Tag: Transcendental Meditation
Opening The Huffington Post to scenes of political confrontation, revolution, earthquakes and meltdowns, I watch with awe and compassion as our planet heaves and reels with transformation — masses of people demanding reform, while others stagger from the terrifying impact of natural disaster.
Whether it’s one’s own world crashing down or others’ lives falling apart, one feels vulnerable. Can strengthening our connection to the calm, unchanging depths of our being through meditation bring steadiness and resilience in the face of change?
As a meditation teacher, I find that people are often drawn to turning inward during periods of personal crisis, seeking to anchor themselves. It’s not uncommon for someone to come and learn meditation after receiving a devastating medical diagnosis, while going through a divorce, after losing their job or when just feeling overwhelmed by life (continue reading…)
What does the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a native of India, have in common with Florida resident Val Shanaberger?
Maharishi, as his devotees call him, introduced America to the ancient technique of transcendental meditation. T.M. is a stress-relieving technique that has practical applications in business and most other walks of life.
Shanaberger, in turn, is an experienced yoga instructor for Lifestyle Family Fitness and teaches her students how the practice can relieve stress and help them to focus on their goals. “It helps the practitioner understand themselves,” she says (continue reading…)
According to polls, the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2011 are: lose weight, quit drinking and/or smoking, exercise, manage your debt, reduce stress, get a better job, fall in love and volunteer to help others.
But if Dr. Mehmet Oz is correct, perhaps “learn to meditate” should be added to the top of everyone’s list.
Meditation is emerging as a powerful stress-buster. Research shows that it can have health benefits equivalent to or better than some of the leading medications for reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Dr. Oz, a meditator himself, spoke at the “Change Begins Within” benefit on Dec. 13 in New York City. The event was sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation, to raise funds to teach 10,000 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder how to meditate. Addressing the impact of stress and its toll on the human heart, Dr. Oz explained how the Transcendental Meditation technique reduces the three main risk factors for heart disease.
“As a heart surgeon, I see the effects of stress on the heart as the leading cause of death in the Western world. This meditation, we believe, can help a lot of people. It’s important to understand exactly how TM reduces stress and stress-related disorders.”
Stating that high cholesterol is the first major risk factor for heart disease, Dr. Oz cited a one-year study on people with high cholesterol who practiced the TM technique.1 The study found that cholesterol was reduced by 10 percent, or 30 milliliters. “Now, if you are on medication for cholesterol, we hope you can get 30 milliliters lower,” he said.
The second risk factor for heart disease, cautioned Dr. Oz, is high insulin or diabetes. “A randomized clinical trial funded by the NIH found improvements in insulin resistance, glucose and even insulin levels themselves, after just four months of TM practice, in over 100 people who had coronary blocks.2 This dramatic change was significantly better than just teaching people about their health.”
Meditation also helps reduce hypertension — the third main risk factor — according to a randomized control study on people suffering from high blood pressure.3 “Those practicing the TM technique had a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, of 11 and 6, respectively. Those are big numbers. We don’t get these kind of results all the time with medications.”
The outcome of a long-term randomized trial on older African American patients with coronary heart disease showed similar promise.4 Those practicing the TM technique during this 10-year period were found to have 47 percent less incidence of mortality, heart disease and stroke. “This impact in the TM group is stunning — unimaginable. When you talk about these causes of death and you can reduce them by that much, as well as non-fatal strokes and non-fatal heart attacks, these are spectacularly large impacts.”
Research on meditation has come a long way in recent decades, with hundreds of peer-reviewed studies being published on a variety of meditation practices. There have been about 50 randomized controlled trials on the TM technique alone, and the NIH has granted over $25 million for scientists to further research the practice.
Regarding his own personal practice of the TM technique, Dr. Oz has said, “When I meditate, I go to that place where truth lives. I can see what reality really is, and it is so much easier to form good relationships then.”
As everyone knows, following through on News Year’s resolutions isn’t always easy. If we’re under stress, it’s even harder — we’re more likely to overeat and find ourselves less motivated to exercise and more susceptible to smoking, drinking and other addictive behaviors. Meditation adds a powerful engine to your New Year’s resolutions. What’s more, it’s easy!
