BY LINDA EGENES

Flavia Finnegan and her FamilyWhen you meet someone as happy and radiant as Flavia Finnegan, wife, mother and career woman, it’s hard to imagine that she ever felt fear or trauma. Yet traumatic events can happen to anyone.

Flavia, now 40, grew up in Brazil and as part of her undergraduate work as an international business major, she spent a year studying in Stockholm. “I felt safe and protected there,” she says. “I loved learning in a completely new environment, experiencing different food and colors and weather. I felt blessed to have those experiences.”

Riding a wave of achievement and on a fast-paced career track, her next stop was an internship in the financial district of New York City. She arrived in 2000—just in time for the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

“I was living and working close to the World Trade Center and it was a very frightening experience. I saw people afraid to open their mailbox for fear of a bomb being inside. I went from living in a safe environment to that time in history. It was a big shock and in terms of interacting with others I became fragile, afraid of what could happen the next day. I felt so vulnerable.”

Two years later, she returned to Brazil. But even living in her home country didn’t make her feel safe. “I wasn’t the same me anymore,” Flavia says. “I had anxiety attacks and panic attacks. I started looking for a different type of lifestyle that would give me the inner strength and stability to deal with my fears of the outside environment.”

In her quest to change her life, Flavia began practicing yoga and eating healthy foods. She had heard about the Transcendental Meditation technique and knew that many prominent people practiced it, but, as she puts it, “the message had never reached my heart.” Then she heard a famous surfer from Brazil share how the practice of TM had made him feel more connected with his environment, with nature.

“It had a big impact on me,” she says. “I could see that he had to be deeply connected with his surroundings to swim into the middle of the sea, amidst sharks and other predators, and to survive five- or six-story-high waves. I could feel that he felt safe and secure inside, and his story touched me at a deep level.”

Flavia continues, “I realized immediately that this was what I was looking for: a different type of connection with my environment. I knew I had to get over my fear and anxiety of living in big cities, where you don’t know if the next person you meet is going to make your day shine or affect your life in a negative way.”

After getting in touch with the TM Center in Sao Paulo, Flavia learned to practice TM. “TM came to me as a gift,” she says. “Learning to meditate took me to another level. I’m very grateful. I started to experience an untroubled state of mind, an inner security and freedom from anxiety. I started to feel that whatever happened each day, the big and the small, I could be happy for being alive and experiencing the sun and wind and the people around me that contributed to that moment. TM gave me the inner calm to enjoy every moment.”

Flavia also credits TM with giving her the courage to become a mother. She says that before she started meditating, even though she was married to a wonderful man, she didn’t think she wanted to raise a child in this world.

She says, “Practicing TM gave me the confidence to see the future with more optimism. It helped me to center myself, to embrace myself and others with a full heart, with openness again. When you experience your divine source within you, you begin to see other human beings as you are—a body full of high energy with a perfect being inside. After all, we all have a body that can self-heal; we all have a mind that is infinitely creative. Once you have that awareness, you see a reflection of yourself in everyone. I walked many miles to cross that bridge to motherhood and TM helped me with that.”

Flavia practiced meditation regularly during her pregnancy, which she says helped her to enjoy the many changes taking place inside her. “When you’re pregnant for the first time, your mind and body go through a lot of change. Nature takes the time to prepare you. It’s a cosmic journey but with all the ups and downs in hormones and transformations, it can be challenging. TM had such a great impact on me—it helped me rest deeply and made me feel so tranquil.”

Flavia feels that practicing TM also had a calming effect on her daughter, now 18 months. “Every time I meditated when she was in the womb, I could feel her becoming very peaceful. Since birth she has been contented and likes to smile and loves music,” she says. “She’s a bubble of happiness.”

Today Flavia is enjoying her role as a mother, wife and career woman. After years of working as a financial manager for Citigroup in Miami, she now is studying part-time to be a CPA. Flavia no longer has a fear of her environment or the people around her. She notes that once she started practicing TM, she started attracting more positive people and experiences into her life.

“Once you experience inner peace in your life, you start to radiate joy and everyone wants to be closer to you,” she says. “You naturally attract more love into your life and your relationships become even more loving. Either you are helping someone or they are helping you. With meditation, somehow there is more joy inside you and more joy for everyone around you. This is true for professional connections, for better friendships, for better health, for better family life. It’s a beautiful path, to have TM enriching all the moments of my life.”

She also says she is no longer afraid of the challenges her child will face in the world, as she was before she started TM. Her fear of others has transformed into love.

“I went from being very insecure to being much stronger and more confident inside, and I started experiencing unconditional love toward everyone and everything, all creatures on earth,” she says. “It’s my perception more and more that we all come from the same divine source. Wishing love for my daughter and husband becomes unconditional love for all. It becomes so unbounded and extends to all the children I see on the street. And I want my daughter to experience the best of everything—to gain knowledge, to travel, to experience new people and to love those around her.”

Flavia says, “I hope my story will reach someone who is in pain or in fear for some reason. Once you start TM you can face the world with a much better attitude. TM gives you that time you need to recharge, open up your eyes and express your love again. If there is someone who has been stressed to such a level that she has lost her base, lost her hope—like me, she can strengthen her base. I hope my story touches someone who is looking for a way to reach that inner peace, that inner life.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive  (TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House), co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, April 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair

Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair

When you hear a musician play who stirs your soul and at the same time is so in command of her craft that she makes it look simple, you know you are in the presence of a true artist.

Sharon Isbin has made the intricate art of performing classical guitar look simple. Considered the leading classical guitarist of our time, she was named “Best Classical Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine and is the first guitarist in over 43 years to receive two classical GRAMMY Awards (in 2001 and 2010). A former student of Andrès Segovia and a graduate of Yale University, she has played at the White House and Carnegie Hall. Her rise to stardom as a woman playing an instrument that is usually played by men was chronicled in Sharon Isbin: Troubador, a recent documentary on her creative performances and collaborations with artists in a variety of genres that was released last fall by American Public Television.

She has also expanded the repertoire of classical guitar, persuading leading composers such as John Corigliano to create classical guitar music for her to play with their orchestras. Called the “Monet of Classical Guitar,” she is known for her ability to express different colors or emotions through her music.

For Isbin, it’s all about expressing her feelings in her work. “I love to be expressive on the guitar with lyricism, dynamic contrasts, nuances, phrasing, articulation, and a panoply of colors and timbres,” she says. “I cultivate these techniques to serve the music and to communicate it with feeling and emotion. For example, I can make the guitar sound like a human voice by connecting notes of a melody with nuances of sound while shaping the contour of the line as a vocalist would do. This also creates a three-dimensional quality and depth.”

Isbin likens her creative process to being a director of a play. “I choose music that I love and which speaks to me, and that makes it easy to be expressive. The more I play a new work, the more I discover in it. My goal is to enter the mind of the composer, while feeling and expressing the emotion from within. In a way, I explore different characters of a piece much like actors do with a script. And when choosing dynamics and shadings to delineate the different layers and levels of voicing, architecture, and structure within a work, it’s much like a director staging and guiding actors in the foreground, middle, background, etc.”

As head of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival and The Juilliard School, Isbin has developed an original technique for teaching classical guitar. Yet she doesn’t limit herself to classical music—she has embraced a musical palette that ranges from bossa-nova to jazz to folk, collaborating with other guitarists and musicians in new ways.

