new release by linda egenes

The Ramayana

A New Retelling of Valmiki's
Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive

Tarcher Perigee
(an imprint of Penguin Random House)

by Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy
with an introduction by Michael Sternfeld

“This new version is so simply and
beautifully written it will stir your soul.”

—David Lynch



Tolerance as a State of BeingAs tensions rose in Paris and demonstrations swept Western Europe in January of 2015, people around the world wondered how to stop religious intolerance and promote peace and goodwill among all people.

Yet with racial and religious hostilities worldwide reaching a six-year high, as reported in the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, intolerance is a global issue that affects us no matter where we live.

While schools, religious groups and families can do their part in promoting racial and religious tolerance, you have to wonder if tolerance can, indeed, be taught.

The research shows yes, and no. Some researchers question whether schools can help, since educational institutions have historically reinforced racial and economic inequality. Yet one study (Henze, 2001) showed that certain pro-active approaches on the part of teachers could reduce racial and ethnic conflict. These included:

  • Multicultural or ethnic assemblies and special events
  • After-school programs and other opportunities for students to mix
  • Conflict-resolution training
  • Recruitment of diverse staff
  • Teacher-driven professional development on issues of equity
  • Teaming between classrooms, usually a bilingual class with a traditional class

I know from personal experience that parents talking to their kids about racial and religious tolerance can make a difference in their attitudes and behaviors. For instance, I was raised in Naperville, an all-white, middle-class suburb of Chicago, yet during the integration battles of the 1960s my parents made a point of telling us that if a racially diverse family wished to move into our neighborhood, they would be welcome. They taught us to never to use derogatory labels and to show respect for people of all races and all religions.

They also encouraged me to enroll as a camp counselor at a bi-racial summer camp in our town. The counselors and kids were half from our suburb and half from the inner city. It was a formative experience, and fortunately for me, paved the way for many loving friendships with people of diverse races and religions around the world.

As I write this, I’m wondering what causes us to think of another human being as “other” than ourselves in the first place?

It seems like part of the problem comes in when people try to create unity on the surface of life, to have the thought, “If only everyone had the same belief system as me, then there would be no fighting in this world.”

Unity at the surface of life and unity at the depths are two different things.

In fact, when unity is deep in a person’s psychology, when someone has a strong sense of self, a strong sense of who they are, they don’t feel threatened by another person for having a different belief, race or religion, because they experience the connectedness between all beings on a deep level. Instead they appreciate, celebrate, and exult in the differences of others.

It’s like a well-watered garden. Each type of flower is different—a rose, a dahlia, a daisy—yet at their source they consist of the same colorless sap. No one feels threatened by the diversity of flowers in the garden—in fact, that’s what makes the garden so beautiful.

Tolerance seems to have a lot to do with self-actualization, as a person who is more stable in themselves will be less likely to feel threatened by people who have different religious beliefs. And, just as you would expect, tolerance, acceptance of others and lack of prejudice are characteristics of self-actualization as found in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

So if self-actualized people are more likely to be tolerant of others, then the question remains, how do we help people to become more self-actualized? Throughout the ages, meditation has been a tool to develop the self, to become more self-actualized or enlightened, and to enjoy inner and outer peace.

Now modern research shows that the Transcendental Meditation technique helps develop self-actualization. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality in 1991 compared independent research studies and concluded that the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique increased self-actualization by about three times as much as procedures of contemplation, or concentration. A 2005 follow-up study of university students, also published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, showed that university students who were practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique increased significantly on self-development (ego development) when measured after graduation, in contrast to control students at three other universities who were not participating.

After one month of practice of the Transcendental Meditation program, individuals developed a more strongly defined sense of self-concept, in comparison to matched controls. They also reported that their ‘actual’ self was closer to their ‘ideal’ self as reported in the British Journal of Psychology in 1982.

I think it’s important to recognize that TM itself is not a religion nor does it involve embracing a particular belief system. Over six million people of all different religions, races and beliefs practice the Transcendental Meditation technique. The beautiful thing is that people often report that practicing TM strengthens their understanding and belief in their own religion. Yet at the same time, as the research shows, it simultaneously promotes acceptance and tolerance of those who are different from us, who have a different religion, race or belief system.

In a 1971 interview Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation program, noted that as someone starts to practice the TM technique, “they start to dive deep within, they begin to feel better and the stresses are less, and life becomes easier and ‘help thy neighbor’ becomes an instinct, an inspiration to everyone. One doesn’t have to know from the teaching to know that ‘help thy neighbor’ is a good thing. It becomes a habit. So in this way one begins to live their religion. Living the religion is by developing pure consciousness. Religious life is life, which is spontaneously lived. It’s not a matter of thinking and doing good, but one is structured in doing good.”

In other words, helping our neighbor, helping other human beings, no matter what their color or economic status or religion, becomes a spontaneous action for someone who is developing pure consciousness through daily meditation. Tolerance becomes a natural state of being.

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

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

by Linda Egenes

MG_2486-1Like many young women today, Andrea Zapata enrolled in college right after completing high school. Deciding that she wanted to study environmental sciences at a university, she threw herself into researching different transfer options, but soon became discouraged.

“I grew disillusioned with universities that had great environmental programs yet did not show full integrity with the quality of food in their cafeterias or in their commitment to sustainability,” she says.

It was her mother who found a different kind of school, Maharishi University of Management (MUM), where the emphasis is on developing the inner potential of the student through a strong academic curriculum along with the practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. At the same time MUM promotes better health by serving fresh, local and organic food and culturing a balanced daily routine with time for yoga, sports, exercise, and adequate rest.

“My first reaction was that it was too good to be true,” says Andrea, who is now 22 and about to graduate from MUM with a B.A. in business administration and a minor in sustainable living. “But I came to visit and the students were not only learning and achieving at a high level, they were living the wholesome lifestyle I was looking for.”

