In the late 1950s, an Indian monk named Maharishi Majesh Yogi began teaching a new form of meditation that could be easily practiced by busy, modern people around the world. He called it transcendental meditation and it was based on the concept that a meditation using mantras of short words or phrases, repeated in the mind, could help the user subdue many thought processes and reach a deep level of consciousness. Mantras are selected on the basis of the learner’s temperament and occupation. The spirit behind TM is the Vedanta system of philosophy that forms the basis for most modern schools of Hinduism.
The simple technique produces a state of “restful alertness” that, it is considered, transcends thinking to reach the source of thought – the mind’s own reservoir of energy and creative intelligence. Through this, people can find great relaxation, inner peace, enhanced vitality, and creativity. TM is ordinarily applied for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily.
Much of the research into the psychological and physiological effects of meditation has been carried out in relation to TM. It shows that the level of rest achieved is deeper than sleep. Another major finding is that meditation produces all the body responses opposite to the flight-or-fight response characteristic of stress. During meditation, breathing slows, the heartheat becomes shallower, the muscles relax, blood pressure normalizes, and there are compositional changes in hlood and skin that indicate a reduction in tension.
Interestingly, Dr. Herbert Benson, the American pioneer of research into the relaxation response, showed in the 1960s that ritualistic techniques employed in various Christian traditions – such as the use of the rosary, prayer-beads, or simple prayers repeated many times over – can be just as effective as TM in achieving the same results.
This is another practice whose origins are in India. It utilizes both mantra and breath control to still the mind, and thus to allow a spontaneous shift in consciousness. The mantra is recited aloud and serves two purposes. Regarded as pure sound, it causes the body and mind to vibrate at a particular frequency that induces the meditative state: the energy resonates in the unconscious. And its words provide a focus to hold the mind and stop it from randomizing its energy through scattered thoughts and images.
What is known as “breath awareness” is also important: the mind has to become tuned to the way breath enters and leaves the body.