“I explore a variety of genres, from my home base in classical, to unusual collaborations in jazz, bossa-nova, folk, country, rock, and even film music such as performing on Scorsese’s The Departed,” she says. “But most important to me and to listeners is the emotion, lyricism, sensuality and passion.”

For instance, her 2010 GRAMMY award-winning Journey to the New World is an exploration of folk music beginning in the 16th century British Isles, Ireland and Scotland, and crossing the ocean with the immigrants to the New World.

“Its centerpiece ‘Joan Baez Suite’ was written for me by John Duarte and inspired by music Baez made famous in the early part of her career. When Joan heard it, she offered to sing on the album, and performs beautiful renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Go ‘Way from my Window”. Virtuoso country fiddler Mark O’Connor concludes the journey joining me in the folk suite he wrote for us.” At 58, Isbin is not slowing down. How does she have the energy to continually expand her repertoire and explore new ground by collaborating with so many other top artists?

It turns out she has a secret.

“I have done Transcendental Meditation since I was 17 years old,” she said in a recent NY Times interview. “I do 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. I really believe it has helped make me the person that I am. Because it is an extraordinary way to release stress and allow it to dissolve, so that you can focus on what you want to focus on, and have your energy towards very positive things.”

When she performs, Isbin says she enters a state similar to the “zone” that top athletes report. “It puts me in touch with my innermost creative core and enables its expression through music,” she says. “Most importantly, it facilitates instant access to a state of ‘cosmic’ immersion, of being in the flow or in ‘the zone’ when performing, a state of being very similar to one I enter daily when practicing TM. It’s a sense of communion with the energy of the universe, the audience, the composer and the music, without ego or interference. It’s a feeling of unity between the listeners and me, a sense of “oneness” in which we are all experiencing the beauty of the music together. That sensation is one of the reasons live performances can be so powerful—everyone is focused and transported, the experience is unique and in the moment, never to be replicated.”

For Isbin, TM helps with all of the creative aspects of her work. “Because TM is so effective at eliminating stress and distraction, it encourages laser sharp focus and concentration for any task,” she says. “Practicing TM has inspired heights of creativity for me on many levels: as a musician, arranger, educator, writer, and artistic director.”

See a trailer of Sharon Isbin: Troubadour

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 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

resolutionI have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, they’re a good excuse to set goals and get my life back on track. My resolutions tend to center on health, mainly because that’s a big focus in my life. But I can’t help but notice they’re all about changing things that are wrong with me. Like “I will stop eating sugar.” “I will lift weights three times a week.” “I will get to bed by 10.”

Each of these resolutions implies that I am lacking in some way—like I am currently eating way too much sugar, not building my muscles and not getting enough sleep.

I was thinking about how to make my resolutions stick, and a thought popped into my head: Perhaps these kinds of resolutions fail because they make us face the new year feeling less than inspired.

It occurred to me that maybe if they were a tad more positive and fun, I might actually stick to them. And who knows? They may have a better effect on my life than all the grimly disciplined “to dos” of my normal list.

This idea gained momentum for me when I read about Shonda Rhime’s new book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person.

If you’re like me and the name Shonda Rhimes doesn’t ring a bell, never mind—her accomplishments will. As the creator, head scriptwriter and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy and other TV shows, and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder, she calls herself a typical Type A personality. And until recently she was living a spectacular life on the job, but less so at home.

What spurred her to write the book, she says, was a sharp wake-up call from her sister. “You never say ‘yes’ to anything,” her sister said. This made Rhimes decide to not only say yes more often, but to seek out the very things she was prone to say ‘no’ to, the very things that scared her. And she ended up standing in the sun and dancing it out, as the book title shares.

I liked this idea of saying yes and immediately started making a list. Instead of focusing on things that scared me, I decided to focus on things that I want to continue doing because they are working for me. And on things I don’t allow myself to do because (as I tell myself), I don’t have time, don’t have money, don’t have the talent, etc.

Here’s my list so far:

1.) Taking a cue from Rhimes, I say yes to dancing. I’ve been taking a class in Indian classical dance that has been truly fun and has lots of health benefits too (when you slap your bare feet on the floor, all the nerve endings in your whole body wake up, stimulating your organs and hormones in a really good way). Plus it’s an all-women’s class, so that’s part of the fun. Yet lately, when I moved up to a more advanced class and couldn’t keep up with the practice time, I let it go. Yet in thinking it over, even if I practiced 10 short minutes a day, I could return to the class and not fall behind.

And why not say yes to this chance to dance? Why not twirl and swirl ten minutes a day? It’s worth a try.

2.) I say yes to taking time to engaging in unstructured play for an hour every week—to spending time in nature, wandering without a schedule, to journal or to play with my water colors and colored pencils.

Playing is so so so important, especially if you’re in a profession that relies on a fresh, creative mind. For me, playing not only rejuvenates my spirit but gives me new ideas that help me in my work. It’s a win-win, so why not say YES to play?

3.) I say yes to getting enough rest. Usually I feel tired by around 9:30 at night. I say yes to the needs of my body and mind. I say yes to paying them more attention. And I say yes to continuing to make time in my day for my twice daily practice of Transcendental Meditation. TM helps me feel happy. It helps me feel rested. It helps my mind think more clearly. And it keeps me grounded to my essential nature, so I stay connected to my best self even when the circumstances around me get challenging or crazy. So I say YES to giving myself this gift even if I’m traveling or with relatives or friends who don’t practice meditation.

4.) I say yes to continuing a great exercise routine. Full disclosure—I spent the money I received from my mom for Christmas on a Fitbit HR, and that has shown me that I’m doing well in the exercise realm. Taking a brisk 30-minute walk each morning with my husband in the early morning sunlight sets me up for the day—with just a little more exercise, my daily running around the apartment brings me to the recommended 10,000 steps most days without strain. And the three times a week weight training is making me feel so enlivened and happy. I say yes to continuing all that and more.

In writing these ideas down, in my mind saying yes started to converge with feeling gratitude for the things that are going right in my life. In some ways, I realized, gratitude is a way to find the yes in every experience.

And that is a good thing. I sometimes find myself—when I get stressed or have too many deadlines—wishing my computer didn’t take so long to boot up, that I didn’t have to wait in line, that there weren’t so many mundane tasks to do in a day. If I’m really stressed, I start feeling agitated by other people’s lack of speed or efficiency. Or my own lack of whatever.

This is not something I’m proud of. It’s a way of wishing life—and myself and the people in my life—were different. And when you start doing that, you can’t enjoy the great people and things that are right in front of you.

So now, when I’m waiting in line at the post office or at the grocery store, I’m using the time to think of things and people I’m grateful for, including the clerk who is so graciously serving me at that very moment. I also am starting each day thinking of three things I’m happy about, and ending the day that way too.

In Part II of this post I’ll explore the power of gratitude, its influence on brain functioning, and the latest findings on the Transcendental Meditation technique and its impact on happiness and well-being.

Happy New Year!

 

Let’s Dance in the New Year (Part II)
Does Gratitude Work?

