Transcendental Meditation

What Is It?

Transcendental Meditation is a type of mantra meditation, that finds its roots in Northern India. A single word, or “mantra”, is repeated for 15–20 minutes, twice a day. In this way one “transcends” normal thoughts, and rests in a pure state of mind, that is supposed to be the true source of joy.

Transcendental meditation is one of a group of meditations known as a “non-directive” meditation. These are called “non-directive” because you are not trying to do or achieve anything when meditating. You simply follow the steps, and it works.

The Transcendental Meditation Movement

The offical Transcendental Meditation (“TM”) movement was popularised by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (“The Beatles’ Maharishi”), who spread his easy to learn method internationally, in the 1950s – 2000s. It remains popular today, and celebrity followers of this technique include Jerry Sinefeld, David Lynch, and many others.

A lovely description of TM’s benefits was recorded at a coffee shop between Jerry Sinefeld and Howard Stern:

Whilst very accessible, and effective in both reducing stress and increasing happiness, the official movement has not been without its critics. High course fees, and the way it has dealt with dissenters in its own ranks, have been noted. (It should be pointed out that there is a charity – the David Lynch Foundation – which covers fees for disadvantaged students.)

The Transcendental Meditation movement encourages learning one-on-one with an officially trained teacher, which you can book through www.tm.org. As such, unlike other guides we will not present true “Transcendental Meditation” here. Amongst its differences, TM gives each person a “personal” mantra (taken from a shortlist) that should kept secret. It also has more advanced practices, called the TM-Sidhi program, that are available to advanced students.

Instead, we will outline below a general type of meditation that TM is most closely related to.

Non-Directive Techniques

In recent decades, an interest in this general style of meditation has become more popular. Ex TM students have set up their own free (or reduced cost) versions of non-directive meditation. Scientists have developed open source techniques they can use for research. Others have developed and discussed similar types of meditation practices on online forums.

What follows is typical advice for giving generic, non-directive meditation a try. Use it to see if this type of meditation is for you, and how it differs from some of other techniques.

Non-Directive Mediation’s Effects

Practitioners who use non-directive meditation report some of the following:

  • Increased happiness, occurring spontaneously throughout the day. Some report almost euphoric feelings of joy, for extended periods. One partner of a practitioner described her boyfriend as “enviably blissful”. (Note, you may have periods of joy and periods without it. You should not “hunt joy” as the goal of this meditation. This happens for complex reasons, and you risk abandoning the practice – and its more important aspects – if it is absent.)
  • Improved energy, akin to drinking a shot of coffee. Jerry Sinefeld describes his TM practice like charging his phone
  • Reduced stress
  • Help with depression and anxiety
  • A greater familiarity with the part of the mind that work without conscious thought or effort.

Scientists have noted that repeating almost any word whilst simultaneously relaxing the conscious mind activates two different parts of the brain at the same time. These areas usually alternate between “on” and “off”, depending on if you are sleeping or waking. Activating them simultaneously produces a special type of wave activity in the brain.

Time of Day, and Length

In the morning and afternoon, set aside 15 or 20 minutes to practice. The general advice is 20 minutes. However, feel free to go with the ebb and flow of your life (10 minutes one day, then 18 minutes the next).

The morning session is generally just after you wake up. The afternoon session is generally around 3 or 4pm (your low energy time, when you might normally need coffee, or a nap).

(Due to its energising effects, it is recommended that you do not meditate before wanting to sleep.)

Start by sitting up straight, as if you are balancing a book on your head, but relaxed. You can sit on a chair, or crossed legged on a cushion, if you prefer. This is one of the few instructions that is insisted on.

Sit quietly, with the eyes closed, for 30 seconds. This settles you and prepares you for your meditation session.

Slowly begin to repeat the mantra in your head, until an alarm or clock tells you that the time is up.

The Mantra and How to Use It

Originally in India only one or two mantras were used. Select one of the mantras below, and see if one works for you:

LAM (pronounced “larm”, rhyming with “alarm” or “balm”)

RAM (pronounced “rahm”, rhyming with “balm” or “arm”)

IEMA (pronounced “eye-mah”, two syllables that are nevertheless pleasing to hear)

To get a sense how to use the mantra, begin by repeating it slowly, out loud. Then, gradually reduce the volume, until you are whispering it. Continue decreasing its volume until you hear it merely as a voice in your head. This last point is what you should continue in your meditation. (You will probably only need this introductory steps until it becomes automatic.)

As you repeat your mantra, remember the only thing you need to do is remember that there is nothing to do! This technique works if you believe it or not.

You can meditate badly or well, be distracted or not, scratch your nose if it itches, or sit perfectly still. You can even fall asleep, and wake to resume your practice. All of this does not make much difference. This meditation’s effects happen unconsciously, and are felt after the meditation session.

You don’t have to pronounce the mantra clearly, control your thoughts, or make a special rhythm. It should just be a faint idea that continues. If a thought comes, don’t try to push it away. If we become aware that we are not thinking the mantra, then we quietly come back to the mantra, without effort.

Trust in the technique, it is a very natural and forgiving practice. Judge its effects not by what happens when meditating, but what happens outside of it.

Finishing the Meditation

However long you meditate for, it is suggested that you stop the mantra and remain in a quiet, meditative state for two minutes afterwards. Again, you can be flexible with the time, but this helps settle your practice and bring you slowly into daily life. (Some practitioners have reported this as the most important time of the practice.)

If you would like more, here are some resources.