IMG_0458Last year I spent some time helping a high school girl (let’s call her Katya) with her writing. Katya is an excellent writer, college-bound, but at the beginning of her critical junior year, she choked with anxiety and didn’t turn in a major paper for her honors English class. And got a D for the first semester.

As a family friend, I was enlisted to help build up Katya’s confidence, calm her anxiety, and boost her writing skills. Believe me, I felt a great deal of empathy for Katya. I remembered all too clearly my own teenage years, when writing a term paper was a matter of hacking my way through thickets of negative thoughts, quicksands of panic and swamps of self-doubt. Sometimes I would work so hard at writing a major paper that I would practically have a nervous breakdown.

It appears that Katya’s and my experience may have been due to a quirk of the teenage female brain. In a research study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, Michigan State University researchers have discovered that the brains of anxious girls work much harder than those of anxious boys, making them prone to burnout and lower levels of performance.

The study found that college-age women who identified themselves as big worriers tended to have high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes. Even though the scores for both stressed females and males were about the same, women’s brains had to work harder. As the test became more difficult, the more anxious women did worse on the task, meaning anxiety and stress was affecting the girls’ performance.

“Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries,” said Jason Moser, the lead investigator. “As a result their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much, which might set them up for difficulties in school.”

And, it seems, set the stage for anxiety later in life. According to the National Institutes of Health, how anxiety affects the female brain is significantly different than the way it affects men. Women are 60 percent more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime (that’s nearly double the rate of men). And women also have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

I realize that we are getting into touchy waters here, as in the past women have been negatively stereotyped as anxious and even hysterical. Yet the statistics are there—women are not only more likely to develop anxiety, but also depression and other mental/emotional disorders. Whatever the cause, it seems we need to address these issues and figure out how to protect young girls and women from these risks. To quote Huffington in “The Conversation We Need to Have About Women and Anxiety”: “When we’ve reached a point where 23 percent of American women are all struggling with the same demons, it’s time to start talking about them and confronting them – collectively.”

So what is the cause of the high rates of anxiety in women? Some experts hypothesize that this difference arises from a combination of hormonal fluctuations, brain chemistry and upbringing. Others believe the cause is social stresses that women experience, such as lower wages, balancing home and career, and the constant measuring up to images of perfection in the media and advertising.

In the University of Michigan study, Jason Moser says he is “investigating whether estrogen, a hormone more common in women, may be responsible for the increased brain response. Estrogen is known to affect the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in learning and processing mistakes in the front part of the brain.”

This comment about dopamine rings a bell. In the research on the Transcendental Meditation technique, it’s been found that the hormones dopamine and serotonin are secreted during the practice of TM, creating what researchers call “the rest and fulfillment response” that is the opposite of the fight-or-flight stress response.

Research also shows that the TM technique allows the mind to effortlessly settle inward beyond worries and agitation. The body gains a deep state of relaxation and the mind becomes more serene. The whole physiology spontaneously shifts into a more balanced, harmonious style of functioning that is the extreme opposite of the stress response. Biochemicals in the bloodstream associated with tension and anxiety—such as cortisol and plasma lactate—are significantly reduced, and the brain functions with greater coherence.

Thousands of women are finding relief from anxiety through the regular practice of TM. Take Dana Farley, now 22, who suffered from severe dyslexia and anxiety as a student.  “I had a lot of insecurities when it came to doing the homework or asking questions in class. TM basically slowed things down for me and I don’t have all these negative thoughts in my head when I’m doing a task. I’m not putting myself down all the time.”

After starting TM as a high school student, Dana was so struck by the changes she experienced that she made a feature film, Beyond the Noise: My Transcendental Meditation Journey to help other teenagers, especially girls, find relief from their anxieties. Now a graduate of Bucknell University, she says about her film, “I had been dealing with typical teenage stuff—the usual anxieties and depressions that so many teens are trying to deal with. I also grew up with a learning disability that created its own intense stress. By creating this documentary I wanted to bring awareness to the negative things that teens are experiencing, and show how effective TM can be in helping people overcome stress and become more natural.”

