It’s ironic that in an age of advanced technology and convenient devices that are designed to make our lives easier, human beings are probably more stressed today than ever before. Due to the pressures of things such as work, family life, political issues, environmental concerns, health worries and so on, people are seeking ways to reduce stress and achieve a more balanced state of mind. When people look to and hear about meditation, they often stumble upon or come across Transcendental Meditation (often abbreviated to TM).
This popular form of meditation is practiced by many celebrities, which is probably why it’s become so well known and it’s often many people’s first experience with meditation. If you’re looking through countless lists for the best meditation to start with, it’s likely you find TM as recommendation in these lists.
However, as many people will come to see, learning TM isn’t inexpensive. While you may learn TM without paying for it, the ideal scenario would be to learn it from the official organization and from a licensed teacher. So while we’ll share what TM is and how to practice it, we’ll also offer alternatives to TM that won’t cost you a penny to learn.
What is Transcendental Meditation (TM)?
While the name itself may put some people off, there really isn’t any great mystery to it. To transcend is to rise above or go beyond, which implies some sort of super-spiritual or even supernatural effort. But in truth, this technique is very simple and quite down to earth.
The word ‘meditation’ merely means to reflect upon or contemplate. So, put together, the two words basically means to reflect beyond – or, put another way, to raise your thoughts to another level.
Transcendental Meditation works on the assumption that the natural state of being is bliss. It makes sense, when you consider it. We all desire happiness and our minds naturally seek things to make us happy. We are all seeking infinite happiness, in the end.
In the early 1960s, the enigmatic Indian sage known as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced this method to the wider world, which captured the popular imagination, the ‘zeitgeist’ of the times. He promoted the view that when we meditate, rather than controlling the mind we should allow it to seek what it naturally desires; happiness. The mind follows its natural course, going within, or transcending the body, where it spontaneously finds the bliss of being.
Many forms of meditation are popular today, each one carrying its own benefits. But TM differs from all of these in that the other methods usually try to bring the focus to the present, the now, or to guide and influence the thought process in some way to achieve a particular aim.
TM, on the other hand, though it uses mantras or sounds (usually provided by a qualified teacher), prefers to allow the mind to find its own way to that place of natural bliss without the focus on time. When the mind successfully reaches this state our entire being is greatly enriched, offering benefits that are spiritual, physical and mental.
What are the benefits of TM?
As mentioned at the start of this article, stress is a major factor in our lives today, and isn’t only unpleasant to experience in itself but also contributes to hundreds of health problems, many of them life-threatening. The negative effects of stress are familiar to most of us, and we experience the impact of this almost daily. Removing this stress, or at least reducing it, can be hugely effective in helping us to lead healthier and happier lives.
And this isn’t an exaggeration. Over the past 40 years, more than 650 separate tests have consistently shown that those who engage in TM on a regular basis experience far fewer health complications. The results have been described as ‘remarkable’ due to the overwhelmingly positive figures.
One 5 year study of around 4,000 subjects found that hospital inpatient/admissions were 50% less among people who practiced TM. For those over 40 years of age, that figure was 70%. And for each different category of illness under scrutiny, the results showed time after time that this style of meditation lowered hospital visits by between 55% to 87%.
When combined with a program of Ayurvedic healthcare, a similar study (this time for 11 years) showed a 90% reduction in hospital visits as compared to the control group who did not use Transcendental Meditation.
The benefits, then, appear to be clear; TM improves your health. It isn’t simply a way of winding down and relaxing after a hard day in the office. It is much more than that.
Health benefits of TM
The practice of TM has shown promise in dealing with symptoms or minimizing the risk of the following conditions and illnesses:
- Blood pressure problems
- Weight problems
And this list is by no means exhaustive.
If you’re wondering how it actually works, then think of it this way; your mind is filled with thoughts – between 60,000 to 80,000 every day. Your brain is buzzing with activity as you go about your business, often distracted by problems or tasks that must be done, sometimes with deadlines. Things go wrong, frequently. Then, stress builds up. When we get stressed, our body prepares us by releasing a hormone called cortisol.
Even though this is a good thing, as cortisol is essential to our fight or flight reflexes, too much stress for too long results in a flood of cortisol that damages cells in our bodies, and which can lead to serious health problems or make existing ones far worse.
Any kind of meditation can help you to relax and start to reduce the hormone to normal levels. But TM offers a simple and effective way to do this almost immediately.
The standard practice is to commit to two 20 minute sessions a day, and many people experience a general improvement in their stress levels after, or even during, the very first session.
How to do Transcendental Meditation without paying
Although it’s difficult to say just how long humans have been practicing meditation, evidence suggests that it has been taking place for at least 3,500 years – and probably far longer – with links to the Ayurveda (the Science of life) and yoga fields of thought. These teachings have been passed down the millennia, being rediscovered or adapted by societies of different ages. It’s proving popular now, for reasons we have explored above. And there ‘s no reason why you should miss out.