Expressing gratitude is certainly not a new idea (prayer is a form of gratitude, after all), and lots of people have written about the power of gratitude in recent years. What is new is the increasing evidence that positive emotions, such as gratitude, have a positive effect on brain functioning.

The brain produces an astonishing 100,000 chemical and hormonal reactions every second. These can have good or bad effects. For instance, when we are stressed, the stress hormone cortisol courses through our body, contributing to aging, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. Conversely, other chemical messengers have a positive effect on our minds and bodies—and are released when we are feeling balanced and happy.

Our brain’s neuronal connections also respond to our experiences and our emotions. In fact, the more we experience positive things in our lives, the more we give our attention to happiness, the more our brain gets wired to default to happiness, and the easier it gets to perceive our world in a positive light.

As brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor wrote in her gripping memoir, My Stroke of Insight, “Scientists are well aware that the brain has tremendous ability to change its connections based upon its incoming stimulation. This ‘plasticity’ of the brain underlies its ability to recover lost function.”

Basically, she explains, the neuronal pathways strengthen to reflect the stimulation the brain is receiving. If you make it a habit to think about positive things, in other words, your mind will tend to repeat those neuronal loops instead of the negative ones. It’s kind of like building a muscle—you use the same thought patterns in your brain enough, and those neuronal circuits get stronger and stronger.

A Dance Between Spontaneity and Intention

Yet there’s a problem here. Unless you’re genuinely feeling happy, it’s hard to keep up the positive thinking for very long. It works fine for a while, but if you get tired, or rushed, or stressed, then all good intentions fly out the window. Finding yourself in a negative thought loop, you may say or do things that you later regret.

And, let’s face it, trying to be positive can be a strain. If you’re not actually feeling so happy, plastering a smile on your face is not going to change your inner reality a whole lot (research does say that the act of moving the muscles on your face does lift mood a little). But ask anyone who is depressed how it feels to try to smile and be happy, and they will tell you it is a tremendous strain.

In fact, constantly monitoring your thoughts, forcing any kind of feeling (even positive ones) can divide your mind and add tension and strain to your life.

When you genuinely feel happy, on the other hand, then it’s so easy to respond in a positive way to everyone around you. Then your gratitude is a natural expression of happiness, a spontaneous result of feeling happy.

I think this word “spontaneous” is really important. It’s one of the things that attracted me to the Transcendental Meditation technique in the first place. I really liked the idea that you could spend time meditating for 20 minutes twice a day, diving deep into that reservoir of intelligence, energy and happiness inside you, and then when you’re outside of meditation, spontaneously act. I liked the idea that I didn’t have to try to remember to be happy or make a mood of being happy—the results would come naturally as a result of the experience of pure happiness in meditation, my teacher said.

And that’s pretty much what happened. As I found myself growing in happiness, I naturally started having a more positive viewpoint on my life and the people around me. Basically, it’s become my default mode to feel gratitude—and if I sometimes fall into an impatient mode, it’s not that hard to shift back.

This is a common experience among people who practice TM, I’ve found out. People often find that when they begin the practice, others ask them, “What’s different about you? You seem so happy!”

Rewiring the Brain for Happiness

And yes, there is research that supports this experience of greater happiness. For instance, people practicing the TM technique score higher on tests of well-being and happiness, and higher levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin are measured in the brains of TM practitioners. Research has also shown a significant decrease in stress, anxiety and depression in TM practitioners.

Dr. Fred Travis, the brilliant neuroscientist who has studied the effect of meditation on the neuroplasticity of the brain, explains that the experience of transcendence and inner happiness during Transcendental Meditation actually rewires the brain in a lasting way.

In his book, Your Brain is a River, Not a Rock, he explains that 70 percent of brain connections change every single day, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.

“The circuits in the brain are continuously sculpted by experience,” he says. “If we are constantly under stress, then the part of the brain that triggers the fight-or-flight response grows thicker, and we find ourselves reacting to small stresses as if they are life-threatening.”

Dr. Travis goes on to say, “But—and this is the take-home point—if we add the experience of transcending to our daily routine, then brain connections that support the experience of pure consciousness are strengthened. This is the reality of growth to enlightenment. It happens every day with every session of the Transcendental Meditation technique.”

In other words, because in our quiet moments of meditation our minds experience the field of pure happiness inside us, that style of functioning of the brain becomes more dominant. Over time as we meditate regularly and go about our daily activities, the mind becomes more and more habituated to staying in that state of pure happiness, or bliss, even outside of meditation.

I love this idea of spontaneously growing in the ability to embrace more of life, of saying yes to the beautiful world around us. This is really what enlightenment is—experiencing everyone and everything as being as dear to us as our own self—our senses expanding to drink in the sounds, tastes, smells, textures and sights of our beautiful world. And from there, to embrace with love all our fellow creatures on this earth—whether family, friend or stranger across the world.

These are a few of my thoughts for the New Year—what are yours?

I wrote originally wrote this post for TM-Women.org. See www.tm-women.org

The Solitude of Self
September 16, 2015

BY LINDA EGENES

Kate BolickIn Kate Bolick’s new book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, the author credits five writers who helped awaken her to the glories of the solitary life: Neith Boyce, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton and Maeve Brennan.

Some of these writers lived during a time when choosing to remain unmarried was an unconventional lifestyle, and the solitary life was possible for only a select few women who could somehow obtain an education and earn a decent living—or who had their own means.

Yet according to Bolick, even though American women now have the same educational opportunities as men—and statistically are marrying less, marrying older and delaying or forgoing having children—a woman is still defined by the questions “whom to marry and when will it happen?”

Bolick, a single woman, wants to change that. She writes, “We like to pretend that only single people are lonely, and coupledom the cure.”

To my mind it’s a good thing if a woman who doesn’t want to get married feels that she can make that choice without feeling marginalized. As a happily married woman without children, I myself am pursuing a lifestyle that is not exactly the norm either. So I applaud the idea that every woman can follow the lifestyle that suits her best, not a one-size-fits-all prescription deemed by society as the happiest, the healthiest, the ideal.

And as Bolick eventually discovers in writing her book, we don’t really have to choose between independence and marriage anyway. She writes, “A wholesale reclamation of the word spinster is a tall order. My aim is more modest: to offer it up as a shorthand for holding on to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you’re single or coupled.”

Well, yes, I would have to applaud that aim too. It seems we women too often forget there is one thing that can help guide any women through life, whether young or old; whether married, unmarried or widowed; whether career woman, mother at home or both—and that is to embrace the part of you that is independent and self-sufficient.

This is not a new idea among great women thinkers, but it’s certainly apt for our times, when every woman needs a trusty vessel to help her navigate the ever-evolving landscape of feminism and women’s rights and the ever-increasing choices of lifestyle and career. Journalist Elliott Holt (in her Time magazine book review of Spinster) mentioned that Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered a speech titled “The Solitude of Self” in 1892, when she was retiring as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at age 77.

Stanton herself was an unusual woman of her times—even though her father thought only boys should be educated, Stanton had managed to educate herself in Greek language and philosophy. As an early champion of women’s rights, she also had a successful marriage, to fellow abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton, and was the mother of three boys.

In her retirement speech she said, “No matter how many women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone.”

