By now, what may have once been considered something for the hippy set in American culture is mainstream. From wellness enthusiasts to high-performance athletes and everyone in between, the ancient practice of meditation is "in." Unlike most passing trends, however, there is a growing body of science to bolster its positive health benefits and therefore increasing interest of a regular meditation practice. These benefits can help change the way we approach life and handle day-to-day challenges, which is something ancient cultures have known long before Americans folded the practice into our own wellness routines. According to Time magazine, the practice has "religious ties in ancient Egypt and China, as well as Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and, of course, Buddhism."
Types of Meditation Techniques
At least by modern American practices, meditation is widely used as a relaxation tool, like a massage for the mind. And just like there are many ways to compose a kale salad, meditation comes with a variety of techniques. For example, meditation app Headspace outlines 16 different kinds and includes techniques like focused attention, visualization, and one particular type called Transcendental Meditation (TM), which has captured the interest of celebrities since The Beatles got into it in the 1960's, according to GQ magazine.
What Is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental meditation involves a silently-used mantra done for 15-20 minutes a day. It is commonly done sitting with the eyes closed and is one of the most widely practiced meditation techniques.
The Transcendental Meditation website makes a point to state that TM is "not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle." Instead, it is a method for achieving a greater sense of peace and calm into daily life, not to mention the benefit of being present (which, it seems, is harder to do these days.) Whether you're searching for greater meaning, seeking relief from anxiety, or hoping to slow down rapid thoughts, meditation may help.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) may seem intimidating—especially when newbies hear that TM asks practitioners to sit and meditate for 20 minutes—though Shel Pink, founder of SpaRitual and author of "Slow Beauty," says it's surprisingly accessible. "Anyone can practice TM. … [it] is an effortless and evidence-based meditation practice," she tells MyDomaine. Pink has practiced TM for 19 years as part of her holistic lifestyle.
Meet the Expert
Shel Pink is the founder of SpaRitual, a sustainable, vegan beauty brand based on the rituals of self-care, and author of "Slow Beauty."
Here's how to do Transcendental Meditation, according to a seasoned practitioner.
Transcendental Meditation is Mantra Meditation
The main difference between Transcendental Meditation and other forms of meditation is the mantra you're asked to repeat during a meditation session. "In TM, the mantra, used as the vehicle to help the mind settle down, is a meaningless sound versus other types of meditation that use words, phrases, or visualizations during the meditation practice," says Pink. By focusing exclusively on your mantra, you aim to achieve a state of perfect stillness and consciousness.
I feel a sense of calm, and when I'm done, I have more energy and feel more focused and productive.
While some meditation practices encourage emptying the mind of all thoughts, TM encourages thoughts to come and go, like the passive activity of watching a cloud float by. According to Pink, this is an incredible strategy to manage daily anxieties created by worrisome thinking. "It teaches you how to create a space between you and your thoughts and become an observer."
How to Do Transcendental Meditation
The journey of Transcendental Meditation begins by finding a certified TM teacher and taking courses to learn the practice. Teachers are certified by Maharishi Foundation USA, a federally-recognized non-profit organization. As an experienced practitioner, Pink meditates twice-daily for 20 minutes. Here's what a typical practice looks like, according to Pink:
1. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the ground and hands in your lap. Leave your legs and arms uncrossed.
2. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths to relax the body.
3. Open your eyes, and then close them again. Your eyes will remain closed during the 20-minute practice.
4. Repeat a mantra in your mind. This is typically a Sanskrit sound learned from a TM teacher.
5. When you recognize you're having a thought, simply return to the mantra.
6. After 20 minutes, begin to move your fingers and toes to ease yourself back to the world.
7. Open your eyes.
8. Sit for a few more minutes until you feel ready to continue with your day.
More Benefits of Meditation
"When I practice TM, I feel the stress melting away from my body. I feel a sense of calm, and when I'm done, I have more energy and feel more focused and productive. I am more peaceful, proactive, and less reactive to situations beyond my control," says Pink. According to the Cleveland Clinic, while research on the benefits of meditation are ongoing, existing research indicates a regular meditation practice can help "improve sleep, improve pain management... improve self-esteem, improve concentration," and even "decrease menopausal symptoms, and reduce the severity of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome."
Says Pink, "It is a tool to help people achieve a positive state of mind and a deep sense of inner peace for optimal health."