Andrea was also impressed by the top faculty, many of whom are graduates of Ivy League schools, and found out that the school has garnered multiple academic awards. Most recently, the Sustainable Living program was ranked #4 in the country by and MUM’s bachelor’s program was twice named a Sierra Club Cool School. The B.A. in business administration was named one of the Top 50 Best Value” business programs at small colleges in the United States.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who also founded the Transcendental Meditation technique, established Maharishi University of Management in 1971.

“From the start, the aim of the University was to develop the full potential of each student by developing consciousness,” says Dr. Vicki Herriott, Chair of the Department of Management at MUM.

So even though MUM is fully accredited from the BA to the PhD level and offers a standard curriculum—with degrees in business administration, computer science, education, literature, art, creative musical arts, physiology, physics, media and communications, and sustainable living—it is truly innovative at its core. While students come from diverse cultural backgrounds from the US and 85 different countries, every student is engaged in expanding his or her “container of knowledge.” In other words, they are increasing their ability to learn and achieve.

Developing Consciousness

At MUM, not only the students—but also the faculty and staff—practice the TM technique, which is a systematic and scientifically verified means of developing inner peace and wellness. This is the heart of the education at MUM.

Through this simple, natural, and effortless procedure, practiced before the first class and after the last class of the day—students enliven the most creative, powerful, and intelligent level of their own awareness, pure consciousness. As a result, students report that it’s easier to study, that grades improve, stress and fatigue diminish, creativity and leadership skills increase, health improves, and social relationships are easier. Scientific research backs up these personal experiences—as reported in more than 380 studies published in peer-reviewed journals throughout the world.“Students are under so much stress today, and simply by lessening the stress students are able to learn better,” says Dr. Herriott. “The brain also begins to function in a more orderly way. Research shows that even IQ, which was thought to be static, goes up. You could say that the practice of TM expands the ‘container of knowledge.’”

While TM benefits both male and female students, it is especially helpful to college women today, who make up 57% of the average student body, according to the Digest of Education Statistics as reported in ForbesA 2013 survey of college students showed that female students report higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than their male counterparts.

“Women’s options have greatly increased over the last decades, but with the increase in options comes a pressure to ‘do it all,’” notes Dr. Herriott. “And we sometimes take on too much.  By integrating TM into their daily activity, young women learn to create balance in their lives. As women, we have to take care of ourselves first, if we want to be of maximum good to others.”

Andrea Zapata notes that due to the pressures of the media and popular culture, many young women feel lost. “I feel like it’s really difficult for girls to get to know themselves and recognize their value and their worth. Many are trying to find themselves in other people and other things.”

She says that her MUM education, and especially the TM technique, has taught her how to look for solutions inside herself, giving her a self-reliance that she never knew before.

“Coming to MUM has definitely given me more clarity towards a truth that many of us may not have realized just yet—that happiness already lies within each and every one of us. The secret is in understanding ourselves well enough to tap into our inner happiness a wholesome and nourishing way,” she says. “Over time, I’ve been able to create an actual toolkit for myself—the tools that help me cultivate happiness within myself consistently. And TM has been a powerful foundation for that. Whenever I feel low, I can tap into what I know works for me, whether it’s meditating or exercising or eating healthier or free-writing. It ultimately all is a reflective process for me that enables me to take a step back, evaluate where I am, and understand how I could grow in the direction I would love most.”

Developing Leadership Skills

For Andrea, developing leadership skills is an important part of her life. In her previous college, she enrolled in student government and co-founded a mentorship program. She currently serves as the student government ambassador for the College of Business Administration at MUM.

She’s also developing a viable business that deals with sustainability and schools. She started the project with fellow students under the auspices of the “Concept to Market” program, which is an innovative initiative spearheaded by entrepreneur and visiting faculty Cliff Rose and MUM’s Department of Management.

“Practicing the TM technique has increased my capacity to better process, understand, and assess how to strategize to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b,’” she says. “I call it a ‘bird’s eye’ point of view. This helps me engage more effectively with the group I’m leading—to guide and work with them even better.”

MUM students regularly win awards for their projects on the national level, even when competing against students from much larger schools. The MyActions website gave MUM a Silver Level Student Actions Award, which honors undergraduate schools for student demonstrated leadership, momentum, and impact of green, caring, and healthy actions. And recently MUM was named one of “Thirty great small colleges for ESTP Personality Types” by, a designation that they describe as students who are risk-takers, leaders and energetic.”

Norah Fabek, a non-traditional student who entered MUM at age 25, says that those words describe her perfectly. “I identify with all three of those qualities very strongly, and I think most people would define me by those,” she says. “I feel like those qualities are allowed to shine at MUM, and are developed by the educational system here.”

Norah found MUM an attractive option after dropping out from another school years earlier. “I’d done some college right after high school but I wasn’t getting the kind of information I wanted,” she says. “I was looking for bigger answers and bigger foundational ideas—why people are the way they are. When I found out about MUM, it made sense and everything fell into place. It really made my education fulfilling.”

Growing Creativity In a Changing World

“TM definitely helps facilitate creativity,” says Nynke Passi, a poet and fiction writer as well as long-time creative writing faculty at MUM. “My most inspired writing comes in times when I am very inward, when I get quiet enough to listen. With students it’s the same. Meditation makes people appreciate and notice the subtle nuances of things. It enlivens sensory awareness. It opens people’s hearts and makes people feel happier inside. The feeling level in my classes at MUM is unique in every way; students are a family, they feel safe. They have a willingness to open up and explore.”

Nynke Passi says others have noticed the extraordinary creativity of MUM students. “In the past ten years, eight of my creative writing students landed in leading graduate programs in journalism or creative writing,” she says. “I think this unique atmosphere of inner exploration—not just of senses, mind, and intellect, but also feeling, personal voice, and a sense of cosmic connection, a universality you could say—has everything to do with the enormous success of MUM’s undergraduate creative writing program.”

Hannah Foster, an art major at MUM, says that TM and the MUM experience have helped her to become a more creative visual artist. “In the past, I experienced a high level of anxiety during many activities, from having to talk to people at work to completing a project,” she says.

