Meditation not only calms your mind and reduces stress, but reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
Research shows impact of meditation on heart health
A November 2012 study conducted by Robert Schneider, M.D., director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention and dean of Maharishi College of Perfect Health in Fairfield, Iowa, showed that subjects with heart disease, who practiced transcendental teditation regularly for five years were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die from all causes, compared with those who attended a health education class in lieu of yoga.
“It appears that transcendental meditation is a technique that turns on the body’s own pharmacy — to repair and maintain itself,” said Schneider. He also adds that transcendental meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions.
Transcendental meditation (TM): Getting started
Want to try meditation, but not sure where to start? We asked meditation teacher Jeanne Ball to share her tips on how to begin and what to expect.
SheKnows: What should a person do physically to prepare for transcendental meditation?
Jeanne Ball: A person doesn’t need to do anything to prepare for the TM technique, except sit comfortably and close the eyes, because with this particular practice one quickly, naturally transcends the physical environment and dives deep within the mind to enjoy inner silence, peace and expanded wakefulness. It’s nice if there’s a quiet environment, though not essential. One can effortlessly practice TM in an airport, in the same house with kids running around, or at the office during break.
The deeper reason why no preparation is necessary is because the technique is motivated only by the mind’s natural tendency that is always lively within everyone: the tendency to seek greater happiness. During TM, there’s no outside preparation or internal effort required, because attention settles inward spontaneously, drawn by the mind’s own nature, to fields of greater happiness and dynamism, and there’s no obstacle to that natural inward progression.
SK: What should a person think about while they’re meditating?
JB: Practicing the TM technique is very easy because the process doesn’t require you to think about peace or happiness or anything in particular. Nor does it involve controlling the mind or trying to rid yourself of thoughts. The technique is designed to effortlessly allow the mind to settle inward to quieter levels of thought in the direction of greater energy and happiness within. The mind naturally gravitates to its silent source of restfulness and goes beyond thought all together.
SK: How do you help people let go of their thoughts during meditation?
JB: If a person consciously tries to let go of thoughts, to get beyond thoughts or forcefully get rid of them, it’s called “straining in meditation” and usually only creates more thoughts and often causes a headache. That’s not the TM technique. With TM, we don’t control the mind, we satisfy the mind. The technique is designed such that thoughts are not a problem at all and the mind effortlessly settles into the silent, rejuvenating experience of pure awareness or restful alertness, in which all thoughts and mental activity have been transcended.
SK: How long and how often should a beginner practice meditating?
JB: Twenty minutes of the TM technique morning and afternoon is enough to balance a full day of activity and to dissolve stress and revitalize mind and body.
SK: What benefits can someone expect to experience from meditation?
JB: The same benefits that a tree receives when its roots are watered: every branch, leaf, fruit, stem —everything gets enriched. The founder of the TM program, Maharishi, used to say, “The only way to take care of the whole tree is to water the root.” This means: deep within everyone is a transcendental source of energy, creativity and intelligence, and if we can restore direct contact with that inner source by diving beyond thought and contacting our deepest inner self, then we will enrich all aspects of life in one stroke. People find their physical and mental health improves, their relationships become more harmonious, they have more energy and become more productive. Peace and happiness grows naturally from within. We find ourselves enjoying life more, and, as perception becomes clearer, finding more joy and beauty all around us.
“With the benefits of the technique verified by over 600 scientific research studies,” explains Ball, “the TM technique is the most widely researched meditation practice.” She says some of the specific benefits found by researchers are:
- Reduction of stress, anxiety and depression
- Reduction of the aging process
- Improvement of brain functioning
- Reduction in symptoms of ADD
- Reduction of heart attack and stroke
- Reduction of high blood pressure
- Decrease in neuroticism
- Increase in happiness, tolerance and intelligence