BY LINDA EGENES

Fifty years ago, the US educational system scored the highest in high school graduation rates among twenty-seven industrialized nations. Today, we rank twenty-second, with dropout rates of 27 percent. And for underserved African-American and Hispanic students in urban schools across the nation, the dropout rates are much, much worse—close to 40 percent.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

As you would expect, the rest of the numbers don’t look good either. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which functions as a kind of nation’s report card, the US is flunking. Two out of three eighth-graders can’t read proficiently. Nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders scored below proficient in math.

Yet there are bright lights in the educational landscape. In some of our most troubled schools, students, administrators, and teachers have implemented a program called Quiet Time, which allows students to be quiet, read, or practice meditation for ten minutes twice a day on school time. The Transcendental Meditation technique is one of the options for Quiet Time.

Recent research shows that Quiet Time is having a positive impact, with one urban school reporting an increase in attendance to 98.6 percent, an 86 percent drop in suspension, and a 42-point gain in academic performance on state tests. Research on the Quiet Time program in other troubled urban schools reveals equally impressive results, with reduced symptoms of ADHD and other learning disorders, 40 percent reduction in psychological distress, and 65 percent decrease in violent conflict over two years. And yes—one study showed a 15 percent improvement in graduation rates.

“The Quiet Time program helped us change the predictive power of demographics,” says a principal of an embattled West Coast, urban school.

But how does it work?

A Surge-Protector against Stress

“All of us have kids you try to teach but their heads are down on the desk,” says the now retired superintendent of a school district that was one of the first to bring Quiet Time into its schools. “They’re out of it while you’re trying to teach. Why? Because of their lives. Because of stress.”

According to an American Psychological Association survey, 27 percent of adolescents report feeling extremely anxious during the school year. One in three children are obese and 11 percent have been diagnosed with ADHD. All of these problems are related to stress—and all can hamper a child’s learning ability.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

For instance, a new study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology found that TM significantly decreased psychological distress in public school students. The study, conducted with at-risk, minority, secondary-school students, showed a 36 percent reduction in overall psychological distress. Significant decreases were also found in trait anxiety and depressive symptoms.

One thing is clear to researchers and educators alike: lessening the stress can have a positive impact on mental health, heart health, and academic achievement.

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Increased Academic Achievement and Graduation Rates

It turns out our nation’s middle schools are especially vulnerable to the double whammy of stress and low academic achievement—and for at-risk kids in urban schools, the scores are much lower than the nation’s norms.

Yet the journal Education recently reported that students from an urban middle school saw their academic achievement improve when they experienced more inner quietness and less stress after the introduction of the Quiet Time program with the TM option.

“These initial research studies, showing the benefits of the Quiet Time program on reducing stress and raising academic achievement, hold promise for public education,” says Sanford Nidich, EdD, professor of education and lead investigator of both studies. “The findings suggest that there is a practical, value-added, educational program which can help low-performing minority students begin to close the achievement gap.”

Another pioneering study focused on graduation rates in an East Coast, urban high school. Graduation rates are the litmus test of educational success—and recent data shows that only 69 percent of students graduate from our nation’s schools.

“Urban schools on the whole tend to suffer from a range of factors that contribute to poor student academic performance and low graduation rates,” says lead author Robert D. Colbert, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Connecticut.

Results showed a 15 percent higher graduation rate for a group that was practicing the TM technique as compared to non-meditating controls. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, with a 25 percent increase in graduation rates.

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Results showed a 15 percent higher graduation rate for a group that was practicing the TM technique as compared to non-meditating controls. The largest effect was found in the most academically challenged students, with a 25 percent increase in graduation rates.

Findings also showed that meditating students were less apt to drop out from school or enter prison, and were more likely to be accepted to post-secondary institutions.

Better Brain Power

Researchers now understand that stress also affects concentration, focus, and other functions of the developing brain.

For example, researchers today understand that problems such as ADHD, the inability to control attention, are caused by underdevelopment or underutilization of the prefrontal cortex, which shuts down under stress. By addressing that stress, students can bring about a marked and highly visible increase in the coherent functioning of their brains.

In a landmark study published in Current Issues in Education, researchers Grosswald, Stixrud, and Travis looked at brain functioning of children with ADHD who practiced the TM technique, as compared to controls.

“In just six months, the brain functioning of the meditating students had moved from being solidly within clinical ADHD symptoms to just within normal brain functioning,” says Dr. Travis, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition.

“What that means in practical terms is that they were able to start self-regulating both physical and mental impulses,” he says. “So, for example, they were able to remember to raise their hand before speaking.”

Based on these initial findings, Dr. Travis and his colleagues decided to look at brain wave coherence, as measured by EEG, to find out if the practice of TM could help children with ADHD develop a more integrated brain functioning.

“In this random-assignment pilot study of children with ADHD aged eleven to fourteen, we saw significant increases in coherence in all parts of the brain in four frequency bands,” says Dr. Travis. “This means the brain is ceasing to function as isolated modules and is beginning to function more as a whole.”

Dr. Travis explains that integrated brain functioning results in improved focus on schoolwork, organizational abilities, ability to work independently, level of happiness, and quality of sleep.

“The TM group also improved in something called ‘letter fluency,’ which measures the ability of the frontal lobes to generate many new ideas, to be more creative,” he says.

Solution to Teacher Burnout

It’s not only the kids who are stressed these days. Half of new teachers bow out after just five years on the job, says the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. This is especially a problem in urban schools, where a higher turnover rate results in a higher percentage of under-qualified teachers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s teacher burnout that is causing teachers to flee.

So once again, stress is the culprit. Just as it’s hard for teachers to teach stressed kids, it’s equally hard for kids to learn if their teachers are depressed, anxious, scattered, or sick from an overload of stress.

Fortunately, TM can be equally effective in helping teachers as it is with students. A randomized, controlled study recently published in the Permanente Journal was conducted over four months at the Bennington School in Vermont, a special, in-residence school for students with behavioral problems.

Studies published in peer-reviewed journals already show that TM significantly reduces stress in adults. Now a growing body of research from the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of Connecticut shows that it is equally effective for children and adolescents.

