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Not too long ago, I thought that meditation was just about sitting in quiet and not doing anything until your mind cleared—and while some of that is true, it’s not exactly correct. (I’m usually not very good at sitting still, so it took me ages to even think of trying it.) But if you take a class on transcendental meditation (TM) for beginners, in particular, you’ll see that repeating your mantra over and over while not moving your lips is not in fact "doing nothing." It's hard to grasp why a 3,000-year-old practice is so uninvolved, especially when some of the most successful entrepreneurs (like billionaire Ray Dalio of the investment firm Bridgewater) insist they owe their success to it.
What Is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental meditation is a technique to detach oneself from anxiety while promoting self-realization through relaxation and focus.
In case you haven’t noticed, TM is having quite a moment and it’s because it’s a proven stress-reducer—many studies have explained its benefits. While practicing TM repeats your mantra, you let thoughts come and go and don’t force them away; as a part of the process, you are conditioning yourself to not have reactions. (See how this relates to anxiety?)
In order to get into the actual nitty-gritty of this form of meditation, you’ll have to sign up for a lifetime membership with TM and learn from an instructor—members are required to sign something saying they won’t divulge what their teacher tells them. (We know this might sound complicated, but it’s to protect the practice and ensure that people are being properly taught.)
To learn a little bit more about transcendental meditation for beginners, we tapped Chandresh Bhardwaj, a spiritual advisor, meditation teacher at DenAnywhere in Los Angeles, and author of Break the Norms to fill us in on everything we’ve always wanted to know about mantras and TM.
Meet the Expert
Chandresh Bhardwaj is a spiritual advisor and the founder of the Break The Norms Movement, which has spread globally. He is the author of Break the Norms: Questioning Everything You Think You Know About God and Truth, Life and Death, Love and Sex. Chandresh founded the non-profit Uncensored Spirituality Foundation to spread spiritual awareness globally.
Bhardwaj is a seventh-generation teacher and says that in his lineage specifically, a mantra is given in a sacred one-on-one process and is divided into a few steps. The first step is to receive a Beeja mantra (“Beeja” means “seed”). “This first mantra plants the seeds of ripening your awareness, warming up your energy, and calming the anxiety of mind,” says Bhardwaj. This is almost like a starter mantra—if your teacher thinks you have progressed, then you can move on to receive the next mantra (what he calls “the real deal”). “It’s prepared based on your intentions, strengths, weaknesses, and spiritual and material aspirations,” he says. This somewhat lengthy process often requires the teacher to get higher approval and involves dedication on both ends.
Mantra means “instrument of the mind.” “Just like any instrument, mantra’s task is to put your mind on the right frequency,” says Bhardwaj. “Mantra calms the anxiety, relaxes the mind, and gets you in touch with your awareness in the most effortless way.”
How to Focus on Your Mantra
It’s all about breathing. You want to gently inhale and then exhale the breath, says Bhardwaj. Next, start consciously repeating the mantra in silence without moving your lips. “The key is to repeat the mantra with complete awareness and do it in relaxation,” he says. “Do not rush through it.” You can also just try focusing on the breath itself.
Why the Mantra Is Private
“Mantra is your key to the soul—it’s like a love letter that you share with the cosmic universe,” says Bhardwaj. “You don’t just want to share it casually with others.” Other than the fact that it’s personal, you would also be sharing a part of your teacher that’s not yours to give. (In Bhardwaj’s lineage, the teacher gives the student some of their energy when they bestow a mantra upon them.) If it makes it easier to understand, think of it as telling a secret that’s not yours to tell.
An Overview of Meditation: Its Origins and Traditions. Psychology Today. July 7, 2013
Holt A. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Transcendental Meditation: Current State of Research. J Patient Cent Res Rev. 2015;2:64-68. doi:10.17294/2330-0698.1199