Transcendental meditation gains popularity

Washington, Dec 10 : Transcendental meditation, introduced in the US by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after the Beatles adopted him as his guru in the sixties, is now practised by 1.5 million Americans and its disciples are steadily growing.

Practitioners say a few minutes of meditation by reciting any mantra is best to keep stress and tension away. They list many medical advantages attributed to its practice, but doctors agree that most meditation can boost one’s health.

Transcendental meditation involves sitting in a quiet place for 15 to 20 minutes and repeating a personalised mantra, typically a phrase from Hindu scriptures. The repetition allows the mind to take a break from the many stimuli around us.

“Nothing really compares to transcendental meditation,” Sally Jackson, a teacher with the Maharishi Vedic School in Falls Church, told the Washington Times.

She said it turned a person’s attentions inward to transcend thought altogether.

“Throughout the ages, there have been poets who have described this state. Transcendental meditation is a simple, reliable method for achieving the state.”

On Thursday, director David Lynch will be in Bethesda to help raise funds for a $1 billion endowment for world peace at the Maharishi Peace Palace, in Maryland state. The non-violence measure is part of the view of Yogi, who created transcendental meditation in the 1950s.

Among its high-profile followers were the Beatles who made the Yogi internationally famous after visiting his ashram in Rishikesh, in the Himalayan foothills, in the late sixties.

The process sounds deceptively simple, but Jackson insists it takes a properly trained teacher to help the uninitiated learn. The lessons aren’t cheap.

The first two and last of the seven necessary steps Jackson’s group teaches are free of charge. The remaining four steps, which include one-on-one consultations that take place over four consecutive days, cost $2,500, she said.

“It’s a significant investment for a lot of people,” Jackson said. “That’s why we give all the information beforehand… We show people all the research on transcendental meditation in the realms of health.”

Doctors generally agree that most meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rates and slow the body’s breathing.

Miriam Ratner, a clinical counsellor for the Outpatient Oncology Program at the Washington Cancer Institute, said meditative techniques helped many patients.

Ratner leads her patients into a general meditative state by having them focus on one body part at a time. She asks them to focus on any sensations in that part of the body, be it pain, tightness or any other feeling.

After about 30 minutes of scanning the body in that way, “they become inner-focused, which is what you want,” she said.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a patient whose breathing isn’t deeper, who hasn’t said, ‘I feel peaceful’,” after a meditation session.

Some of Yogi’s proponents contend that gathering together people who practice transcendental meditation can create a peaceful ripple effect that can harmonise otherwise destructive behaviours in that region.

Another meditative form akin to the technique is awareness meditation.

Nancy Harazduk, director of the Mind Body Medicine Program at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, teaches this form of meditation, also known as Vipassana meditation — meaning to see things as they really are.

“You focus on your breathing, and thoughts will come as they always do,” Harazduk said. “The idea is not to push them away. It’s to become mindful of them and let it go and come back to your breathing.”

Aur Gal, director of the Maharishi Peace Palace in Bethesda, said meditations generally fall into two categories, concentration and contemplation techniques.

“In both, the mind is kept on the surface thinking level. That is why concentration is so difficult. The nature of the mind is to move,” he said.

Marcia Corey, a naturopath with the Washington Institute of Natural Medicine, said every method of meditation has value and reaches the same goal.

“You’re focusing on clearing your mind so you can become more attentive and aware,” said Corey, who as a naturopath is trained in such non-invasive techniques as herbology, acupressure, muscle relaxation and exercise therapy.

“It eventually gets you beyond yourself. It opens up your mind to taking control of your life, of understanding your life.”

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