“The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group.” —Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH

“The results of this randomized, controlled trial are very striking and demonstrate the utility of introducing a stress reduction program for teachers and other public and private employees,” says Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH, a Senior Physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Kaiser Permanente Northwest and the lead author of the study. “The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group.”

Change Begins Within

To help underserved kids learn, acclaimed movie director David Lynch established the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace in 2005. To date, it has awarded scholarships to over a hundred thousand at-risk students around the world, including the Quiet Time programs in Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York, New Haven, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In addition to funding research, the DLF also funds programs for prisoners, veterans with PTSD, victims of domestic violence, and the homeless to learn the TM technique and start a new life of positive transformation.

David Lynch is passionate about helping kids reduce stress, succeed in school, and follow their dreams. “In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have two short class periods a day to dive deep within themselves and experience the field of silence and inner happiness —the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us,” he says. “This is the way to save the coming generation.”

Now there are dozens of other schools waiting for funding to implement the Quiet Time program.

For the school administrators and teachers who have seen their schools transformed with Quiet Time, it’s a program that holds great promise for educating children and providing them with an immensely valuable tool for life.

“The research is showing us that the experience of restful alertness provided by TM is an important educational experience that promotes learning, reduces violence, and supports healthy psychological development,” says Dr. Jamie Grant, National Director of Programs for the David Lynch Foundation. “This experience belongs in schools everywhere.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 23. Reprinted with permission.)

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Ayurveda and Immunity – Feed Your Child Healthy Fats

(Last in a three-part series on Immunity Boosting Foods)
by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsSome parents are confused about fats, thinking that they should limit fats even in very young children in order to keep their cholesterol down. This can be very damaging to the child, and can even cause “wasting disease.” The brain itself is over half fat by weight. At birth a newborn’s brain contains only 30 percent of the billions of brain cells that it will need as an adult. Your child’s brain acquires 95 percent of its brain cells by age eighteen months—a phenomenal rate of growth.

This shows how essential a diet rich in fat is for the growing infant, and why fat-rich breast milk is perfectly programmed by nature to provide exactly the right kind of fat and the right proportion to fulfill this need. It also shows why infants and toddlers need more fat than adults, with infants twelve months and younger needing half their calories in fat, toddlers from one to three years needing 35 percent of their calories in fat, and from three to six years, 30 percent of their calories in fat. In contrast, adults need less than 30 percent of their diet to contain fat. Thus infants and children under three years of age need high-fat diets to grow properly, and this is best provided through mother’s milk, cow’s milk, and ghee.

Besides feeding your child’s growing brain, fat is essential for building the bones and muscles. Fats help membrane development, cell formation, and cell differentiation. Fat protects against mutations in the cells and contains antioxidants.

But it’s essential to choose healthy fats that do not raise LDL cholesterol or create other imbalances in the body.

Ghee: As we mentioned above, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee as the most healthy and sattvic cooking oil and as a spread to replace butter [see a complete description of the benefits of ghee in part 2 in this series]. Here are some other healthy oils to use.

Olive Oil: Besides ghee, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is also recommended. Other types of olive oil are heated, which destroys nutrients and increases free radical content. To prevent free radical damage, olive oil should not be heated above 302 ̊ F when cooking. This is why, in many parts of Italy, olive oil is traditionally added to pasta and vegetables after cooking to flavor the food. Olive oil can be used in bread recipes, as baking only raises the temperature inside the bread to 221 ̊ F. This is low enough to avoid destroying its positive properties.

Extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is the only commercially produced, mass-marketed oil available that has not had its properties destroyed by heat, chemicals, and refining. One of the advantages of olive oil is that it stores well in a cool, dark place, and does not lose its nutritional properties unless overheated or exposed to light.

Extra-virgin olive oil is especially good for Kapha types, because it is lighter and less fattening than other oils and fats such as ghee. It is a monounsaturated fat, does not raise blood cholesterol, and has been shown to lower cardiovascular risks. Olive oil also tastes good in salad dressings.

Coconut Oil: Although it is a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high flame point and is therefore a good oil for cooking as it does not create free radicals when heated. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats and can have therapeutic effects on the brain and nervous system. Its high content of lauric acid also kills harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Other healthy oils: Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot produce and must obtain from food. These are essential in the sense that without them, the body cannot function properly. Flaxseed oil, hemp-seed oil, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils all contain vary- ing amounts of essential fatty acids. However, flaxseed and hemp-seed oils are extremely fragile, and their essential fatty acids are destroyed when exposed to heat, light, or air. They must be stored in the refrigerator, cannot be used at all for cooking, and should be used within three weeks of opening. Flaxseed oil is not recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda because of its heating effect on the liver. Instead, grind fresh golden flaxseed in a spice grinder and add a teaspoon to the food.

Safflower, sunflower, and sesame seed oil are polyunsaturated oils, which are low in cholesterol but create excessive free radicals, which is why they are not often recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Unfortunately, most of the safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils you buy commercially (and even in health food stores) have been prepared using heat, light, harmful solvents, and chemicals, and thus are not nutritionally sound. If you do use them, make sure they are pressed mechanically without heat, light, or chemical processing and are organic and pesticide-free. Because oil becomes rancid easily, oils should be stored in opaque containers in a cool, dark place.

You may be able to find unheated, unrefined, organic oils in your health food store. Check to see if the different oils are all the same color; if so, then they have been over-processed and are harmful to the body. When processed mechanically without heat, chemicals, or light, the oils of different seeds take on different colors and hues.

Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, but unfortunately, much of it is now genetically engineered and therefore not recommended, especially for children, unless it is organically grown (which means the seeds are not genetically modified) and processed mechanically, without heat.

Whole seeds and nuts: Healthy sources of oils and essential fatty acids for children are whole nuts and seeds. Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are delicious, as are blanched almonds, walnuts, and organic soy- beans (in the form of tofu, flour, or oil). They are also a good source of protein. (Cashews tend to be fatty and constipating, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Peanuts are not recommended.) Nuts are more digestible when soaked overnight, then ground and added to dishes.