Like Dana, I have my own happy ending. I started meditating at age 19, and slowly the anxiety dropped off along with the anxiety and negative thoughts that were causing my brain to struggle so hard while writing.

Katya’s story, too, had a happy ending—with a great deal of hard work and many weekends spent struggling, she made up the missing paper, raised her grade for the first semester to a B and finished the second semester trailing clouds of glory with a solid A. I was so proud of her, but I couldn’t help wishing that she, too, would take the steps to learn and practice TM, to protect her brain from stress and anxiety, and so she can get those A’s with less struggle and angst.

As Dr. William Stixrud, a neuropsychologist from Washington, D.C., who makes his living helping kids with depression, ADHD and other learning disorders says, “Because we know that teenage girls are sculpting their adult brain by how they use it in their teen years, it’s especially important that they take advantage of tools like TM to help reduce their level of stress and anxiety.”

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 Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, September 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

Photo credit: Linda Egenes.

BY KUMUDA REDDY, M.D., WITH LINDA EGENES

super healthy kids, kumuda reddy, preventive medicine for kids

The following is excerpted from the new book Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda.

A mother named Julie brought her son Tyler to my office when he was two years old. Tyler suffered from an acute upper respiratory infection and bronchitis. For the past six months, he had taken many rounds of antibiotics, which weakened his immune system. Each time he took antibiotics he did get better at first, but then immediately afterward he would relapse into bronchitis again.

The child was miserable and looked unhealthy. His breathing was labored and difficult, and he was underweight.

A Stressed Pregnancy
In discussing the family history with Julie, I found that with her first child she had only worked part time during pregnancy and was able to take care of herself. Her first son was born a robust nine pounds and remained healthy.

During her pregnancy with Tyler, on the other hand, she had just started a challenging and stressful full-time job that required her to work seven days a week. She didn’t  eat regular meals or rest enough. She felt that taking prenatal vitamins and making regular visits to the obstetrician was enough to produce a healthy child.

But Tyler weighed only six pounds, six ounces at birth, and from the start faced constant health problems. He suffered from infections, colic, and difficulty sleeping. In general, Julie felt that he was much more unhappy than his brother. Understandably, it’s hard for a child to be happy when he’s feeling miserable inside. What Julie was seeing on the outside was a reflection of Tyler’s inner state of ill health.

Change in Care
A few days after applying the treatments of Maharishi Ayurveda—which included changes in diet, herbal food supplements, and changes in daily routine—Julie reported that Tyler’s symptoms were subsiding. He was much more happy and energetic. He took more interest in his toys and games. As the treatments progressed, he and his brother started to get along better.

Within six months, Tyler grew two inches, his coloring became normal, and he looked much healthier. He had broken through the vicious cycle of constant coughs and colds and the weakening rounds of antibiotics. Today, Tyler behaves like any other happy, healthy child.

“I never thought he’d escape from the cycle of sickness,” said Julie. “It’s wonderful to see him so happy.”

Treating Symptoms is Not Enough
This is a common scenario that I see in my office. A child gets sick with a cold, cough, fever, or the flu. The mother consults a Western physician. The child is prescribed antibiotics along with antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines. These provide temporary relief for the infection, but are treating symptoms only, because these prescription drugs don’t address the underlying imbalance that is causing the child to be prone to congestion in the first place. Worse, the antibiotics actually weaken immunity by destroying helpful organisms in the digestive tract. Antihistamines also break down immunity and disrupt digestion, throwing the child’s system further off balance. The next time he is exposed to an infectious disease, his immunity is weaker and he succumbs more quickly, bringing on another round of antibiotics and antihistamines. The child is constantly falling sick—and the treatments become part of the problem.

Sadly, there are many American children who end up in pediatricians’ offices once a week or several times a month. Then it becomes a chronic problem. The child loses his liveliness and becomes depressed and irritable. He also becomes more prone to other diseases.

