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Tony Nader is a Harvard-trained medical doctor who received his PhD in neuroscience from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He’s also the leader of transcendental meditation (TM).
Nader likes to compare the mind to the ocean.
It’s active on the surface, and we’re aware of our thoughts passing like waves. By contrast, the bottom of the ocean, like the inner depths of our minds, is settled and quiet.
Get to that place in your mind, says Nader, and you find clarity, peace, and stability.
That’s the aim of TM, a well-researched meditation technique that counts Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and Jerry Seinfeld among its enthusiasts.
What’s it all about, and does it work? Here’s what the experts and research have to say.
To transcend means to go beyond.
In simple terms, transcendental meditation involves using meditation and mantra to remain conscious while settling the mind. It can result in deep relaxation and calm.
Practitioners use mantras during TM to stay alert in a nondirected way. Nader says TM uses sounds without meaning to avoid distraction. Rather than affirmations with a subject and object, sounds without concepts are meant to let the mind settle without distraction.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is often credited as creating TM in the 1950s, but Nader, who succeeded him as head of the movement, says Maharishi didn’t consider himself the developer of the technique.
“He made it systematic and easy to teach,” Nader says.
Nader says the foundations of TM come from ancient Indian traditions and have been passed down orally from teacher to disciple over thousands of years. Maharishi was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, also known as Guru Dev, or “divine teacher.”
Carola Guzman, a certified meditation and yoga instructor, credits American filmmaker David Lynch with making TM more well-known and accessible to not only celebrities but school children and at-risk populations.
Guzman says transcendental meditation benefits include:
- mental clarity
- stress reduction
- increased problem-solving ability
- a greater spiritual connection to self
But what does the science say?
Here’s the research on the purported physical and mental health benefits of transcendental meditation.
Hypertension and heart disease
In recent years, scientists have focused on the potential for TM to lower blood pressure and protect against heart disease.
Mood and well-being
Stress reduction is a hallmark benefit of meditation, and TM is no exception.
A small 2020 study suggested TM had beneficial effects on participants’ perceived depression, anxiety, and stress.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Substance use disorder
There’s limited research on TM and substance use disorder specifically. However, a
Guzman says that individuals who practice TM report feeling increased connection, more empathy, and compassion toward themselves and others.
The trial results suggested that spiritual care interventions such as TM could improve well-being.
However, spiritual benefits are by nature difficult to define and measure.
A person should learn how to do transcendental meditation from a certified teacher. Nader says it takes 4 days, and the learning process usually follows this rubric:
- A teacher will give the student the technique and guide them through the steps on the first day.
- The student can ask any clarifying questions, such as what to do if they have particular experiences during TM.
- The student will go home and try it themselves.
- The next day, the student will meet with the teacher and talk about their experiences.
- The teacher shares knowledge and tips, such as why a person may feel stressed or have specific experiences during practice. This session can last 90 minutes to 2 hours.
- The student continues the practice at home.
- The teacher and student engage in another 90-minute to 2-hour session to go over the mechanics of how to practice transcendental meditation and to address issues or questions.
- The student practices at home.
- The student and teacher engage in one more 90-minute to 2-hour session.
- After the final 90-minute to 2-hour session, the student is usually comfortable with the practice and understands what they need to practice it easily.
Nader says after the 4 days are complete, students can still receive follow-up instructions on how to practice transcendental meditation at TM centers around the country.
Once trained, Nader suggests practicing 20 minutes twice per day, ideally before breakfast or dinner.
Nader notes that one of the benefits of TM is the simplicity of the practice. It doesn’t ask the practitioner to try too hard, he says.
A small study provides some support for this idea. In the
Researchers wrote these findings indicated support for the claim that TM doesn’t require much effort.
Nader says young children can do TM with their eyes open, but adults typically close them. After closing the eyes, a person will start to turn their mind inward.
“This is where one finds one’s true self,” Nader says.
The aim is to be conscious without being aware of your thoughts — something Nader admits can feel unusual.
“But this is what transcendence means,” Nader says. “It means going beyond all activity of the mind and diving into a state of oneness. That state of unity between mind and body is extremely calming.”
To achieve that state, transcendental meditation practitioners use mantras. The mantra is chosen specifically for the student and is kept private. It also has no meaning to avoid engaging the mind.
“Any word that has a meaning keeps the mind on the surface level, which means certain images and memories of specific value,” Nader says. “We need a vehicle to get the mind to settle down in a nondirective way. That’s why we use sounds that have no meaning.”
This is what transcendence means. It means going beyond all activity of the mind and diving into a state of oneness.
-Tony Nader, MD, PhD, leader of Transcendental Meditation
Unlike other forms of meditation, you won’t find guided practices online. Nader says TM must be taught by a teacher first.
Find a class/teacher
- TM.org has a teacher search to link individuals with trained instructors.
- DrTonyNader.com has courses and discussions on TM.
Additionally, Guzman recommends:
- “Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation” by Bob Roth
- “Principles” by Ray Dalio
- “American Veda” by Philip Goldberg
- EmbodiedPhilosophy.com (a website with articles written by teachers that talk in-depth about TM)
- Spirit Matter (podcast)
- The Doctor’s Farmacy (podcast)
- InsightTimer (app)
Want to know more? Get the FAQs about transcendental meditation below.
How much does it cost to learn TM?
Nader says transcendental meditation costs vary, depending on your age, student status, and income.
Most local centers offer a free introductory session so you can learn what TM is all about.
The courses themselves can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 depending on where you take them. Learning TM involves 4 days of instruction and follow-ups with a teacher in person or on an app.
The student can receive follow-up assistance at TM centers throughout their lives.
What’s the difference between TM and mindfulness?
Unlike mindfulness, the goal of TM is not to focus on your breath, a word or phrase, or your surroundings.
Instead, it’s to go beyond thoughts and feelings while staying in a conscious state to achieve deep mind-body relaxation.
Transcendental meditation mantras are not inspirational, aspirational, or grounding as they may be in other meditation practices. Rather, they provide a way to settle the mind in a nondistracting, nonfocused way.
Is TM dangerous?
There aren’t typically dangers of transcendental meditation.
Still, Nader says individuals with a history of psychiatric illness should discuss TM with their psychiatrist first and let their TM instructor know before they start sessions.
Are there side effects?
Typically, there are no negative side effects to TM. However, quiet stillness can sometimes exacerbate certain conditions, such as anxiety, schizophrenia, or PTSD.
It’s important to discuss any mental health concerns with a healthcare professional and meditation teacher before proceeding.
Is TM a religion?
Nader says TM is a meditation technique, not a religion, and people of all faiths have practiced it.
However, public opinion has differed over the years. In 1977, a New Jersey court banned the teaching of transcendental meditation in schools on the grounds that instruction was religious.
How long does it take for TM to be effective?
Nader says people can complete TM training and notice results after 4 days of instruction and individual practice.
Instruction includes an initial session and 3 follow-ups with a teacher, plus at-home practice.
What time of day/how long should you practice TM?
Nader recommends adults practice TM for 20 minutes twice daily, ideally before breakfast and dinner.
Children under age 10 typically practice TM for about 5 minutes with their eyes open and gradually work up to longer periods as they get older.
Transcendental meditation has its share of famous followers, including Oprah and Lady Gaga. But the foundations have been around for centuries.
To learn how to practice transcendental meditation, a person must work with a certified teacher. Benefits may include lower blood pressure and less stress.
Always talk with a healthcare professional before you begin, especially if you have a history of psychiatric illness.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.