What Is Transcendental Meditation? How Is It Used?

Popularized in the 1960s, Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a trademarked meditation technique that has received positive feedback from the bulk of practitioners and many celebrity endorsements. Research points to it being a net positive, although there are still some controversies surrounding it.(Learn More — Transcendental Meditation)

Some of the benefits attributed to Transcendental Meditation include its ability to help with blood pressure, chronic pain, and other physical issues. TM may help a practitioner develop a sense of self-empowerment and encourage them to take control of their health. (Learn More — Benefits of Transcendental Meditation)

At the same time, it should be noted that some claims about TM are untrue. There is a fairly large body of research making positive claims about Transcendental Meditation funded by organizations that directly benefit from TM being portrayed in a positive light. While this doesn’t mean their research is entirely inaccurate, it is likely biased. (Learn More — Controversies)

Some evidence suggests that Transcendental Meditation may potentially worsen certain psychological disorders. If you have a mental illness, talk to a doctor and Transcendental Meditation instructor before starting the practice, just to be safe.

As with all meditation, you should not use Transcendental Meditation as a substitute for traditional medical treatment. If you are sick or otherwise think you are in poor health, contact a doctor. (Learn More — Risks and Downsides of Transcendental Meditation)

Transcendental Meditation

Popularized in the United States in the 1960s, Transcendental Meditation is a meditation technique created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It is capitalized as the name and technique is a registered trademark. The technique is taught in the U.S. by the federally recognized nonprofit Maharishi Foundation USA.

The technique has received many accolades and celebrity endorsements. Notably, there is research that backs up many of its health claims. Satisfaction among practitioners tends to be fairly high.

While you should never accept positive (or even negative) claims about “healthy” practices at face value, enough legitimate research has been done to confirm the technique is of medical value. TM can help with anxiety, blood pressure, and a number of other issues discussed below.

Maharishi Foundation USA charges a fee to learn their technique over the course of four months, offering income-based pricing and a student discount. This money goes toward educational and charitable initiatives.

The practice is not without its controversies, though, and some claims have more definitive backing than others.

Benefits of Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation has a number of potential benefits, including:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Diminished chronic pain
  • Diabetes prevention
  • Decreased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Sharper memory
  • Increased learning capacity
  • Self-realization (a feeling of knowing oneself and feeling fulfilled, also called self-actualization)


Dr. Robert H. Schneider also believes that one important and often overlooked component of Transcendental Meditation, and other forms of meditation, is its ability to empower people. Adopting Transcendental Meditation encourages practitioners to actively pursue better health and to do their best to stay healthy.

Behaviors that encourage people to become more engaged with their health can help reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases. Dr. Schneider supports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s claim that most chronic diseases are preventable with self-care.

It should be noted that practitioners will not necessarily experience all of these benefits. This is especially true if you tend to dislike meditation or otherwise find you cannot calm your mind while meditating. At the same time, Maharishi Foundation USA does claim that “anyone can do it.”

While the idea that literally anyone can engage in Transcendental Meditation is a somewhat grandiose claim, it is true that meditation is not physically intense in a way that tai chi or yoga can be. People of essentially any physical ability should be able to try Transcendental Meditation.

With all these claims being made about the practice, one might assume there is only positive things to say about it. However, there is a major caveat that needs to be understood.

Controversies

When he was still alive, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi claimed he could levitate via his meditation technique and implied others could do the same. While Maharishi Foundation USA appears to have completely distanced itself from this claim, it is still noteworthy as it was completely inaccurate (although whether Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself believed it is up for debate).
Also of note, a good deal of the overwhelmingly positive research on Transcendental Meditation is self-funded by Maharishi Foundation USA and/or organizations directly connected to them.

This does not automatically mean the research obtained by these studies is without value, but it does highlight a concern about their potential bias. This is especially true when there is other research that is more middling in its interpretation of Transcendental Meditation’s benefits.

It is likely that Transcendental Meditation can provide many, if not most, of the attributed benefits. Research on meditation as a whole shows many of the claimed benefits are true of other types of meditation, so it is very possible that Transcendental Meditation has those same benefits. It is also possible, as its own unique technique, that it has some TM-specific benefits as well.

Risks and Downsides of Transcendental Meditation

If you have a psychiatric condition, it is a good idea to mention it to your doctor and Transcendental Meditation instructor before trying the practice, as some reports suggest it could worsen some psychiatric issues.

This said, satisfaction among practitioners is high, and many organizations, such as the American Heart Association, have come out in strong support of the practice. The majority of people will likely have no major problems trying Transcendental Meditation.

It should also be understood that Transcendental Meditation, as with all meditation, is not a replacement for traditional health care. Transcendental Meditation may be able to help you with certain health problems, but it should never be seen as an alternative to the opinions and prescribed treatments of a licensed doctor.

References

Transcendental Meditation. (October 29, 2017). WebMD.

What Is the TM® Technique? Maharishi Foundation USA.

TM Course Fee. Maharishi Foundation USA.

Evidence Shows Transcendental Meditation Has Real Health Benefits. (April 9, 2014). The Huffington Post.

Meditation: In Depth. (January 2, 2019). The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress. (September 18, 2019). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).

Meditation or Exercise May Help Acute Respiratory Infections, Study Finds. (July 9, 2012). The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Menopausal Symptoms: In Depth. (March 27, 2018). The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior. (April 4, 2019). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).

Conflicts of Interest Abound in NYT post on Transcendental Meditation. (June 6, 2016). HealthNewsReview.

Investigating the Effect of Transcendental Meditation on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (November 29, 2015). Journal of Human Hypertension.

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