Maharishi Ayurveda provides a new model for breaking out of this routine and creating health for a child who is locked in the cycle of sickness.

A New Concept of Immunity

According to the traditional view, children are more prone to flu, colds, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses because their immune systems are untested. As they grow up, the conventional wisdom goes, they develop resistance to disease and thus don’t get sick as frequently. The only thing the conventional doctor has to offer to boost immunity is immunization shots for major infectious diseases, and later, when a child succumbs to illness, antibiotics.

Maharishi Ayurveda presents a different concept of immunity. Immunity is the internal strength, orbala, that comes from the body type, or dosha, being in balance, the digestion and metabolism functioning normally, and the tissues growing properly. Immunity comes from the inside, from eating a balanced diet, having a strong digestion, and following a healthy routine. Prevention of disease results from strengthening immunity, which essentially means strengthening digestion.

In Western medicine, the focus is on chasing the germs and then killing them. Maharishi Ayurveda focuses on strengthening the body so the germ is no longer a threat. You probably have noticed that even though several children may be exposed to the same virus or flu bug, only some of them get sick. The difference lies in how balanced the children’s doshas are, their level of vitality, and their internal immunity.

Why are children more susceptible to certain childhood diseases than adults? The answer from Maharishi Ayurveda is that children are in a unique stage of life, called kapha kala (from birth to age 30), during which kapha dosha predominates. This is when the child builds strong bones, muscles, organs, and the brain—and this formation of the physical structure of the body is largely a function of kapha dosha.

Kapha dosha predominates in many ways during this period. For instance, very young children display the qualities of the slow-moving, heavy kapha dosha; they have a higher percentage of body fat than adults, spend longer periods in sleep, and display a slower reaction time. If a small child falls down, often there is a delay before he or she starts crying or even comprehends the hurt.

At the same time, children are also more prone to kapha imbalances than adults. When kapha dosha is out of balance, its heavy and sticky qualities can lead to slow digestion and excess mucus production in the body. Thus children are more prone to certain kapha-related diseases, such as respiratory disorders, colds, flu, and childhood diseases such as chicken pox, measles, and mumps.

By understanding this one point, you can shape your child’s diet and daily routine to avoid excessive kapha.

For example, you can reduce “kapha-increasing” foods in your child’s diet. Excessive sweets, ice-cold soft drinks, aged cheeses, and processed foods—which are difficult to digest and lead to sluggish digestion—can be dramatically decreased without depriving the child of needed nutrients. The daily routine can also be adjusted to avoid kapha imbalance. Sleeping late in the morning, for instance, can increase kapha and diminish digestive power for older children, as can lack of exercise.

These are just a few of the many simple recommendations that can increase your child’s health dramatically.

Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda is available at www.mumpress.com.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, August 2010. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Transcendental Meditation Practice Offers a New Life to the Street Children of ColombiaIt’s hard to imagine a single child living on the streets. Still harder to imagine thousands of children, abandoned by their impoverished parents—unwanted, forgotten, falling prey to prostitution, drug use, and other abuses. Yet that is the reality in cities throughout Colombia, where cocaine drug trafficking has spawned social problems so deep that no ordinary person could figure out a way to help.

Fortunately, one extraordinary man, Father Gabriel Mejia, a Catholic priest who has been called the “Saint of Colombia,” reached out to the street children that others call “the disposable ones.” In 1984 in Medellín, Colombia, he opened a single home, a sanctuary where children could come for a good meal and a safe place to sleep. As word of his successful Fundacion Hogares Claret spread, the number of orphan shelters under Father Mejia’s care grew.

While Father Mejia traveled the globe raising funds for his centers, he was introduced to the Transcendental Meditation technique and began its practice in the late 1980s. He immediately recognized that this technique could empower the children who were the most powerless in the world—helping them to overcome the stress and trauma of the street and begin new lives.

