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

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

BY 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

BY LINDA EGENES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

An Interview with A NYC Ballet Star

BY LINDA EGENES

Megan Fairchild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Egenes: So these episodes have subsided?

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Fairchild

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

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

In general, I have more patience with myself.

Linda Egenes: In what ways?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

BY LINDA EGENES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how does it work?

A Surge-Protector against Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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Increased Academic Achievement and Graduation Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Brain Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution to Teacher Burnout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change Begins Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED LINKS

BY LINDA EGENES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Her Own Personal Family History of Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling the Myths of Women’s Heart Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Every Woman Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease

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

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

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

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

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

photo_steinbaum01

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

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

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

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

Living from the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steinbaum’s Top Five Heart-Health Tips

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

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

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

Living from Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preventing Stress from Turning Into A Heart Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, April 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional References:

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

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

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

BY LINDA EGENES

Maharishi AyurVeda with Dr Mark ToomeyToxins surround us. In our food, our water, our air.

Yet according to Maharishi AyurVeda—a comprehensive, prevention–oriented healthcare system based on ancient Vedic health science—these environmental toxins are only part of the toxic load your body builds up every day.

Digestive toxins are created when you don’t digest your food properly, or when you eat food that doesn’t agree with your mind-body system. They can sap your energy, cloud your mind, and color your emotions.

The bottom line—toxins of all kinds create stress and disease.

Fortunately, the science of Maharishi AyurVeda offers many practical ways to detoxify both environmental and digestive toxins. Some of these can be practiced at home as part of your daily routine. Others are offered at in-residence facilities.

Maharishi AyurVeda Purification Treatments

One of the most powerful ways to clear toxins from the body and maintain overall balance is through the Maharishi RejuvenationSM program, traditionally called panchakarma.

“You could define panchakarma as the ancient art of purification,” says Mark Toomey, Ph.D., director of Maharishi AyurVeda at The Raj health spa in Fairfield, Iowa. Acclaimed by the likes of CBS, Newsweek, and Town and Country as a top Maharishi AyurVeda health spa, The Raj attracts clients from all over the world to its charming and luxurious facility nestled in the peaceful Iowa countryside.

Maharishi AyurVeda“Maharishi AyurVeda techniques of purification help us to maintain a physiology that’s not only capable of experiencing its own finer states of awareness, but also maintains the connectedness of every part of the body to wholeness, or pure consciousness, within,” says Dr. Toomey.

When you come to The Raj and stay in-residence, a Maharishi AyurVeda expert first determines your individual treatment program, depending on the state of balance or imbalance of your mind-body system.

The purifying spa schedule might include Maharishi AyurVeda warm-oil massage (abhyanga), soothing oil treatments to calm the mind (shirodhara), steam therapies (swedana)—and purification of the nasal passages and the large and small intestines.

Maharishi Rejuvenation therapies are gentle yet powerful in their ability to flush out toxins. A study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2002 found that the Maharishi Rejuvenation program reduced 14 varieties of lipophilic (fat-soluable) toxins by about 50 percent. These include DDE (a by-product of DDT) and harmful PCBs, which have been known to remain in the body for up to 40 years.

“These are environmental toxins that stay in the fat cells, and it’s extremely hard to get rid of them,” says Dr. Toomey. “Yet the ancient purification therapies of Maharishi AyurVeda are remarkably effective in flushing them out of the body.”

A Restful Experience

Although deeply purifying, treatments offered at The Raj are also soothing, relaxing, and rejuvenating. “The general experience is that purification does not have to be unpleasant,” says Dr. Toomey. “In fact, it’s blissful.” Many people make it a habit to return to the Raj again and again to rest, reset, and purify.

One client said, “I have been to top health spas all over the world, and the one I keep going back to is The Raj. It is truly the most peaceful and rejuvenating. Whether you are looking for an increased sense of spiritual peace and grounding, or whether you just want to look really good when you get back home—The Raj helps you accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself.”

Benefits for Mind and Body

The Maharishi Rejuvenation program is known to have a wide range of health benefits. These include increased vitality and fertility, balanced digestion, enhanced luster of the skin and clear complexion, slowing of aging, increased physical strength, enhanced power of the sense organs, relief from joint aches and pains, and relief from chronic disorders.

Yet Maharishi AyurVeda purification is not just for the body—it has a powerful effect on the mind as well—improving memory, increasing calmness, and enhancing positive emotions.

“At the end of treatment people report feeling lighter, having more energy, and more clear, blissful experiences during meditation,” says Dr. Toomey. “When you purify the body of toxins, you open the path to deeper experiences in meditation.”

Thus the Maharishi Rejuvenation program supports the development of higher states of consciousness. “We know that the transcendental aspect of meditation means ‘to go beyond,’” explains Dr. Toomey. “In order to experience that refined, transcendental level of our own pure consciousness, we need a purified, balanced physiology to support that experience.”

The Maharishi Rejuvenation program supports the development of higher states of consciousnessAt the same time, the deep rest provided by the Transcendental Meditation technique helps the body to purify toxins. It is known, for instance, that the body naturally has the means to metabolize environmental toxins and impurities through the liver and other organs of purification. It’s also known through research studies that chronic stress affects the body’s ability to purify toxins, and the fact is that TM reduces chronic stress and wear and tear on the body (allostatic load).