Vegetables: Dark-green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and broccoli also contain small quantities of essential fatty acids. Actually, all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some amount of essential fatty acids. Avocados, for instance, are a good source of essential fatty acids. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme also contain essential oils.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 1 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsAccording to Maharishi Ayurveda, nutrition plays an important role in the developing human immune system. This is especially true during gestation. Undernourished, low- birth-weight babies show persistent immunological impairment for several months, even years.

Food is especially vital for the growing child. Every day your child is building bones, muscles, and brain cells at a rapid rate. Food gets converted into the seven dhatus, (tissues) and becomes the flesh, bones, blood, and muscles of the body. The more fresh the food is, the more consciousness it has, the more quickly it is converted into ojas, the most refined and nourishing product of digestion. And remember, ojas is directly related to immunity. The more wholesome the foods your child eats, the greater his immunity will be.

Because the amount of ojas is directly linked to the level of immunity, offering children ojas-producing foods should be the highest priority for parents. Here are five ways to increase the amount of ojas in your child’s diet to boost immunity.

1. Choose fresh foods.

In order to create ojas, food must be fresh to start with, the fresher the better. In Maharishi Ayurveda, there is the concept of prana or “life force.” Some foods contain more prana than others, and these are the foods that nourish both the body and mind.

Frozen, canned, packaged, and processed food has very little prana, and is therefore difficult to digest. If your child eats a steady diet of these foods, the result will be ama.

As a physician, it is easy for me to see which children are eating fresh, home-cooked meals and which children are eating processed, frozen, or canned foods. Signs of digestive toxic buildup (ama) in children include drowsiness, fatigue, a pale color, and lack of enthusiasm. Children who eat fresh foods tend to have rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and buoyant energy, not to mention less sickness and disease. Just by converting your child’s diet to fresh foods, you can increase his health and vitality immeasurably.

Foods that are packaged are not only old and lacking in prana, but they likely have many harmful additives and preservatives. A rule of thumb for choosing food: the more natural, whole, unprocessed, and unadulterated the food is, the healthier it will be for your child.

2. Serve regular meals of warm, cooked food.

Raw food is difficult to digest and can cause a Vata imbalance. Although many people believe that there are more vitamins in raw foods than in cooked ones, the problem is that the raw foods are hard to digest and assimilate. A preliminary study presented at the American Chemical Society showed that the antioxidant beta carotene—which exists in carrots, broccoli, and spinach and has been found to combat tissue damage and plaque in arteries—is absorbed 34 percent more easily in cooked and pureed carrots than in raw ones. The researchers concluded that cooking vegetables softens the plant tissue, allowing antioxidants to be released.

It’s better to serve children warm, delicious, attractive, and whole- some meals that have been cooked by someone who loves them. The warmth is essential for proper digestion, and helps avoid the buildup of ama. Children, being in the Kapha time of life, find warm foods espe- cially soothing and helpful to the digestive process.

Avoid serving your child food straight from the refrigerator. It’s better to serve warm drinks or warm water, fresh-cooked foods, and room- temperature fruits. Fresh salads made with grated carrot, ginger, fresh parsley, and cilantro are fine in small quantities to tone the appetite before the meal, if the child has strong digestion. (Grating makes vegetables more absorbable.)

3. Whenever possible, provide home-cooked meals for your child. There is no better medicine than mother’s home-cooked meals. Just as fresh food has more prana, so does food that is lovingly prepared with- out rushing. And the most important element of food is preparing it with love. As a mother, you put so much love into a meal. The mother’s love is pure ojas to the child. A mother’s food is, for that reason, recognized as the most nourishing in every culture in the world. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “but I don’t have time to cook elaborate meals using all natural ingredients!” Many of you are working mothers, and as a working mother myself, I know how difficult it is to prepare a hot supper after a long day on the job.

I would suggest that you start by adding just one more home-cooked meal a week. If you already cook twice a week, try cooking three times. If you don’t cook at all, try just one meal. Instead of picking up food at a restaurant, instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven, try to cook a simple meal of fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Then see how your family reacts. Do they appreciate your efforts? Are the children more satisfied, more settled after eating? How do you feel when you eat fresher, more lovingly prepared foods? How do your children feel? Are they more relaxed, more focused?

Then gradually add another home-cooked meal, and another. One thing I know about cooking—the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you just have in your mind that you are committed to cooking more, you will find ways to do it. Once you are committed to the idea, then it just becomes a matter of finding the easiest way to carry out your plan. For instance, you can enlist your older children and husband to help. Some families enjoy cooking together, and make the preparation of meals a family project.

The other problem is school lunches. If your child is eating institutionally prepared meals at school, the fact is that he or she is eating food that is not fresh. It may even be harmful. School cafeterias are notorious for using canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which are often laced with preservatives and other chemicals. Children usually com- plain about such food, calling it all sorts of unpleasant names. Most adults would not eat the food that is served in many school cafeterias.

I am not bringing this problem up to make you feel guilty. I am bringing it up because I know that if parents get passionate enough about something, they can do amazing things. You can band together with other parents and get the food in your child’s cafeteria changed. Or you can try to provide your child with a thermos of nourishing soup or other hot food from home. The main point is to first recognize the problem. The solution will make itself known.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

BY LINDA EGENES

PF-baby-2_1376795cThere are many times in a woman’s life when she needs extra support, but seldom as urgently as when she is pregnant and during the first year after giving birth. In many traditional cultures, the vulnerability of a mother is well known. The pregnant mother is fussed over and pampered, her cravings are satisfied and the extended family surrounds her with love and support.

In the traditional healthcare system of India, and in many homes in modern India today, by the time the mother gives birth, she has been relieved of her work and household responsibilities by her family members.

After giving birth, she is given a massage on a daily basis, fed special foods and herbs to help her recover her strength and mental balance, and surrounded with love and support the first six weeks so she can establish a strong bond with her baby—and recover her strength and mental and physical balance.

Our modern American mother tends to face a different world. Increasingly, mothers work until the last month of pregnancy, and when they leave the hospital a day after giving birth, they have little support, facing the challenge of feeling mentally and physically exhausted yet also responsible for the needs of a newborn. And with over 50 percent of birth mothers now also single mothers, the challenges are even greater without a partner to help.

