is also totally secular, not a type of religion or philosophy that requires you to believe in any particular dogma or theory.
In terms of the ability to study benefits of transcendental meditation, TM has advantages including a standardized and reproducible instruction format, a thorough certification program for instructors, and widespread availability of instructors.
Who can benefit from transcendental meditation? Stressed out executives, students, people suffering from anxiety or PTSD (such as prisoners, victims of abuse or war veterans), children with a history of trauma, and anyone who generally feels overwhelmed, frazzled and in need of more relaxation and focus.
A mantra in TM is “a word or sound from the Vedic tradition that is used to focus your concentration”, as defined by WebMD.
In TM, mantras serve the purpose of giving the mind something to focus on so that thoughts are not running rampant. Transcendental meditation mantras are described as being essentially “meaningless” because they are more like sound words than phrases or affirmations. Mantras for transcendental meditation are most commonly no more than two words and are sounds that are not part of most languages.
Can you choose or create your own TM mantra?
In transcendental meditation, only a certified teacher is supposed to assign you a personal mantra. It’s not recommended that you try to choose a mantra on your own because then it will have some meaning attached to it, which can be distracting. Remember that mantras are the focal point of mediation and used to quiet the mind, not to elicit memories or feelings, like affirmations do.
Because you don’t choose your own mantra, your personal mantra is chosen for you by your teacher, who selects a mantra from a large library that has roots dating back thousands of years to TM’s ancient Vedic origins. You never share your mantra with anyone else, but rather keep it to yourself in order to preserve its power.
6 Transcendental Meditation Benefits
1. Can Help Reduce Stress
A number of studies suggest that TM way can you get a handle on chronic stress by reducing both psychological and physiologic responses to stress factors, including decreased sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and reductions in stress hormone levels.
Ongoing stress is a real problem because it can take a toll on the immune system, contribute to inflammation and increase your risk for many chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, not to mention increased absenteeism and job turnover, alcohol and drug abuse, and lower job performance.
There’s evidence that practicing TM technique can help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, more so than doing other types of relaxation techniques. Meditation techniques, including TM, seem to be powerful tools for mitigating or reducing the impact of ongoing stimulation of the “fight-or-flight” response, so much so that certain studies have even found TM to be capable of reducing mortality among people with stress-induced diseases, such as older adults with cardiovascular disease.
2. May Help Lower Blood Pressure and Support Cardiovascular Health
Increased stress is associated with increased blood pressure levels. It makes sense then that a 2009 randomized control trial published in the American Journal of Hypertension demonstrated that a 3-month long TM program decreased blood pressure in association with decreased psychological distress, and increased coping skills in young adults at risk for hypertension. Significant improvements were found in total psychological distress, anxiety, depression, anger/hostility, and coping after three months of regular practice compared to baseline measures.
Also related to heart health, findings from another study published in 2007 indicate that TM can be effective in improving the quality of life and functional capacity of adults with chronic heart failure, including by improving their physical capabilities and by decreasing their risk for future hospitalizations.
3. Can Improve Sleep Quality and Reduce Fatigue
According to a 2012 article published in Frontiers in Neurology, “Meditation practices influence brain functions, induce various intrinsic neural plasticity events, modulate autonomic, metabolic, endocrine, and immune functions and thus mediate global regulatory changes in various behavioral states including sleep.”
Some of the ways that TM can help fight insomnia and initiate better sleep include by increasing relaxation response, promoting a parasympathetic state, and regulating blood flow to the executive regions of the brain during sleep .
Various components of sleep generating mechanisms seem to be altered by meditation. Among long-term practitioners, transcendental meditation has been shown to lead to a state of “restful alertness,” in which deep physiological rest is achieved that leads to increased energy.
There’s evidence that meditation practices activate prefrontal cortex, fronto-limbic, and fronto-parietal neural networks in the brain that are associated with sympathetic arousal. Studies dating back to the 90’s have found that experienced meditators spend more time in slow wave sleep (SWS) with higher theta–alpha power and enhanced rapid eye movement (REM), leading to deeper rest and enhance consciousness.
4. Can Help to Reduce Symptoms of Depression and “Burnout”
Research suggests that TM can be an effective tool in reducing psychological distress and anxiety, including among busy executives and those who deal with ongoing stress related to work and family life. These findings suggest that a regular TM practice can have positive implications for not only job performance, but also relationships, life satisfaction and mental and physical health.
For example, one four-month long study published in the Permanente Journal in 2014 found that the practice of transcendental meditation caused a significant reduction in measures of perceived stress, depression and overall workplace “burnout” among teachers who work with students with severe behavioral problems. Burnout is considered to be a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, negative attitudes toward others, and dissatisfaction with one’s job performance.
5. May Help Increase Focus and Learning Capability
TM is a form of meditation that allows you to experience quieter levels of thought. Among other purposes it aims to improve one’s ability to concentrate while cultivating a nonjudgmental attitude toward thoughts that might arise. Many find that TM helps them to think more clearly and improves concentration, problem solving, focus and judgement — considered “executive functions” that are partially controlled by the prefrontal cortex in the brain.