Dr. Toomey points out that this effect of TM in helping the body to purify environmental toxins is important for the brain as well. “Many environmental toxins are neurotoxic, which means they affect the ability of the brain to function,” he says. “Believe it or not, in Europe they count the by-product of pollution in lost IQ points. Which means that neurotoxic pollution can cause impairment of your intellectual abilities. It also means that when your body is overwhelmed with toxins, the ability to transcend may be less.”

So on the one hand, the ability to transcend helps enliven the body to purify, and on the other hand, the purification of the body helps the mind transcend.

Scott Fuller visits The Raj twice a year with his wife, Lynn. “The focus is on the purification of the physiology,” he says. “In my personal experience, it results in a profound wholeness. I always come back from The Raj feeling more grounded and in contact with my Self—with a capital ‘S.’ It’s the kind of feeling that you have when you’re six or seven and you feel there is nothing wrong with the world.”

Five Ways to Let Go of Toxins

Here are five Maharishi AyurVeda lifestyle habits that you can use at home to support your body’s self-purification systems.

  1. Detox while you sleep.According to Maharishi AyurVeda (and recent research on sleep), the body detoxifies during the period between 10 pm and 6 am. If you sleep during that time, your body will have the opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, and cleanse toxins properly.
  2. Clean up your diet. Eat organic foods that have been grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds. In general, eat fresh, cooked, warm foods, as these are easier to digest. Avoid packaged, canned, or frozen foods as these often have additives and are not fresh.
  3. Reduce your stress. Practice the Transcendental Meditation technique to provide the deep rest and relief from stress the body’s self-purification systems need to purify harmful toxins naturally.
  4. Drink plenty of pure water.Water flushes water-soluble toxins from the body. Maharishi AyurVeda recommends warm water to aid digestion. Avoid ice-cold or carbonated water as these disturb digestion and cause digestive toxins to form.
  5. Use herbal supplements for a safe and effective home cleanse. See The Maharishi AyurVeda Detox Routine at Maharishi Ayurvedic Products International (MAPI) website (http://www.mapi.com).

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 20. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

green and healthy inside out www.lindaegenes.comFresh beginnings, a fresh new you—that’s the promise of the New Year. But then there’s the pesky problem of actually keeping those New Year’s resolutions (lose weight, go to bed earlier, drink less coffee, etc.). When we have the best of intentions, and these are all good things to do for ourselves, why is it so difficult to make them stick?

Perhaps we need to look at the word “resolve” in a new way. A real resolution comes from deep inside. Resolve itself is a kind of connection with one’s own inner Being. If resolve comes from the inside, it will have a much greater chance of success.

Let’s suppose, for example, that you resolved to eat fresh fruit for dessert instead of heavy sweets. So now you have sitting in front of you a piece of key lime pie and an apple. You can use your will-power, knowing intellectually that the apple is better for you, to force yourself to eat the apple, and that is one way of keeping your resolution.

But it’s so much easier if by natural inclination, by natural desire, you actually prefer to eat the apple over the key lime pie. Then there would be no conflict between what is good for you and what you actually want to do, no conflict between resolve and desire.

The reason you would do that is that you are making healthy choices on the basis of a healthy consciousness. It’s based on inner balance. When a person is connected to the deeper aspects of their own consciousness, which is always in perfect balance, then that balance reflects in the person’s thinking and desires and choices. Then the person chooses the thing that is nourishing, that the result is going to be nourishing for their system. That will actually look good to them: the apple is actually going to look more appetizing than the key-lime pie. Then you’re in a much more powerful position to keep your resolution.

Thoreau called this state of balance the “verdict of a soul in health.” And it makes sense to achieve that state of balance first, because then all your choices and actions throughout the day will spontaneously reflect that happy state.

But how do you do that? How do you achieve a more balanced state of mind? That’s where the Transcendental Meditation technique comes in, because it offers the experience of pure consciousness, the most balanced state that we can experience. And hundreds of research studies have shown that when people have this experience twice a day on a regular basis, that many different aspects of their mind, body, emotions and even their environment starts to reflect that inner balance.

Another way to look at it is that by removing stress, your mind, body and behavior spontaneously becomes more balanced. It is stress, after all, that distorts our natural functioning, that makes it harder to hear our true desires. Think about how much easier it is to choose the apple in the morning when you’re fresh and rested. But wait until 5:00 p.m.when you’re tired and stressed—it’s a lot harder to say “no” to the chocolate cake then.

Teachers of TM hear the same thing from their students over and over, “After I started meditating, I suddenly didn’t have the taste for cigarettes, and I stopped smoking. I didn’t have to try—it was easy.” It’s as if our choices mirror who we are deep inside—if we’re feeling balanced, it becomes easy to create a healthier life for ourselves.

And that’s the best thing of all—you don’t have to struggle to make changes that will bring you better health or a more progressive life. Just close your eyes, dive inside, wash away the stress and fatigue—and find yourself spontaneously making better choices every day, not just in January.

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

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

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