By “alone” I don’t think she meant “lonely.” Rather, I think she meant “self-reliant.” For me personally, this resonates. Not only in a physical sense, such as if your partner or husband dies and you are left to support yourself and the children on your own, but in a spiritual sense and a relationships sense. Surely, if there is one lesson I have learned that has contributed to my happiness in life—in my work, in my marriage, and in every single friendship and family relationship—it’s that relationships work out better when they involve two people who are already happy within themselves. Then the marriage or friendship or work relationship is a blessing, an abundance, two people overflowing in love and generosity of spirit. If instead two people are looking to the other one to fill them up, the relationship is off to a rocky start indeed.

In her speech Elizabeth Cady Stanton went on to say, “There is a solitude which each and every one of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self.”

This “solitude of self” is something that every woman already possesses, which never fails, which costs nothing and is not for anyone else to control or to take away. It can be developed no matter what your economic circumstances or choices in lifestyle, whether raising a family or living alone.

In fact, this solitude of self has been the inspiration for many great men and women throughout history. The Tao Te Ching says, “Where there is silence/one finds peace./ When there is silence/one finds the anchor of the universe within himself. The Buddhist Dhammapada says, “The one who has entered a solitary place/Whose mind is calm and who sees the way,/To that one comes insight and truth/And rapturous joy transcending any other.”

Sybil, the oracle of Delphi famously advised, “Know thyself.” Many great women, such as Emily Dickinson, Helen Keller, Emily Bronte, Clare Boothe Luce and Billie Jean King, reported vivid experiences of their inner silence, as described in Dr. Craig Pearson’s beautiful book The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time—And How You Can Cultivate Them.

Here is an excerpt by Charlotte Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights, from Dr. Pearson’s book:
“A messenger of Hope comes every night to me,
And offers, for short life, eternal liberty.
But first a hush of peace, a soundless calm descends;
The struggle of distress and fierce impatience ends;
Mute music soothes my breast — unuttered harmony
That I could never dream till earth was lost to me.
Then dawns the Invisible, the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels —
Its wings are almost free, its home, its harbour found;
Measuring the gulf it stoops and dares the final bound!”

While most modern women have a sense of what the “solitude of self” means, and have had some experience of reaching deep to their inner silence to make an important decision or to stay calm in a crisis, we all need help accessing it on a daily basis. But how? Most women today live a hectic life—striving to perform at work, ferrying the kids to soccer, getting dinner on the table and squeezing in a few hours of sleep. Without help getting to the silence inside us, it could, indeed, be as “inaccessible as the ice cold mountains.”

Yet we need it now more than ever. It’s the desire to access the solitude of self that is causing thousands of women today to turn to the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, to find that oasis of silence and self-sufficient happiness within themselves every day.

Research shows that when people close their eyes to practice TM, their mind experiences a state of consciousness that is different from waking, sleeping or dreaming. Scientists have identified it as a fourth state of consciousness, during which the body experiences deep rest and dissolves stress and fatigue. At the same time, the mind is experiencing a state of silent, pure wakefulness, an unbounded ocean of bliss, a unified experience of wholeness, a state of pure consciousness, in which the knower knows itself, and the mind is awake at its source, an unlimited reservoir of peace, harmony, intelligence and happiness.

With TM, this experience of inner silence is accessible to every woman, no matter how busy she is or how many demands on her day.

Soledad O’Brien, Emmy-award winning journalist and former CNN correspondent and a very busy woman, tells her experience of contacting her inner silence by practicing the TM technique: “I have a crazy schedule, I have four small children and I am always going, so the idea of calming my mind I thought, ‘not possible!’ But I was able to learn, I was able to do it, and I appreciate very much the opportunity to take the time to focus and meditate and it allows me to experience a state of deep rest and relaxation that can be game-changing; and sometimes a life saver in a crazy world. It helps alleviate stress and pressure when you’re trying to balance life and being a mother. And as a journalist I feel healthier and have fewer stressful days and more energy and more clarity of mind. So that’s all my own personal experience.”

Oprah Winfrey, another famously busy person, described her experience of practicing the TM technique with a group of women in Fairfield, Iowa: “I walked away feeling fuller than when I’d come in. Full of hope, a sense of contentment, and deep joy. Knowing for sure that even in the daily craziness that bombards us from every direction, there is—still—the constancy of stillness.”

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 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

An Interview with A NYC Ballet Star

BY LINDA EGENES

Megan Fairchild

“What makes a great performance is when you are free to dance to the music in a way that feels fresh and spontaneous and isn’t contrived. You are in the moment and reacting to the music as the orchestra plays it.” –Megan Fairchild

It’s not often that a fifteen-year-old girl from Salt Lake City finds herself auditioning for the School of American Ballet. And even less likely that the aspiring ballerina gets accepted, graduates, joins the New York City Ballet corps de ballet at age eighteen, becomes a soloist by the time she’s nineteen, and a principal by age twenty. Rarer still for this talented dancer to take the leap from ballet to Broadway star, dazzling crowds and critics alike.

It doesn’t sound real, yet this is the life of Megan Fairchild, age thirty, who is starring in the current revival of the Broadway musical On the Town to great acclaim.

Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post writes, “The bell-bottomed boys traditionally dominate this show, but the brightest star in this new revival isn’t one of them: It’s Megan Fairchild, a New York City Ballet principal now making her Broadway debut. That she’s graceful and strikes breathtakingly beautiful lines was a given.…But it turns out the elfin ballerina’s also a nimble, effortlessly funny comedienne. The show explodes with unfettered joy every time she’s onstage.”

My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.

My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.

When I mention the rave reviews to Megan, she says modestly, “Yes, it’s been crazy.”

Megan has agreed to an interview one morning after performing the evening before. Here she talks about technique, artistry, and her life as a ballet dancer and Broadway star.

Linda Egenes: What made you take a year off from your successful career with the New York City Ballet (NYCB)?

Megan Fairchild: I think it’s no coincidence that my little opportunity happened after I learned Transcendental Meditation almost a year ago. Just five months after starting TM, I got a text from the casting director of On the Town, wondering if I’d be interested in auditioning.

And I’m like, “I am not a Broadway performer. This is crazy.” I laughed about it for a day, and then something happened. The next morning I woke up and I thought, “Why not?”

That was a really important moment for me. Normally I would have been too shy, or would have thought no, that is not me and stayed in my little bubble. Instead, I was thinking that I am at a point in my career where I am ready to try new and different things, and this could be an exercise in jumping out of my comfort zone. I honestly believe that TM had something to do with that decision.

Linda Egenes: How is performing on Broadway different from ballet?

Megan Fairchild: It’s more fun than I expected. Not that there isn’t pressure on Broadway, but there is a little bit more of an “it’s just entertainment” kind of attitude, as opposed to ballet where everything has an ideal or perfect line that you are trying to create. There’s a lot more freedom when dancing on Broadway.

Linda Egenes: Would you say it’s less stressful? I mean, there’s a popular perception that ballet is a stressful profession.

Megan Fairchild: I love my job at the NYCB because I love the people I go to work with. I love the jokes that we share and the sense of community. It’s a loyal company, as they only hire graduates of the School of American Ballet, so there are people that I have known since I was fifteen. It’s like family.

I think TM helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.

I think TM helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.

