What is Transcendental Meditation? Explanation, History, 10 Benefits, 4 Criticisms, and Getting Started

What is Transcendental Meditation? Explanation, History, 10 Benefits, 4 Criticisms, and Getting Started

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Half a century ago, a physics student in Central India who became a spiritual teacher developed a meditation practice to help us rise above the daily stress and negative emotions that we all experience. Fast forward to today, and Transcendental Meditation has become possibly the most popular form of meditation in the world with its own international organization and testimonials by celebrities.

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a seated meditation technique employing a word or phrase repeated silently to promote mental clarity, a state of deep relaxation, and improved health. Developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid-twentieth century, it is now practiced the world over and owes some of its popularity to celebrities who credit it with their success.

With its international popularity and success stories from people like Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld, it’s obvious why so many people are interested in it. But there are some complexities and even some controversies that people need to dig into a bit before choosing TM over other forms of meditation. 

 transcendental meditation meditation

Transcendental Meditation is definitely powerful and fascinating. When people ask me which meditation style to choose, I want to give them a clear, cited explanation without having to hunt around on their own. TM is a simple practice but there is actually quite a bit that you need to know before you get started so here’s an outline of what this essay includes. You can use these links to jump around or read through and get the full scoop in about 10 minutes. I’ve included some pretty neat videos from the founder of TM himself and really famous people talking about how it has helped them be as successful as they are.

What is Transcendental Meditation? From Idea to Phenomenon

To fully understand what Transcendental Meditation (TM) is, we need to take a short walk through history, meet the man who invented it, and talk about the benefits and how they come about to fully see how it has become a cultural phenomenon. 

At its core, TM is a simple and easy-to-learn meditation technique. The practice involves sitting comfortably with the eyes closed and repeating a mantra for 20 minutes, twice a day.1

Mantras are identified for a practitioner during a personalized initiation process with a certified teacher. This mantra is meant to be a sound or word that has no meaning and should not be associated with any particular thought or feeling. The goal is to allow the mind to settle down and enter a state of deep restfulness, while still remaining alert and aware.

How Transcendental Meditation Works

For the scientists in the room, you can get your fill on the hundreds of studies conducted on TM. Let’s take a walk through four prominent studies that explain some of the cognitive, emotional, personal growth benefits we will cover below. 

Research studies have examined the effects of TM on various aspects of physical and mental health, and some have found promising results. For example, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that participants who practiced TM regularly experienced reductions in anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as improvements in sleep quality and overall well being.2 Another study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that TM was effective in reducing blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health in hypertensive individuals.3 

One possible explanation for these benefits is the effect that TM has on the body’s stress response system. When we experience stress, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that can cause a range of negative health effects over time if not controlled. Research has shown that practicing TM can lead to a reduction in cortisol levels, indicating a decrease in stress levels.4 Additionally, TM has been shown to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with decision making, attention, and emotional regulation.5 This may help explain why TM has been found to be effective in reducing anxiety and improving overall mental wellbeing.

The Meaning of Transcendental Meditation

The name of this meditation itself is a bit intimidating so let’s unpack it a bit. Understanding the meaning of transcendental meditation is really quite motivating because when I first wrapped my mind around what practitioners were after it gave me hope. 

The meaning of Transcendental Meditation (TM) is rooted in the idea of achieving a state of transcendence – a state of consciousness that goes beyond normal waking consciousness. The mantra that is repeated silently focuses the mind and enables it to enter a state of deep relaxation that most of us only experience when we are asleep. 

While the term “transcendental” may sound mystical or esoteric, the practice is actually quite simple and accessible. If you can sit, close your eyes, and repeat a phrase for 20 minutes twice a day, you can meditate in this way. 

The Man Behind TM and How it Evolved

The practice of TM is based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who developed the technique in the 1950. Born in 1918 in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Maharishi studied physics at Allahabad University before becoming a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya (spiritual leader) of Jyotir Math, a monastery in the Himalayas. Maharishi began teaching meditation in India in the 1950s and soon began to attract a following. 

He founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in 1957, which later became the Transcendental Meditation movement. He began to travel internationally in the 1960s, giving lectures and workshops on TM, which quickly gained popularity in the West.  Most notably Maharishi Mahesh Yogi met the Beatles in the late 1960s.

The Beatles and Transcendental Meditation

Maharishi’s teachings were rooted in the ancient Indian philosophy of Vedanta, which emphasizes the unity of all things and the importance of spiritual self-realization. He believed that TM could help individuals achieve a state of transcendence and improve their mental and physical health, as well as contribute to world peace.

