State of Mind
Got stress? Explore transcendental meditation
by Robert Zukowski
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e have talked at length about complementary, alternative and integrative options that impact the body, our energy, and those that affect both simultaneously. When people speak of the assortment of alternative options, they use words like mind, body, spirit, and soul. I would like talk about a practice that begins in the mind and branches out to impact all the others. Meditation. More specifically, Transcendental Meditation.
I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical about meditation. To clarify, I did not question its effectiveness in any way. Many of my friends and colleagues, people whose insight and opinions I trust, practice meditation and swear by it. My skepticism was personally rooted and came from my own self-doubt. My mind, much like many others, was rarely quiet and at ease. My body infrequently still. I therefore wondered, if even for a short period of time, that I could meditate.
Though I may have doubted my ability to meditate, I was, in fact, the perfect candidate for it. Why? Perhaps the same as you. Stress. Now, we have talked about stress before and we are all aware of the varied negative health impacts of it. In fact, to further that point, according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. It is said that more than seventy-five percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
We know that chronic stress can affect your brain, suppress your thyroid, cause blood sugar imbalances, decrease bone density and muscle tissue, raise blood pressure, and increase fat deposits around your abdomen that may be associated with heart attacks, strokes, and elevated bad cholesterol levels. In addition, and of special note for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, stress can reduce your immune function and ability to heal as a result of stress hormones released in the body. This is why the concept of relaxation through meditation can be an important consideration for the HIV/AIDS community when seeking out alternative, additional options.
At some point, I was introduced to Transcendental Meditation, or TM. TM, which was derived by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from the ancient Vedic tradition of India, is said to have been brought to the west in the 1960s. It is a form of meditation said to help those who partake of it in avoiding distracting thoughts and promote a state of relaxed awareness. I was assured that it was a reasonably simple practice, that I would have the full support of the certified instructors, and that it was something I could practice for twenty minutes two times a day. I can certainly spare forty minutes a day for greater health. Interested parties attend an interview and receive ample personal instruction, classes, guidelines, feedback and corrections if needed, to help them in their journey. Following a brief ceremony, they’re each given a mantra, which they’re supposed to keep confidential.
TM requires a seven-step course of instruction from a certified teacher, but it is not difficult to learn. It is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle, and people of all ages, cultures, and religions have indulged in the practice. TM allows your mind to settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness. My primary concern, perhaps a concern for many, was controlling my mind and the active, spiral of thoughts within. But unlike other forms of meditation, TM involves no concentration, no control of the mind, no contemplation, and no monitoring of thoughts.
While in the process of meditating, the person practicing is comfortably seated with their eyes closed. At which time, they silently repeat a mantra. While TM is not what one might call mantra-based, they are used. A mantra is a meaningless sound from the Vedic tradition that’s been assigned by a certified instructor.
Supporters of TM say that while they are meditating, the ordinary process of thinking is transcended. In its place is a place of pure consciousness, giving the individual an opportunity to enjoy stillness, rest, stability, order, and an absence of mental boundaries.
Will there be naysayers? Certainly. There are some researchers who find fault in the quality of meditation studies. Others say meditation is no more effective than health education in addressing most common health problems. But supporters of TM tout more than 380 peer-reviewed research studies on the TM technique—published in over 160 scientific journals. These studies were conducted at many U.S. and international universities and research centers, including Harvard Medical School, Stanford Medical School, Yale Medical School, and UCLA Medical School.
Meditation, both TM and other forms, is generally safe for healthy people, and may improve quality of life. But experts agree that meditation shouldn’t be used as a single treatment for any particular health condition, or instead of conventional medical care. I invite you to explore TM as a possibility to enhance your current path towards greater wellness and draw your own conclusions based upon your individual experiences.
After a lengthy career in the arts and LGBT activism, Robert Zukowski pursued his goal of a career in complementary and alternative healthcare. He is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer and lecturer in the field of therapeutic massage therapy.