Father Mejia has now incorporated the Transcendental Meditation technique into his 60 foundation homes, which are spread throughout Columbia and South America and serve 5,000 orphans and young offenders at one time.

To tell the world the story of Father Mejia and these remarkable children, David Lynch Foundation Television (DLF.TV), recently produced a documentary called Saving the Disposable Ones. Thousands of people from around the world attended the film’s openings in cities throughout Colombia. The film’s professional quality and emotionally moving story have inspired and galvanized audiences at TM® Centers and other venues throughout the U.S.

Saving the Disposable Ones is a great documentary showing the genius, love, and unbounded humanity of Father Gabriel Mejia of Colombia and how he uses his beautiful gifts to save the children,” says David Lynch.

Behind the Scenes with Father Mejia

The David Lynch Foundation’s video production team included producer Joanna Plafsky, a former owner and partner of Radiance Films, New Image Films, and Millenium Films, all of which produced and distributed many successful movies worldwide. The director was Stuart Tanner, an acclaimed producer and director of documentary films for the BBC, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel and professor at Maharishi University of Management’s Media and Communications department. Together with assistant producers Amine Kouider and Cullen Thomas, they traveled through the streets of Medellín and visited several of Father Mejia’s centers to document this remarkable story.

Saving the Disposable Ones Transcendental Meditation technique offered to Children of Colombia

Saving the Disposable Ones draws a powerful contrast between the life of the children on the streets and their transformation as they begin to live at the centers and are taught the Transcendental Meditation technique, Maharishi YogaSM asanas, and the advanced TM-Sidhi® program. More than 24,000 children have received a traditional education through these centers, have graduated, and are now living productive lives.

“It was amazing to see children off the street who were hungry and lost and abused, and two years later to see those same children one-hundred percent transformed to light and joy and hope for the future,” says Plafsky.

In the film, the children themselves describe how their lives have changed as a result of practicing the TM technique. One child says, “It feels good. Your body feels relaxed. It gets rid of negativity and anger. You forgive people. I have changed a lot. I haven’t stolen again. I haven’t got into trouble.”

Another child relates, “I’m discovering what I didn’t know about myself, who I really am. I feel good here. It’s a very special experience because you feel good and happy when you meditate. It’s helped me realize that I don’t deserve that former life, that I deserve to have a job, to have a family, to get ahead in life, and to be a good person.”

Tanner says that it’s heartening to see that the children recognize the benefits they receive from practicing the TM technique. “They once felt hopeless and lost, and now they express positivity about their futures and have ambitions,” he says. “This is such a great achievement when one considers the very tough circumstances they have been through.”

Saving the Disposable OnesThe Therapy of Love

For Tanner, the highlight of directing the film was witnessing Father Mejia’s compassion as he interacted with the children at his foundation centers. “These children have lost their trust in adults completely. Yet it was quite remarkable how the responded when Father Mejia walked into a room. You could see an instant bond of trust and joy in his presence. The children would be very open with him and there was a deep level of communication.”

As the film points out, Father Mejia has learned through his work that the desire for the children to move away from their life of the streets must come from within the children themselves. Yet, he himself is part of that awakening, because he radiates pure compassion and love.

“To rebuild that trust with a child takes a man like Father Mejia, and all the other great people around him, who do such loving and wise work with the children,” says Tanner.

“Father Gabriel Mejia is a living example of what one man can do to transform millions,” says Plafsky. “He’s very connected to Maharishi and has blessed Colombia with this powerful knowledge.”

In the film, Father Mejia explains his philosophy for rehabilitating the children. “The basic therapy is love,” says Father Mejia. “Love is the imperial medicine for any illness or disorder. When a child closes his eyes and begins to meditate they open themselves to the field of all possibilities, as Maharishi says. The world opens for the child. And then the child discovers their essential nature, which is love.”

For Father Mejia, every child is precious, and no child is “disposable.”