But now that I’m stepping away from ballet for a year, I see how much pressure we are all under. We are never done working on being perfect. It’s never, “Oh, that’s great.” It’s always, “Oh, you need to get your leg higher; I need you to turn around one more time in that pirouette; or, wouldn’t it be better if your feet were pointed more?” It’s endless.

Also, the ballet has a deeper meaning, and there is a lot of stress for the ballet dancer to uphold this legacy that is weighing on you every time you step on stage.

Linda Egenes: I understand that it was stress that brought you to TM in the first place.

Megan Fairchild: I would have panic attacks where I would pass out and be rushed to the emergency room. They were so intense that, literally, when I was regaining consciousness, I heard someone screaming, and it was me.

This happened every two years since I was eighteen. Life would get stressful, and one little thing like going to get a shot at the doctor’s office would trigger my whole system to shut down. Then it started happening more often, just six months apart. I had to miss some performances. So I thought, “OK, this isn’t cool. This is affecting my job. I need to figure out how to manage my life in a way that is going to be a little more relaxing.”

One of my ballet masters at NYCB, who did TM, suggested that I try it. She was the consummate professional and always in the moment and ready to get her job done. I felt like, well, if she does it, and she swears by it, then I’m going to try it.

Linda Egenes: So these episodes have subsided?

Megan Fairchild: Yes. The last one was before I started TM. There have been moments that, in the past, would have caused me to get light-headed and possibly go into an episode, but now I watch the moment pass by without any big event. My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.

Linda Egenes: How do you reconcile your own creative interpretation with the way the dances have been done in the past?

Megan Fairchild: Even if you get to a point artistically where you are feeling free with your technique, you are also trying to uphold the tradition while you put your stamp on it. I am lucky to work with wonderful ballet masters who are supportive in making me feel like I am the artist here and now, and it’s OK if what I do is a little different from the way ten other really special ballerinas have done it in the past to great fame. My ballet masters tell me the steps, and I feel how my body wants to do it and what feels true to me.

Linda Egenes: Does transcending in your daily TM practice help with balancing artistry with technique?

Megan Fairchild: I think it helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture, being completely in the moment of each step as it’s happening instead of worrying about that technical step coming up. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.

Megan Fairchild

I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.

I think what makes a great performance is when you are free to dance to the music in a way that feels fresh and spontaneous and isn’t contrived. You are in the moment and reacting to the music as the orchestra plays it.

In general, I have more patience with myself.

Linda Egenes: In what ways?

Megan Fairchild: Say I do a bad turn or I don’t feel my best that day, or maybe I don’t feel like always being in a leotard or something. TM helps me to let the little stresses that come with being a ballet dancer just roll off a little easier. I am a lot more resilient. I am not getting obsessed over the difficulties of working with this partner or that. It’s just a little easier.

I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.

Linda Egenes: I understand that your brother is also a ballet dancer and is also taking a year off to star in the forthcoming Broadway musical, American in Paris?

Megan Fairchild: Yes, my brother, Robert Fairchild, is three years younger than me, and he is in the NYCB and so is his wife. And I am married to a principal at the company, Andrew Veyette. So we have a little family.

Linda Egenes: So your brother, Robert Fairchild, is following in your footsteps?

Megan Fairchild: Actually, in terms of Broadway, I am kind of following in his footsteps. He was always more into tap and jazz than I was. I got him to do ballet to work on his technique. He ended up in the NYCB and loves it. But he also loves the musicals, and he’s a great singer, actually. Who knew? [Writer’s note: After this interview, Robert Fairchild was nominated for a Tony for his leading role in American in Paris.]

Linda Egenes: I’m curious about the influences that made you and your brother both become professional ballet dancers?

Megan Fairchild: My mom always liked musicals, and because I was dancing around the house, she took me to tap class when I was growing up. There was never any pressure to become a dancer. I’d be thinking, “Oh, wow! I like this!” Then “I like ballet,” so I would be in the Nutcracker; and then “Oh, this is going well. I am going to do ballet full time.” So it was always, “Oh, I enjoy this. Let’s go to the next level.” It was never a grand plan.

 

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 22. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Dr. Suzanne SteinbaumCardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, is a woman on a mission. As Director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of the life-changing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, she is teaching women a new, heart-centered way to live.

And she is succeeding. While many doctors complain that their patients don’t want to make the lifestyle changes that will truly transform their health, Dr. Steinbaum doesn’t have that problem.

You only have to talk to Dr. Steinbaum for a few minutes to find out why she calls herself a preventive cardiologist. When a patient comes to her office who has not been feeling well for a long time, Dr. Steinbaum gets the patient talking about her unhealthy food choices, her lack of exercise, and the stressors in her life. And then she motivates the patient to change.

“It seems to me that there are two options,” she says. “You can pull out your pad and write a prescription, or you can actually help them change their lives, which is something that they own forever. There is nothing more powerful than that.”

Dr. Steinbaum’s enthusiasm for transforming women’s heart health is contagious.

As a national spokesperson for the Go Red for Women campaign, as a featured guest on 20/20, Good Morning America, and major networks, and as the host of her TV show, Focus OnHealth, she is reaching out to women all over the country.

It’s not only passion for her work that fuels Dr. Steinbaum’s success; it’s authenticity. She has lived what she teaches from an early age.

Sharing Her Own Personal Family History of Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy LifeIn creating the future of women’s medicine, Dr. Steinbaum looked to her past. “When I was writing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book, I realized that it was my story that drove me to do what I do,” she says.

Her story begins with her grandfather, who, as an athletic teen, was told by his doctor he could not play high school football because of a heart murmur. “He couldn’t understand why a doctor would tell him he was sick when he felt perfectly healthy,” says Steimbaum. “So he decided to learn more about the body, driving to New York City from New Jersey to take classes in nutrition.”

Eventually he became a doctor of osteopathy, which is a more hands-on field of medicine that focuses on holistic healing, beginning a family tradition that now includes eighteen doctors of osteopathy in the Steinbaum family.

Through his research, Steinbaum’s grandfather knew that nutrition affected the heart, and favored foods that modern research has found to be heart-healthy, such as avocados and dark chocolate. “Years later, when I was in my training, I wrote an article on nutrition and prevention of heart disease,” says Steinbaum. “Then I found out my grandfather wrote almost the exact same article in the 1930s. It felt strange, almost surreal. I wondered, ‘Is this genetic?’ ”

Whether nature or nurture, Steinbaum knew she wanted to be a doctor from an early age. As a child she followed her father on his hospital rounds on the weekend, and found it great fun to “assist” her grandfather in his home office.

“I was raised with the belief system that everyone is a holistic being, and you can’t treat just one aspect of the body,” she says.

Tackling the Myths of Women’s Heart Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum

“It’s important that you incorporate habits in your life that aren’t a burden. They have to add to your life, not make it more difficult. I think that TM is one of the easiest things to do. It’s certainly one of the most effective.”

Like her grandfather and father, Steinbaum first trained as a doctor of osteopathy. Two things happened that altered the course of her career.

“As a student I was working in the emergency room, and a relatively young-looking women was wheeled in sweating and vomiting,” she remembers. “The doctors diagnosed it as gastroenteritis and left her to wait in the corner. She had a heart attack right there in the ER. I thought, ‘That’s what I am going to do; help women not get heart attacks.’ ”

Years later, Steinbaum ended up doing a rotation at Block Island in Rhode Island. She was shocked to see a parade of young women visiting her office complaining of heart palpitations and chest pains while on vacation with their families.