After spending time at MUM, she started to notice significant changes in her anxiety levels. “I think the initial benefit of practicing TM was a deeper confidence and trust in who I was and the ability to complete my goals,” she says. “My anxiety has greatly lessened. I was always afraid I was making the wrong life choices for myself, or that my intuition was faulty. Through TM, I’ve been able to stabilize an inner peace I recognize as my true self. With this newly found confidence, I have little fear of making myself vulnerable in my artwork.”

Connecting All Knowledge to Your Self

Besides developing consciousness by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day, students learn to approach their studies in a new and insightful way.

“The practice of TM develops a student’s familiarity with and understanding of consciousness, the underlying field that they experience in their meditation and that connects all disciplines,” says Dr. Herriott. “By identifying principles that govern the functioning of their own growth of consciousness, but also govern the most fundamental aspects of every discipline, the student can more easily relate the principles of the discipline to themselves. The student begins to recognize these patterns and can more quickly understand new concepts based on their prior learning.”

Students thrive in this kind of atmosphere, because it makes every subject of study personally relevant. It’s turning things inside-out, so students can see how every discipline—whether it’s math or biology or literature—has its basis in the unified, universal field of intelligence and creativity that they directly experience in their TM practice.

“Classes at MUM approach everything as if it’s a subjective experience—nothing is object oriented,” says Supriya Vidic, who had served in the US Army and reached the rank of Sergeant before coming to MUM, then graduated with a BA in media and communications and is pursuing a master’s degree at Columbia University. “The ‘you’ is just as important as the ‘other’ or subject. When you take that view you really see the totality of things.”

Preparing for A Career

MUM’s focus on self-knowledge provides another advantage. “Employers are hungry for the very qualities that MUM cultivates, such as critical thinking, creativity, clarity, problem solving ability, relationship building, and collaboration,” says Steve Langerud, MUM’s career counselor.

Emily Marcus, M.D., would agree. An MUM graduate in physiology and health in 2004, she completed medical school at Johns Hopkins University to become a “hospitalist,” a medical doctor who works exclusively in hospitals—a medical career that didn’t even exist two decades ago.

“MUM helped me to become more centered,” she says. “I had a very stress-free college experience, which helped me stay focused on what I wanted to do. I was able to maintain a balanced perspective in a field that can be both mentally and physically challenging. That was really helpful to me.”

She also found that her studies at MUM gave her an edge in her current job at New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Weill Cornell Medical Center. “At MUM, I learned a lot about nutrition, diet, and lifestyle modification for prevention and treatment of disease. Subjects like nutrition aren’t taught much in medical school, but provided me with useful tools for helping my patients.”

Dr. Herriott says, “One of the greatest joys of a teacher is to watch the growth of one’s students.  “To see our very diverse student body—who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and countries—all move in the direction of growing to be the best person that they can be is exhilarating. It’s the reason I love teaching.  Students grow in confidence in their ability to present their ideas effectively and work in teams productively.  They learn to value their skills and their unique contribution to the world. They find their niche. They also learn to value the uniqueness of their fellow students.  MUM is very much a family — a supportive family where each student is appreciated and in turn appreciates.”

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 To find out more about degree programs at Maharishi University of Management, see


I originally wrote this blog for in April, 2016.


The Transcendental Meditation Technique and the Journey of EnlightenmentAnn Purcell didn’t start out to write a book. A teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique since 1973, she taught Transcendental Meditation and advanced courses in many countries around the world. She also wrote songs about her experiences of transcending.

“My best songs are those that were totally unplanned and just suddenly, spontaneously bubbled up inside of me—the melody and the words seemed to write themselves,” she says.

Her writing also unfolded effortlessly. One evening as she drifted off to sleep, a flood of ideas washed over her, and she got up to write them down. The flood of ideas continued almost every night for a month, and by the end she had a manuscript.

That became the first edition of her book, (published under the title Let Your Soul Sing: Enlightenment is For Everyone). Soon a publisher acquired the book and issued a new edition with the new title The Transcendental Meditation Technique and the Journey of Enlightenment. Ann also added an intriguing new chapter called, “Mother Divine: The Divine Feminine.” Here she explains how we can access the divine feminine in our own lives.

Linda Egenes: How would you explain the “divine feminine”?
Ann Purcell:
The divine feminine is a term that refers to the creative, evolutionary force within nature itself. It is the all-nourishing power of natural law which governs all life in a progressive, evolutionary direction. Because this creative energy is not man made, we can appreciate it as divine. It is within each of us, within the silent depths of our Being and can be enjoyed as a natural part of our daily lives.

Some people call it “the goddess within.” The term is quite ancient and comes from many traditions throughout time. For example, the common term “Mother Earth” symbolizes balance, healing, renewal and restoration. The divine feminine is that aspect within every woman that reflects the qualities that are nurturing, loving, understanding, compassionate, insightful, intuitive, creative, forgiving, healing, steady, patient and wise. Men also possess this quality because it is a fundamental constituent of natural law itself. But women more readily express it in their natural tendency as the mothers of the world to nourish one and all.

Linda: How does this concept of the divine feminine relate to our busy lives here on earth?
Women want to access more nurturing, intuitive, creative feelings that are deep inside—but unfortunately in this day and age, the stress and day-to-day activities are so overwhelming that many women have lost access to their finer feelings. Women today are busy managing their homes or jobs and trying to balance both. Most women want to be nourishing to their families, but they might get so tired that they start to disconnect from their deeper feelings and get easily angry or stressed out. They’ve lost touch with the more refined levels of feeling, where the inner qualities of the divine feminine are predominant.

Linda: So you’re saying it’s a woman’s natural state to express the finer level of feeling?
Of course men also have a nurturing, creative side. But women were born with the capacity to give birth to a child, so they naturally have those precious instincts and that nourishing power. It’s natural for a mother, and most women have those natural instinctive qualities. It’s not that men don’t also have these qualities, but it might be a little more natural for a woman to have those tender, motherly, nourishing instincts.

Certainly a mother has to be creative in the household. You might not think of that as creativity, but a mother is always drawing on her creativity, her inner resources to meet the needs of the children, the home, the family.

And of course, women in the workplace are also solution-oriented. Recent research shows that businesses were able to raise their problem-solving ability or “collective intelligence” just by adding more women to their teams.