“I’m convinced that a child is not a problem,” he says. “A child is an opportunity. A child has infinite potential. A child is like a shrine. A child is like a dance of creation. We know a child accepts help because of what we call resilience, the capacity of man to be reborn, continuously.”

A Life-Changing ExperienceA Life-Changing Experience

The filming itself was a life-changing experience. “Just being around Father Mejia was life-transforming because he is so full of love and giving,” says Plafsky. “You don’t want to leave—you feel a divine love, you feel protected and happy to be around him.”

Plafsky says that producing this film has changed her own career direction. “I realized that I wanted to be producing films about people who, like Father Mejia, are changing the world for the better.”

As Father Mejia says in the film, it is up to each of us to transform the world that we live in. “We have to leave a better world than the one we found. I believe the solution is within every person. Within each one of us there is a sanctuary. Whenever we need to we can enter it. We must globalize love.”

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

(I originally wrote this article for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 11. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

220Anyone who has been an adolescent girl knows the kind of crazy and negative thought patterns that can circulate through the brain when a girl thinks of her own body. I remember spending hours in front of the mirror, trying to change my hair, my face and every part of me to be more beautiful and appealing. And I was convinced that if I did look like the models I saw in the magazines or the popular girls at school, then I would feel more happy, more admired, more loved.

If anything, girls today feel more pressure than ever, not only to fit in with their peers, but to fit in with the perfect body image that they are constantly viewing in ads, magazines, TV and social media. If they feel bad enough about their looks, they can even disconnect from normal life, avoiding activities like attending school or even speaking up with their own opinions, a Harvard study found.

This obsession with looks is not just a question of overcoming typical teenage angst—research shows that negative body images, especially among pre-teens, can lead to eating disorders, acting out sexually, drinking, suicide, and bullying.

Yet what can be done about such a prevalent cultural bias toward only perfect body images? Can we really stop the media from objectifying women?

Blog 24New York City thinks they have a way to turn the conversation around. Through bus and subway ads, an inspiring ad campaign that ran in NYC was designed to tell girls aged 7 to 12 years old that they are beautiful just the way they are.

According to the NY Times, city officials cited evidence in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing that more than 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, that girls’ self-esteem drops at age 12 and does not improve until 20, and that the drop in self-esteem is tied to negative body image.

To help stem the tide of low self-esteem among girls, the city is being plastered with posters depicting ordinary girls saying, in effect, “I’m glad to be me.”

For example, one ad featuring DeVoray Wigfall, a robust, laughing 12-year-old from University Heights in the Bronx, says “I’m a girl. I’m funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, healthy, friendly and caring.” The ads show girls of different races and sizes, some playing sports and one in a wheelchair. Each one ends with the campaign’s overall slogan: “I’m beautiful the way I am.”

I think this is a great step toward ending the objectification of women in the media. A great way to help girls take charge of their own body perception: to say, “I’m me and I’m loved and appreciated and that has nothing to do with how well I fit the media’s super-thin (and often PhotoShopped) body images.”

The city’s campaign also aims to increase self-esteem through physical fitness: as part of the NYC Girls Project, the City of New York is offering physical fitness classes for girls through the parks department, as well as a pilot program addressing self-esteem.

Another proven way to increase girls’ self esteem is to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique. “Since I started meditating, I don’t worry so much about what other people are thinking of me,” said one 12-year-old girl. “I feel happy.”

Research on TM shows that children who practice it regularly enjoy greater self-esteem as well as improved academic performance, increased memory and heightened creativity. The Transcendental Meditation technique helps build self-confidence from within. When a young girl meditates, she experiences deeper levels of intelligence, creativity, happiness and energy. At the same time, the deep relaxation gained during the TM technique reduces stress and anxiety. By unfolding their own inner nature, girls naturally grow in social skills and self-worth.

It makes sense that the NYC campaign was started by a woman, 38-year-old Samantha Levine, the mayor’s deputy press secretary, who serves as the project’s director. She was motivated to take action when she read that grade-school girls were wearing body-shaping undergarments and getting plastic surgery to become thinner.

