This mental practice can help you quiet your mind, lower stress, and reach new levels of self-awareness.

Mental techniques like meditation and mindfulness have become increasingly popular in recent years—in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that meditation practice increased from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017 among U.S. adults. But what you may not realize is that there are many different forms of meditation. Some involve staying still while others focus on movement. Some approaches attempt to clear the mind, while others aim to monitor, observe, or manipulate thoughts and emotions.

One common type of meditation is called transcendental meditation, commonly referred to by its abbreviation, TM. This particular meditation practice may be cropping up frequently on social media and podcasts, and among A-listers like Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah Winfrey—but it’s not at all a new form of meditation. What is transcendental meditation exactly, and how does it differ from methods like mindfulness meditation? Here’s what to know about this quieting mental technique and how it can benefit your life. 

Related: 5 Completely Free Meditation Apps to Help Center Your Mind

What Is Transcendental Meditation?

Transcendental meditation is  “a simple, natural, effortless technique of meditation that is practiced 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day, sitting comfortably,” explains Jim Horwath, certified transcendental meditation teacher and director of Madison, Wisconsin’s Transcendental Meditation Center.

Although it’s begun to generate more buzz recently, transcendental meditation is a technique that’s been passed through generations. Horwath says that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu religious leader and the creator of TM as we know it today, was “the most recent custodian of this knowledge in our generation.” Horwath adds that Maharishi made it available in our lifetime by creating an organization and training teachers in all parts of the world.

Unlike other forms of meditation, Horwath adds, TM is not so much concerned with concentration or contemplation, and it doesn’t require or favor any particular belief or philosophy. “Anyone who can think can meditate,” he says. While TM might sound very much like standard mindfulness, for example, Horwath says that other meditation techniques tend to keep the attention on the surface. “In TM, the mind dives within and contacts the field of pure awareness,” he says.

Whether you meditate on your own or follow a trained teacher in a guided session, transcendental meditation differs from other forms of meditation, like mindfulness meditation, because you’ll direct your focus on a mantra or sound, rather than something like the breath, the body, the five senses, or a visualization. In transcendental meditation, a mantra is utilized in a very specific way.

“A mantra is a life-supporting sound,” Horwath explains. “It’s a word with no associated meaning, but known to be a vehicle for transcending. The proper use of this sound creates the right condition for the mind to move in the direction of greater happiness.”

According to Horwath, the general principles of transcendental meditation include: moving the mind inward to experience greater happiness; tapping into pure awareness, which can enhance creativity, energy, and intelligence; settling the mind, which results in settling the body; and subsequently returning to daily activity with a “rich quality” of pure awareness and as if “the body has gained deep rest.”

Related: A Basic Guide to Beginning Yoga—Plus 9 Great Poses to Try

Benefits of Transcendental Meditation

Those who practice transcendental meditation report benefits in many areas of their lives. Horwath lists improved sleep, increased creativity, more patience, more self-awareness in tense situations, decreased anxiety, and a greater ability to recover from stressful experiences as top benefits. “TM decreases stress, which results in improved wellbeing, both mental and physical,” he says.

According to Jeannine Morris Lombardi, yoga teacher and founder of Align & Refine Wellness, she feels an “immediate reset” after practicing transcendental meditation. “I’ve also found that, in the afternoons, it energizes me and allows me to start the second half of my day with a fresh perspective,” she says, adding that after she started practicing she was “happier, more at ease, and it complimented my yoga practice and beliefs.”

The scientific research also backs up many of these purported benefits. In fact, as Horwath says, there are now over 700 studies documenting the benefits of TM.

  • TM is associated with lowering high blood pressure and stress. One 2007 systematic review of over 100 studies found that, compared to other stress-reduction methods and programs, only the transcendental meditation program had a statistically significant impact on reducing high blood pressure in hypertensive individuals.
  • TM is shown to improve anxiety, stress, and mental health. There is also scientific evidence of TM's positive impacts on anxiety reduction and improved mental health. One small study of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic found TM to be effective at significantly reducing the "secondary outcomes of stress," including chronic stress, anxiety, insomnia, and burnout, over a three-month period.
  • Older studies have linked TM to lower hospitalization and non-routine medical visits. Back in 1987, experts found that, over five years, those who practiced transcendental meditation were hospitalized 56% less than those who did not practice. It’s also associated with reduced tobacco, drug, and alcohol use, and reduced rates of death, heart attack, and stroke.

Related: What Mindfulness Does to Your Brain: The Science of Neuroplasticity

How to Start Practicing Transcendental Meditation

As for the process of learning how to practice transcendental meditation, Horwath lays out the following steps via TM.org

  • Attend a free intro session on transcendental meditation, either in-person or online via . 
  • If you decide to go forward and learn TM, call or visit your local TM website: Do an internet search for “transcendental meditation” plus the name of your city to find local programs.
  • Navigate to the calendar on the website and choose from the available appointments for upcoming courses. 
  • Choose an appointment then schedule a brief, 15-minute “preparatory” meeting with the teacher. This meeting can be by phone, by Zoom, or in person.  
  • Personal instruction takes about 60 to 90 minutes and must be done in person, not online. 
  • Attend three follow-up sessions on three consecutive days (about 90 minutes each), either in-person or online.

Horwath says that a person can’t learn TM from a book. “It must be learned from a trained teacher who can provide the proper instruction and follow-up,” he says. TM experts say that learning this form of meditation can be delicate and precise, which is why it’s best to learn from a certified professional.

How Long Should You Practice Per Day?

In general, Horwath says that adults practice transcendental meditation for 20 minutes, twice a day. Children and teenagers practice for a shorter amount of time.

“TM boils down to repeating a sound-based mantra twice per day for 20 minutes each time—think: “Om,” “Lam,” or “Ram”—which stimulates your chakras. If you can carve out the time and dedicate yourself to that practice, you're doing transcendental meditation,” Morris Lombardi says.

Related: 3 Stress-Melting Benefits of Box Breathing (and How to Try It on Your Own)

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