No wonder maternal mental illness is on the rise. According to the two-part series in the NY Times, “A Mother’s Mind,” the range and duration of maternal mental illness is more extensive than previously thought, causing heart-breaking mood swings in some mothers that directly impacts the child’s safety and development.

Research now shows that postpartum depression can start earlier (during pregnancy) or later (after the baby is 4 months old—any time during the first year). It can be associated with a wide range of mental disorders, including anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, bi-polar disorder, and intrusive thoughts of doing harm to the baby.

The causes are complex. Some women are genetically wired to react more to the dramatic hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, when hormonal activity increases by more than 100 times and then plummets to zero after giving birth, a phenomenon that Dr. Margaret Spinelli, the director of the Women’s Program in Columbia University’s psychiatric department calls “A roller-coaster ride that disrupts brain chemistry.”

Other women succumb to the stresses of financial insecurity, family dysfunction, exhaustion from childbirth and parenting itself, causing scientists to refer to maternal mental illness as “a complex interplay of genes, stress and hormones.”

While maternal mental illness is not new—reports exist in the literature since the time of Hippocrates—the added stress and isolation of the modern mother can’t be helping.

Yet there are mothers who are finding needed rest and stress relief by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. “Particularly in the postpartum period, the woman’s first act of being a mother—and all subsequent acts—will be to give,” says Rebecca Douglas, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician. “As mothers we can only give from what we have. And if what we have is exhaustion, then we’ll have less of a basis from which to give. If, on the other hand, we have a methodology to rest and rejuvenate and give rest to ourselves, then we’ll have that much more to give.”

Available at http://www.mumpress.com/health-maharishi-vedic-approach-to-health/c12.html.

Available at http://www.mumpress.com/health-maharishi-vedic-approach-to-health/c12.html.

My co-authors Dr. Kumuda Reddy, M.D., Margaret Mullins, MSN and nurse practitioner, and I wrote in the book For a Blissful Baby, which describes natural ways to help mothers regain their mental and physical balance after childbirth, “Practicing the Transcendental Meditation program is the most important recommendation to help both husband and wife reduce mental, emotional and physical stress. This simple technique helps develop the healthiest and happiest state of mind and emotions.”

If the mother is practicing the TM technique, she has an opportunity to recover much more quickly from the stress of childbirth. Research on TM also reports faster recovery from depression, anxiety, emotional numbness and insomnia after stressful experiences.

“People who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique experience less depression, because they are able to gain deep rest (both during meditation and at night) and release stress,” says Dr. Reddy. “Many of my patients report that the deep rest experienced during the TM technique helps them recover more quickly from the extreme fatigue after giving birth, and replaces it with more bliss and balance.”

Somehow as a society we need to think of how we can give more support to new mothers. In reading the 504 comments that readers posted online for the NY Times two-part Mother’s Mind series, I was struck by how many mothers cited social isolation as a major cause of maternal depression. As one mother wrote, “It is so, so important for people to check in on new moms, to let them talk about their feelings, to not judge them and to help them with cooking, cleaning, and with the babies. That help will never be forgotten.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, July 28, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Educating Girls in UgandaUganda, like most countries in Africa, has experienced drought, famine, war, political instability, human rights violations, an AIDS epidemic, and extreme poverty. Providing higher education for Ugandan girls is especially critical, as research has shown that when young girls and women are educated, they are able to care better for their children and lead their families out of poverty.

The evidence is so striking that it can be boiled down to one sentence: If you want to change the world, invest in the education of girls.

According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 46.5% of girls in Uganda get married and have children before reaching the age of 18. The literacy rate of girls lags behind that of boys, and even though the primary school population is evenly divided between boys and girls, girls comprise only 46% of secondary students and 38% of college students.

In order to provide a high school education to girls in an area of Uganda where there are no opportunities for a non-sectarian higher education, Maharishi Secondary School for Girls is the first non-sectarian boarding school for girls in the eastern edge of Uganda. It started with a small group of 30 girls in 2009 in Mbale, Uganda. The next year it doubled to 60 and kept growing. Now with new buildings in progress, they are aiming for 600.

The school has been successful in helping children who have been rejected from other schools for behavioral problems or for being HIV positive. Grant Lusimbo, the amiable director who helped found the school says, “Our students are now performing better than the schools who take only the cream. This is a great joy to us. Now we get the students that the others say, “We can’t touch this one. We say, OK, we will take her, we have a method.’”

The method he refers to is the Transcendental Meditation technique, which the students practice twice a day together as a group in addition to taking a rigorous course of academics.

Director Lusimbo explains that the TM technique allows the thinking mind to settle down and experience the source of creativity, silence and calmness within. At the same time the body experiences deep rest and releases stress. This stress relief is especially important for Ugandan students, because even though the political situation is more stable now, the decades of stressful events have left large segments of the population, including the young people, suffering from depression and PTSD.

Lusimbo recounts what happened the first time he introduced the TM technique to students in another Ugandan school in 1983. He explains that in Uganda, corporal punishment is a common way to discipline students. “All of a sudden after introducing TM the behavior was so good,” he says. “So all corporal punishment was abolished.”

Now he likens the Maharishi Secondary School to a hospital that cures a patient who was considered incurable by doctors. “The other schools are saying, ‘No, we can’t teach you.’ We say, ‘Bring her to us and we’ll resurrect her.’ ”

The teachers, who also practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, are equally enthusiastic. Headmistress Kalyebbi Felistus says that she has taught in all types of schools, with girls alone, boys alone and mixed, but finds that these girls are more disciplined and eager to learn. History Teacher Zemei Beth says that the students are lively but “We don’t experience misbehaviors.”

Peer-reviewed research shows that the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique not only improves social behavior by calming anxiety and anger, but it improves focus and clarity of thinking, helping students to effortlessly increase their learning capacity. One student reported, “After morning lessons, I come out with my mind tired. But after meditating, my mind has become fresh and I can pick up on whatever they are teaching and understand hard subjects like biology, chemistry and physics.”