Linda: How is intuition an important feature of the divine feminine?
I think it’s important to consider the question, Where does creativity come from? And where does intuition come from? We’ve all heard that creativity comes from within. Sometimes something from the outside can cause creativity to flow, but ultimately it comes from inside us.

At the source of thought of every human being is an ocean of silence. We can call this ocean of silence a field of infinite creativity, a field of creative intelligence that pervades the universe. This is the creative intelligence that I was speaking of earlier that is our divine inner essence. Tapping into this creative energy is what produces the connection to our finest feeling level.

The feeling level is closest to this ocean of silence. Most of us are aware of very subtle feelings within or flashes of intuition. That feeling level is on the border—on the junction point, on the level closest to the field of silence from which all creativity wells up. If we have a natural awareness, a quiet attunement to those feelings, our intuition is more sharp.

I think everyone has had the experience of saying, “Oh, if I’d just gone by my feeling.” They know that their feeling is right.

Parents often tell their children to learn to listen to their inner voice, to listen to their inner feeling. “Don’t go by what your friends are saying,” they might tell their kids. “Listen to your own inner voice, because that will guide you in the right direction.”

What happens is that people have that inner feeling, a flash of intuition, but don’t always go by it. Then they find themselves getting into a little trouble—in a work situation or a social situation.

Linda: How can we break this cycle of stress and express these beautiful qualities of the divine feminine in our daily lives?
One simple way is to be more rested. I know that’s a challenge for many people. There is a growing body of research on the impact of sleep on cognitive functioning and health. Many people may have heard Arianna Huffington coming out strongly on the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is important for natural well-being, but being rested also helps us act from the fine feeling level. When we’re feeling happy and relaxed, there’s less noise in the mind, and we can access those fine feelings of love, understanding, compassion, insightfulness, intuition, creativity and patience. So getting more rest is one basic, fundamental way to make those finer feelings more accessible.

Another way is through the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM), which allows the system to get very deep rest. Due to the deep rest, stress released by the nervous system, and when there is less stress and fatigue, the mind is clearer. The deep rest through TM is like a broom that is sweeping away all the stress and the internal, mental noise, the chatter of “I have to pick up my kids,” or “I have to get to work”—all the worry that goes on in the mind. Research shows that with the regular practice of TM, happiness naturally grows, harmony grows, creativity grows—all those qualities of the divine feminine start to shine.

There is another important way that TM can help. The practice of Transcendental Meditation takes the mind from the surface level of thinking to finer and finer and finer levels of the thinking process until it transcends even the finest level of thinking and experiences the source of thought.

That means that the mind, through the process of transcending, becomes habituated to experiencing the finer feeling levels through the process of transcending. So not only is the stress swept away along with the noise in the mind, but you’re also accessing the finer levels of the thinking process, so more and more you’re able to pick up thoughts on that finest feeling level—including the creative thoughts, the intuitions, the tender feelings of the heart. And you’ll be able to use those creative, finer feelings and thoughts to accomplish what you need in your daily life.

Linda: That’s a beautiful point, that TM not only clears the noise from the mind, but it allows the mind to become more refined.
And this experience creates a strong feeling of self-empowerment and self-reliance. Because everything we need, all the wisdom we need, is there inside us, in that silence. Our own inner silence is the greatest gift we can draw upon to guide us through the stormy aspects of life. And the beautiful things that happen as well—we want to be just as creative during the good times as the challenging times. We want to be able to draw on those creative, nourishing, intuitive qualities in every aspect of our lives.

Also, the more creative we are, the happier we are, the less stressed we are, the more we’re able to transform our outer environment as well. If we’re calm, our family and the people around us tend to reflect that calm. If we come up with creative solutions to the challenging situations of life, we’re better able to diffuse problems, more able to contribute to accomplishing any tasks, any jobs. So it has many many benefits in daily life.

This is the real meaning of self-reliance or self-empowerment—when we’re not dependent on anything from the outside for our power or strength or resilience. It’s all there inside. If a storm comes, and if we’re securely anchored down, we’re not going to get tossed about by the stormy waves. We’ll be very resilient, firmly established within, where nothing from the outside can shake our inner stability and inner joy and inner well of creativity.

Linda: It seems that when more and more women are experiencing their divine feminine, we could really change the world to become a more peaceful, happier place.
Exactly. In fact, a few years ago we established an organization to specifically reach out to women, called the Global Mother Divine Organization (GMDO), which is part of the worldwide TM organization. GMDO has opened TM centers just for women, allowing women to enjoy the nourishing quality of being with all women. Many women report that the softened atmosphere allows them to completely relax and be themselves.

And that creates a situation conducive to experiencing the silence inside. Transcending is an extremely nourishing situation in itself, but when you come to group meditation with other women, it’s enhanced exponentially.

Also, GMDO has outreach programs to many different women’s groups—nursing programs, educational programs for women and girls, cultural programs, programs for women in poverty and programs for self-empowerment. I just read today that this is a worldwide trend—for women to gather together, and organizations for self-empowerment are sprouting up all over the world. What better way to empower the self than to be in the Self, which is the all-empowering field of silence, the power of bliss, the power of creativity?

And the beautiful thing is that it’s our own inner nature. It’s our own Self. If every woman can access this level, they will create a huge transformation for society through enlivening that inner silence. Real change begins within.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 28, 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 See

Like falling in love, the process of creating art can be a mystery, even to the person writing the song or sculpting the statue. As the novelist Eric Jerome Dickey said, “It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.”

Yet a growing number of creative artists and actors—think Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, Hugh Jackman—have found that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is a powerful yet dependable way to capture the ever-elusive muse. And if one artist can boost creativity through meditation, you have to wonder what would happen if everyone on the set—singer, actors, producers, installation artists, production crew—practiced the TM technique?

“This reworking manages to enrich the sound without losing its ethereal quality.” —

This actually happened when LA actress Elena Charbila (who has a dual career as a singer-songwriter under the moniker Kid Moxie) asked producer Michael Sternfeld to collaborate in creating a music video for her hauntingly beautiful rendition of the iconic score “Mysteries of Love,” composed by Angelo Badalamenti for director David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet. 

