Why Transcendental Meditation is the Latest Wellness Fad


What do Gisele Bundchen, Jerry Seinfeld, and David Lynch have in common? At first glance, almost nearly nothing, but a deeper dive reveals they are all hardcore advocates for Transcendental Meditation, an ancient practice—with statistically proven benefits—that first gained popularity when the Beatles tapped into their Eastern side in the late ’60s, and George Harrison enlisted Maharishi as a spiritual mentor (a fruitful collaboration that gave us “The White Album,” thank you very much).

Fast forward to 2017, and Transcendental Meditation aka TM has gone mainstream with hundreds of thousands of practitioners claiming the twice-daily sessions have given them increased peace of mind and creativity. The modern-day Maharashi bringing TM to the people is none other than David Lynch, the indie filmmaker whose cult television series Twin Peaks recently returned to Showtime after a 25-year hiatus. Lynch credits his creative genius to TM, and started his David Lynch Foundation in 2005 to teach TM, test its benefits, and create social change by advocating TM for underprivileged groups including war veterans, at-risk children, and victims of domestic abuse.

The popularity of TM has dovetailed with the rise of the wellness boom, in which self-care has become the ultimate form of luxury. Gisele is the perfect poster child for this movement. She eats a famously strict macrobiotic diet, does yoga, and regularly practices transcendental meditation. Models Raquel Zimmermann, Martha Hunt, and Karlie Kloss—not to mention celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Oprah Winfrey to Lena Dunham—are just a few of the beautiful people who also tout TM as part of their success. “TM was like a wakeup call in my brain,” said Zimmermann. “It helped me quit smoking and changed my whole lifestyle in a year.”

“Everybody is getting onto the meditation bandwagon,” says Bob Roth, renowned transcendental meditation teacher and Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation. “It’s become part of the new fad, with smartphone apps and even mindfulness shampoos out there,” he joked. “But hundreds of studies have been conducted on transcendental meditation, and I think the tipping point towards TM has tipped.”

Last month, Roth and the David Lynch Foundation co-hosted a luncheon in NYC with Gisele to celebrate the organization’s charitable impact in the city. Tonight, the DLF will hold a star-studded “National Night of Laughter and Song” in Washington D.C., with host Hugh Jackman, and performances by Jerry Seinfeld and Ben Folds. We spoke with Roth about TM, its benefits, and the good work he and David Lynch are doing using meditation.

Why Transcendental Meditation?

“The 24/7 incoming influx of demands, challenges and pressures are an assault on our brain and senses. They are undermining our immune system and cognitive functions. So how do we address the epidemic of stress in our lives in a way that doesn’t rely on an addiction to drugs, whether prescribed or non prescribed. We can look to ancient integrative approaches that might’ve been considered novel 20 or 30 years ago but are now reaching mainstream stature, and that’s where transcendental meditation comes in.”

How do you learn TM and what is the practice?

„For over 5,000 years, transcendental meditation has been taught one-to-one with a trained teacher. At the David Lynch Foundation, learning TM takes about an hour per day for four days in a row, then you’ve got it for the rest of your life. First thing in the morning, you wake up and meditate in preparation for the day using a private mantra as a catalyst. It gives you sustained energy and makes you resilient. Ideally you also meditate in the late afternoon or early evening. It’s like an internal bath to wash off the inevitable stresses and strains you picked up throughout the day, so you better enjoy being with your friends and family, and sleep so much better at night.“

How does TM compare with other forms of popular meditation?

“So the analogy I use for the mind is an ocean. You’re on a little boat in the middle of the Atlantic and you get these giant, 30-foot-high waves. You might think the ocean is in upheaval. But if you do a cross section, you realize that while the surface of the mind is choppy and wandering, the ocean at its depth is naturally silent. Many forms of concentration meditation—or the technical term is ‘focused attention’—see those waves as the enemy. They try to create calm by stopping thought entirely. Another form of meditation is called ‘open monitoring,’ and that’s many mindfulness methods, which observe life in a dispassionate way. It’s not the thought but the emotion associated with the thought, and letting go of that. The third form of meditation is self transcending, and TM is part of that. We don’t try to manipulate the surface thought waves―they’re naturally there. What we do is access a level of the mind that is already calm, settled and wide awake. Like the ocean, it is silent at its depth.“

What are some immediate benefits of TM?

„Within a few minutes you know that something has happened. It’s not vague. Cortisol is the so-called ‘stress hormone.’ If you get a good night’s sleep, cortisol levels drop about 10 percent. With 20 minutes of TM, cortisol levels are proven to drop 30 to 40 percent. Your body gains deep rest and it’s this state of profound relaxation but being awake. They call it the aha experience or the zone experience, but it’s rare a rare wow‘ thing, and it happens during TM.”

Why are so many creatives drawn to TM?

“I’ve been told by many people that it’s hard to get to the top, but it’s even harder to stay there. Staying there means you need to have sustained levels of creativity, innovation, and also resilience. TM actually accesses that flow of creativity deep within, and allows any creative person to have that inner calm and clarity, but also focus and refreshed thinking that doesn’t get stale. TM awakens the creative centers in the brain.“

How is the David Lynch Foundation using TM as a vehicle to give back to society?

„From the very beginning I saw TM as a tool for foundational transformation. When I was young, I wanted to be a senator and change the world like Bobby Kennedy was trying to. But I eventually realized politics can be a dead end in a lot of ways because it can affect people’s lives on a grand scale, but never get to the core.

My first thought after I learned to meditate was: ‚I’d like to teach this to inner city school kids.‘ They were the ones who I thought maybe needed it the most. Now I can give them a tool at the age of ten that they can carry for the rest of their lives and empower them. In 12 years, the DLF has provided scholarships for a half a million women and children to learn to meditate who have been subject to domestic violence and veterans.

So I think the rising tide has to lift all boats. It’s wonderful that dynamic, successful people are learning to meditate, but my heart is in bringing it to people who are suffering and this could help alleviate some of the suffering. Otherwise nobody’s gonna give a darn about them—but we do.“


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