Science teacher Opado Joel says, “Our school has now improved in the level of academics simply because of one thing, and that’s meditation.”

One student who is HIV positive and had suffered from the stress and isolation that accompanies this condition, reported, “Since I started meditation, I have seen my health improving. I used to have body aches and terrible headaches, but these days I am happy to be healthy. I don’t experience aches. I understand myself—who I am. And my friends have started supporting me because they are also meditators.”

Visit the school’s website and watch their video here.

Watch the video of the dormitory in progress at the Maharishi Secondary School for Girls in Uganda here.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

(Part two of a two-part series)

The Personal Journey of Acharn Yai, Buddhist NunAcharn Yai is not a typical Buddhist nun. For one thing, she drives a car, uses a cell phone, and is committed to employing the best of modern technology to help the school thrive, even creating her own videos for fundraising.

She is also the founder of a unique school in Thailand. In 2003, Acharn Yai founded Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, the first and only free Buddhist boarding school for Thai girls who are at risk due to poverty, abandonment, or abuse. The school now has 530 in-residence students from preschool through grade 12, taught by 41 teachers. In order to accommodate 500 more girls who wish to attend the school, a new classroom building is already under construction.

The story of one woman uplifting thousands of girls from poverty is inspiring, to say the least. These girls not only receive safe haven and a free education—they are being transformed in ways that no one could have predicted or imagined. Under Acharn Yai’s leadership, they practice the Transcendental Meditatio technique twice a day, which she credits as the turning point for the school—since the girls started meditation, they now win top academic awards, live in harmony together and have learned skills to succeed in a culture that would otherwise exploit them.

It would be hard to imagine anyone as suited to the job of leading the school as Acharn Yai. As she walks through the peaceful campus, the sounds of Buddhist chanting mingle with birdsong. The younger girls flock around her as she walks. It’s obvious that she is not only revered by them, but dearly loved.

“She is a universal mother, so compassionate,” says Anarbha Supaneedis, a teacher of the Transcendental Mediation technique who helps teach the new students who come each year. “I feel my heart melting when I see how much she loves these girls and wants to take care of them and nourish them in every possible way.”

Outsiders also have recognized Acharn Yai’s gifts. In 2012 she received the Enlightened Leadership award from the Global Mother Divine Organization in Vlodrop, Holland. And for her service in providing a free education to thousands of girls in poverty, she was honored with a service award for her leadership in Ratchaburi province, where the school is located.

It was Acharn Yai who made the decision to introduce the TM technique to the school’s staff and students in May 2008, having heard about the educational benefits. Yet she herself preferred to remain a cautious observer and even went into hiding while the TM instruction was taking place so she would not get pulled into learning!

A few months later it became clear to her that the atmosphere of the school had already transformed. “Everyone seemed to be happier and more harmonious, unlike before,” she says. “I heard no complaints about any difficulty or headaches from the TM practice even among the youngest students. This was a surprise to me because I had experienced complaints in the past from teaching Buddhist meditation to the girls.”

She became curious about why this simple and easy technique could make such a dramatic change in her school. To find the answer firsthand, she finally decided to learn Transcendental Meditation in December 2008.

Ever humble and honest, Acharn Yai says she has experienced positive changes from practicing the TM technique for five years. “It benefits my life as a whole—making me healthier and calmer. The most obvious change in me is my emotions. I usually was a hot-tempered and impatient person. But after practicing TM, I became more peaceful, modest and careful. I am able to understand other people better than before.”

Acharn Yai also feels that the practice of Transcendental Meditation supports traditional Buddhist values.

“When we practice TM, we go to the source of pure consciousness and purify stress, and when we come out of meditation we naturally think good, speak good, and act good. It’s completely effortless and natural. When we have less stress, we don’t have to force ourselves, we don’t have to try to be good. We naturally live the teaching of Lord Buddha—to think good, to speak good and to act good. So TM and Buddhism are very related.”

Based on her own experience, Acharn Yai became the first Buddhist nun to become a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

The construction of a large building is now underway to accommodate the 500 additional girls. A significant portion of money has come from the government and private donors, but the school still needs to quickly raise $95,000 to finish this large building in 2014.

This dynamic woman is thinking beyond the individual lives of these students, to ways they can become a force for good for the entire country. If she realizes her goal of providing room for 1000 students, then more than 800 students and teachers will be practicing the TM program together.

Noting research on the positive changes that take place for the community and nation when large groups of people practice the Transcendental Meditation program together, Acharn Yai aims to create nothing less than national coherence for Thailand. And that will be the greatest transformation of all.

Watch the video

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women BlogFebruary 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

(Part one of a two-part series)

Helping At-Risk Girls in Thailand SucceedThey come from all over Thailand, speaking many different dialects. Some are orphans, some from families destroyed by divorce. Others, members of the hill tribes huddled at Thailand’s northern borders, suffer from extreme destitution. Some have been abandoned to the streets. Often their parents are young and ill-equipped for raising a child. One young mother dropped off her preschool girls because her new boyfriend didn’t want them around.

One thing these girls have in common: they have learned to fight to survive. Yet these at-risk girls are living in harmony together at Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, the first and only free Buddhist boarding school for Thai girls. The students consistently win top awards in every school competition imaginable from speaking English to Thai language skills to PowerPoint presentations. In fact, this year they have won more awards than any other school in their province. At the heart of these students’ transformation from illiteracy to academic leadership, the teachers say, is the students’ daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Acharn Yai, the Buddhist nun who spearheaded the founding of the school in 2003 with other nuns of her order, tells about a fourteen-year-old girl who was sentenced to prison, but the judge sent her to Dhammajarinee Witthaya School instead. “In the beginning she quarreled with everyone—with teachers, with friends. She was rebellious and not interested in studying,” says Acharn Yai. “After this girl learned TM, her behavior completely changed. She is much softer and more humble with other girls. Now she is a leader.”