WATCH: Dr. Mehmet Oz on the health benefits of meditation:
1. Journal of Human Stress 5(4): 24-27, 1979. Cooper M. J., et al. Transcendental Meditation in the management of hypercholesterolemia; Harefuah, Journal of the Israel Medical Association 95(1): 1-2, 1978. Cooper M. J. and Aygen M. M. Effect of Transcendental Meditation on serum cholesterol and blood pressure.
2. Archives of Internal Medicine 2006; 166:1218-1224. Maura Paul-Labrador, MPH; Donna Polk, MD, MPH; James H. Dwyer, PhD; Ivan Velasquez, MD; Sanford Nidich, PhD; Maxwell Rainforth, PhD; Robert Schneider, MD; C. Noel Bairey Merz, M. D. Effects of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation on Components of the Metabolic Syndrome in Subjects With Coronary Heart Disease.
3. American Journal of Hypertension 21 (3): 310-6, 2008. Anderson J.W., et al. Blood pressure response to Transcendental Meditation: a meta-analysis.
4. American Journal of Cardiology 95:1060-1064, 2005. Schneider R.H., et al. Long-term effects of stress reduction on mortality in persons 55 years of age with systemic hypertension.
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Several months ago, as I was riding on the New York City subway, I glanced up at the usual band of advertising that ran over the windows and noticed something unusual: a small square poster that contained the logo of the New York Public Library, along with the following quote: “If we had keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence.” From Middlemarch, by George Eliot.
I had not read Middlemarch (or any George Eliot, for that matter) and didn’t know the context, but I was immediately drawn in to this beautiful sentence, with its description of the dulled state in which most of us live and the yearning to peel back this dullness in order to experience the powerful presence of life itself. This quote struck me because I, like countless others, had briefly and partially heard this “roar”, had seen the place on the “other side of silence”, and had felt a kind of dying. These encounters showed me that there is a purposeful presence that underlies all creation, and that there is a oneness to everything. The experience of this presence is often called “mysticism,” and Eliot’s sentence is an astonishing evocation of the mystic’s journey.
All mystics share a similar understanding; that there is a presence, which goes by many names (and that I will refer to as God), that creates and animates everything, from the squirrel’s heartbeat to the spinning of galaxies, and that we can, through our own consciousness, connect to this presence, which is a deeper and truer reality than the one that most of us experience in our everyday lives. And through this encounter we are transformed.
When exploring mysticism, there are four essential questions that naturally arise:
1.How can one access this deeper reality?
2.What does this have to do with religion?
3.Is this “deeper reality” real, or just a biochemical reaction or delusional state?
4.Why should one care about accessing this deeper reality?
These are difficult questions to answer accurately (and briefly), because the mystical experience, like an aesthetic response to a painting or the pleasures of sexual union, transcends and resists words. So mystics, like poets, always talk in metaphor and allusion. For help in these answers, then, I will turn to quotes from a diverse, and perhaps unexpected, group of mystics:
1. How can one access this deeper reality?
Mystics, like Eliot, know that our usual experience of reality is dulled, incomplete or illusory. As Eliot notes, though, this dullness is actually a protection that keeps us from being overwhelmed by the power of the true nature of things. Mystics, however, yearn to lift this dullness, and to experience the force of life as directly as possible. In order to experience this we must, as Eliot writes, penetrate to the “other side of silence”. In other words, we must first quiet the constant mental chatter that dulls and distracts us, and once the mind is quieted and there is inner silence we can begin to perceive the “roar” that lies beneath. This is the meditative practice, which is the mystic’s doorway to experience God’s presence. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the early 20th century Supreme Court Justice, described this dynamic, in terms very similar to Eliot’s, with his yearning to transcend normal perception and arrive at a truer, more powerful reality: “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”
2. What does this have to do with religion?
We can — and much too often do — argue about the different teachings of various religions and their many attempts to describe the nature of God. But the true purpose of all religions is to help facilitative a connection to this deeper reality, and the mystical experience is the original spark that informs religions. Because religion often gets hijacked by those who seek power or control, we may loose sight of this mechanism, but, as Henri Bergson, the French Philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921, wrote: “Religion is to mysticism what popularization is to science.”