“And I thought, ‘What is this?’ ” she says. “I could see that these highly successful, but highly stressed, women needed help. These two things have stayed in my heart my entire career.”

Propelled by the desire to educate women to recognize and prevent heart disease, she went on to become board certified as an MD and a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Steinbaum likes to point out that although heart disease is thought to be a man’s disease, it is actually the number one killer of women. And because the symptoms are different in women than in men, many doctors don’t recognize the early signs of heart disease—or even heart attacks—in women.

“There is an increased incidence of heart disease in women less than fifty-five years old,” she says. “Women need to start early to prevent it, especially if there is a family history.”

Dr. Steinbaum says the significance of prevention for heart disease was what drew her to the field.“It was so compelling to be able to change the outcomes of people’s lives by simply helping them to change their lifestyles,” she says. “If I could teach people how to prevent the number one killer disease, what could be better than that?”

What Every Woman Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease

When I ask her to name the three most important things women can do for their hearts, Dr. Steinbaum says, “I used to say ‘stop smoking’ first, but now most people are on that bandwagon. Now I’d say eating a really healthy diet, and exercising, which, by far, is the best medication. And having a way to reduce stress is essential.”

For stress, Dr. Steinbaum recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“I tell my patients that we have to treat this issue of overwhelming stress in their lives, and this is an evidence-based technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes by 48 percent,” she says. “The American Heart Association recommends it as the most effective stress management tool for reducing hypertension.”

She says she first recommended TM because she was impressed with the research. “And then I learned it myself, and thought, ‘Oh this is huge! This is a really, really big deal; something that goes far beyond the medical benefits. One of my favorite things to say is that I never thought I could sit still that long, and now I look forward to it. I also say, ‘Trust me on this one; this is going to work.’ ”

As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about twenty-five million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do; it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls in place.”

photo_steinbaum01

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about. And, ultimately, that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

TM offers a way out of the vicious cycle of stress, notes Dr. Steinbaum. “If you can meditate regularly and slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, dilate your arteries, and decrease your blood pressure, it’s done!”

But just like exercise or changing your diet, you have to do it regularly to create the change in the physiology. “We know that the change is persistent if you make a regular, routine practice of it,” she says.

For Steinbaum, any healthy habit has to resonate with a person’s goals and lifestyle. “It’s important that you incorporate things in your life that aren’t a burden,” she says. “They have to add to your life, not make it more difficult. I think that TM is one of the easiest things to do. It’s certainly one of the most effective.”

Living from the Heart

Dr. Steinbaum calls her philosophy of preventing heart disease “living from the heart.”

When she speaks, her belief in her patients’ ability to transform their lives is palpable.

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about,” she says. “And, ultimately, that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

She advises her patients: “Live from your heart and everything else will be fine.”

To help her patients become more aware of who they are and what they need to feel healthy, Dr. Steinbaum leads them in an exercise called “journaling their lives.”

“When people get caught in the minutiae of their own existence, it’s unhealthy, so I try to get people to step outside of themselves and to understand what they are living for,” she says. “For instance, a woman might feel motivated to lose weight so she can enjoy playing with her grandchildren.”

Later on, feeling good itself is enough motivation to eat heart-healthy foods, Dr. Steinbaum explains. But in the beginning, it’s easier for people to tie their goal to something larger than themselves.

“‘I want to lose weight to look thinner’ is usually not enough motivation,” she says.

Dr. Steinbaum has clearly poured her heart into her mission of educating women and preventing heart disease, and it’s her biggest reward when she sees a patient living from her heart and feeling better.

“I feel lucky to be a part of that transformation,” she says. “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.”

Dr. Steinbaum’s Top Five Heart-Health Tips

  1. Never smoke
  2. Exercise
  3. Eat heart-healthy foods
  4. Reduce stress with Transcendental Meditation
  5. Live from your heart
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(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 23. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES
Living From Your Heart: Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum Shares Her Passion for Women’s Heart HealthI don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there is a shift in medicine taking place—not only because patients are demanding more natural, preventive approaches, but because a new generation of doctors is leading the way.No one embodies this new paradigm of medicine more than Suzanne Steinbaum in her incredibly readable book Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life. As an MD, a cardiologist, the Director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red Women campaign—Dr. Steinbaum has the credentials. And because she speaks with the authentic voice of experience about how to live a healthy life—in her book, on her website and blog, as a columnist for Huffington Post, as a featured guest on 20/20, Good Morning America, and major networks, and as the host of her TV show, Focus OnHealth—women are listening.I sincerely think all women can benefit from reading this book, not only because any woman could be at risk for heart disease, but also for the experience of having a doctor talk to you about your health in a way that lets you know she GETS it. She understands how a woman’s physiology is different from a man’s, how stress and emotions can affect us so deeply, how women are often misdiagnosed, how clinical trials don’t reflect the way women react to treatment because most trials are done on men.Dr. Steinbaum was first inspired to become a cardiologist when she was a student observing in an ER. “I was the kind of student who wrote down everything the doctor said,” she says. “A relatively young-looking women was wheeled in sweating and vomiting. The doctors diagnosed it as gastroenteritis and left her to wait in the corner. She ended up having a heart attack. I thought, ‘That’s what I am going to do, help women not get heart attacks.’”Dr. Steinbaum likes to point out that although heart disease is thought to be a men’s disease, it is actually the number one killer of women. And because the symptoms are different in women than in men, many doctors don’t recognize the early signs of heart disease—or even heart attacks—in women.

“There is an increased incidence of heart disease in women less than 55 years old,” she says. “Women need to start early to prevent it, especially if there is a family history.”

Living from Your Heart

Dr. Steinbaum calls her philosophy of preventing heart disease “living from your heart.” When she speaks, her belief in her patients’ ability to transform their lives is palpable.

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about,” she says. “And ultimately that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

She advises her patients, “Live from your heart and everything else will be fine.”

To help her patients become more aware of who they are and what they need to feel healthy, Dr. Steinbaum leads them in an exercise called “journaling their lives.”

“When people get caught in a minutia of their own existence, it’s unhealthy, so I try to get people to step outside of themselves and to understand what they are living for,” she says. “For instance, a woman might feel motivated to lose weight so she can enjoy playing with her grandchildren.”

Later on, feeling good itself is enough motivation to eat heart-healthy foods, Dr. Steinbaum explains. But in the beginning, it’s easier for people to tie their goal to something larger than themselves.

“‘I want to lose weight to look thinner’ is usually not enough motivation,” she says.

Preventing Stress from Turning Into A Heart Attack

When I ask her to name the three most important things women can do for their hearts, Dr. Steinbaum says, “I used to say ‘stop smoking’ but now most people are on that bandwagon. Now I’d say eating a really healthy diet, and exercising, which by far is the best medication. And having a way to reduce stress is essential.”

For reducing stress, Dr. Steinbaum recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“I tell my patients that we have to treat this issue of overwhelming stress in their lives, and this is an evidence-based technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes by 48 percent,” she says. “The American Heart Association recommends it as the most effective stress management tool for reducing hypertension.”

