A year ago I was unhappy with the direction of my life. I was out of shape, overtired, and depressed. I was merely going through the motions of waking, working and sleeping. When I was awake, I was not fully “present.” I was experiencing financial issues, personal and professional issues.
Once a week my family and I would dine at a restaurant at which time we would always walk past a building that housed a Transcendental Meditation Center. Signs hung in the window extolling the benefits of this mysterious (to me) practice. For months, I ignored these signs. Late one night I navigated to the website for this Transcendental Meditation Center. The website was bright and filled with easy-to-read information, videos and testimonials of everyday people, along with athletes, celebrities and well-known business professionals.
I watched the videos, I read all the testimonials and the FAQs. It sounded easy and it sounded like something that could help and make a change in my life. I certainly had nothing to lose. I reached out to the Transcendental Meditation Center and asked to visit and chat. A response came quickly and within a few days, I visited the center to meet with the Director, who listened to me and asked several questions. Things like “What is going on in your life?”, and “What are you seeking to change or achieve?” I described the issues I was facing and how I was feeling physically and mentally. I was told — just as it is expressed on the website — that Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural, effortless technique practiced 20 minutes twice each day. Surely, I could manage that. I had communicated to the Director that my mind was always racing. It never quieted — even when I was asleep. The Director told me that the meditation technique allows the active mind to easily settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until I would experience the most silent and peaceful level of my awareness. The Director told me that the benefits of Transcendental Meditation (known widely simply as “TM”), included a reduction of stress and anxiety, improved brain function and improved cardiovascular health. All positives for me.
There was no sales pitch and no pressure of any kind. The Director gave me a brief lecture on the history of TM, more about its benefits and about how it could improve my life. The TM center’s walls were spiritually decorated with pictures of what appeared to be an Indian guru. I learned that the TM technique was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi over 50 years ago and has been learned by more than six million people. Additionally, it can only be taught by certified TM teachers in a course carefully personalized for each individual. This aspect was particularly attractive to me. I did not want to learn this in a group setting. While I was seeking a bit of spirituality, I was momentarily skeptical about all the imagery of the Indian guru. I learned that TM is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle and that no belief or expectation is needed for it to be effective. Although not a deciding factor for me, but certainly a plus, there are hundreds of published research studies on the TM technique that have documented its effectiveness on stress and anxiety, brain function, cardiovascular health, and more. After all this, I decided to enroll. Training encompassed classes on 4 consecutive days with each class lasting about an hour and a half to 2 hours. Day 1 featured a very short spiritual ceremony in which my instructor gifted me my meditation “mantra,” a two-syllable word that means absolutely nothing to me. The rest of Day 1, along with Days 2–4 consisted of in-depth teaching about the practice of TM and included guided meditation sessions with the instructor. I found the TM technique very easy to learn and the personalized interactive guidance to be a valuable and enjoyable part of the learning process. Practicing TM is a simple and unrigid procedure. I don’t need to try to clear my mind and block out all thoughts. Sitting in a certain way or placing my hands in a specific place is not required. If I need to scratch my nose during the mediation, I scratch it. If I need to shift in my seat, I do so. None of these actions interfere with my meditation.
As stated, all the Indian imagery gave me pause when I first visited the TM center. I recently read an article from an authority on cults who proclaimed TM to be a cult. Apparently “some” people get incredibly immersed in the practice of TM and go on to spend an inordinate number of hours in the meditation. This cult expert proclaimed that this type of constant practice can have negative effects. I guess that would not surprise anyone. A lot of things that are beneficial in small amounts or moderation can have negative effects if taken to extremes. I can emphatically state that I saw no evidence of TM as a cult. This same cult expert states in his recent article that followers of TM are “taught to revere the guru as a god-like master.” I don’t think so. Sure, there is mysticism surrounding the practice but for me, it meant nothing, and I simply practice TM for the wellness benefits I receive from it. Although I do receive informative emails from the TM organization periodically, the TM instructors do not care if I ever practice TM or if I ever again visit a TM center. I do have a “lifetime membership” to stop into any TM Center in the world any time if I choose to do so.
There are many types of meditation and mindfulness practices. I am not pitching TM and I am quite sure there are other types of meditation that have wonderful benefits for those who practice them. TM does get some criticism for charging for its training and its “secretiveness.” I paid for the training. It was worth it. Some blogs and videos can be found online where people rant about the price of TM training and that it should be free, and it can be learned without paying the fee. Perhaps it can. For me, the benefit of the one-on-one training was completely worth it for the benefit I received. The TM organization is a non-profit entity but rent needs to be paid at the training centers and the instructors need to earn a salary. That said, TM offers a sliding scale for payment of its fees based on your income, and the fee is payable over 4 months. Scholarships are also available.
What I liked about learning TM:
• If you are skeptical, as I was, the technique works no matter that you are skeptical
• Practicing TM involved no concentration or focus on my part
• I did not have to exert effort or fight to control or clear my mind of thoughts
So, what has TM done for me in the past year that I have been practicing?
Am I a completely different person one year later? No. Am I physically and mentally improved? I feel that I am. I meditate twice a day, every day. I enjoy it immensely and it makes a difference in my day and my life overall. I have lost a substantial amount of weight in the past year. My weight loss is not solely attributable to TM but my mindset has changed for the better and my level of positivity has given me enhanced incentive to change my eating habits and hit the gym regularly. As a result, my blood pressure has significantly decreased, and my cholesterol level has improved so that I no longer need to take the blood pressure and cholesterol medications. For me, that’s a significant win. Furthermore, I am calmer and more patient. My anxiety level has decreased substantially. TM has provided me with a tool that allows me to deal with the curve balls life throws in a more controlled and positive manner.