I was at a tender age—19—when I first considered meditation. I didn’t know anyone who meditated or at least didn’t know anyone who’d told me that they meditated. It didn’t occur to me that there were books about meditation that I could read, and anyway I was vacationing in Yucatan on a semi-tropical island that didn’t have a bookstore or library. There was no internet yet (yes, I’m that old). So I used my imagination and tried meditating based on vague ideas I had about it. Mostly I stared at a selected spot on the floor and listened to my breathing. I felt nothing—or at least nothing I imagined I should feel—except tired.
From that time to the present, I have met people who have tried pretty much every kind of meditation available in the western hemisphere. Back then, the most popular meditation that was non-religious and therefore appealing to a broad population, was the Transcendental Meditation technique, brought to the west by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was followed closely by Kriya Yoga, introduced by Paramahansa Yogananda whose book Autobiography of a Yogi enchanted the hippie generation. Whereas the TM technique was effortless and a profound experience started right from the first meditation, Kriya Yoga required preliminary exercises involving breath control and concentration. Both techniques proved valuable to many people, but as the scientific research community began to study meditation, it was revealed that TM, effortless and immediate, was the one creating a wide range of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. Kriya Yoga was like an airplane but TM was like a jet. ✈
Today, because meditation teachers are not licensed by any national independent agency, like, for example, therapists are, anyone can call herself a meditation teacher. And so the listings of meditation teachers and techniques are endless, and any storefront or gym or yoga studio might offer some kind of training. It’s unfortunate, because many techniques don’t work and some can even be harmful to the mind, but worse—if a person tries one of those and finds it uncomfortable, difficult, or not producing results, they will think, “Well, I’ve tried. Meditation must not be for me.”
Famously, Oprah Winfrey tells a story about how she just couldn’t get into meditation though she tried and tried again—she wondered why she couldn’t do it as she considered herself intelligent enough to learn what so many others had learned. Then she invited TM teachers to offer a course for herself and her staff; Oprah was pleased to find that she had experiences from the start and that they all noticed fabulous benefits before the course was completed. She called TM “the kind meditation.”
Why are some techniques difficult and others not? Why do results differ in quantity and scope? The answer is that different meditation techniques engage the mind in different ways and produce different effects on the mind, body and behavior. Some techniques—in a broad category called mindfulness—involve watching your thoughts or focusing on your breathing or bodily sensations. Others employ concentration or trying to clear your mind of thoughts, which unfortunately can increase anxiety. Another common way to meditate is through visualization—ie picture your happy place, picture yourself smiling and healthy, and so on—which may keep the mind focused but also leaves it functioning in a narrow way and unfulfilled. There’s also guided meditation, contemplation or meditating for insight—these keep the mind busy and attentive on a concrete level of thought that is unsatisfying.
Fortunately for children, ADHD sufferers, veterans and others with PTSD, stressed-out students, and over-worked women who want immediate, simple and effortless relief, the Transcendental Meditation technique is unlike all of these other types of meditation—it’s a completely different process.
Transcendental Meditation is effortless: In TM, you don’t have to concentrate, focus your attention, or control your mind. In fact, effortlessness is the key to TM’s effectiveness. This is why, for example, even hyperactive ten year old children can sit and enjoy TM and experience a world of benefits. Even though TM had already been taught to more than 6 million people who experienced that it is easy to learn and practice, scientific researchers validated it; their study showing TM is, in fact, effortless, was published in 2016 in Brain and Cognition.
The mind’s experience during Transcendental Meditation is transcendental: Our minds are always busy with thoughts. Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda all day long and sometimes into the night. Meditation that engages the mind in thoughts—concentrating on some thought or contemplating one—keeps you in that superficial mental cycle. Real meditation means to induce a state of unity of your mind with the deep levels of your innermost self. That, in fact, is what the word “yoga” means—unity. Unlike other meditations that involve effort or continued perpetual thinking, TM allows you to spontaneously transcend (thus the name Transcendental Meditation) or go beyond thoughts, deep within, to enjoy a revitalizing state of restful alertness or pure consciousness. When you transcend, you access your silent reserves of energy, creativity and intelligence—infusing more and more clarity and happiness into daily life.
So if you’re one of the women who find meditation isn’t easy and isn’t fulfilling—why are you wasting your time? Learn a meditation technique that works! You’ll know it from your own experience, you’ll know it because science proved it. With TM, meditation is easy.
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.