Transcendental Meditation


Transcendental [tran-sen-den-tl] Meditation (TM) refers to a specific form of mantra meditation (consciousness training aided by inner chanting) first introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Hindu spiritual teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918–2008). The Maharishi taught thousands of people during a series of world tours from 1958 to 1965, expressing his teachings in spiritual and religious terms.

TM became more popular in the 1960s and 1970s, as he shifted to a more technical presentation and his meditation technique was practiced by celebrities (notably the Beatles). At this time, he began training TM teachers and created specialized organizations to present TM to specific segments of the population such as business people and students. By the late 2000s, TM had been taught to millions of people, and the worldwide TM organization had grown to include educational programs, health products, and related services.

The TM technique involves the use of a sound or mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day. It is taught by certified teachers through a standard course of instruction, which costs a fee that varies by country. According to the Transcendental Meditation movement, it is a method for relaxation, stress reduction, and self-development. Varying views on whether the technique is religious or non-religious have been expressed including by sociologists, scholars, and a New Jersey court case (in 1977 a US district court ruled that a curriculum in TM being taught in some New Jersey schools was religious in nature and in violation of the First Amendment; the technique has since been included in a number of educational and social programs around the world).

The Transcendental Meditation technique has been described as both religious and nonreligious, as an aspect of a new religious movement, as rooted in Hinduism, and as a non-religious practice for self-development. Some state that participation in TM programs does not require a belief system and is practiced by people from a diverse group of religious affiliations including atheists and agnostics. The TM movement has been characterized in a variety of ways and has been called a spiritual movement, a new religious movement, a millenarian movement, a world affirming movement, a new social movement, a guru-centered movement, a personal growth movement, a religion, and a cult. The public presentation of the TM technique over its 50-year history has been praised for its high visibility in the mass media and effective global propagation, and criticized for using celebrity and scientific endorsements as a marketing tool.

The Maharishi Effect is the paranormal belief that a significant number of individuals practicing TM can have dramatic effects on the environment. This hypothetical influence was described by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s and was later termed the ‘Maharishi Effect’ as a result. With the introduction of the TM-Sidhi program (an advanced module) in 1976, it was proposed that the square root of one percent of the population practicing the program, together at the same time and in the same place, would increase ‘life-supporting trends.’ This was referred to as the ‘Extended Maharishi Effect.’ Evidence that TM practitioners believe support the existence of the effect has been shown to lack a causal basis include cherry picked data, and to result from believers’ credulity.

TM is one of the most widely practiced, and is among the most widely researched meditation techniques, however, it is not possible to say if it has any effect on health as the research to date is of insufficient quality. The first studies of the health effects of Transcendental Meditation appeared in the early 1970s. Physiologist Robert Keith Wallace, the founding president of Maharishi University of Management, published a study in ‘Science’ in 1970 reporting that TM induced distinct physiologic changes and a novel state of consciousness in practitioners. Independent researchers were unable to replicate his findings, instead finding that TM was biologically indistinguishable from simply resting, and that TM practitioners spent much of their meditation time napping rather than in the unique ‘wakeful hypometabolic state’ described by Wallace. By 2004 the US government had given more than $20 million to Maharishi University of Management to study the effect of meditation on health.

Most independent systematic reviews have not found health benefits for TM exceeding those of relaxation and health education. A 2013 statement from the American Heart Association said: ‘The overall evidence supports that TM modestly lowers BP [blood pressure]’ and that TM could be considered as a treatment for hypertension, although other interventions such as exercise and device-guided breathing were felt to be more effective and better supported by clinical evidence. A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis funded by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that mantra meditation programs such as TM had no benefit with regard to psychological stress or well-being, although the quality of scientific evidence on TM was poor as a whole. The American Cancer Society has stated that ‘available scientific evidence does not suggest that meditation is effective in treating cancer or any other disease; however, it may help to improve the quality of life for people with cancer,’ adding that ‘Research shows that meditation can help reduce anxiety, stress, blood pressure, chronic pain, and insomnia’ and that ‘Most experts agree that the positive effects of meditation outweigh any negative reactions.’

2 Comments to “Transcendental Meditation”

  1. I’d say that the Maharishi Effect predicts that there will be *measurable* effects on the environment. A drop in crime-rate of a few percentage points isn’t very dramatic, but it IS important if it really happens due to the claimed effect of meditation.

    And one man’s cherry-picked data is another man’s careful statistical analysis. People that want to believe, will automatically believe. People that don’t want to believe will accept even the most poorly-thought-out criticism as completely refuting the studies. The fact is that no-one ever took the studies seriously enough to attempt to replicate them, and the purported refutations were done by people who weren’t really taking the study seriously enough in the first place to do the math and show why the study was invalid.

  2. Hmmmm, I’m not entirely sure all your facts are straight…but I will say this. My personal experience with TM these last 10 years of regular practice has been overall a very beneficial one. I have experienced greater overall health and well being, a strong sense of connection to life and the people in it and an experience of a growth in consciousness. At the end of the day it is up to the individual to choose a meditation practice (or not) that works for them, and to either continue it or not. The benefits for me are beyond measuring. If it helps me move through my day and life with a bit more ease, with less stress and a little more creative juice – that is a success in my book.

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