In just three long days of shooting and ten short days of editing, Elena, Michael, and a crew of over twenty—all of whom practice TM—created an artistic and evocative video that debuted at the “Music of David Lynch” tribute concert to a sold-out crowd of 1500. As reported in Rolling Stone, the concert not only raised funds for the David Lynch Foundation to teach TM to at-risk children, but featured an all-star lineup of Duran Duran, Moby, Donovan, Chrysta Bell, and Sky Ferreira performing music from the director’s movies and albums.

The “Mysteries of Love” music video garnered positive reviews, like this one from “While the original composition has long been a favorite among die-hard Lynch fans, this reworking manages to enrich the sound without losing its ethereal quality…and the end result is pretty great.”

Yet the real story is found in the making of the video, as the mythic power of love not only informed the theme of the song and video, but became the creative force that united the team and threaded its way through every image and sound.

Connecting with the David Lynch Universe

For Elena Charbila, the video was the fulfillment of a lifelong love affair with the work of award-winning director David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, who collaborated on the scores for most of David Lynch’s films.

“Some melodies become a part of you, inspire, and transform you,” says Elena. “The universe that David Lynch co-created with Angelo Badalamenti was like that for me.”

Although born in Greece, Elena based her career in LA, starring in films alongside Al Pacino and Malcolm McDowell. Five years ago, she had the chance to interview her personal hero, David Lynch, for a major Greek newspaper.

“The way he talked about meditation and creativity intrigued me,” she says. “Because I deeply respect his work as an artist, I thought there must be something there. So on my next birthday, I gave myself the gift of TM.”

“For me, the underlying theme was showing the dark and the light side of love.” —Elena Charbila

“It helped clear away the mental clutter,” Elena adds. “To have a clear idea of what you want to express through your art, you need to hear your own voice better. And TM certainly helps you do that.”

Soon she became a contributor to the David Lynch Foundation and its radio station, Transcendental Music, to help underserved children and adults learn the TM technique. Then one day she worked up the nerve to mail her music to Angelo Badalamenti.

The fabled composer not only liked her music, but at a later meeting, mentioned that he was remaking “Mysteries of Love” with a full orchestra and suggested that she perform the vocals.

Elena found his offer “both scary and extremely exciting” and recorded the song in the transcendental, delicate vocals that are her trademark. “It was a personally satisfying moment for me,” she says. “Angelo loved what I did with his song, and he was generous and gracious enough to let me use it for my new album, 1888.

The story might have ended there, but Elena couldn’t let go of a certain idea.

A Collaboration Based on Trust

“I remember that it was floating in my head that ‘Mysteries of Love’ was such a cinematic piece, an iconic song, and there was no video for it,” she says. “So I called up Michael Sternfeld and said, ‘We have to do this together.’ ”

Elena had met Michael Sternfeld through the David Lynch Foundation during Michael’s five-year stint as event producer for events featuring Paul McCartney, Ringo, Sheryl Crow, Moby, The Beach Boys, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jim Carrey.

From the start, the two felt tuned into each other’s thoughts to an uncanny degree. “We were laughing that we could read each other’s minds, and we both felt that there was trust,” says Elena. “That is a huge building block for starting anything.”

They decided to shoot the music video in Fairfield, Iowa, home of Maharishi University of Management (MUM). Michael set out to assemble the production team, recruiting directors Amine Kouider, media and communications faculty at MUM, and Sam Lieb, head of DLF.TV, as well as co-producer Donald Revolinski, faculty of the David Lynch MA in film at MUM.

At first it was challenging to get the team to clear their schedules. Then Michael thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we showed our music video at the live ‘Music of David Lynch’ concert?” Says Michael, “We didn’t even know if David wanted to feature music videos. It was basically a one-in-a-million chance, but the project suddenly went from some wild, pie-in-the-sky idea to something that could actually happen.”

The only problem was, there were only three weeks left before the concert.

The Art of Creative Collaboration

What transpired in just three long days and nights of shooting outdoors in freezing March temperatures was nothing short of magical.

Elena, who had never taken a creative journey with a group of people who were all TM meditators before, was struck by the level of harmony on the set. “There was extreme care with each other’s ideas. Egos were kept at a minimal healthy level. From the first meeting, there was so much love, like a nonverbal contract that we were going to stay connected, we were going to stay in love for the entire process. I had never felt that before.”

Elena also felt a heightened energy level that she finds hard to explain. “It was a very long shoot. We were reaching for the sky with the things we wanted to do. Yet the feeling level was electrifying. For me it was a beautiful pool to swim in.”

“Underneath there was a feeling of no doubt that we would finish, a deep trust in the flow of nature.” —Michael Sternfeld, producer

With shoots lasting into the wee hours of the morning, she appreciated the meditation breaks. “There was a mutual understanding that everyone was going to do it. Whereas here in LA, if somebody saw you meditating, they’d be like: ‘Hey what’s up? What are you doing?’ There, nobody asked any questions; everybody knew the process. That was pretty refreshing.”

Realizing the Vision

The video’s beautiful yet disturbing visual images of the cocoon unravelling into a butterfly, performed by S.B.Woods, a performance and installation artist who has been practicing the TM technique for 34 years, fit perfectly with the shared vision for the film.

“For me, the underlying theme was showing the dark and the light side of love,” says Elena. “Because love is both beautiful and scary, especially in the beginning stages.”

The motif of light and dark reverberated through images of the video’s mystical forest set, created in two days of freezing temperatures by “tree woman” Cherie Sampson, an environmental performance and video artist who previously taught at Maharishi University of Management and now teaches at the University of Missouri.

After the last day of shooting ended at 4:00 a.m., there were only five days left for the three editors to complete post-production editing—a task that would normally require three months of work.

“The entire project was a stretch,” says Michael, “But underneath there was a feeling of no doubt that we would finish, a deep trust in the flow of nature. We never gave in to fear or anxiety; we just did it. And that comes from working with a group of meditators.”