One of the school’s teachers, Acharn Chakriya, remembers a girl who was sent by UNESCO as a last resort because she had been kicked out of every other school. “She was so big and combative that even the teachers were afraid of her,” says Acharn Chakriya with a laugh. “After she learned TM, she started helping the other students and made it her job to sweep the floor for the younger girls to sit on when they meditate. And just today she won the first prize in singing for the whole province! She said she meditated before the competition.” Acharn Yai says that she sees this pattern over and over—the girls come in fighting, but with the TM program, the aggression goes away. “The students become more calm and settled,” says Acharn Yai. “Their aggressive behavior decreases, their grades go up; they pay more attention to whatever we teach them. When they have inner happiness, they soak up whatever knowledge we give, unlike before. Because of their TM practice, the school is doing better and better.” Before the school introduced the TM technique in 2008, it was much harder to teach the girls, says Acharn Chakriya. “The teachers never even tried to send the girls to competitions because the girls weren’t ready.” The teachers also benefit, enjoying greater energy and better focus with TM. One teacher found relief from chronic headaches.

Besides learning the Transcendental Meditation technique, the girls take courses in Buddhist studies and an academic curriculum that allows them to pursue a higher education if they choose. Learning how to use the Internet, make PowerPoint presentations, and create basic computer programming is also an important part of the curriculum. The students also receive vocational training in baking, growing organic vegetables, creating traditional Thai handicrafts, performing basic accounting, arranging flowers, crocheting, weaving baskets and creating Thai flower garlands. This training is critical for those not attending college, as it gives them a way to make a living when they graduate. And in keeping with Buddhist principles, the students spend time every day performing service: keeping the buildings orderly and tending the beautiful gardens. So the day is full from dawn to dusk. (to be continued . . . ) See the video To make tax-deductible donations to support the classroom building project, please visit Seeds of Heaven. Click on “Donate” and find Dhammajarinee Witthaya Girls’ School, Thailand. Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog,  February 13, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_0077I had never heard of the word “childism” before reading Claudia M. Gold’s review of the book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children by the late author Elisabeth Young-Bruehl.

Young-Breuhl, an analyst, political theorist and biographer, calls attention to the way human rights of children are threatened in America today. Childism is defined as “a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.”

These are strong words, hard to apply to the parents I know. Yet when she cites the growing epidemic of ADHD and now bipolar disorder among our nation’s children, and the way that children are routinely medicated into acquiescent behavior, Young-Breuhl can’t help but wonder if children are being properly represented in our society.

She also wonders why children and families are not given more support in our society. The scarcity of social services for kids (and the fact that pediatricians, pediatric child-care workers and school teachers are among the lowest paid professionals in America) are contributing factors to childism.

Not to mention that in other developed countries, there are much lower rates of child abuse and neglect, a phenomenon that Young-Bruehl attributes to the widely available social services available to help troubled children and troubled families. In many other developed countries, she writes, “children have a range of preventative and development-oriented services: universal health care, health services, and parent support services in homes after the birth of a child; maternal and parental leaves for infant care; developmental preschool programs; after-school programs; and economic supports of various kinds.”

While I had never thought of America as being prejudiced against children (on the contrary, I thought of us as being a child-centered society), no one can dispute that parents in this country are pretty much on their own when it comes to raising their kids, even when both parents work outside the home, and even when single mothers earn the living and care for their children at the same time.

As Dr. Gold points out, childism in America is a societal problem, not a failing of most parents. “Most individual parents, given the opportunity to be heard and supported, are not childist,” writes Dr. Gold. “They long to help their children, not merely control them.” Yet when behavioral problems arise, parents are left with few choices.

The problem can be summed up in one sentence of Young-Breuhl’s, that “children whose development is not being supported cannot be protected.” As the great social reformer and statesman Frederick Douglass observed, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

There are, of course, a wide range of causes of health problems in children, such as poor diet, genetics and toxic stress. Toxic stress is defined by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child as “severe, uncontrollable, chronic adversity.” Experiencing toxic stress while in the womb or during early childhood can be a major cause of mental and physical illness later in life—and even is thought to disrupt the architecture of the brain. As research on the developing child continues to grow, organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) are pushing for a fundamental change in America’s early childhood policies and services to help prevent the effects of toxic stress on children.

Until that happens, families can take a big step in preventing both everyday stress and toxic stress by learning stress-reduction methods such as the Transcendental Meditation technique. Children are sensitive to a mother’s stress and reportedly have higher stress themselves when the mother is overworked, anxious or depressed. So moms who practice the TM technique twice a day can help reduce stress in themselves and their children.

The Transcendental Meditation technique is easy to learn and effortless to practice, and parents find it’s a powerfully effective stress buster. Research reveals that TM practice produces a state of profound relaxation, much deeper than ordinary rest and accompanied by increased alertness and orderly brain function. Regular practice results in decreased anxiety and depression, reduced insomnia and hypertension.

And for your average kid who may not be suffering from toxic stress, TM is a gentle way to lessen the everyday stress caused by peer pressure, academic competition and family stress. When children meditate, their grades improve without more effort. It makes sense—when your mind is more calm, you can learn without struggle.

TM is also a proven way to reduce ADHD without harmful side effects. Recent studies found that students with ADHD who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique showed significant reduction of ADHD symptoms within three to six months. And girls with ADHD need help just as much as boys. Girls often go undiagnosed and untreated because ADHD symptoms in girls manifest more as a quieter inability to focus rather than the more obvious disruptive behavior typically found in boys with ADHD.

Cognitive learning expert Sarina Grosswald, EdD, has led pioneering research on ADHD and meditation. Dr. Grosswald explains that Transcendental Meditation works very differently from how the drugs work. “Meditation is not a quick fix. But, over time, TM allows the brain to create the neural connections that correct the underlying problem. The drug is an immediate fix because it’s an amphetamine, but when it wears off, the problem remains—the lack of brain integration.”

The TM technique is a cost-effective approach that can be a lifelong tool for managing ADHD and it’s many challenges while improving IQ, academic achievement, and better relationships between children and their peers, family members and teachers. Best of all, unlike medication, the TM technique has no negative side effects.

