MONTREAL – Their promise of world peace through yogic flying never caught on with voters, but the people behind the Natural Law Party of Canada are hoping to find a more receptive audience among Canadian schoolchildren.
Ashley Deans, a former leader of the defunct political party, is taking a delegation on a cross-Canada tour hoping to introduce transcendental meditation into classrooms to reduce children’s stress levels and improve learning.
During a three-hour workshop yesterday, Mr. Deans and others told about 20 Montreal-area educators how the meditation technique — made famous in the 1960s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — could help their students.
Two daily meditations sessions of 10 minutes, one at the beginning of school and one at the end, would produce smarter, more creative and more alert students, he said in an interview.
“You find that every problem you have in education gets resolved.”
And that, according to the presentation, is just the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Deans, a Canadian who is director of the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Iowa, was joined by Guy-Paul Gagne, a Montreal physician.
Dr. Gagne is an obstetrician and gynecologist, but yesterday he was focused on the brain. He showed slides explaining the function of the frontal lobe and the importance of alpha waves, then rhymed off studies he said prove transcendental mediation works.
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“This is the biggest breakthrough in education we’ve had for a very long time,” he said in an interview. He went on to say that transcendental meditation is proven to cut health care costs in half, reduce cancer and coronary deaths and has the potential to increase the average life expectancy by 23%.
The transcendental meditation movement has many critics, few more dogged than Florida’s James Randi, who took the movement to task in his book, Flim-Flam! He accuses the movement of “careful data-searching and selection of evidence.”
The workshop did not persuade all the participants. Some interviewed afterward felt they had been misled about the content, which was hosted by a group calling itself the Greater Montreal Committee for Stress-free Schools.
However Ali Temam, director of the ecoles Musulmanes de Montreal, a private Muslim school, said he was impressed by the “magnificent” program. “I strongly believe stress is one of the biggest problems in our schools,” he said.
He was unaware — because the workshop never mentioned it — that anyone wishing to practise transcendental meditation must undergo three-day training that costs $2,500.
Mr. Deans said the idea is to find donors in corporations or private foundations to cover the cost of training a class of meditators. He identified one potential donor as filmmaker David Lynch, who has created a foundation to promote transcendental meditation.
Mr. Deans held a similar meeting in Halifax last Saturday and has events planned in Ottawa tomorrow, Toronto on Thursday, and Edmonton and Vancouver next week, all part of his dream to make Canada “the country that creates world peace.” It sounds like a lofty target, but that would be underestimating the powers of transcendental meditation, he said.
“What we found in our research is that the square root of 1% of the population practising transcendental meditation in a group is sufficient to reduce the acute social stress of society as a whole,” he said. In other words, world peace could be achieved “with one or two school districts.”