Could transcendental meditation help me cope better with the stresses of life?
What is transcendental meditation?
Transcendental meditation (TM) is a simple technique used by over 7m people worldwide to unlock their potential for self-healing and personal growth. The technique was founded by Indian Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1955, based on an ancient Vedic tradition, and gained fame in the West after he became the guru to the Beatles. During TM the mind transcends the surface levels of thinking, towards subtler levels of mind, and eventually reaches the underlying field of profound silence where latent abilities, such as creative talent, remain buried and hidden by stress. TM releases this stress, allowing our thinking to become clearer, faster and more effective. My workshop teacher Colin Beckley describes it as likening the mind to a choppy ocean. The waves on the surface represent activity of the conscious surface mind, while the ocean bed remains profoundly still, just like the underlying level of mind.
Why do you want to learn it?
With celebrity devotees such as Russell Brand, Oprah, Madonna, Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Clint Eastwood and Hugh Jackman singing its praises, I was curious to know more. Intrigued by all the hype, I wanted to see whether it could help reduce my stress and anxiety levels, exasperated by a long commute to work, juggling two jobs and a house move on the cards.
Stress relief aside, I am also attracted by its raft of amazing plus points. More than 700 scientific studies testify to wide-ranging benefits for treating anxiety and depression, addiction, blood pressure, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and more. And the icing on the cake? It’s claimed that TM reduces the signs of ageing. Just look at devotee Jennifer Aniston. When asked about the number one thing which has kept her looking so amazing, She said: ‘I’d say a little over a year ago I started doing TM and that’s really changed everything.’ In fact, one study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, found that long-term meditators had a biological age some 12 years younger than their chronological age.
In fact, one study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, found that long-term meditators had a biological age some 12 years younger than their chronological age.
What were your first impressions?
The three-day workshop was held by The Meditation Trust at Oxon Hoath, an idyllic country estate in Kent. I felt like lady of the manor, and immediately felt at home as I met the rest of our 15-strong group; a friendly bunch of men and women of all ages. Colin came across as wise and warm-hearted. He trained with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s organisation and has 34 years experience under his belt.
First, there was a short gratitude ceremony, called a puja, to honour the ancient roots of TM and its teachers. Then the one on one sessions began. I stood before an altar adorned with offerings of flowers, fruit, incense and candles, and I promised to surrender expectation and remain open to this new experience. Colin begins chanting a two-syllable Sanskrit mantra to me, that I ‘receive’ by chanting the same thing. This soothing primordial hum carries a vibration that encourages deep meditation.
Colin then asked me to sit comfortably in a chair, feet on the floor, eyes closed, hands in lap, and mentally repeat my mantra over and over for 20 minutes. ‘When thoughts arise, don’t resist them or attempt to clear your mind, but simply allow them to be, and return your attention to the mantra effortlessly’,’ was his advice. I felt myself sinking into a deep state of relaxation and although I was aware of noises around me, nothing penetrated the bubble of stillness shrouding me. Twenty minutes flew past and I emerged feeling drowsy yet alert, which Colin told me was a natural response to the body releasing stress. Finally, I held out my hands to receive items from the altar: a carnation flower, which represents the blossoming of my full potential, an apple, symbolising fulfillment, and a white cotton handkerchief, for purity. After just one session I feel sure that this effortless meditation is for me.
Racing thoughts soon rammed my mind, like a washing machine on a fast spin cycle. I’d expected TM to show me the ‘off’ switch and calm the noise.
How did your experience progress?
After the individual sessions, the group gathered in the Jacobean library to meditate together. Sinking into a cozy armchair, in front of a roaring log fire, I felt blissfully peaceful. But it was all too brief as racing thoughts soon rammed my mind, like a washing machine on a fast spin cycle. I’d expected TM to show me the ‘off’ switch and calm the noise, ‘I can’t do it’ I can’t do it,’ I said to Colin. ‘Can’t do what?’ Colin asked. ‘Still my mind into inner silence,’ I told him. ‘That’s not the purpose of the practice,’ Colin explained. ‘We are not attempting to stop thoughts, rather to allow them to fall naturally into silence, with no effort involved. In fact, forcing the mind is counter-productive as it increases mental activity.’ He told me I was ‘trying too hard’ and as I finally relinquished control, I did find peace in the busyness.
Throughout the weekend no two meditations were the same. Sometimes I felt wonderfully serene, my body light and buoyant, and others my monkey mind was on overdrive, head crammed with thoughts. It was a relief to learn that a busy mind is a form of stress release, which indicates that TM is working. Still, the meditations I enjoyed most are those where my mind settled down and I experienced brief moments of blissful inner tranquility.
What else did you learn?
Both days began with gentle yoga asanas known to enhance meditation by integrating the mind and the body. The poses included knee pulls, the cat and the cobra.
I also learned how to do alternate nostril breathing, known as pranayama, as a prelude to meditation. This technique balances the left and right brain, which encourages effective meditation.
I left the workshop feeling full of optimism and with a renewed zest for life. But the real benefits come afterwards.
Did you feel the benefits straightaway?
I left the workshop feeling full of optimism and with a renewed zest for life. But the real benefits come afterwards Colin explained. ‘Some people experience immediate results, others over time with prolonged practice and commitment to two 20 minute sessions per day, morning and night. After the first day, I certainly felt more relaxed, calm and centred, and that evening experienced one of the deepest, most restful nights sleep I have ever had. I found TM relaxing and gratifying, and its benefits seemed to extend long beyond the weekend.
It’s an on-going process too, after attending a workshop you receive free lifetime support. This includes access to group meetings with The Meditation Trust, as well as the opportunity to further accelerate your progress with retreats and advanced courses.
And now, six months down the line?
It wasn’t until six months later when there was a health crisis in my family that I realised just how well I coped, and it dawned on me that the dense cloak of anxiety I had been carrying around had gradually dissolved. Although it hasn’t erased all of life’s stresses, I feel more resilient and a general sense of wellbeing pervades. I am certainly less bothered by minor aggravations and am far more patient than before. I now meditate on my commute to and from work, which has made it far more enjoyable. As for slowing the ageing process, that I cannot assess, but given that benefits accelerate over time with regular practice, I am convinced that before long it will be Jennifer Aniston eat your heart out!
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact The Meditation Trust ,who offer the cheapest rates in Europe.
This article was first published in Spirit and Destiny Magazine, November 2015. All images are copyright of Spirit Destiny Magazine / Laura Ashman.