She says she first recommended TM because she was impressed with the research. “And then I learned it myself, and thought, ‘Oh this is huge! This is a really, really big deal, something that goes far beyond the medical benefits. One of my favorite things to say is that I never thought I could sit still that long, and now I look forward to it. I also say, ‘Trust me on this one, this is going to work.’”

As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about 25 million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do, it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls into place.”

TM offers a way out of the vicious cycle of stress, notes Dr. Steinbaum. “If you can meditate regularly and slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, dilate your arteries and decrease your blood pressure, it’s done!”

But just like exercise or changing your diet, you have to do it regularly to create the change in the physiology. “We know that the change is persistent if you make a regular, routine practice of it,” she says.

Dr. Steinbaum has clearly poured her heart into her mission of educating women and preventing heart disease, and it’s her biggest reward when she sees a patient living from her heart and feeling better.

“I feel lucky to be a part of that transformation,” she says. “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.”

YouTube Preview Image

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, April 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Resilient to StressYesterday I was shopping at the mall and overheard a conversation between a salesperson and a grandfather pushing a beautiful 18-month-old girl in a stroller while her mother tried on clothes.

“You won’t find many kids like this one,” the proud grandfather was saying as we all watched the healthy infant smile and coo and stretch her feet and clap her hands. She was the picture of contentment and ease even though there were now three strangers (including me) gathered around her. She wasn’t just performing, either. She was looking me straight in the eye with pure love and delight.

“She’s always like this,” said the grandfather. “Even if she’s sick or teething, she’s happy.”

To me, that’s what resilience is—the ability to thrive no matter what the circumstances. Last week I wrote about a new study that showed resilient children tend to do well in life even in adverse conditions.

This got me thinking about how lacking in resilience I was as a child. Back then, you could look at me the wrong way and I’d burst into tears.

Yet as an adult, I have become much more resilient to stress with each passing year. Rather than growing in stress as I’ve aged, I feel like I’m letting more and more of it go. Not a small part of that growth in resilience has come by practicing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique.

Twice a day, every day, I’ve been letting my mind and body settle down to a deep state of rest, much deep as sleep, and that refreshing state has allowed deep-rooted stress and fatigue to be released.

A meta-analysis of twenty programs of stress reduction shows that the TM technique is the most effective stress-reduction technique available. A number of studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found that the TM technique has a multi-faceted effect in reducing stress: it significantly lowers levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreases trait anxiety, and reduces sensitivity to stress. At the same time, TM practitioners show increased sense of security and Emotional Basic Trust (EBT)and increased serotonin levels (associated with relaxation and reduced stress).

Another three-month prospective study evaluated the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on stress reduction, health and employee development in a large manufacturing plant of a Fortune 100 corporation and a small distribution sales company. Employees who learned TM were compared to controls similar in worksite, job position, demographic, and pretest characteristics. Regular meditators improved significantly more than controls (with irregular meditators scoring in between) on multiple measures of stress and employee development, including: reduced physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance levels) during and outside TM practice; decreased trait anxiety, job tension, insomnia and fatigue, cigarette and hard liquor use; improved general health (and fewer health complaints); and enhanced employee effectiveness, job satisfaction, and work/personal relationships.

Getting rid of stress allows your mind and body to function normally, to heal itself if you are sick. And there’s this added advantage: the more stress-free you are, the more resilient you are to new stress coming in.

You could think of stress as a line being chiseled in stone. Something traumatic happens to you as a child, say your teacher wrongly accuses you of cheating and you are too shy to defend yourself. That stress is stored in your nervous system, in the chemistry of your body or in its structure. Maybe even a health problem has started from that traumatic stress, or maybe you stop trusting people in authority.

Then you start to practice Transcendental Meditation, to achieve a deep state of rest on a daily basis. That stress dissolves a little bit more during each meditation, or perhaps in one deeply restful session, it’s completely gone. You feel lighter, you don’t react when your boss unjustly criticizes you—you are able to defend yourself calmly, without stirring up the old feelings of disempowerment and shame. The same stressors are there in your environment, but you’re feeling stronger—it just doesn’t affect you anymore.

Instead of making such a deep impression on the physiology like a line chiseled in stone, stress becomes more like a line in water—you react for a moment, but because you are already functioning in a less stressed state, you’re more quickly free of it. The stress has been released.

It’s even possible, as you continue to dissolve stress through regular meditation, to become so established in a state of equanimity and bliss that nothing can shake you out of it. The traffic jam on the way to your child’s school, the difficult co-worker, the challenging hours your husband works—somehow you’re able to maintain that connection with the wholeness of life throughout it all. The ups and downs don’t shake you—you start seeing them as new opportunities for growth and enjoyment.

I think it’s important to note that we’re not talking about stepping away from our responsibilities in any way. We’re talking about strengthening ourselves so that whatever life brings us, we can react with calm, grace and ease. Stressors are there—modern life is stressful no matter where you live or what you do—but if you are resilient to stress, they roll off you like Teflon. It’s more like a line drawn on air—they don’t stress you at all.

And this doesn’t take years to happen. As Megan Fairchild, a principal with the New York City Ballet noticed six months after learning the TM technique, “I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.”

I’d also like to clarify that I’m not talking about an emotionally detached, disembodied state of being here. I’m talking about being more connected to your children and other loved ones, more loving, more fully engaged in life.

After all, when you are anxious, stressed and angry, how much help are you to those around you? A lightbulb must be fully lit to give light.

What brings in the light is the direct experience of joy, happiness—and, yes, bliss—that is already deep inside each of us. Bliss is our natural state, only it gets covered by stress. That’s why, when stress is reduced through TM—and we can directly experience that reservoir of bliss, energy, intelligence and creativity inside us all—so many aspects of life suddenly get better. We’ve removed the roadblocks and the bliss and happiness can flow. Health gets better, because with less stress, the body can heal itself more effectively. Relationships get better because the stress that came between us is starting to dissipate. Mental health improves as the anxiety, depression and anger recede.

It’s the experience of bliss that stabilizes the mind. It’s not that we infuse bliss into the mind. The mind already has bliss. It’s like a farmer who is having trouble getting water to his crops because there’s a big logjam in the irrigation canal. As soon as he removes the obstacles, the water can flow. In the same way, by removing stress, what is left is the natural state of the mind, the original state of the mind, which is bliss.

Like the beautiful, peaceful baby I met at the mall, we can tap into our own reservoir of bliss and creativity every day—it’s there waiting for us to enjoy.

Watch Video: http://www.tm-women.org/videos.html#video=VhepgxkAdDY

Additional References:

ALEXANDER CN et al. 1991 Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6:189-247

EPPLEY, K.R., ABRAMS, A.I., AND SHEAR, J. 1989. Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45(6), 957-974.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, January 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Trinity College Squash Team of 2010

Trinity College Squash Team of 2010

When the women’s squash team at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, began practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique in 2010, they were hoping to make their team experience less stressful and more enjoyable. Little did they know that it would also lead them to the top of their game, finishing the 2010 season as number three in the nation, an amazing feat for a small school. In 2013 and 2014, the team captured the number one spot, edging out much larger schools like Harvard and Penn State.

It all started when Dr. Randy Lee, associate professor of psychology and assistant coach, who was already doing some work with the students to help them reduce stress and improve focus, read the research on TM.