Maharishi is widely recognized as an important figure in the popularization of meditation and the promotion of holistic approaches to health and wellbeing. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 91. With most meditation styles we only learning about the origins through historical records. Because we has so prolific with his teachings in the West in recent decades we have amazing teachings available to us:

10 Benefits of Transcendental Meditation

Linking together the outcomes of research studies, the benefits of transcendental meditation fall into ten camps. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what people have experienced. Benefits of TM can be roughly grouped into improvements in mental, emotional, and physical health but here are the most commonly cited:

1. Reduced Stress and Anxiety

TM has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and may help individuals feel more relaxed and less anxious.

2. Improved Mental Clarity and Focus 

TM has been linked to improved cognitive function, including increased creativity, better memory, and increased focus.

3. Better Quality of Sleep 

TM has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia, which can lead to better overall health and wellbeing.

4. Reduced Symptoms of Depression

Some studies suggest that TM may help reduce symptoms of depression, although more research is needed in this area.

5. Lower Blood Pressure 

TM may help lower blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

6. Improved Cardiovascular Health

TM has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, including reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

7. Increased Self-Awareness

TM can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which can lead to improved self-awareness and self-regulation.

8. Reductions in Measures of Pain

TM has been shown to reduce pain perception in individuals with chronic pain conditions.

9. Improved Immune Function 

Some studies suggest that TM may boost immune function and help protect against illness and disease.

10. Increased Overall Wellbeing

TM has been linked to improved overall wellbeing, including greater feelings of happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

It’s important to note that while these benefits have been reported in studies, individual experiences may vary and hints at the need to work with a certified teacher to learn a practice that is specific to you and your goals.

The Difference Between Transcendental Meditation and Regular Meditation

Meditation is a technique that has been practiced for thousands of years and has many different forms and variations. While transcendental meditation and regular meditation look similar on the surface because they both promote relaxation and reduce stress, there are some key differences between them.

The primary difference between TM and regular meditation is the use of a mantra. In TM, practitioners use a mantra – a word or phrase that is repeated silently – to help focus their minds and enter a state of deep relaxation. Even though mantras are used in sitting meditations at times, TM is unique because the mantra is chosen specifically for the individual during a personalized initiation process with a certified TM teacher. Regular meditation, on the other hand, may or may not involve the use of a mantra, and if it does, the practitioner may choose their own word or phrase.

Another difference between TM and regular meditation is the emphasis on achieving a state of transcendence. TM is designed to help individuals reach a state of deep relaxation and transcendence, which is said to be a state of consciousness that goes beyond normal waking consciousness. In contrast, regular meditation may have a different goal or focus, such as developing mindfulness or increasing awareness of one’s thoughts and emotions.

TM also typically involves practicing for a set amount of time, twice a day, for a total of 20 minutes each session. Regular meditation may be practiced for shorter or longer periods of time, and may be done less frequently or on an as-needed basis.

Additionally, TM has been subject to some controversy due to the organization that promotes it and its high cost of initiation and training. Some critics argue that the technique is overly commercialized and lacks scientific evidence to support its claims of health benefits.

The Role of Transcendental Meditation in Personal and Spiritual Growth

There is an additional side to the benefits of TM that I would like to cover separately here. Typically, references to “benefits” are actually lists of things that people want to fix or heal. These results are pretty amazing in their own right. But Transcendental Meditation is also a powerful tool that can aid in personal or spiritual growth making us better than we currently are. 

One of the key ways that TM can aid in personal growth is by helping individuals to access deeper levels of consciousness and awareness. Through regular practice, TM can help to quiet the mind and reduce the distractions and negative thought patterns that can interfere with personal growth and self-discovery. Let’s start with the spiritual side as this can sometimes get confused with religion. 

Spiritual Growth from Doing TM

TM can have a transformative effect on one’s spiritual development. While TM is not a religious practice, it is grounded in the tradition of Vedic knowledge, and many practitioners report experiencing a deeper sense of connection to their spiritual beliefs and values through regular practice.

One way in which TM can foster spiritual growth is through its emphasis on accessing deeper levels of consciousness. By quieting the mind and allowing thoughts and emotions to arise and pass without attachment or judgment, TM can help individuals to access a deeper sense of inner peace and clarity that can support their spiritual development.

And lastly, we are back at the role that mantra plays in transcendental meditation. The mantra is not simply a tool for quieting the mind, but is also believed to have a deeper significance and connection to the Vedic tradition from which TM originated. Religions have known the value of causing the body to vibrate continuously at a certain frequency or tone. They have just called it prayer, music, chanting, or singing. 

Using Transcendental Meditation for personal growth

Using Transcendental Meditation for Personal Growth

I like pairing personal growth with spiritual growth together because it shows the value of TM without infringing on religious beliefs. Some very religious people would argue that doing eastern meditation goes against their systems of religion because it sends praise in a direction that is not God or vaults the self above God. Sidestepping this argument, TM can enhance you spiritually if that is your goal, or it can be devoid of spirituality and improve how you show up in life, access all of your potential, and work through situations that are scary for you. 