The idea for the campaign took off, and for the posters, she enlisted the children of friends and other city workers.

“I think every mom has worries,” said Twanna Cameron, whose daughter was featured on a poster. “We can’t all be models, we can’t all be superthin.”

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, December 10, 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

transcendental meditation thailand - Acharn Yai, a Buddhist nun walks with childrenThailand is a mystical land of Buddhist temples and an ancient culture steeped in spirituality. Yet when the modern world collides with traditional cultures extreme poverty, dissolution of families, and exploitation of children—especially girls—can result.

Unlike Thai boys, who can receive a free education in Buddhist monasteries, disadvantaged Thai girls have far fewer opportunities to raise themselves out of poverty. In many cases their only chance for survival is to live on the streets or work in factories at a young age, leaving them prey to drug addiction and prostitution.



Acharn Yai, a Buddhist nun, saw clearly that education was the only way to break this cycle of poverty and exploitation. Yet thirteen years ago when she approached the education ministry to start a free school for girls, they discouraged her. “This is too much for you,” they said. “How will you get the money, the teachers, the resources?”

They did not recognize the power of one woman on a mission. In 2003, Acharn Yai founded Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, the first and only free Buddhist boarding school for Thai girls. 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.

transcendental meditation thailand - young school girlsThe 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.

The school recently was granted the top academic rating during the government’s yearly assessment—one of two schools in the entire province to be honored. And 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.

Transformation from Within

They 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 children have in common: they have learned to fight to survive.

Acharn Yai 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.”

transcendental meditation thailand - School GirlsAcharn 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.”

A Modern Curriculum

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 have become stronger and better equipped to help the students. Acharn Chakriya remembers one young teacher who was so worried about what other people thought about her that she suffered from chronic headaches. “After learning TM she’s more relaxed and happy and doesn’t worry about what others think about her anymore,” she says. “She is more focused in her work. Now, in addition to teaching, she trains the students to attend competitions. With her guidance, the students are winning the number one or two awards at every competition. This raises their self-esteem and lets them know that they can rise above their circumstances and accomplish anything they want in life.”

The school day is full and structured, and the girls are focused from dawn to dusk. In addition to their Buddhist studies and daily practice of the TM and TM-Sidhi program, the students learn basic academic subjects, allowing them to go on to higher education. They also receive vocational training.

The girls learn how to bake, grow organic vegetables, create traditional Thai handicrafts, perform basic accounting, arrange flowers, crochet, weave baskets and create 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. In keeping with Buddhist principles, the students also spend time every day performing service. They keep the buildings orderly and tend the beautiful gardens.

Learning how to use the Internet, make PowerPoint presentations, and create basic computer programming is an important part of the curriculum.

Enlightened Leadership

Acharn 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.

Amine Kouilder, a student at Maharishi University of Management who filmed the remote school, said that he first glimpsed Acharn Yai’s computer acumen when she told him that he could edit his footage on her iMac using Final Cut Pro editing software that she had loaded on it. “And they had a video camera that was more recent than mine,” he remembers.

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.

A Personal Journey

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.

photo_thailand04A 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. 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.”

Transforming Thailand

Based on her own experience, Acharn Yai not only became the first Buddhist nun to become a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique, but she arranged for the students to take the next step and begin the more advanced TM-Sidhi program in 2009. By the end of December 2013, there will be over 300 students and teachers practicing the TM and TM-Sidhi program together at the school.

The construction of a large building, built according to the principles of Maharishi Vedic Architecture (Vastu) 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 1,000 students, then more than 800 students and teachers will be practicing the TM and TM-Sidhi program together.

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

RELATED LINKS

See a longer version of the school video
To make tax deductible donations to support the classroom building project and support invincibility for Thailand, please visit: http://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate/2-uncategorised/66-thai-girls-school.html.  Be sure to note your contribution is for Thailand School project. 

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 16. Reprinted with permission.)

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