“I’m a scientist and I wanted to see the data,” said Dr. Lee. “There were 700 research studies, and I looked a lot of them up. It occurred to me that TM, given what I’d seen in the research, might be a perfect mesh with what we were already doing,” he said.

The team, who practiced TM together as a group, noticed right away that it made them calmer. Team member Tehani Guruge from Shri Lanka said, “TM helped calm me down. I used to get really angry on court. After TM the anger went away.”

Head coach Wendy Bartlett also noticed the difference. “In general we’re certainly a calmer team,” she said. “We’ve had just as many challenges this year as we’ve had any other year, but we were able to handle them better.”

Some students even found that it helped them reach the “zone,” that coveted space of mental calm and peak performance that many top athletes experience.

“Before I wasn’t able to focus completely on the game and was distracted by external factors like the audience,” says “Nour Bahgat, a student-athlete from Egypt. “TM really helped me to get into the zone. Being in the zone is very important to an athlete because that’s the point where you can perform at your best level, so it was a great thing to learn.”

Alicia Rodriguez, a student from Mexico, reported a similar experience. “Whenever I meditated before a match, my body was so relaxed and my mind so calm. I was thinking on nothing. You already know how to play, so if your mind is calm your body will respond automatically.”

TM also helped the students with their studies. Emily Paton from Canada reported, “This year, especially, we got into a really good routine and schedule. It helped doing TM. Everyone said that after TM we’re so much more relieved and have more energy to go and do our studies afterwards. That’s not usually the case after playing hard.”

McCrea Davison from the US went on to say, “I notice that with the appropriate amount of study, every time I meditate before a major test I haven’t gotten below a 90. I think it’s because I’m more relaxed going into the test, and we learned in our class on the brain that when you’re stressed out your pre-frontal cortex shuts down so you’re not making good judgments and you can’t recall things as well.”

Research on people who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique shows that academic performance improves in students who practice TM. And in addition, reaction time is faster, energy increases, and the mind becomes calmer and more focused. All of these qualities come into play when performing sports.

Emily Lindon, a psychology major at Trinity College, studied the effects of the TM technique in promoting self-efficacy for her senior thesis. Self-efficacy is one’s belief in their ability to accomplish a certain task. According to research, someone who thinks more highly of herselftends to perform at a higher level.

“One of the groups that we studied was the Trinity College women’s squash team. We definitely found an increase in self-efficacy among the pre- and post-tests for those girls.”

Dr. Randy Lee thinks this makes sense. “The most important squash is played on the six-inch court between their ears,” he says. “And I think that is true for most sports. There is that mental peace. Our women are able to say, ‘OK, I can do this. I don’t need to worry about the scores, or what’s happening. I can make this happen.’ ”

With professional athletes like two-time World Series champion and Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito practicing the TM technique, it may just be a matter of time before other athletes discover its performance-enhancing and life-enhancing effects.

“With TM we have a whole new technique to begin to explore more to improve performance for almost any sport,” says Dr. Lee. “I can’t think of a sport I would exclude. It seems to me it can only bring positive outcomes.”

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, August 4, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Tanell Pretorius

Tanell Pretorius

Every woman, at one time or another, desperately wants to change her appearance, usually in the direction of being a supermodel.

Yet if we ordinary women feel a tremendous pressure to look like the images of perfect women that bombard us daily, curiously, the models feel the most pressure of all.

Tanell Pretorius of South Africa and Raquel Zimmermann of Brazil share how the Transcendental Meditation technique helped them to discover that true beauty and happiness lies within. TM gave them the balance they were looking for in life, and now they want to share this experience with others.

The Pressure of Constant Self-Scrutiny

Tanell Pretorius of South Africa postponed college to pursue a glamorous London modeling career that included TV commercials for Sony PlayStation, catalogue work for Marks and Spencer, and shoots with Rankin, the legendary British photographer.

“The TV work was really fun,” she says. “You’d arrive at five a.m. and see hundreds of lighting people, gaffers, and set designers running around, and often you’d be the hero of the whole thing.”

But the long hours (one shoot started at 3:00 in the afternoon and lasted until 9:00 a.m. the next day) and the pressure of constant self-scrutiny started to take their toll.

“In modeling your body is your product,” Tanell says. “Like most models, I started to develop weird habits with food. I was working out too much and injured myself. That’s when I found Transcendental Meditation.”

Tanell says that all her life, she had been looking for something more, even after becoming a top model. Then she found the Transcendental Meditation technique, which helped her find the inner balance she was looking for.

“When I started the TM technique, I immediately felt that this is the missing part of life, this is the thing that makes life complete, that makes it full and amazing,” she says. “I started to feel so deeply in touch with myself, a lot more connected to my body and my needs. It even healed my sports injuries.”

At that point Tanell decided to leave full-time modeling and explore her love of learning at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. A recent graduate with a B.A. in media and communications, she simultaneously earned certification as a wellness consultant. She plans to use her skills in writing to share what she’s learned about health, yoga, and fitness with other women.

“I love helping women to get more in touch with themselves, to work out and choose what to eat from an intuitive level rather than from what a magazine or an article is telling them to do,” she says.

Raquel Zimmermann and TM: A Wake-up Call in My Brain

Raquel Zimmermann

Raquel Zimmermann

Supermodel Raquel Zimmermann, who is currently one of the biggest names in the fashion industry, also sensed that there was something missing from her life.

“It’s a silly thing,” she said. “Models are valued for what they look like. I started to feel that every human being should be valued for what they have inside. Then you start seeing a lot of girls, they want to be skinny like models, they start getting eating disorders. It’s like an obsession to look a certain way. You start to realize—that doesn’t matter. What matters is what you have inside.”

Raquel noticed a significant change in her thinking patterns in the first week of practicing the TM technique. “I remember when I first started meditating, it was like a wake-up call in my brain. All of a sudden, within the first week of meditating I wanted to organize, my life, my personal belongings, everything. It was almost like my brain was turned on.”

After four months, she was able to quit smoking. “Transcendental Meditation changed my whole lifestyle in one year,” she says. “I had been smoking my whole modeling career because I thought it would keep me thin. It made me very proud, to be a nonsmoker and take care of myself.”

Raquel describes her own experience of no longer feeling overwhelmed by the long hours she spends in airports between shoots. “The frustration is gone,” she says. “You get to the hotel room and you meditate and when you’re there in the moment, in total peace with yourself, you’re in paradise no matter where you are.”

Raquel believes that the TM technique can help women today, because most women suffer from stress, with hectic lives and multiple responsibilities to raise their families and work in a career.

”I think TM could help them release that stress,” she says. “It’s like you have your quiet time and all that stress and worries is dissolved and you move on to your day, and all the challenges and problems don’t become problems anymore. You find solutions to everything. I think it’s a stress-killer, and would be good for women everywhere to learn.”

Tanell also recommends TM to other young people. “It’s helped me to not be so confused by the little things, moment to moment,” she says. “The great thing about the TM technique, you’re not just talking about the bigger picture, you’re experiencing it. And it’s so freeing, so liberating, to feel the largeness of life, how big you really are as a person, within yourself. Then you don’t get lost in the small things.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycf7YiajDUI

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, August 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

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