The mystical experience, however, is by no means limited to the realm of religion and does not require the life of a pious ascetic. And one certainly does not need religion or a proscribed belief structure in order to experience this presence. Mahatma Gandhi affirmed this with his simple aphorism, “God has no religion.”
3. Is this “deeper reality” real, or just a biochemical reaction or delusional state?
The mystical experience is, I assume, a measurable biochemical phenomenon. This does not diminish or negate it, though, because everything that we experience, from the feeling of love to the perception of the apple in front of us, is some form of biochemical reaction in our bodies. That’s how we operate. And just as we can explore the tangible qualities of the apple, we can also explore the intangible qualities of love — and of the mystical experience. Mystics know, however, that they have glimpsed only a small part of the whole, because as human beings we are limited by our five senses, our level of development, and our cognitive abilities. But their descriptions are remarkably consistent across cultures, times and places, and give us a sense of the qualities of this deeper reality, with the recognition of an omnipresent consciousness that is the actual “material” of all existence. The 17th Century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza saw this clearly, and in his treatise “The Ethics” wrote, “Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.”
Scientists who have peered deeply in to the essential nature of reality have also seen this presence. Max Planck, the founder of Quantum Physics, famously observed, “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force … We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind.”
4. Why should one care about accessing this deeper reality?
Plato addressed this question more than 2,300 years ago in his famous “Allegory of the Cave.” In this allegory, Plato imagines a cave in which people are bound motionless in front of a wall, staring at shadows of cut-out images which, lit from a fire and natural light behind them, slowly move across the wall. These people come to believe that these shadows of shadows are all that there is to reality, and debate endlessly about the nature of these fleeting two dimensional images. One man, though, is freed from his chains and stumbles to the light at the mouth of the cave. As he slowly adjusts to the brightness he is able to see the sun and feels its warmth. Plato writes, “He would understand that the Sun is the source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing.”
For the first time in his life this man experiences freedom, as he sees that he had been living in a cold dark cave, separated from his fellow prisoners and ignorant of his true nature and reality. This is an experience of God’s presence, in which the sense of separation and the desires of the ego are clearly seen as foolish and dangerous illusions that keep us bound and ignorant. The impulse to seek this presence is to know ourselves, each other and our world as clearly as possible in order to live at the highest level.
Meditation shopping? Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Yet millions of Americans are seeking tools to turn within. As a nation we’ve tried to fix our problems with everything from psychotherapy and Prozac to positive thinking and politics. Now people everywhere are ready to close their eyes and take a dive — not to escape, but to more fully be.
Having lectured on meditation for 25 years, I find that audiences no longer need to be convinced of meditation’s practical benefits. But people do often ask, “Aren’t all meditation techniques basically the same?”
Experts in the venerated traditions of meditation have always marveled at the mind’s subtlety, appreciating its keen responsiveness and sensitivity to different mental procedures. Great master teachers of meditation have recognized that the various techniques engage the mind in different ways and naturally produce different results. With advancements in neurophysiology, scientists are now identifying distinctions among varieties of meditation practices.
The Myth of the Relaxation Response
The old “scientific” myth that meditation practices all induce the same, general state of physiological rest — called the “relaxation response” — has been overturned. Though many practices provide relaxation, decades of research show that not all techniques produce the same physiological, psychological or behavioral effects.1
Recently a doctor came to me for meditation instruction. He had learned a “relaxation response” technique in a class on integrative medicine during his training at Harvard. He was attracted to meditation by the promise of deeper insight into consciousness — access to the mind’s hidden, transcendent potentialities. He enjoyed the relaxation technique but yearned for deeper experience and understanding.
Reviewing the science journals, the doctor arrived at the same conclusion reached by leading meditation researchers: the “relaxation” model was based on inconclusive evidence and had never been substantiated. Hundreds of published studies on meditation techniques show varying effects from different practices — ranging from measures of rest much deeper than the “relaxation response” to physiological states no different from sliding back into your easy chair.
