By Farzana Rahman
Transcendental Meditation is such a well-honed technique that it has its own abbreviation, TM. I first read about it in a magazine interview with the comedian Aziz Ansari. The article referenced TM without actually explaining what it was, which both irritated and intrigued me. After some internet searching, I realised that it was neither a drug or a diet, but a meditation technique. Developed in the 1960s by the Maharishi Yogi it developed an almost cult status amongst in the 1970s. Today, TM is practiced by millions across the world and endorsed by many celebrities.
If I’m honest, my first impressions of TM weren’t particularly positive. It sounded somewhat cultish and the celebrity endorsements put me off. It also sounded a bit convoluted. Rather than practice it straight away you had to attend a paid course to learn the technique.
However I was curious. People who practiced TM raved about how it helped them with depression, anxiety, setting goals and numerous ailments. I spent a few months doing some more research and mulling it over. I had already been practicing variations of mindfulness type meditation but had found myself becoming sporadic with the technique. The thing I found most difficult was staying focused on my breath and not letting my thoughts wander. I had an idea of the kind of Zen like state I wanted to achieve, but most of the time I found myself making to-do lists or thinking about what I would do next.
I eventually decided that I would give TM a go. I found the scientific studies linked with its effectiveness fascinating but the main thing was that people who did it seemed to really enjoy it. So after going to a free introductory session, I signed up for more.
The course is over four days, 2 hours each day. TM is different to other types of meditation in that you let yourself relax and recite a mantra. That’s it. Twenty minutes twice a day. You find a quiet place and ideally practice first thing in the morning and later on in the evening. There’s no focusing on the breath or picturing a candle. On the first day there’s a ceremony of sorts and the teacher assigns you a mantra which you don’t share with anyone else. The next few days are spent talking about the technique, practicing and asking questions. And then you’re left to practice on your own. There are group sessions which you can attend as well as a whole network of talks, retreats and courses should you wish to go. But these are all optional and the initial course gives you all the tools you need to meditate.
So four months on what would do I think? Like any discipline, consistency is key. The thing that I like about TM is that it is very enjoyable. I wake up 20 minutes earlier most days and meditate first thing in the morning. I am not a morning person, but the idea of being able to sit and close my eyes without having to rush into my day makes it easier. I find the afternoon/evening meditation more difficult to fit in. I often do it on the train on the way home.
I’ve definitely noticed a difference in terms of mood and thoughts. I find that I am more cogniscent of my thoughts which helps temper emotion. I am also, dare I say it, happier. I’ve spent a while trying to figure this out. I’m not sure if it’s the meditation itself, a better understanding of how my brain works or taking the time to nurture my mind. It’s probably all three.