A 2009 pilot study found that when children with ADHD were taught TM techniques, “the children showed improvements in attention, working memory, organization, and behavior regulation.”
Some studies have found that a meditation practice may lessen symptoms of ADD/ADHD by increasing ability to suppress unrelated thoughts and distractions and by improving attention, leading to potential improvement in occupational and social function. It’s also been suggested that the ability to focus on tasks and reduce hyperactivity can lower the risk for problems like addiction, delinquent behavior and other psychiatric disorders.
6. Can Help Reduce Pain
Over the past several decades meditation has been adopted in western countries as a mind-body therapeutic intervention for dealing with chronic pain — such as back or neck pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal conditions and muscular disorders. A number of studies have found that meditation increases pain tolerance and reduces pain intensity, much like spirituality/religiosity do.
The mechanisms by which TM and other forms of meditation may help people’s ability to cope with pain include: reducing anticipatory anxiety and depression, improving the ability to focus on the present moment, distracting attention away from pain, resolving underlying physiological conditions responsible for chronic pain, and lowering general stress reactivity.
Some studies have also found that TM can reduce the motivational dimension of the brain’s response to pain and increase “feel good” endogenous endorphins.
How to Do Transcendental Meditation Step By Step
How do you do transcendental meditation? And do you need to visit a teacher/attend or class or retreat at first, or can you teach yourself transcendental meditation?
TM technique traditionally requires a seven-step course of instruction from a certified teacher, which can take several days to complete (the reason why some people attend TM retreats). While it’s possible to start practicing TM on your own without guidance from a teacher, many will tell you that this is a mistake.
The relationship between a transcendental meditation student and teacher is seen as critical for getting the most benefits from the practice, therefore guidance from a teacher is highly recommended.
Here’s what you can expect when getting started with TM:
- Your TM teacher will provide you with information about the technique during a 60-minute introductory lecture.
- It’s standard to then meet for another 45-minute lecture with your teacher, followed by several shorter sessions/interviews for more feedback and personal instruction.
- You will then partake in a brief “ceremony” in which you are given your personal mantra.
- You can then check in with your teacher periodically over the following months for more help and feedback.
- Most people practice TM twice daily for about 15 to 20 minutes each session. A common recommendation is to practice once in the morning and again once in the afternoon/night.
TM is said to be generally easy to learn and practice according to most who give it a try. You can practice anywhere, any time, and don’t need any app, cushion or props. Here’s a quick overview of how to do transcendental meditation for beginners:
- TM is performed while sitting in a comfortable position while you repeat your mantra over and over silently to yourself. This allows your mind to experience finer levels of thinking and to achieve a state of deep relaxation.
- Try to breathe normally and focus your attention on the mantra, bringing your attention back if it wanders. Keep your spine straight as you maintain good posture, but also try to relax your muscles.
- Bring your mantra to mind. Visualize the mantra if it helps you.
- If you’re new to TM, and even if you’ve been practicing for years, you can expect distracting thoughts to keep popping up. Rather than becoming frustrated from your wandering mind, know that this is the part of the process and totally normal. Not every meditation will feel super productive or enjoyable, but with time and practice you should find meditating in the TM style to become easier and more rewarding.
TM Precautions and Downsides
A meditation practice shouldn’t be used as a single treatment for any particular health condition, and shouldn’t replace regular doctors visits or therapy (if needed).
While meditation practices are generally very safe and beneficial in many ways, they can potentially evoke difficult, buried feelings and stir up memories of trauma in susceptible individuals, which is why practicing with guidance from a teacher (especially at first) is recommended. Because meditation can cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric conditions, be precautious if you suspect you’re at risk.
One barrier to overcome when starting transcendental meditation is the potentially high cost. If you plan on initially meeting with a teacher in order to have a mantra assigned to you, then you can expect transcendental meditation to cost you between $1000 and $1,500 to get started with.
Keep in mind that you will also be asked to keep the conversation between you and your teacher private, not disclosing exactly what was discussed your first “lesson.” The purpose of these first meetings being secretive is to ensure that new students are taught correctly by trained teachers, and that not just anybody can claim to be able to teach TM.
- Transcendental meditation (TM) is a technique that’s typically practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day, while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed as a mantra is silently repeated.
- TM s not a religion, philosophy or lifestyle and can be practiced by anyone, anywhere. To get started with TM a student meets with a trained TM teacher and is assigned a personal mantra that they repeat during practice. The mantra is “meaningless” (usually a couple of sounds) and is keep secret.
- Studies suggest that transcendental meditation benefits include: lowering stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, decreasing symptoms of depression and burnout, and increasing concentration and problem solving.
- Because meditation can cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric conditions, be precautious if you have a history of depression or mental illness.
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