The crew waited as David Lynch and the producers of the LA concert reviewed the video. Finally, just a week before the concert, word came that David Lynch not only loved it, but it was the only music video approved for the live concert.

“That was stunning,” says Michael, “but there was no time to celebrate. Because we had sent an unfinished version, we spent the remaining five days on final edits and the coloring process, finishing just twenty minutes before being delivered to the control room in the theater at the ACE Hotel in LA.”

Michael notes that from the moment they conceived of this project, there was a feeling of inevitability that swept them along. “Instead of thinking, ‘we need to make something happen,’ what if love itself was making this happen?” he wonders. “And that, to me, is key—the feeling you’re left with at the end of this video. If the viewer’s heart opens to some deeper level of life, then we accomplished our job.”

Watch Mysteries of Love here YouTube Preview Image

[This article was originally published in Issue 25 of Enlightenment: the Transcendental Meditation Magazine.]

Related Links

An Interview with Thomas Egenes, PhD

Questions and Answers on the Origins of the Origins of TM

TM originates from the Vedic tradition of knowledge of ancient India. This broad-based tradition is widely recognized as the oldest living tradition of knowledge on earth and encompasses a wide diversity of areas including Yoga, Ayurveda (healthcare), Vastu (Vedic architecture), and Gandharva Veda (music).

Perhaps you’ve been practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique for several months and have enjoyed greater happiness and calm in your life. Now you want to know more about its origins and what distinguishes it from other practices. Recently Enlightenment asked Dr. Thomas Egenes, an associate professor at Maharishi University of Management and a Certified Teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique, to answer your questions.

Q: Where does TM come from?

Dr. Egenes: The Transcendental Meditation technique comes from India, from a deep, profound source called the Vedic tradition, which is thousands of years old. The word “Veda” means knowledge. The Vedic tradition is widely recognized as the oldest living tradition of knowledge on earth, maintained continuously and passed down from teacher to student. It is a broad-based tradition of knowledge encompassing a wide diversity of areas. Just to name a few, it is the origin of Yoga, Ayurveda (healthcare), Vastu (Vedic architecture), and Gandharva Veda (music).

To maintain this age-old tradition, four seats of knowledge were established in India by the great Vedic scholar, Shankara, thousands of years ago. Maharishi is part of this ancient heritage, having studied with the leading custodian of Vedic wisdom (Shankaracharya) from the northern seat of knowledge. Maharishi first brought this knowledge to the West in 1959 when he started his first of several world tours teaching the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Q: Since Transcendental Meditation and the knowledge of transcending was contained in this original expression of knowledge—the Vedas—does that mean it is connected to a religion such as Buddhism or Hinduism?

the Vedic tradition of knowledge of ancient India.

The ancient wisdom of transcending through the TM technique can be validated in three ways: through personal experience, through modern scientific research, and through the ancient texts, which have been passed on since time immemorial.

Dr. Egenes: Actually, the Vedas predate these religions. The rich, profound knowledge contained in the Vedic literature has been drawn upon for inspiration by literally hundreds of schools, religions, and philosophers on every continent throughout history. Today, people from all religions and cultures around the world practice the TM technique to experience inner peace and happiness, whether they are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, or aetheists.

This ancient wisdom of transcending through the Transcendental Meditation technique can be validated in three ways: through personal experience, through modern scientific research, and through the ancient texts, which have been passed on since time immemorial.

Q: What are some personal experiences of transcending?

Dr. Egenes: You may notice when you sit to meditate that your breath becomes softer, or there may be a brief period of time when there are no thoughts and also no mantra. You know you are awake, because if someone walked into the room, you would hear it. However, you may experience that you are awake toawareness itself, without thoughts. Or you may notice that your mind and body are completely settled. As one person described it, “During the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, the silence became very deep, and I experienced a vast sea of peace within.”

After meditating, you may find that you are spontaneously happier and healthier, and life is more fulfilling. Millions of people have reported similar experiences—that after meditation their mind is more calm, their body healthier, their emotions more positive, and behavior more harmonious since starting the TM technique.

Q: How is this subtle experience of transcending validated by scientific research?

Dr. Egenes: When Maharishi introduced TM to the West, long before anyone had conceived of a mind-body connection, he encouraged researchers to study the effects of meditation on mind and body. Maharishi predicted that measures such as EEG, heart rate, and breath rate during meditation would be distinctly different from measures taken during the well-known states of waking, sleeping, and dreaming states of consciousness. In fact, he predicted that the mental technique of TM produced the experience of a completely distinct fourth state of consciousness.

The first physiological study on the TM technique was conducted at UCLA by Dr. Keith Wallace and published inScientific American and other journals in 1972. By studying EEG, breath rate, and heart rate of subjects while they practiced the TM technique, Dr. Wallace found physiological evidence of this fourth state of consciousness, which could also be called a state of “restful alertness”—“restful,” because the physiology is in a deep state of rest, and “alertness,” because the mind is wide awake.

Groundbreaking research by Dr. Wallac

Maharishi predicted that measures such as EEG, heart rate, and breath rate during meditation would be distinctly different from measures taken during the well-known states of waking, sleeping, and dreaming states of consciousness. In fact, he predicted that the mental technique of TM produced the experience of a completely distinct fourth state of consciousness.

This groundbreaking research by Dr. Wallace, and subsequent research on increased EEG coherence (orderliness) of brain activity, shows us how the fourth state of consciousness experienced during the TM technique is a unique state of consciousness, as evidenced by Alpha1 waves observed throughout the brain during Transcendental Meditation, with the highest concentration in the pre-frontal cortex. The brain waves become synchronous, which means that the brain is more coherent and integrated, with the different parts working together like a symphony orchestra. This results in better memory, increased creativity, increased intelligence, and emotional stability as shown by research.

In subsequent research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and top research universities, we’ve seen that the practice of the TM technique results in decreased anxiety, decreased cortisol (the stress hormone), decreased blood pressure, decreased insulin resistance, decreased insomnia, and a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. At the same time, research shows an increase in happiness, well-being, productivity, efficiency, and success.

