What is Transcendental Meditation and how does it work?

Transcendental meditation is a type of meditation in which a person repeats a Sanskrit mantra, or saying, in their mind. It is an age-old practice that requires a person to take lessons from an instructor.

Hindu monk Swami Brahmananda Saraswati first popularized Transcendental Meditation in the United States through his disciple Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Some studies suggest that transcendental meditation can alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and help professional challengeslike compassion fatigue and low resilience.

However, these benefits are not unique to Transcendental Meditation. Data suggest that other types of meditation have similar effects.

In this article, we provide more details about Transcendental Meditation, including the benefits and risks and how it compares to other types of meditation. We also explain how beginners can get started in this practice.

Meditation is a practice that usually involves sitting quietly for a while to enjoy the mind, spirit, body, or all of these. The method and purpose of meditation can vary depending on the type someone is practicing.

In transcendental meditation, the goal is to reach a state of peace or “pure awareness”. It involves someone saying a mantra, which is a saying that has special meaning to them, repeatedly in their head. The traditional language of this mantra is Sanskrit.

In the mid 20th century, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, also known as Guru Dev, began to promote Transcendental Meditation. He drew on Hindu principles to create a non-religious alternative to religious meditative practices.

In the United States, his disciple Maharishi Mahesh Yogi promoted Transcendental Meditation as part of his spiritual regeneration movement.

Transcendental meditation involves silently repeating a Sanskrit mantra to yourself for brief periods on a regular basis. Usually one person will twice a day.

transcendental meditation, the organization that teaches the practice, says a person must learn through a teacher. He charges a fee to teach the practice and a meditation teacher provides the mantra.

This type of meditation does not require any special equipment, breathing or movement. Unlike other types of meditation, there is also no need for someone to try to control or monitor their thoughts. They just focus on the mantra.

A person does not need to have a specific belief system or lifestyle to practice Transcendental Meditation. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people are adopting other parallel practices, such as Ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine.

Many studies examine the benefits of meditation in general, but few focus specifically on Transcendental Meditation.

Research on meditation more generally suggests that some of the potential benefits include:

  • reduction of anxiety and stress
  • lower blood pressure
  • increased ability to tolerate pain
  • smoking cessation aid

Transcendental Meditation holds that Transcendental meditation offers several key advantages over other types of meditation. these include:

  • no mental effort
  • no special equipment
  • no religious philosophy
  • activation of alpha brain waves, which are associated with relaxation
  • cultivate a happy, relaxed and focused mental state

A little study 2018 used functional MRI to measure blood flow in the brains of 16 experienced practitioners of transcendental meditation. The study showed that participants had increased blood flow to regions of the brain associated with attention and executive functioning and decreased blood flow to regions associated with wakefulness.

This finding suggests that transcendental meditation can alter the brain in ways consistent with mindful attention and low anxiety.

A Literature review 2019 of 21 studies have identified various potential benefits of Transcendental Meditation, including:

  • reduction of anxiety and stress
  • increased feelings of well-being and pleasure
  • possible memory improvements

A little study 2019 of 27 nurses concluded that transcendental meditation might also reduce compassion fatigue, which is a type of burnout that occurs in people whose roles frequently require them to offer emotional support and empathy to others.

Nurses who practiced Transcendental Meditation saw an increase in resilience and a reduction in compassion fatigue.

There is no evidence that meditation, including transcendental meditation, can cause physical health problems, as long as a person does not meditate under inappropriate circumstances, such as while driving.

For some people, however, meditation can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. A 2017 survey of 342 people who meditate found that 25.4% of participants had experienced at least one adverse effect, such as:

  • anxiety symptoms
  • physical pain
  • dizziness
  • depersonalization, which is when someone feels disconnected from themselves, as if they see themselves from outside their body
  • derealization, which is when someone feels disconnected from their surroundings

In most cases, these side effects were temporary.

People who experience unpleasant side effects while meditating may want to consider a different meditation technique or try taking a break. It may be beneficial to speak to a mental health professional if the feelings persist.

Individuals willing to try Transcendental Meditation need to find a certified teacher. Indeed, according to the traditional method, a person must receive his specific mantra from a teacher. They should also practice repeating this mantra in Sanskrit under the guidance of the teacher.

However, it is possible to try a style of meditation similar to Transcendental Meditation at home. To do this, a person must choose a word or phrase to use as a mantra. In a calm, quiet place, seated in a comfortable position, they should repeat the word while concentrating on it.

People with busy schedules may consider setting a timer at the start of their practice. Regularity is an important aspect of the practice, so it can be helpful to meditate at the same time each day.

In addition to transcendental meditation, a person can try other types of meditation. Options include:

  • Compassion-Based Meditation: This approach focuses on promoting loving and caring thoughts towards others or oneself, often using visualization or mantras. It is also known as benevolence meditation. A study 2021 suggests that this approach can help foster empathy and promote prosocial behavior.
  • Mindfulness meditation: This approach focuses on awareness and thoughtful attention to the present moment, often by encouraging breathing, noticing one’s surroundings, and performing grounding exercises. A study 2021 found that it can reduce emotional distress and distracting thoughts.
  • Yogic meditation: Yoga mixes controlled breathing with movements and poses. This can relieve both emotional distress and certain types of physical pain.
  • Zen meditation: Zen meditation is inspired by Zen Buddhism. It involves sitting in a specific position and regulating the breath to cultivate mindfulness. It may provide similar benefits to other types of meditation.

Transcendental meditation is a specific approach to meditation that requires a person to repeat a Sanskrit mantra in their head. Unlike other types of meditation, it does not involve trying to control thoughts. However, to receive a mantra, a person must work with a teacher.

The practice may provide benefits similar to other types of meditation, such as reducing anxiety and stress. However, as with other forms of meditation, it is also possible to experience negative emotions and sensations.

Transcendental meditation may be easier than other types of meditation for some people, but because it requires a teacher, it may be less accessible. People can try different techniques to see which works best for them.

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