The emerging paradigm: three major categories of meditation
Meditation labs have sprung up at universities across the country–places such as Yale, UCLA, University of Oregon, UW Madison and Maharishi University of Management. Their contributions have helped researchers identify three major categories of techniques, classified according to EEG measurements and the type of cognitive processing or mental activity involved:
Controlled focus: Classic examples of concentration or controlled focus are found in the revered traditions of Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Qiqong, Yoga and Vedanta, though many methods involve attempts to control or direct the mind. Attention is focused on an object of meditation–such as one’s breath, an idea or image, or an emotion. Brain waves recorded during these practices are typically in the gamma frequency (20-50 Hz), seen whenever you concentrate or during “active” cognitive processing.2
Open monitoring: These mindfulness type practices, common in Vipassana and Zazen, involve watching or actively paying attention to experiences–without judging, reacting or holding on. Open monitoring gives rise to frontal theta (4-8 Hz), an EEG pattern commonly seen during memory tasks or reflection on mental concepts.3
Automatic self-transcending: This category describes practices designed to go beyond their own mental activity–enabling the mind to spontaneously transcend the process of meditation itself. Whereas concentration and open monitoring require degrees of effort or directed focus to sustain the activity of meditation, this approach is effortless because there is no attempt to direct attention–no controlled cognitive processing. An example is the Transcendental Meditation technique. The EEG pattern of this category is frontal alpha coherence, associated with a distinct state of relaxed inner wakefulness.4
Some techniques may fall under more than one category: Guided meditation is controlled focus if the instruction is, “Hold attention on your breath.” But if the instructor says, “Now just watch your thoughts, letting them come and go,” then you’re probably doing open monitoring–and your EEG would say for sure.
Different practices, different results
Without the scientific research (or until we have a cell phone app for measuring our EEG and biochemistry), meditative states and their effects remain subjective. Brain research, along with findings on psychological and behavioral effects, gives a more objective framework for health professionals or anyone to determine which meditation technique might be most beneficial for a given purpose.
For example, research suggests that concentration techniques may improve focusing ability. A study on advanced Buddhist monks–some of whom had logged more 10,000 hours of meditation — found that concentrating on “loving kindness and compassion” increased those feelings and produced synchronous gamma activity in the left prefrontal cortex — indicating more powerful focus.
The effect of open monitoring or non-judgmental observation is said to increase even-mindedness in daily life; studies on mindfulness-type practices indicate better pain management and reduction of “negative rumination.”
For relief from stress, research suggests that an automatic self-transcending technique might serve you better than a practice that keeps the mind engaged in continuous mental effort. Because of the natural mind/body relationship, the more deeply settled the mind, the more deeply rested is the body. Studies show that the deep rest of “transcending” calms the sympathetic nervous system and restores physiological balance — lowering high blood pressure, alleviating chronic anxiety and reducing stress hormones such as cortisol.
More research is needed to verify benefits of controlled focus, but there are numerous studies on mindfulness practices and automatic self-transcending, with over 600 studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique alone.
As meditation becomes a new frontier of scientific research, more and more people are becoming aware of the mind’s enormous potential for impacting health and wellbeing. I find that most meditators are no longer concerned that a technique might come from the East or have roots in a spiritual tradition–their main concern is that the practice works, and science can help remove the guesswork.
Americans are opting for meditation to counterbalance a life that’s been plugged in, outer directed and over stimulated, and we’re turning to something as simple as our own inner silence.
Whether you’re an athlete aiming for the “zone,” an executive striving for peak performance or a harried mother needing some serenity, a reliable meditation practice can be your best friend.
1. Orme-Johnson, Walton, 1998. American Journal of Health Promotion 2(5), 297-299.
2. Lutz, Greischar, Rawlings, Ricard, Davidson, 2004. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101,16369-73.
3. Cahn, Delorme, & Polich, 2010. Cognitive Processing 2010 11(1):39-56.
4. Travis et al, 2010. Cognitive Processing 11(1), 21-30.