Other learning disabilities can also be helped through TM, such as dyslexia. Having struggled with severe dyslexia since childhood, Dana Farley, now a college graduate, says, “I had a lot of insecurities when it came to school. Since starting TM in high school, I’m not putting myself down all the time. The negative thoughts just don’t appear. Instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do this’ I’m thinking ‘Why not?’”

Learning the Transcendental Meditation technique is a way to empower children of all ages from within—and that is the opposite of childism.

Watch video

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Photo by Linda Egenes

 

460px-Baby_teeth_in_human_infantIt’s so easy to love a baby. The super-soft skin, the miniature fingers and toes, and the smell—pure heaven. Just being around a baby makes all of us—men or women—feel more gentle, more protective, more tender.

Yet it seems that girl babies, in particular, have a greater effect on their dads—they make them feel more generous, to the point of donating more to charity and paying their employees more. And this is backed up by research. In a fascinating new study, researchers found that the mere presence of female family members, even infants, was correlated with more giving. Male chief executives tended to raise wages for employees after the birth of a daughter, while the birth of a son caused executives to reduce wages for their workers (likely to claim more resources for his growing family).

As just one example of how the birth of a daughter can inspire greater generosity, twenty years ago Bill Gates was planning to wait a quarter century to start giving away his wealth, but a year later, after his marriage to Melinda and the birth of his daughter, he started the foundation that has made him one of the most generous philanthropists in history. He also credits his mother for influencing him to give.

And apparently girls also affect their brothers in a similar way. In his NY Times article “Why Men Need Women,” Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton School who has written extensively about giving more to increase profits in business, writes, “Social scientists believe that the empathetic, nurturing behaviors of sisters rub off on their brothers.” He cites studies that reveal that boys with more female siblings are spontaneously more generous. (This made sense to me, as my husband, who has a twin sister and thus spent nine months in close proximity to her, is an especially generous and compassionate human being.)

This spontaneous effect on men’s impulse to give more is also a reason for women to assume more leadership positions in society, says Grant. Just by being in the boardroom, for example, women can tilt the thinking to more compassion, to more inclusiveness, to freer sharing of information, to better treatment of employees.

And because women are also known to bring diverse perspectives, collaborative styles, dedication to mentoring and a keen understanding of female employees and customers, this can result in greater profits.  “We already know from considerable research that companies are better off when they have more women in top management roles, especially when it comes to innovation,” writes Grant. He cites recent studies showing that between 1992 and 2006, companies that added women to their top management teams generated an average of 1 percent more economic value, which on average meant more than $40 million. But Grant goes on to wonder aloud whether some of these benefits come simply because the presence of women makes their male peers want to be better human beings.

I loved this idea, that women have a softening effect on men without even having to do anything extra. Just by being ourselves, we can change the world for the better.

I am reminded of this reality every day as I take time for my twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. As I close my eyes and allow my awareness to settle, I transcend the concerns of my daily life and sink into pure Being, the unified wholeness that is my own essence and the essence of every woman and man and creature and plant on earth. When I come out, I feel more peaceful, more harmonious, more happy. And that has an effect on everyone around me. Ask any mom or any school teacher—it’s the days when you feel tired and crabby that the children start fighting. When you’re relaxed, the kids respond to that calming influence and are calmer too.

As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique wrote in Science of Being and Art of Living more than 50 years ago, “Thought waves are much more powerful than the waves of speech and action. Through every thought, word, and action we are creating some wave in the atmosphere, but thought waves are especially penetrating. If we are joyful, happy, and full of kindness and love for the whole world, we receive love from every quarter.”

Based on my personal experience, and the research on the TM Technique, I feel that if women nourish themselves by dipping into the transcendent on a regular basis, they are better able to nourish their families, friends, employees, colleagues and communities—not by doing more, but by Being. What a wonderful thought—just by being our true selves, we can have a profound and lasting positive effect on those around us.

Linda Egenes is a health writer and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for the Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, September 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

chesnutt winer, MSAE studentsCarol and Paul Chesnutt-Winer lived the American dream—Paul had a good job as a business consultant, they lived near extended family, were active in their church. Their two children, Evelyn Chase, 6, and Philip, 9, attended one of Atlanta’s best schools.

Yet Carol was unhappy with the tense atmosphere at the school. “The children were learning in an environment that was significantly stressed, where the teachers, though truly excellent, were under tremendous pressure to produce high test scores,” Carol says.

The pressures extended to their son Philip, who participated in a gifted program, yet suffered from nightmares and felt less and less motivated to keep up with the extra work. Then the Chesnutt-Winers visited the Maharishi School in the summer of 2007. “When we saw the children, how relaxed yet focused they were, I thought, ‘This is the answer to my prayers,’ ” Carol says.

By the end of September, Paul located a consulting job that would allow him to be based in Fairfield, and Carol, who had a consulting and engineering background, was offered a job teaching personal finance and business math at the upper school. Within two weeks, they had bought a house, pulled up stakes, and moved to Fairfield.

In another part of the country, in Cleveland, Ohio, Lisa Rizer was on a search. A recently divorced mother, she was looking for a loving, caring educational environment for her two school-aged children, Matthew, 8, and Autumn, 5. At one point, she felt the only alternative was to start her own school.

“I had put my two older children through public school, but I was constantly looking for something better, where my kids could learn without the stress of ridiculous amounts of homework being piled on them,” she says. “For me personally, it was the biggest ‘aha’ when I found out about Maharishi School. I found myself not searching anymore. It was just a matter of moving to the place where that education was.”

What is it about this school that causes people to literally pull up stakes overnight and start over in a small Iowa town?

Stress-free Learning

Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE), founded in 1981, is a K-12 private school located in Fairfield. It’s a school with an open-admissions policy, yet upper school students consistently score in the top 1 percent on standardized tests, 95 percent of its graduates are accepted to four-year universities, and students on all levels regularly garner state and national awards in everything from science fairs to state drama competitions. During the past seven years alone, this small school has produced more than 10 times the national average of National Merit Scholar finalists.

One cold December day, I find myself sitting in Dr. Richard Beall’s office on the second floor of the light-filled Maharishi School building. Dr. Beall, although one of the founding faculty of the school, is himself a recent transplant, having spent the last five years running a charter school in Charlotte, NC.