Q: Can you explain how transcending is validated by the ancient Vedic texts?

Dr. Egenes: The literature from the Vedic tradition, called Vedic literature, is a vast body of knowledge. Here are examples from three ancient texts that Maharishi often quoted in his lectures.

From the Yoga Sutras: “Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind.” This key phrase is perhaps the classic definition of Yoga, or union. While physical stretching (as taught in yoga classes in the US) is a part of the practice of yoga, in the Vedic tradition, the actual state of Yoga is defined as the complete settling of the mind. For many Western scholars, this state appears mystical or elusive, but for those practicing TM, it is a daily, personal experience and, as we have seen, has been reported in widely published research studies as well. In the literature on Yoga, this state is referred to as Samadhi, a state of pure awareness, or Transcendental Consciousness. It is pure wakefulness, devoid of any content such as thoughts, feelings, or perceptions.

The Bhagavad-Gita, also considered to be a text of Yoga, has many passages that describe how the mind settles during meditation. The verse “. . . having established the mind in the Self, let him not think at all,” describes how the mind becomes established in the Self, or pure awareness. This is awareness, but not awareness with an object of attention. Rather, it is awareness aware of itself. In this state, the person meditating has gone beyond thinking. There are no thoughts, no mantra, and no other object of attention. The mind is in a simple, settled state, calmly aware of awareness itself. In this state, the Bhagavad-Gita describes a person as being “freed from duality, ever firm in purity, independent of possessions, possessed of the Self.”

The Upanishads describe the fourth state of consciousness at great length and as different from waking, dreaming, and sleeping. In the Upanishads this state is called Turiya Chetana, or the fourth state of consciousness, often referred to as the Self (with a capital S, to denote the universal Self). For example, in this passage “The peaceful, the blissful, the undivided is thought to be the fourth; that is the Self. That is to be known,” specific characteristics are given for this fourth state of consciousness: it is peaceful, it is blissful, and it is undivided, meaning that it is an experience of unity. There is no object of attention, just the Self knowing itself.

While physical stretching (as taught in yoga classes in the US) is a part of the practice of yoga, in the Vedic tradition, the actual state of Yoga is defined as the complete settling of the mind. For many Western scholars, this state appears mystical or elusive, but for those practicing TM, it is a daily, personal experience and, as we have seen, has been reported in widely published research studies as well

While physical stretching (as taught in yoga classes in the US) is a part of the practice of yoga, in the Vedic tradition, the actual state of Yoga is defined as the complete settling of the mind. For many Western scholars, this state appears mystical or elusive, but for those practicing TM, it is a daily, personal experience and, as we have seen, has been reported in widely published research
studies as well

It’s important to note that the experience of the fourth state of consciousness happens innocently during meditation, often without us even noticing it. It’s not a matter of trying to be calm, or trying to feel relaxed. This is one of the major differences between TM and other techniques—there is no conscious effort required because the natural tendency of the mind is to transcend. Without effort, you experience a deep state of pure consciousness during meditation and naturally enjoy its many benefits throughout the day. Effortlessness in meditation and spontaneity of benefits are two of the key principles of Transcendental Meditation.

Q: Does the Vedic literature discuss benefits experienced outside of meditation?

Dr. Egenes: The Vedic literature gives ample knowledge about the benefits of experiencing the fourth state of consciousness. For example, the Bhagavad-Gita states, “Supreme happiness comes to the yogi whose mind is deep in peace.” And it makes the point: “Even here, in this life, the universe is conquered by those whose mind is established in equanimity.”

This brings up a theme that is found throughout the Vedic literature—the fulfillment of desire is a natural consequence of knowing the Self. It has been everyone’s experience that when we are anxious or fearful, it becomes more difficult to achieve what we want to achieve. Maharishi has been very clear about this—when one has the ability to desire from the Self, from the settled state of the mind, then the desire easily finds fulfillment. In his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Maharishi says: “It brings a realized man to a state where, by virtue of a high development of mental strength and harmony with the laws of nature, he finds that his thoughts naturally become fulfilled without much effort on his part.”

The Upanishads place great importance on the experience of inner happiness and inner peace, because as meditators around the world have experienced, the calmness of mind experienced during meditation carries over into activity. Even from the first days of learning to meditate, people report that they feel calmer, more relaxed, and less stressed. This was described in the Chhandogya Upanishad, which says, “Established in the Self, one overcomes sorrows and suffering.”

The Upanishads eloquently express how desires are fulfilled by contact with one’s own Self:

Whatever world a man of purified nature sees clearly
in his mind, and whatever desires he desires,
that world and those desires he wins.

Q: What about regularity? Do the Vedic texts discuss the value of experiencing this fourth state of consciousness on a daily basis?

Dr. Egenes: Yes. They are very clear about this point. The daily experience of pure awareness, or Yoga, is emphasized in the literature. For example, the Yoga Sutras say, “Yoga becomes an established state when it has been respectfully and uninterruptedly cultivated for a long time.”

We all know that the benefits of exercise depend upon doing it as a regular habit. Similarly, the benefits of meditation depend upon regular practice. The Bhagavad-Gita gives similar advice: “This Yoga should be practiced with firm resolve.”

All of the benefits described in the Vedic literature and confirmed by modern scientific research result from regularity of practice. And the rewards are great.

Oprah Winfrey recently stated that at 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. her entire company, Harpo Studios, sits down to meditate because, as she described it, being still, coming back to the center, is more important than whatever work her staff is doing. “TM teachers have taught everyone in my company who wanted to learn how to meditate,” she said. “The results have been awesome: better sleep, improved relationships with spouses, children, coworkers. Some people who once suffered migraines don’t anymore. Greater productivity and creativity all around.”

Thomas Egenes, PhD, is an associate professor of Maharishi Vedic Science at Maharishi University of Management and author of seven books, including The Upanishads: A New Translation, co-authored with Dr. Vernon Katz, Tarcher/Penguin, 2015.

(This interview originally appeared in  Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 24. Reprinted with permission.)