We all have desires to change our current situation for the better. We all generally move through our days doing just that, making them better than the last. But are you truly doing what you want? Are the changes coming fast enough? What is holding you back? These are the personal growth questions that TM helps us answer. 

I like to think of it this way: Think of some big scary decisions that you made when you were younger. Maybe it was going to college or asking someone out. Years later you could more easily make those decisions but also understand why that 18-year-old you struggled so greatly with it. Now, today, those same emotional hurdles are in front of you for bigger, scarier things. With the right frame of mind, you move through them and improve your life at a faster rate than your peers or at a faster rate that you used to.

Transcendental Meditation allows you to clearly see your potential and move through decisions with less emotional reactions getting in the way.

The fretting, the lolly-gagging, the avoidance behaviors, all get called on the carpet and you have a chance to move past them. It is scary but also exhilarating. The trick is consistent exposure to these little fears and consistent work. Like any skill or habit, the benefits of TM are most fully realized through consistent practice over time. By making TM a regular part of your daily routine, you can create a foundation for personal growth and wellbeing that can help you navigate life’s challenges with greater resilience and clarity.

And there is proof! Let’s meet some famous people who you probably already know but who give a nod to TM for their astonishing success.

Celebrities Who Practice Transcendental Meditation and Why it Got Popular

There are a handful of transcendental meditation celebrities who credit TM with their success and have “given back” by talking about it which in turn has then made TM more popular. You may have heard these stories before but I want to highlight one important point that I think has been missed by the media. Check out these people below. Not only are they wildly successful, but they envisioned themselves as a completely different person and dominated more than one field. 

It wasn’t enough that Oprah Winfrey was a successful black female actress years before that was more common, she became a television host, founded her own network, became an author… It wasn’t enough for Jerry Seinfeld to become one of America’s funniest comedians, he created one of the longest running and most successful television shows named after himself and then went on to direct. Hugh Jackman (yes, Wolverine) could have continued being one of the world’s biggest action stars and had a fulfilling career. Yet, he was compelled to take a 180 turn to sing and dance and also become a great star on Broadway, cementing his reputation as a great actor. 

What I think is really intriguing is that each of them became almost a completely different person. They have had enough success for three or four lifetimes. When asked about their success, a common thread is that they all cite TM.

Oprah Winfrey: The media mogul and talk show host has been practicing TM since the 1980s and has spoken publicly about the benefits of the practice, including improved focus and reduced stress.

Oprah Winfrey discussing Transcendental Meditation

Hugh Jackman: The actor and singer has been practicing TM for over 20 years and has credited the practice with helping him to stay focused and grounded in his busy career.

Jerry Seinfeld: The comedian and actor has been practicing TM for over 40 years and has spoken about the practice in interviews and on his TV show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”


Katy Perry: The singer has been practicing TM since 2011 and has been an active supporter of the David Lynch Foundation, which provides funding for TM programs in schools and other underserved communities.

David Lynch and Transcendental Meditation

Most notably, David Lynch is a filmmaker and artist who has been practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) since the 1970s. In fact, he has been one of the most prominent advocates for TM, often speaking publicly about the benefits of the practice and supporting initiatives to bring TM to schools, prisons, and other communities.

Lynch has credited TM with helping him to overcome creative blocks, reduce stress, and access deeper levels of creativity and intuition. He has also spoken about the role of TM in his personal life, describing it as a tool for improving relationships, increasing inner peace, and fostering a greater sense of connectedness with others.

David Lynch on Transcendental Meditation

In addition to his personal practice, Lynch has been involved in numerous initiatives to promote TM and make it more accessible to others. He has founded the David Lynch Foundation, which provides funding for TM programs in schools, prisons, and other underserved communities, and has supported research into the benefits of TM for trauma, stress, and other health concerns.

Critics and Proposed Dangers of Transcendental Meditation

While TM has many supporters, there are also critics who have raised concerns about the organization behind the practice, as well as the potential dangers of TM. This is pretty unique if you think about it. People often question the effectiveness of any form of meditation which I think is a good thing. However, I can’t think of another instance where people are concerned about side effects or meditating, let alone dangers. 

Some have raised questions about the cost of instruction, while others have criticized the TM movement’s leadership. Many experts argue that these criticisms are unfounded, and that TM is a safe and effective practice. Some feel that the results people feel points to how powerful the practice is. Either way, we need to look at all sides when deciding how to meditate and a little controversy makes a typically predictable conversation a bit more juicy. 

Here are a few potential risks or concerns that have been raised regarding TM:

Cost: One potential concern with TM is the cost of initiation and training. The technique is typically taught by certified TM teachers, and the cost of this training can be expensive for some individuals.

Personal beliefs: Some individuals may have religious or spiritual concerns about the use of a mantra or the nature of the practice itself.

