The person sitting opposite you on the Waterloo train may appear to be dozing, but there’s an increasing likelihood that they, like many thousands of professionals in the UK, are practising Transcendental Meditation (T.M.).
How will you know the difference? Well, you might not, but they certainly will. They will feel deeply relaxed and yet mentally more focussed. Their heart rate will have slowed down considerably, blood pressure normalised, anxiety dissolved, and their reaction time will be faster. They have practiced a simple, natural mental technique that reverses the bruising effects of daily stress on mind, body, and emotions. And unlike many strategies that claim to reduce stress, T.M. is backed by a mounting body of medical research – over 500 studies to date – supporting the anecdotal claims of practitioners that they feel more alert, mentally sharper and physically far more energetic and relaxed than before.
A key advocate of the benefits of T.M. is Dr William Weir, a consultant in infectious diseases at London’s Royal Free Hospital. He is only too aware of how stress contributes to many common and serious illnesses. He describes how stress is implicated in heart disease, cancer, many infectious diseases (including the common cold), and alcohol and drug abuse. He says:
“Every year, stress costs this country billions of pounds and has now been recognised as a legally definable industrial injury. The deep rest of Transcendental Meditation dissolves stress, providing relief from a wider range of stress-related and psychosomatic conditions. By stopping stress from accumulating, T.M. prevents illness and creates a basis for good health.”
Forget chanting, strange religious beliefs, and unnatural contortions. T.M. is an effortless mental technique that brings a unique quality of rest and calm to the mind and body. It’s easily learned – though always from a trained teacher rather than from a book or tape – and is practiced for 15 – 20 minutes twice a day sitting comfortably in a chair with the eyes closed; you can be on a train or plane, in a conference room or hotel lobby, anywhere you can sit and close your eyes.
Perhaps more importantly for the cynics among us it is not religious and requires no belief, change in lifestyle or diet. Many teachers encourage people to start with a healthy scepticism. The effects are felt right from day one of a four session evening class, and your body as well as your mind lets you know that you are beginning to face life with more energy, less fatigue and unnecessary stress.
This happens because the level of rest the body experiences during meditation is far deeper even than that of deep sleep, as measured by lowered oxygen consumption. In the first few minutes of meditation this may fall by as much as 20 per cent compared with an eight per cent reduction during sleep, taking many hours to achieve.
Simultaneously, brain wave activity, recorded in EEG research, shows that the electrical output of the front and back parts of the brain as well as that of the two hemispheres becomes more synchronised. In science-speak, the brain becomes more ‘coherent’.
So what? Well, you’ll remember those days when your mind is crystal clear and focussed as well as those times when thinking is decidedly more foggy, perhaps fatigued by long hours of wading through a heavy case load. Peter Miller, 50, a lawyer who has specialised in commercial property for the last 20 years, says
“T.M. undoubtedly helps you think more clearly in complex situations when you’re advising clients. It helps you cut through the tangle of detail and get right to the point.
“I’ve also noticed how it helps you to think on your feet. It’s as if there’s less background noise in the brain and more clear ‘signal’. You are also more able to maintain objectivity and as a result carry less stress home with you at the end of the working day.”
A barrister I interviewed explains how the combative nature of our legal system is a breeding ground for stress. He remarks that, “Like many of us at the Bar, I suffer the usual frustrations of cases disappearing at no notice, clients calling for meetings with 10 minutes warning and the general insults that tend to go with the job. Before leaving T.M. I used to pretend it all bounced off me, but in private I was often angry and had quite an unpleasant temper.
“Now I really experience taking it all in my stride: my temper’s almost disappeared, my mind is clearer – I can analyse matters at a faster rate and more incisively – and I cope more flexibly with the frustrations that bothered me in the past.”
Naturally, there are many ways of reducing stress, but in a number of studies comparing T.M. with control groups exercising, on diet programmes, listening to music, or performing progressive muscle relaxation, the meditating group showed significantly lower stress levels as measured by reduction in blood pressure, serum cholesterol levels, etc. As a result, insurance companies in the USA, Holland and Germany have offered lower premiums to people using Transcendental Meditation. Researchers in Canada found health care costs for a group of 677 meditators went down by almost 50 per cent over seven years.
Aging is a process accelerated by stress, and so it’s not surprising to find that it can be slowed down by regular meditation. A study quoted in the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that the biological age of a T.M. group (average age 50) using standard measures of aging was, on average, 12 years less than their actual chronological age.
This benefit may be particularly relevant to high profile practitioners of T.M. such as TV’s Troubleshooter, Sir John Harvey-Jones. He describes how meditating has helped him to avoid going too far down the Victor Meldrew route. He adds, “Practising T.M. certainly helps to put business problems into perspective.”
Have you ever been told by friends, family, or even a doctor to “take it easier?” It’s very hard for most people to follow this advice because there’s a natural desire to achieve more in life. With meditation, success doesn’t have to come at the expense of your health, well-being, and enjoyment of life.
[This article originally appeared in The Barrister, Issue No. 9, 11.6.2001 - Trinity Term Issue, Pp. 16-17, ISSN 1468-926X]
Published online on 19 Jun 2006 at http://www.nigelbarlow.com/rants-howtosucceed.html