What is transcendental meditation and does it work?

We take a look at the benefits behind this celeb-approved practice

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / July 19 2019

Heard of transcendental meditation (or TM meditation) but don’t have a clue what it’s all about? Or never even heard of it and now you’re curious as to what’s going down? We’ve got you covered.

While any type of mediation has numerous benefits for mindfulness, body and health (there are literally hundreds of meditation techniques out there), transcendental meditation has been praised for its ability to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improve sleep, cardiovascular health, brain function and even assist in weight loss.

Keen to learn more? We spoke to clinical hypnotherapist and mindset coach Claire Aristides, and wellness coach, personal trainer and founder of health and wellness system Corethentic, Flic Manning.

What is transcendental meditation?

Transcendental meditation (TM) is basically a mediation technique that involves repeating a mantra or sound (silently) to onself (usually the word ‘one’). It’s a safe, non-religious practice that promises to improve both the mind and body.

So, what does transcendental meditation feel like? It’s not easy to define, but according to Manning, the repetition of the word delivers something like a “soothing vibration”. She says, “The individual sits with eyes shut allowing the repetition of the word to send a soothing vibration through the body, until the person begins to settle and ultimately transcend into a different state of consciousness”.

TM mantras are normally no more than two words (which usually originate from the vedic meditation tradition), and are used as a form of focus for one’s concentration. “They are described as being ‘meaningless’ because they are more like sound words, rather than being a phrase or affirmation,” says Aristide.

“It’s probably one of the most famous meditation techniques in the world - it’s the meditation technique that Oprah paid for all 400 employees of her company to learn,” says Aristides. Classic Oprah!

So where did it orginate? According to Aristides, “TM was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and was hugely popularised in the 1960s, when the Beatles travelled to India to learn to meditate with Maharishi himself, who became known as ‘The Beatles Guru’. Maharishi is largely responsible for bringing Indian spirituality and meditation to the western world.”

How is it different from other meditation techniques?

“In my professional opinion, many types of meditation can help people to achieve similar health benefits to TM, however the practice of TM is different in that it asks the mind not to focus on its own activity to achieve those results,” says Manning. “Other styles of meditation teach the practice of truly understanding the activity of the mind in order to be more at peace. TM is about transcending the activity of the brain altogether. Once the technique is mastered, those with a ‘busy mind’ tend to really enjoy TM,” she explains.

How does it work?

The technique is usually practiced for around 15 to 20 minutes once or twice per day. “When meditating, the ‘thinking’ process is quietened and ‘transcended’, so the noise of the mind is quietened and you enter a state of pure consciousness,” explains Aristides. “The meditator detaches from their inner anxiety to achieve inner harmony,  stillness, and a complete absence of mental noise.”

What are the benefits?

So, does transcendental meditation work? Practicing TM regualry has been found to provide many positive experiences for the mind and body. “There’s substantial research around the health benefits of the TM technique, with findings showing very positive benefits from regulating blood pressure, boosting the immune system, improving eating habits, to sleeping better,” says Aristides.

“Some of the best, most revealing neuroscience research on the effects of meditation practice has involved brain imaging via EEG imaging, which shows TM produces alpha and theta brain wave activity, which help to relax and destress the mind and body. While practicing transcendental meditation, you are still in a state of thought, but your brain state is similar to that of when you are daydreaming.”

And as you can probably guess, it’s *super* popular with the celebrities. “TM has many high-profile celebrity fans, from Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Katy Perry to Hugh Jackman and Jerry Seinfeld, who all claim it has completely transformative and life-changing benefits. Such a believer is film maker David Lynch that he has created a TM Foundation, which is a global charitable foundation that funds teaching of TM,” says Aristides.

Where can you try transcendental meditation?

“It is usually advised to learn the technique from a registered teacher before attempting to use it at home, in a structured setting,” says Manning. “Whilst the technique sounds quite simple, initially some guidance around the mantra can be very useful. There are a range of workshops and courses that people can attend all over the world.”

“A TM teacher works closely with you, guiding you in the process of understanding the method, assigning you your mantra, which is given to you at a special ceremony. Your mantra remains confidential, keeping it to yourself in order to preserve its power. Over the following several months, your teacher regularly meets with you to ensure correct technique is being practised,” explains Aristides.

There are literally thousands of places to learn TM across Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin or Adelaide – even in regional areas. The easiest way to find your nearest certified TM instructor is to head to tm.org.au. There are also heaps of reviews out there to help you pick a place.  

How to do transcendental meditation at home

Good news: You can do it yourself, in the privacy of your own home, for free (yay - we love things that don’t cost money!).

While most TM instructors will suggest one-on-one learning in person, sometimes it can be super hard to find the time (and money!) to see a qualified teacher. “I believe meditation is for everybody, and with that, the way it's taught needs to be accessible and sustainable. Many people that could benefit from it simply are unable to leave the house,” says Manning.

She recommends the following tips for beginners who are interested in becoming self-taught in TM: “If you are going to learn from home, try setting up your environment to create a sense of tranquility. Dim the lights. Get some comfy clothes on. Try to avoid doing it too close to meal times as digestive functions can be a distraction (usually two hours before or after a meal is best),” she says. “If you don't have a defined mantra you can use the word ‘one’ or ‘om’. It is a practice and it may take some time for you to feel as though your meditation has helped you transcend, so try not to judge, and instead focus on the consistency of your practice, 20 minutes, once to twice per day. Some people benefit from stretching for a few minutes before starting the practice, and that is certainly what I teach beginners to do most often in my classes and videos, as your body will be more keen to relax and work with you.”

One key tip? Aristides says to always remember your goal: “The process should unfold so that you begin with your mind full of thoughts, ideas and concerns. After repeating the mantra, it will take over the background of your mind, thoughts can still remain, but eventually, the thoughts are completely erased and the mantra takes over and continues to dominate.”

If you’re still stuck, Manning says you could also turn to a TM app (like ‘The Art of Transcendental Meditation’), step-by-step training books (e.g. Beauty From The Inside Out: Makeup Wellness Confidence by Bobbi Brown), or a YouTube video or DVD for guided instructions and tips on how to practice TM at home. (Trust us, the minute you master TM, you’ll be addicted for life!).

“There are so many videos available online, and courses offered at studios all over the world for you to try. The world is your meditation oyster, so take advantage and find your way to wellness however it best suits you!” says Manning.

Looking for more solutions for dealing with stress and anxiety? Check out how music therapy can help.

What do you think of transcendental meditation? Would you try it? Let us know in the comment section below.

Main image credit: @rachael_finch

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.