In 1972 I took up transcendental meditation (TM) to combat severe insomnia. And it worked! Repeating my mantra silently (no, Tim, I won’t divulge it to you or anyone else) for twenty minutes once or twice daily enabled me to go from three hours of sleep a night to a healthy seven. This cure — involving a few lessons, a ceremony to receive my Sanskrit word, and consistent practice — was so evident that some family members also took it up. We were far from alone. In 1975 TIME magazine’s cover story, “Behavior: THE TM CRAZE: 40 Minutes to Bliss”, reported 30,000 Americans were signing up monthly. There were an additional 300,000 meditators in other countries, with Canada in the lead at 90,000.
Because an enigmatic man from India, Maharishi (meaning Great Seer in Sanskrit) Mahesh Yogi, introduced TM to the world, it became associated with Eastern mysticism and spiritualism. Despite being studied for health benefits since the sixties, it remained on the fringe of science. In this century, however, doctors embrace meditation; scientific studies show it produces results.
- Helps to manage stress by lowering cortisol in our body.
- Controls anxiety: less stress translates to less anxiety.
- Boosts emotional health by curbing negative thoughts.
- Increases concentration and attention span.
- Decreases blood pressure, lessening the strain on our heart and arteries.
- Promotes good sleep patterns by redirecting racing thoughts and calming our body.
Meditation is not so much a skill as a habit to be developed and practiced, regularly. We can meditate almost anywhere, at any time, beginning with only a few minutes each day, then building to longer sessions. We don’t even require a specially assigned mantra (my $25 course in TM costs $1,400 today).
To start, sit comfortably in a relaxed alert state, eyes closed, and focus your mind on your breath, a sound, a visual image, or a mantra — a repeated word or phrase that can be of your own conception. When your mind wanders, as it invariably does, bring it gently back into focus. Some coaches recommend daily practice for as short or long a time as our mental energy can redirect from distractions. Others say spend 10-20 minutes once or twice a day, perhaps setting an alarm to allay any preoccupation with time.
There is no right or wrong way to meditate. And there are several forms of meditation. Coach Sarah Meyer Tapia of Stanford University says “any activity can be meditative if we’re fully present. Meditation is to be present and know what we are doing, while we are doing it.” For guidance, consult books, websites and phone apps, or join classes and support groups. As with any healthful habit, what’s most important is to just do it. •
P.S. In addition to being World Meditation Day, celebrated since 1995 to raise awareness of the many benefits in meditating, today is also International Tea Day. Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, second to water. We may want to establish a secondary ritual to meditation: enjoying a cuppa.