To do this for yourself, there are a number of options. It would be surprising if there were not a qualified TM teacher fairly close to you, but if this is the case, the internet is filled with practitioners willing to help you. There are those who will guide you through a course online, or perhaps in a series of emails or videos. Much is made of the ‘secret’ mantra words or seeds, imparted by these teachers. Rightly or wrongly, there are lists of these words available out there – it is down to the individual to decide on the ethics or the importance of this action.
Likewise, it is entirely your choice whether you pay for TM training. Fees vary widely, from small, regular payments for short courses, right up to residential courses that can cost hundreds of dollars. Again, it depends upon you, your budget and your preference.
But there are ways of learning the technique without having to pay anything at all. Which is at least worth exploring before dishing out that hard-earned cash. In fact, it might help to learn at least the basics before committing to any kind of practice or listening to anyone else who claims TM is useful. It’s always best to find out for yourself.
Step by step Transcendental Meditation practice
Basically, there is no big secret. To successfully achieve Transcendental Meditation, follow these steps:
- Take 20 minutes out of your day when you’re unlikely to be disturbed (yes, this could be tricky for some, but give it a go!). The best time to meditate is the time that works best for you.
- Make yourself as comfortable as possible, perhaps in a favorite chair. Take a good meditation posture. Don’t cross your legs or fold your arms.
- Take several deep breaths, close your eyes and start to relax your muscles, feeling them loosen.
- Open your eyes briefly, then close them and keep them closed for the 20-minute session.
- Start to repeat your chosen mantra in your mind – not aloud! (this is usually a Sanskrit sound that a TM teacher gives you, but you can choose a classic word like Ohm/Auhm or do a little research beforehand to find one that feels right to you). We’ll include a list of common TM mantras later in this article.
- You may find thoughts popping up in your mind. When this occurs, gently return to your mantra.
- Do this for 20 minutes. You may wish to set a gentle alarm. A sudden loud noise may not be the best finish to your session.
- As the session ends, slowly move your fingers and toes, easing yourself back into movement, and open your eyes.
- Sit for a few moments before launching back into your day.
And that’s all there is to it. You may think it ridiculously simple, but that is the attraction and the beauty of this technique; anyone can do this. If you feel comfortable enough, and can ignore the distractions around you, there is nothing stopping you from meditating whilst traveling, perhaps by train or by plane. Or perhaps in the office or in the local park? Though most will probably prefer the comfort and safety of their own homes, which is understandable.
Wherever you choose to engage in your sessions, there is no doubt that it will benefit you, possibly in ways you never imagined.
So, give your body, mind, and spirit the boost that it deserves. Set that time aside, just 20 minutes a couple of times a day, and watch your life change for the better.
Transcendental Meditation mantras
The purpose of the mantra is to help get you to a meditative state. It’s not entirely important to know what the mantra you choose means. In fact, it might help you more if the mantra is meaningless, so that you’re not attaching a meaning to the mantra or contemplating/thinking about the meaning as you chant it.
This is why when you are given a mantra in TM from a teacher, you’re asked not to share it with anyone. Sharing it with someone gives the mantra meaning, especially if they respond with a judgement or interpretation of the mantra.
Alternatives to Transcendental Meditation
While Transcendental Meditation is a fine meditation practice to learn and use throughout your life, we’re a bit biased here. The truth is, TM is too inaccessible to most people, because of the cost, strict rules, and the requirement of teachers.
We believe the benefits of meditation should be accessible to everyone. That’s why we created Declutter The Mind. If you’ve made up your mind on learning TM, go for it! But if you’re on the fence and are looking for something more accessible with similar or more benefits, here are a few recommendations:
Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is the practice we recommend most people learn and start with, as well as maintain throughout their lives. Mindfulness meditation is essentially the practice of not allowing yourself to become distracted. You sit, focus on your breath, and notice everything that arises in consciousness without judgement or following it with thinking.
Loving-kindness meditation: Loving-kindness meditation is a practice that allows us to generate feelings of love, empathy, and even bliss, through visualization. Much like how TM is about finding bliss, a regular loving-kindness practice can generate some euphoric feelings when practiced regularly. In addition, it helps us build more empathy to the people around us and even the rest of the world. This can help make us more patient and loving people.
If you’re seriously interested in Transcendental Meditation, start with the official organization. Remember to always come with an open mind but ensure you’re interested in learning for the right reasons.
Lately, I’ve seen many eager students interested in learning because X celebrity or Y famous person practices TM. It’s great to be inspired by people you admire, but set realistic expectations about the practice. Meditation is a way to help you live a more examined life. TM is only one form of meditative practice you can integrate in your life. Use it as a step to find the right practice for you in your journey.
Do you have experience with TM? Share your experience and let us know in the comments below.