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A Guide to Transcendental Meditation: What It Is and How It Works

Whether at home, school, or the office, transcendental meditation can help you stay centered.

Aeriform/Getty Images
Aeriform/Getty Images

Transcendental meditation has been in the news a lot lately. A recent study in the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development notes that transcendental meditation helped a group of nurses fight compassion fatigue and improve resilience after four months of practice. Another recent study in Psychological Reports found that practicing transcendental meditation twice a day was an effective coping mechanism for students suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. New York Times columnist Marisa Meltzer recently tried out TM too, and has since incorporated the practice into her daily routine.

What Is Transcendental Meditation?

But what is transcendental meditation, and how is it so successful among nurses, students, and journalists alike? On its most basic level, transcendental meditation is a “simple mental technique” in which individuals sit upright with their eyes closed, and the mind focused inward, for at least 20 minutes, twice a day. Studies discuss how transcendental meditation is seen as effortless, as it does not require strict concentration, unnatural or unusual postures, or drastic changes in lifestyle. The practice is said to have been developed by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and is now taught by the David Lynch Foundation in an effort to combat trauma amongst at-risk populations. Meltzer says in her column that transcendental meditation was first introduced in the United States when Yogi taught the practice to The Beatles. Now, it is becoming even more mainstream as a simple and adaptable way to maintain mindfulness.

Health Benefits of TM

The David Lynch Foundation says transcendental meditation “allows the active thinking mind to settle inward to experience a naturally calm, peaceful level of awareness.” Instead of focusing on a specific thought and monitoring breath as one would in other meditation techniques, those practicing transcendental meditation go through a process of “automatic self-transcending” to experience a deep level of calmness. “Those who practice transcendental meditation regularly are less likely to get stress-related cardiovascular illnesses, such as heart attack and stroke. Transcendental meditation may reduce stress by stilling the sympathetic nervous system, which governs fight or flight responses. It is easy to see how this can help burnout, which results not only from daily work stress but also from our responses to those stresses,” Norman Rosenthal, M.D., a psychiatrist and professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, tells Thrive Global.

How to Try TM Yourself

Transcendental meditation is an ideal practice for professionals with busy schedules because it is not terribly time-consuming and can be practiced at home, in the workplace, or even during your morning commute.

To incorporate TM into your own daily routine, Rosenthal recommends meditating in the morning right after you brush your teeth. “By not allowing other activities to bump transcendental meditation off your schedule, and by pairing it to an established habit, you increase the likelihood of doing it,” he says. Rosenthal also recommends scheduling your second meditation session into your early evening calendar, and treating it like an appointment that needs to be taken seriously. When you feel too overwhelmed by other tasks to meditate, remember that it is actually a tool to make those tasks easier and more enjoyable. “As the afternoon approaches, you will be tempted by many distractions to overlook your transcendental meditation,” Rosenthal says. “Remind yourself that if you do your transcendental meditation first, all other tasks will become easier.”

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