Gladys Kimtai

“TM changed everything. It brought in the light. The conflicting thoughts that had plagued me all my life were gone. It claimed my mind and gave me peace.” –Gladys Kimtai


I was born in Kapkoi, a small village in Kenya, to a Roman Catholic family. My parents died when I was two, so my grandparents raised my sister and brothers and me. My grandparents both passed away by the time I was twelve. At that point my three brothers, who were not much older than me, had to quit school and take over the farm, raising livestock and growing beans and corn.

When we had food, we ate. Otherwise, we didn’t. We slept on cowhides by the open fire in the kitchen, underneath quilts my grandmother made out of old clothes. We had no soap, washed in the river, and drank from that same river.

I don’t know how it happened, but after my parents died, a prosperous doctor and his family from our village offered to provide an education to the youngest child. That was me. So when I was only three years old, they enrolled me in a boarding school near their home in Eldoret, which was a three-hour drive in a matatu, a kind of public bus, from my home.

I can’t describe how unusual it was in my village for a girl to receive an education. Usually if a family had resources, they would send their boys to school. If there was money left over, they would send the girls. But that almost never happened.

Although I am very grateful for my education, it was also very difficult. In the city I had three meals a day, hot, running water and nice clothes, yet I felt deeply confused about why I was being given all these gifts while my family struggled so. I didn’t feel like I belonged there.

Gladys Kimtai

Most international students struggle with homesickness and adjusting to a new culture. My struggle was not about the culture. It was something inside me, my conflicted feelings over the good things that kept happening to me.

I didn’t feel like I belonged at home, either. I spent most of my school holidays with the doctor’s family in Eldoret. At school I spoke Swahili and English, so when I did get to return to my village, I found I was losing my ability to understand and speak Kalenjin, my tribal language. It became difficult to talk to my grandparents when they were still alive, and because none of my siblings understood what I was going through, I found it difficult to confide in them.

As a teenager, I boarded at a Catholic secondary school nearer to my village. Most of the students spoke Kalenjin, so I was able to relearn my language. I no longer wanted the doctor’s family to support me, yet I knew that my mind was quick and that my education was the one thing I had control over. So when my friend heard that a Kenyan student had earned a running scholarship to an America college, I thought, “This is for me.”

I’d never done any running before, so my friend literally held my hand and ran with me for a week so that I could learn how. We recruited other friends to run together and write letters to colleges asking for scholarships. It was such a random thing. A few colleges wrote back asking us questions like, “What is your SAT score?” So then we took the SATs, and fortunately we all scored high.

The colleges wanted to know what kind of running we did and how fast we ran. We didn’t know the answers to these questions, but we knew that we’d have to do some serious training. We couldn’t train in our villages, because people would think we were trying to compete with the professional athletes that Eldoret is famous for and would discourage us, especially the girls.

So we moved to a training camp in an old, abandoned building about an hour from my village and lived there for ten months. We slept on the floor, half the building for the girls and half for the boys. We brought cooking pots, grains, and vegetables from home.

Gladys Kimtai

Like so many other important events in my life, TM came to me as a gift.

At one point I had three offers—and two were full academic scholarships. I wasn’t able to accept those because the 2007-2008 election riots made it too dangerous to travel to the embassy in Nairobi to get my visa. But in the fall of 2008, I accepted a cross country and track scholarship at Harding University, a Christian school in Searcy, Arkansas. I majored in pre-med because I wanted to become a doctor and help the people in my village.

Most international students struggle with homesickness and adjusting to a new culture. My struggle was not about the culture. It was something inside me, my conflicted feelings over the good things that kept happening to me. Even though I was working on campus after class and during the summers so I could send money home to my brothers, I would cry at night because I couldn’t stop thinking, “No, no, no. This should be for my family, not me.”

Like so many other important events in my life, TM came to me as a gift. In my senior year, a group of friends and I traveled to Little Rock to take qualifying tests to join the US Army, which was offering international students the opportunity to serve in return for citizenship and an income. By chance, we met a family from Fairfield, Iowa, who told us about the benefits of TM.

I called the Little Rock TM Center right away, but I didn’t have the money to start. After graduation, I worked as an aide in a hospital in Searcy, but by now I knew that I could not become a doctor because the suffering of the patients made me feel too emotional. At the same time the opportunity to serve in the US Army fell through.

Then in spring of 2013, when I thought I would have to return to Kenya without any real skills to offer the people there, the Little Rock TM Center called and said, “A donor has paid for you to learn the Transcendental Meditation technique.” The donor turned out to be the family I had met in Little Rock!

Gladys Kimtai

I also hope that I can be a role model for women and girls, because in my village everyone knows that I have gone to college, and they want to see what I can do. I’d like to help girls from Kenya become educated and find a way to support themselves.

TM changed everything. It brought in the light. The conflicting thoughts that had plagued me all my life were gone. It calmed my mind and gave me peace.

The first thing that lifted was the burden of guilt I’d carried so long. I realized that my brothers had supported me out of love, and that they weren’t expecting me to repay them with money, especially while I was still a student. I realized that there were many other ways that I could help them.

I also stopped feeling guilty for all the unasked-for gifts in my life. Now I understand that it was “support of nature” and that I should enjoy the amazing opportunities that came my way, since life is meant to be easy, not a struggle.

At the TM Center, I found out about Maharishi University of Management, where I’m currently enrolled as an MA student. Now I have a strong desire to take the TM Teacher Training Course so I can bring this experience of inner peace to my family—to my three brothers and sister, to my three stepbrothers, and to the doctor’s family who helped me get an education.

I also hope that I can be a role model for women and girls, because in my village everyone knows that I have gone to college, and they want to see what I can do. I’d like to help girls from Kenya become educated and find a way to support themselves.

I think learning TM will help them to achieve what they want in life. That’s something I can give, something valuable that I can bring back to my family and my village.

(I originally helped Gladys write her story for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 21. Reprinted with permission.)

The Solitude of Self
September 16, 2015


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


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.)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how does it work?

A Surge-Protector against Stress

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

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

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

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

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


Increased Academic Achievement and Graduation Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Better Brain Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution to Teacher Burnout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change Begins Within

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

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

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

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

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

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


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