Do you have a science question for Dr. David Orme-Johnson? Please send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org. As one of the principal researchers on the Transcendental Meditation® (TM®) technique worldwide, with over 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals, Dr. Orme-Johnson has presented TM research in more than 56 countries to scientific conferences, government officials, and the United Nations.
Question: I read a lot about mindfulness meditation in the news and on the Internet. How does the Transcendental Meditation technique differ from mindfulness?
Dr. Orme-Johnson: Essentially, the goal of all meditation techniques is to have a happy, successful, less stressful, and more fulfilling life—to feel closer to the organizing intelligence of nature, and to get a good night’s sleep!
Scientists have identified three basic categories of meditation, which differ in their practice, in their immediate effects on mind and body, and in their outcomes in daily life. These meditative categories are called Focused Attention, Open Monitoring, and Automatic Self-Transcending. Mindfulness involves both Focused Attention and Open Monitoring. The TM technique falls in the category of Automatic Self-Transcending.1 (See chart below.)
Scientists have identified three basic categories of meditation, which differ in their practice, in their immediate effects on mind and body, and in their outcomes in daily life.
As the name implies, Focused Attention entails focusing attention on a single object, thought, or physiological process. For example, some mindfulness programs begin by having you focus your attention on the inward and outward flow of your breath. The idea is to train your mind to focus more acutely during the practice, so that when you come out into activity, you have a greater ability to notice what is going on, to stay connected, and to be in the moment.
Focused Attention entails focusing attention on a single object, thought, or physiological process.
Open Monitoring addresses another aspect of being mindful, which is learning how to manage how stress colors our perception of the world. We have all experienced how we might be in the most beautiful place in the world, say watching a sunset over the Grand Canyon, but if we are anxious, depressed, or angry, our mood can totally ruin our experience. Our conditioning history, our stresses, our stuff distorts how we experience life and distracts us from being “mindful” of what is really going on.
Open Monitoring is a meditative practice that attempts to manage our stresses by training us not to respond to them emotionally. The practitioner, while sitting with eyes closed, monitors his stream of thoughts and practices a nonjudgmental attitude towards them. For example, if an angry thought arises, one attempts to stay calm and be neutral about it. Or one may think to oneself, “I am having these thoughts, but they are not myself.” Such techniques can be practiced in activity as well as with eyes closed, and they are helpful in managing stress.
Open Monitoring is a meditative practice that attempts to manage our stresses by training us not to respond to them emotionally.
TM = Automatic Self-Transcending
The Transcendental Meditation technique takes a different approach to dealing with stresses, which is to eliminate their physiological basis instead of trying to manage them. With the effortless use of the mantra, the mind automatically settles into a physiological condition of deep rest, inner wakefulness, and enhanced brain coherence. This state of restful alertness is different from waking, dreaming, or sleep states of consciousness.
TM takes a different approach to dealing with stresses, which is to eliminate their physiological basis instead of trying to manage them.
TM is effortless because it works on the basis of the natural tendency of the mind to automatically be drawn to a field of greater charm. What does that mean? It is a common experience that our minds are automatically drawn to things that are more interesting, more beautiful, and more full of love and harmony. Quieter, subtler levels of mental activity are inherently more charming because they’re more settled and harmonious; hence, during TM the mind is automatically drawn inward. For these reasons, the practice of TM is characterized as Automatic Self-Transcending.
The Wisdom of the Body
Stresses, which limit our enjoyment of life, are due to some excessive pressure of experience, which creates structural or functional abnormalities in the nervous system. The stuff we carry around with us is composed of these stresses stored in the body. It would be virtually impossible to track down and eliminate each stress one by one, even if we knew how to do that—which we don’t.
Fortunately, the wisdom of the body can do it. In scientific terminology, this wisdom is composed of the innumerable interlocking homeostatic feedback loops that are constantly detecting and correcting imbalances in the body, such as in our blood pressure, temperature, blood pH, insulin levels, tissue damage, hormone levels, and much more.
Stresses, which limit our enjoyment of life, are due to some excessive pressure of experience, which creates structural or functional abnormalities in the nervous system.
As imbalances are detected, the body’s self-correcting mechanisms automatically and unconsciously come into play to rebalance the system to a more ideal state of homeostasis and health. When we get sick, whatever else the doctor tells us to do, almost universally she says “get more rest,” because rest allows these self-healing mechanisms to do their work most efficiently.
How Restful Alertness Helps Eliminate Stress
With TM we are adding (not substituting) periods of restful alertness to the ordinary cycles of waking, sleeping, and dreaming. Restful alertness has a different physiology from these three states, and it supplements the body’s healing power. Because of its unique neurophysiological characteristics, the state of restful alertness constitutes a fourth major state of consciousness—Transcendental Consciousness. The increased EEG coherence during TM practice indicates a high degree of connectivity and coordination among the cortical areas of the brain, which appears to facilitate the body’s self-healing process.
This enhanced health effect has been demonstrated by health insurance statistics. One study of 2,000 TM meditators over a five-year period showed that they had lower rates of hospitalization in every category of disease, 50 percent lower on average.2 The number of days they spent in the hospital were 30 percent less, an indication that TM practice accelerates normal healing processes.
Psychological research shows that TM practice is the most effective meditation or relaxation technique for reducing anxiety,3,4 and other studies show it reduces depression 5 and hostility.6 Other research shows that TM participants perceive the world in a more positive light,7 and that TM is the most effective means of gaining self-actualization.8
These findings suggest that TM practice helps people effortlessly achieve the goal of Open Monitoring, which is to manage one’s emotional response. It also helps people effortlessly achieve the goal of Focused Attention, as indicated by such changes as faster reactions, increased intelligence, creativity, and academic performance.9
Findings suggest that TM practice helps people effortlessly achieve the goals of both Open Monitoring and Focused Attention.
Effortless Effects in Activity
The ultimate goal of all meditation techniques is to help us enjoy the world in a fresh way, to live each precious moment fully, unimpeded by the distorting influences of stress. Different meditation approaches work by different mechanisms and are effective in different ways.
Focused Attention and Open Monitoring are cognitive techniques, which allow one to practice the goals that one wants to attain. If you want to become more focused, practice focusing. If you want to manage your stresses, practice doing so with Open Monitoring.
Mindfulness techniques, which involve both of these approaches, require differing degrees of mental control. As a result, many people find them to be rather strenuous.
In contrast, the TM technique effortlessly creates a state of restful alertness. This state allows your body to repair the consequences of stress from the inside, so that you come out of meditation into activity feeling more rested, with a higher level of brain integration. This allows you to be more focused and more free from stress, and to spontaneously live life with greater alertness and enjoyment each day.