Two recent studies have demonstrated that meditation reduces heart attacks, strokes and hypertension. Many past studies have shown health benefits of meditation, including decreased depression, anxiety and improved sleep and ability to handle stress. These two studied the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique. I have posted the NY Times report about the studies and abstracts of them below.
Here’s a little bit about TM from Wikipedia:
The Transcendental Meditation technique, or TM technique is a form of mantra meditation introduced in India in 1955 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1917-2008). It is reported to be the most widely researched and one of the most widely practiced meditation techniques in the world today. Taught in a standardized seven-step course by certified teachers, the technique involves the use of a sound or mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day, while sitting comfortably with closed eyes.
In 1957, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began a series of world tours during which he introduced and taught his meditation technique. In 1959, he founded the International Meditation Society and, in 1961, he began to train teachers of the Transcendental Meditation technique. From the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, both the Maharishi and the TM technique received significant public attention in the USA, especially among the student population. During this period, a million people learned the technique, including well-known public figures. . . .
Beginning in 1968, a number of celebrities such as Donovan, The Beatles, members of the The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Doug Henning, Clint Eastwood, Deepak Chopra, Andy Kaufman, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow, Shirley MacLaine, Joe Namath, Stevie Wonder, and Howard Stern . . .
The Beatles, of course, were the most famous of these. They stayed at the Maharishi’s ashram in India for more than 8 months from August of 1967 to April of 1968. A well known riff developed btwn them, causing the Beatles to leave. The time spent with the Maharishi was a prolific one for the Beatles. The Maharishi helped them to get off LSD: Lennon had a heavy user. While they were with him, and after they returned to England the Beatles wrote and recorded the 30 songs on the double “White Album”.
The hallmark of the TM technique is it’s reliance on an mantra or sacred sound. From Wiki:
During the initial personal instruction session, the student is given a specific sound or mantra. The sound is utilized as a thought in the meditation process, allowing the individual’s attention to be directed naturally from an active style of functioning to a less active or quieter style of mental activity.
An important distinction between the Transcendental Meditation technique and other practices that involve mantras is in the way the mantra, or sound, is used. In Transcendental Meditation the mantra is not chanted—either verbally or mentally, but is instead a vehicle on which the attention rests.[19
According to Russell, the sounds used in the Transcendental Meditation technique are taken from the ancient Vedic tradition. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains that the selection of a proper thought or mantra “becomes increasingly important when we consider that the power of thought increases when the thought is appreciated in its infant stages of development”. William Jefferson in The Story of the Maharishi, explains the importance of the “euphonics” of mantras. Jefferson says that the secrets of the mantras and their subsequent standardization for today’s teachers of the technique were unraveled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after his years of study with his own teacher, Guru Dev (Brahmananda Saraswati) so that selection is foolproof, and that the number of mantras from the Vedic tradition, which could number in the hundreds, have been brought by Maharishi to a minimum number. . .
In 1975, Time Magazine reported that each TM meditator is instructed to keep their mantra private. Each TM teacher assigns each student’s mantra based on a formula that is presumed to include temperament and profession. The article says that there are 17 mantras. In his 1997 book, The Sociology of Religious Movements William Sims Bainbridge wrote that the mantras given for Transcendental Meditation are “supposedly selected to match the nervous system of the individual but actually taken from a list of 16 Sanskrit words on the basis of the person’s age”.
The 1995 expanded addition of Conway and Siegelman’s Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change describes a teacher of Transcendental Meditation who says: “I was lying about the mantras — they were not meaningless sounds they were actually the names of Hindu demigods – and about how many different ones there were — we had sixteen to give out to our students”. In the 1977 court case Malnak vs. Yogi (see below), an undisputed fact in the case was that the mantras are meaningless sounds.
In a speech the Maharishi gave in Kerala, India, in 1955, he mentions a connection between the mantras and personal deities and occasionally similar references can also be found in his later works. More commonly, the Maharishi describes the mantras as working automatically.
Jonathan Shear in his book The Experience of Meditation: Experts Introduce the Major Traditions, characterizes the mantras used in the TM technique as independent of meaning associated with any language, and are used for their mental, sound value alone. A 2009 article published in the International Journal of Psychophysiolgy says that “unlike most mantra meditations, any possible meaning of the mantra is not part of Transcendental Meditation practice”.
In his book Alternative Religions: A Sociological Introduction, author Stephen Hunt says that the mantra used in the Transcendental Meditation technique has no meaning but that the sound itself is sacred.
I don’t believe that you must do the TM technique to gain health benefits from meditation. In fact, a current patient has a 15y history of hypertension. After 4-6 weeks of guided meditation she saw her blood pressure return to normal during a period of high stress.
The important thing is to begin a regular practice. In the beginning, the discipline of sitting regularly and listening to the mind chatter is difficult. But if you stick with it, you’ll find in time the mind will calm. This can take years, but you will reap the rewards of your continued effort.
Commonly breath meditation is done, where one focuses on the in and out breath as a mechanism to calm the mind. Especially worriers and those experiencing much stress and anxiety have particular difficulty with this because the mind chatter and dramas continue to play. For those people I recommend beginning with a guided meditation recording, or even just beginning by listening to quiet, relaxing music and concentrating on the notes and sounds.
Over time, one works through the disturbing memories and emotions that come up during meditation and begins to tire of the repetitive tape of the mind chatter. Then one becomes more able to reject the drama of the mind and increases the ability to quiet the mind. This process can take years, but the effort is worthwhile. Once mastered, meditation becomes a way to leave the daily stresses and come into a calm peaceful state of mind. I have found that more regular meditation helps to keep the mind calm. I notice a difference when meditating twice a day verses once daily, or between daily meditation and meditating several times a week or weekly.
If you have difficulty developing the discipline of the practice, you might seek out a group of mediators in your area to sit with. Wednesday nights seems to be a common meeting time for meditation and spiritual groups. KB
Here’s the NY Times article about the TM studies on reducing heart attacks:
Here’s the one of the studies sited in the Times article presented at the American Heart Association: