Transcendental Meditation 101: How To, Origins, Benefits & More

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Transcendental meditation (TM) is a style of meditation that uses the silent repetition of a mantra as its focus. The great thing about this style of meditation is that it doesn’t involve trying not to think.  It’s not about pushing thoughts away, and it’s not about stilling the mind.

Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi this non-dogmatic meditation technique is accessible for all.

In this article we’ll take a look at:

  • What is transcendental meditation?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How to do transcendental meditation
a womans hand in a mudra as she meditates

Transcendental Meditation overview

The transcendental meditation technique is, first and foremost, simple. It is a short twenty-minute meditation performed twice a day that can be done by anyone. From major celebrities to the average Joe, this Transcendental Meditation technique is practiced by millions.

First gaining popularity in the 1960s, Transcendental Meditation is a style of meditation that has been shown to help people with anxiety and stress as well as other health conditions.

Who is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

“Life finds its purpose and fulfilment in the expansion of happiness.”

– Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died in 2008. There are very few details surrounding his birth, but it is speculated that he was born in 1917. He was a student of physics at Allahabad University and received his degree in 1942.

He is said to have learned the meditation technique from his teacher Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (also known as Guru Dev). He developed Transcendental Meditation into an organization in 1957, and in 1959 he began his first of many world tours.

“He had three main aims: to revive the spiritual tradition in India, to show that meditation was for everyone and not just for recluses, and to show that Vedanta is compatible with science.”

Philip Goldberg, American Veda

He devised a training program to better disseminate the teachings globally. More than 40,000 people are trained as Transcendental Meditation teachers. You can find out if there is a certified teacher near you via the Transcendental Meditation website.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi found fame during the 1960s and 1970s as celebrities such as the Beatles became interested in Transcendental Meditation. Other celebrities who practice this style of meditation include David Lynch, Tom Hanks, Hugh Jackman, and Jennifer Aniston.

photo of maharishi mahesh yogi
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement”, byDr Jean Fortunet  licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

What are the different types of meditation?

Meditation comes in many forms. It can be as simple as watching the inhale and exhale.  Meditation is not a new technique but has a rich and varied history. Some of the more popular approaches include:

  • Focus-based meditation – This approach requires the practitioner to focus on one thing, such as a mantra.
  • Mindfulness meditation – This is usually a practice based on watching the breath or scanning the body.
  • Open monitoring mediation – This is where you are aware of everything around you, and you notice things without reacting.

What is Transcendental Meditation?

Transcendental meditation is generally learned from a certified instructor, but the basic principles can be learned by anyone.

Transcendental Meditation differs from other types of meditation. It is not about clearing the mind or present-moment awareness. The whole Transcendental Meditation technique is based on the repetition of a single mantra. The mantra is usually assigned by a certified teacher. Mantras vary for each person.

So how does Transcendental Meditation differ from other styles of meditation? Apart from specifically using a mantra Transcendental meditation asks you to not try and control your thoughts. The mantra is a tool to enable you to settle the mind

This style of meditation doesn’t ask you to empty the mind of thoughts. Thoughts should come and go as naturally as possible.

four people meditate on a deck

How to do Transcendental Meditation

Teachers recommend that you practice for twenty minutes twice per day. Students are required to sit in a comfortable seat, relax and focus on their breath. Then the repetition of the mantra is performed. If you have not been assigned a mantra, then a simple “om” will suffice.

This simple technique is great for busy minds, and as it can be done in two sittings throughout the day, it is often a lot more doable for people than finding a forty-minute chunk of time. It really is a practice for everyone.

Benefits of Transcendental Meditation

There have been many studies on the benefits of Transcendental Meditation embracing both the physical and mental. Reported benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique include:

  • Overall improved mental and physical well-being
  • Improved brain function
  • Relief from stress and anxiety
  • Improvements in insomnia
  • Relief from depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Improvements in attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders
  • Improvements in pain management
  • Development of concentration
  • A decrease in the symptoms of menopause
  • A decrease in the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Improving self-esteem
a woman meditating against an orange sunset

What happens in Transcendental Meditation?

While books and videos can give an overview of the practice it is believed that learning how to do Transcendental Meditation should come from a  certified teacher.

The method is learned over the course of four sessions (usually over four consecutive days). 

The first session is a one-on-one session with the teacher where you will receive your mantra.  The mantra is for you alone and should not be shared with anyone.  The teacher will spend time going through how to use the mantra and how to meditate.

The remaining sessions tend to be in a small group and inform you further on how to use your mantra in the context of meditation.

Once you have undertaken this initial training, follow-up sessions with certified teachers are available at no extra cost.

The course fee varies from country to country and is based on individuals’ earnings. It can seem a little more pricy than other mediation classes but once you’ve learned the technique there is no further cost. Prices in the USA start from $135 for 4 months.

a group of four people doing transcendental meditation on a rock

What Mantra Do You Use During Transcendental Meditation?

Ideally you should receive your mantra from a certified teacher but if that’s not possible you can choose your own.

The object of focus within Transcendental Meditation is the mantra. This word or phrase is repeated throughout the twenty-minute meditation.

The mantra should be something that you will remember and something that you don’t attach meaning to. A good place to start, as previously mentioned, is “om”. You don’t want the mantra to take you out of meditation and into thinking.

How to Practice Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation is a great approach to meditation for those who think that they “can’t” meditate or for those who think their mind is too busy. Now let’s look at how to do Transcendental Meditation.

  • Find a quiet and calm space to practice. Some people like to create a designated space or an altar.
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes – insight timer has a good one to use. Be mindful of using an alarm as you don’t want anything abrupt to bring you out of your meditation.
  • Sit in a comfortable position, such as cross-legged on the floor or sitting in a chair toward the edge of the seat so that the spine is unsupported and upright. Make sure you are comfortable but avoid a position where you might fall asleep.
  • Bring your attention to your breath and let it fall into an easy natural rhythm. Take five to ten slow breaths and feel the sensation of breathing. Let the breath be easy.
  • Relax your body. It might be worth considering a brief body scan at this point – especially if you are feeling tense. Systematically scan from the toes all the way up to the head and notice any sensations within the different body parts. It is important that there is no judgment in the body scan. Approach all areas of the body with neutrality and not with pleasure or pain.
  • Repeat your mantra silently.
  • If and when your mind wanders away, bring it back to the mantra without judgment.
  • Focus on the mantra. Remember that the mantra should be simple, easy to remember and not distracting.
  • Repeat the mantra in a gentle and pulsating way. It’s almost as though the mantra is running in the background of your thoughts, and it is there for you to come back to when you wander away.
  • Try not to overly control your experience but keep coming back to the mantra. Getting lost is totally normal and ok. Remember you are not trying to stop your thoughts.  Observe them and then come back to the mantra.
  • When the timer goes off after 20 minutes, give yourself time to sit for a few minutes in silence without repeating the mantra. Sit in silence.
  • Take some deeper breaths and move your fingers and toes a little before bringing yourself back into your day.
  • Notice how you feel.
  • Practice this twice per day. It doesn’t matter what time of day you choose but try and be consistent.
a woman in a white top meditating in a tropical setting against a white sheet

“The Philosophy of life is this: Life is not a struggle, not a tension… Life is bliss. It is eternal wisdom, eternal existence.”

– Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Hungry for more?

Now we have looked at what is transcendental meditation, why not take a look at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Biography and Teachings or this Loving kindness Meditation Script?

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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