“Kids everywhere know stress, whether they are high achievers or low-performing students,” he says in his quiet, authoritative voice. “To see a school that offers a college-prep curriculum and yet the kids become less stressed as they learn—that’s not a common formula in education.”

The main difference is something called Consciousness-Based education, Dr. Beall explains. “Consciousness-Based education acknowledges that learning depends on how conscious or awake we are, so every part of the curriculum develops the awareness of the student, waking up the total brain functioning.”

Dr. Beall notes that this is primarily achieved when the students practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at the beginning and end of each school day. The technique has been shown in peer-reviewed research studies to significantly reduce stress, improve health, and boost academic performance. Dr. Beall also points out that every influence during the school day—from daily yoga to eating organic lunches to the design of the building—is specifically designed to develop the full potential of the student.

“You see the differences in so many ways,” Carol Chesnutt-Winer says. In Atlanta, her children had six hours of pure academics, she says. At MSAE, they start school an hour later, with only five hours of academic instruction, plus meditation, physical education, art, and music.

Recent research concurs that a later school starting time boosts grades. Notes Lisa Rizer, “Children need more sleep; their biological clocks don’t work the same as ours. My child can wake up naturally, have breakfast with me. It’s not so rush-rush.”

“There’s a balance of rest and activity,” Carol adds. “The school lives what they talk about. There’s very little homework in the lower school. Of course, that jumps up dramatically when the children are older, but for the younger kids, they’re trying to set the tone that learning is non-stressful, a joyful event.”

She feels this is critical for learning. “In the Atlanta schools, the primary purpose was to teach the kids from a basic curriculum, to teach to the standardized tests,” she says. “The emphasis at MSAE is on the whole child, and that brings about a stark change in the classroom. The children here are achieving as much but at the same time are remarkably calm, focused, comfortable with themselves, and ready to learn. It’s very striking when you’ve experienced both worlds.”

Lisa agrees. “The proof is in the children, how they are. They look you in the eye, there’s an open affection and kindness between them. They have a different quality—it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

A Green Curriculum

One of the big draws for both the Chesnutt-Winers and Lisa Rizer was the sustainability curriculum at the school. With a four-season greenhouse and edible landscaping that allows children to snack on raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, and  herbs while passing through the courtyard, the school offers one of the top sustainability programs in the country.

“The sustainability curriculum, like the rest of our school, is all about making connections,” says Dr. Beall. “When you connect to deeper values of yourself, then it’s easier to see the connection between yourself and your environment.”

The students are taught a “seed to plate” concept, where they grow lettuce and other vegetables in the greenhouse and then sample them.

Carol appreciates the emphasis on growing and eating healthy food. She says, “After harvesting greens he had helped grow, my son, Philip, said, ‘Mom, the bok choy in the salad tasted so good!’ Of course, I had been trying to get him to eat salad for years without success.”

Carol also likes the fact that there’s a full hour for lunch, and parents are encouraged to eat with their children at home or in the cafeteria, which serves organically grown and local food.

“In Atlanta, we were always swimming uphill when it came to food,” says Carol. “The cafeteria menu there included no fresh vegetables because they were considered too expensive.”

Last fall the school’s sustainability coordinator, Diana Krystofiak, helped students build cold frames out of locally milled lumber, cook with solar ovens, plant trees, transplant seeds, and participate in other community-wide projects. Students have also installed a solar-powered drip-line system that pumps rainwater to the plants, and they handle the school’s recycling and composting.

Expansion Plans

The school plans to expand its green curriculum, institute a boarding school option for the upper school, and recruit more international students.

That’s good news to Byung-jun Park, a 14-year-old South Korean student who enrolled in the eighth grade at MSAE last November. Brendan, as he is called in America, followed a typical schedule in Korea, attending his public school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., then taking a subway for further study at a private academy each afternoon. There he studied English, Korean, math, and science until 10:30 or 12:00 at night, arriving home as late as 2:00 a.m. when preparing for exams.

“When I was nine or ten, I was a top student,” he says. “But then I started to feel stressed and started to gain a lot of weight. My grades went down.” After one of his teachers recommended the Transcendental Meditation technique in March 2007, he says he lost the excess weight and felt less sleepy when studying at night.

“The first time I heard about MSAE, I knew I wanted to go there,” he says. He started the application and visa process over a year ago. With the encouragement of his parents, he traveled to the U.S., and now boards with his science teacher and family while attending the school.

He misses his family and friends but so far is happy with his decision. “This school is better because it doesn’t serve junk food, because I can go to bed early and practice TM, and when my friends here have free time, they want to play basketball instead of addicting and stressful video games.”

Establishing Quiet Time  in More Schools

In 2005, the film director David Lynch started a foundation to fund students, teachers, and parents to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique as part of a “Quiet Time” program during the school day. During the past two years, the David Lynch Foundation has funded more than 3,000 students and faculty in 20 U.S. and Canadian schools to start the Quiet Time/TM program, with hundreds of schools awaiting funding. Over 60,000 students in 19 Latin-American countries have also been funded. These schools (many in high-stress urban areas) have reported a dramatic decrease in violence, improvements in test scores, and a reduction in symptoms such as ADHD.

The basis for this rapid expansion is the continued success of the Maharishi School. Because it is the model school for all Consciousness-Based schools, it is continually working to improve its curriculum and develop new programs for similar schools around the world. It depends on fundraisers to support its expansion programs.

The David Lynch Foundation’s efforts to bring the Quiet Time/TM program to every child has recently gained support from Paul McCartney and other world-class entertainers, who will headline an April 4 benefit concert in New York City.

As Carmen N’Namdi, a principal who has instituted the Quiet Time/TM program in her school in Detroit, Michigan, says, “In students, we have seen the TM program enhance study skills, academic performance, critical thinking skills, interpersonal and social skills—all because of the deep rest that the body is receiving. We are looking forward to the years to come when more and more schools and work environments will realize that not much gets done until the stress is out of the way.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, February 2009. Reprinted with permission. Photo by Lin Mullenneaux)

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