Psychiatric conditions: TM may not be appropriate for individuals with certain psychiatric conditions, such as severe depression or schizophrenia, and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Transcendental Meditation Sidhi program: Some individuals who practice the advanced level of TM, known as the TM Sidhi program, have reported experiencing negative or unwanted side effects, such as increased anxiety or feelings of detachment from reality. However, these reports are rare, and more research is needed to fully understand the potential risks and benefits of this advanced practice.

Overall, while there may be some concerns or risks associated with TM, these are generally considered to be minor and rare. The vast majority of individuals who practice TM experience no negative side effects and report feeling relaxed, focused, and rejuvenated after practicing. As with any health practice, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new routine.

How To Do Transcendental Meditation

How To Do Transcendental Meditation

During a TM session, the practitioner sits comfortably with their eyes closed and silently repeats the mantra to themselves for about 20 minutes. The mantra is not meant to have a specific meaning, but rather is used as a tool to help the mind settle and become more focused. When the mind becomes distracted or wanders, the practitioner simply returns their attention to the mantra.

The Importance of Transcendental Meditation Mantras

Transcendental Meditation mantras are chosen by trained teachers and are personalized for each individual practitioner based on their age and gender. The use of mantras in TM is not unique to this practice, as mantras are found in many different spiritual traditions. In TM, however, the mantra is used in a specific way that is designed to quiet the mind and help the practitioner access deeper levels of consciousness.

Some common mantras used in TM include “om,” “so-hum,” and “aum namah shivaya.” The use of these mantras is based on the tradition of Vedic chanting, which is believed to have originated in ancient India. Research has shown that the use of mantras in TM can have a number of benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, improved cognitive function, and increased feelings of calm and relaxation. Some studies have also suggested that the use of mantras in TM can lead to changes in brain activity, including increased activity in regions associated with attention and decreased activity in regions associated with anxiety.

Here is a great explanation of the use of mantras in Transcendental Meditation on YouTube from the official TM Organization: 

Transcendental Meditation On YouTube

Overall, the use of mantras in TM is an important aspect of this practice, helping practitioners to access deeper levels of consciousness and achieve greater levels of calm and inner peace.

How To Get Started and Why You Need a Teacher

I’m going to describe TM here and then link you to a great resource to get started. The truth is that while TM is a simple technique that can be learned by anyone, regardless of age or background, you can’t expect to make progress independently. Work needs to be done on the front end to establish which mantra matches you and your goals. It also helps to have someone to ask questions and to be accountable to until practicing becomes a habit. 

Here are the basic steps to practicing TM:

  1. Find a certified TM teacher: TM is best learned from a certified teacher who can guide you through the process and personalize a mantra for you.
  2. Set aside time to meditate: TM is typically practiced for 20 minutes twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
  3. Choose a quiet place to meditate: Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit and meditate without distractions.
  4. Sit comfortably: Sit comfortably with your back straight and your eyes closed.
  5. Begin repeating your mantra: Repeat your personalized mantra silently to yourself, allowing your mind to settle into a state of deep relaxation.
  6. If your mind wanders, gently return to your mantra: If your mind becomes distracted or wanders, simply return your attention to your mantra.
  7. End your meditation gradually: When your meditation is over, gradually bring your attention back to your surroundings and open your eyes.

It’s important to note that TM is not a religious or philosophical practice and does not require any special beliefs or rituals. It is simply a technique for calming the mind and promoting inner peace.

By this point in the discussion you can see how tremendously interesting Transcendental Meditation is and most people want to start. However, there is a cost barrier and the need to find a teacher that unfortunately stops a lot of people from practicing who would benefit from it. 

I have found one solution to bridge the gap.

Transcendental Meditation is a powerful tool for achieving inner peace, reducing stress, and improving overall health and wellbeing. While there are some controversies surrounding the practice, the evidence suggests that TM is a safe and effective technique for personal growth and spiritual development. For those interested in learning TM, finding a qualified instructor and committing to regular practice can lead to profound benefits and transformation.


  1. Transcendental Meditation Organization
  2. Orme-Johnson, D. W., Barnes, V. A., Schneider, R. H., & Robinson, D. K. (2017). Transcendental Meditation and Reduced Trauma Symptoms in Female Inmates: A Randomized Controlled Study. The Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(3), 269-277.
  3. Schneider, Robert H., et al. “A randomized controlled trial of stress reduction for hypertension in older African Americans.” Hypertension 26.5 (1995): 820-827.
  4. Infante, J. R., Peran, F., Rayo, J. I., Serrano, J., Dominguez, M. A., & Garcia, L. (2001). Levels of immune cells in transcendental meditation practitioners. International Journal of Neuroscience, 110(1-2), 95-106.
  5. Travis, Fred, and Jonathan Shear. “Focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending: categories to organize meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions.” Consciousness and cognition 19.4 (2010): 1110-1118.

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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