What It’s Like To Try Transcendental Meditation

By Nicole Brodeur The Seattle Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It costs the average person almost $1,000 to learn TM, which involves setting aside 20 minutes, twice a day, to let your consciousness sink like an anchor and tap into what physician and author Norman E. Rosenthal calls "the silent core of our own being."

SEATTLE

"They're for my TM teacher," I told the clerk as I leaned over the Safeway floral counter, watching him trim the ends off a bouquet of alstroemerias.

He looked up at me and grimaced.

"We're supposed to bring a bouquet of flowers, a white handkerchief and ... Oh! Two fruits!"

I walked over to the produce department and picked a pear and a grapefruit, then back to the floral counter, where the clerk had tied up the flowers with a ribbon.

"Good luck," he said.

I didn't need luck to do Transcendental Meditation (TM) as much as I needed to shake my skepticism and crack open my mind, and my wallet.

It costs the average person almost $1,000 to learn TM, which involves setting aside 20 minutes, twice a day, to let your consciousness sink like an anchor and tap into what physician and author Norman E. Rosenthal calls "the silent core of our own being."

But they are doing it, and in remarkable numbers: In the past year, enrollment at the Transcendental Meditation Center in Bellevue, Wash., has gone up 61 percent.

"I've been teaching since 1971," TM instructor Annie Skipper told me during a recent visit, "and I've never seen the stress levels as high as they are now."

Indeed, all around, people are anxious and divided. Driving too fast and drinking too much.

Overwhelmed by posts and links and breaking news, all the while juggling their family and financial lives.

TM promises to help people quiet their minds and, as a result, live better lives.

Skipper, 69, was one of the earliest TM teachers in the Pacific Northwest. The practice was brought to the United States by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who gained fame as the guru to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, among others.

Jerry Seinfeld practices TM. So does Ellen DeGeneres. A group of staffers from BuzzFeed signed up to meditate for two months and shed their cynicism and anxiety (and phone addiction) and felt a new calm.

TM practice has also helped veterans suffering from PTSD, women who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault, and children in low-income, urban schools.

In 1971, Skipper was living in a University District apartment with her sister, who had taken a six-month TM teacher-training class in California and came back changed.

"I thought she was too enthusiastic about TM and that it couldn't be that good," Skipper recalled. "But I saw what was happening in her life. How she was changing.

"She had a steadiness. She wasn't thrown off by the things happening around us."

Skipper trained in Majorca, Spain, then returned to Seattle to become one of its first teachers, seeing people in Kirkland until moving to the Bellevue center three years ago.

It's located in the rear of a nondescript office park. There is light through the windows, trees all around and Skipper sitting in a chair, smiling like the Mona Lisa.

On my first day, Skipper collected my flowers, fruit and handkerchief while I removed my shoes, then led me into a smaller room where we stood before a table bearing a portrait of Guru Dev (Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the spiritual leader of Jyotirmath in the Indian Himalayas) while she performed a ceremony called a "puja." She lit a candle while singing softly, and then turned to me and asked me to repeat a nonsensical phrase three times. That would be my mantra.

The mantra is individualized for each student, who is required to keep it private "to make sure they come from people qualified to teach," Skipper said.

You sit in a quiet, comfortable place, close your eyes and repeat the mantra in your head for 20 minutes, allowing thoughts to pass through, like birds across the sky, and fall into a deep state of rest.

"Your mental activity, just like the ocean, has waves at the top," Skipper explained. "As an ocean has silence at its depths, so does our mind. TM allows us to connect with that."

Your mind is alert, she said, but in a non-directed way. You have thoughts, "but not at any level of meaning."

"Any attempt to concentrate is counterproductive," Skipper said. "We're nourishing the mind and body so we don't have so much struggle and strain in life."

In the course of four 90-minute lessons, I learned to not meditate after 7:30 p.m. because TM tends to energize you. I learned that you can find a quiet place anywhere, even in an airport, and to fight off distractions like calls, texts and emails, the incessant bings and beeps that demand immediate attention. If we let them.

In a week, my mind had more clarity. I slept well and deeply. I let other drivers cut in. I spoke less, and let some things go. (These are not small things.)

TM has been the subject of several studies that support its impact on blood pressure, heart health, stress and hypertension.

The most cited is a 1989 Stanford University study that found TM is twice as effective at reducing anxiety when compared with concentration, contemplation and other techniques like deep breathing.

Moreover, the American Medical Association released a study that shows TM reduces high blood pressure and mortality rates by almost 50 percent for those who have practiced for more than five years.

The cost of TM can be prohibitive. It costs almost $1,000, split into four monthly payments of $240. There are discounts for the second person of a couple and for full-time college and high-school students. Each TM center offers partial grants or partial scholarships for those facing financial hardship. There are retreats that cost more money, but once you pay for the initial teachings, you're in for life and can go back in to tune up your practice.

There are plenty of free meditation apps, but TM is one of the few that involves specific, one-on-one teaching.

Director David Lynch started a foundation that provides TM to at-risk youth, veterans, homeless people and Native Americans _ communities that have experienced trauma.

Some have suggested TM be added to the military's basic training program because it improves resilience. Skipper wishes more companies covered TM in their wellness programs, and provided meditation rooms.

"We have an effect, not only on ourselves, but on our environment," she said. "TM people can influence people around them. They tend to be that calm, go-to person in a crisis.

"A more settled mind," she said, "is a clear mind."

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