BY LINDA EGENES

Acharn Yai (Aunampai Passakchai), Buddhist Nun, Talks About Meditation, Academics and Peace

(Part one of a three-part series)

All photos courtesy of Tina McQuiston

I was deeply moved while writing two previous blog posts about the Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, which provides 500 at-risk girls in Thailand a free education. So when I took a short trip to Bangkok last month, at the top of my wish list was a side trip to Ratchaburi Province to tour the school and meet Acharn Yai, the extraordinary Buddhist nun who is the headmaster of the school.

At the Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, 400 students practice the Transcendental Meditation technique together each day. For Acharn Yai (translated as “headmaster teacher”), TM is not only a way to help girls with a history of extreme poverty, broken homes and domestic violence to find their way to a successful and happy life, but it’s a way to create peace for the entire country.

Visiting the school in person was much more impressive than writing about it from a distance. The buildings and grounds were light-filled, clean, spacious. We were greeted by several teachers with a traditional Thai greeting of “Swasdeeka” and trays of Thai sweets artfully wrapped in banana leaves. After refreshments, we were invited into an air-conditioned office where Acharn Yai took time from her busy day to answer questions. I was deeply moved by Acharn Yai’s warmth, her beautiful heart and her love and compassion for the girls at the school.

Acharn Yai Buddhist nun who practices Transcendental Meditation Linda Egenes: How has the TM technique helped girls to learn?

Acharn Yai: What has helped these girls the most is growing in consciousness. Normally people focus on physical development, development of the body, and they forget consciousness, the inner life.

In order to grow in wholeness, a full life, the students need to develop both the consciousness and the body together. For growth of consciousness, they learn the TM technique.


Linda Egenes: What do you do to help the children grow strong physically?

Acharn Yai: For the body, we give them proper food of all five food groups, with plenty of vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy fats. We also make sure they have time to exercise every day. We provide a safe, secure and beautiful environment for them to live in.

Every morning the nuns who live here go out to the village to beg for food. This is not the traditional way for nuns in Thailand to find food to eat, but we need extra food to feed the growing girls.

Yet there is not enough food from begging to feed all the girls! So we have a kitchen and a cook to prepare meals for the students. We buy some food, such as chicken and fish, and the girls grow organic vegetables and mushrooms and harvest the fruits from the banana and coconut trees. Other girls help cook, and others keep the lawn mowed and the grounds and buildings tidy. Each girl has a job in addition to their academic studies.

Linda Egenes: How have the children changed since they started meditating at the school in 2009?

Acharn Yai: Most of the girls have come from a rough or problematic background. Their families were unable to care for them properly, due to divorce, extreme poverty, domestic violence, or neglect. So these children are so delicate in heart and mind. After they begin the practice of meditation, their minds become stronger. When they are more strong and stable inside, whatever they do will be more successful. TM is just like a medicine to cure and nourish and uplift them and help them become better students and people.

Linda Egenes: Have the students grown in academic achievement since you introduced the TM technique to the school?

Acharn Yai: In the first years of the school, before we introduced Transcendental Meditation, the teachers never took the girls to competitions with other schools because they were not ready. Some girls were so tough they would make the teachers cry, made their friends cry. We had to replace the teachers every month because they did not want to stay.

Now, since adding TM to the curriculum in 2009, the girls not only attend all government competitions, but they win prizes.

Last week some of the girls attended a Mind Map Competition—a national competition for creative thinking and drawing skills. One of our students won first prize for the primary level (Grades 4, 5 and 6) for the entire nation. They were asked to draw “My Happiness.” She drew the parts of her day that made her happy—such as taking a shower and eating sweets. The judges felt that she expressed her inner feelings, and that’s why she won the first prize.

For the secondary school level (Grades 7, 8, 9), a team of our students won the second prize for Mind Map Competition and also second prize for the Memory Competition.

In fact, out of all the public government-run schools in this province, our school is now considered the top school for academics of all kinds. This has only been possible since we started teaching the girls the Transcendental Meditation technique and the advanced TM-Sidhi program.

Linda Egenes: I know that you were adding on grades as the children grew up, and now for two years you have offered all 12 grades. How many of your graduates are going on to higher education?

Acharn Yai: Out of the 25 who finished grade 12 last year, 22 continued on to college and three went back to their villages to work. A donor has contributed to a special fund so the students can receive scholarships if they wish to go to college.

Linda Egenes: How does TM help the intellectual development of students?

Acharn Yai: Transcendental Meditation helps the children become more calm, more peaceful, more intelligent, and more focused on their studies.

As Maharishi said, there is so much knowledge to learn, it is infinite. What students need is to develop their consciousness by practicing TM. Then they expand their minds, the container of knowledge, and expand their capacity to learn more and more.

Linda Egenes: And moral development—does that also grow?

Acharn Yai: When the students practice TM, their consciousness become more pure, more good. Naturally their behavior, whatever they do, is good. That’s the direct consequence of meditating.

Because of their backgrounds, most of the girls, when they first come, are angry and sad. This gets expressed in rough behavior. They may fight the other girls or act aggressive. After they start meditating, they become more soft, more kind. After they meditate they become happy and find life is more fun.

Linda Egenes: How does the TM technique fit in with Buddhist education?

Acharn Yai: By practicing TM, it makes us understand the Buddhist religion more deeply. Between TM and Buddhism there is no conflict. Lord Buddha taught us to do good, to not do non-good, and to make our hearts and minds pure. Doing TM, your consciousness becomes more pure so it’s very much in accord with what Lord Buddha taught so there’s no conflict at all. And when the students meditate more and more, they are more and more peaceful so they can understand the teaching of Lord Buddha better. It’s easier for them to be good.

When you meditate you contact pure consciousness, then naturally your thinking, your action and speech are good and you don’t do any harm to anyone. You don’t have to force yourself. When you have good consciousness it would hard for you to do anything that is not good. When you have a pure heart then non-good will not happen.

Linda Egenes: What do you see as the future for your school and what is it that you need to reach that future?

Acharn Yai: I would like to have 1000 students meditating together and doing the advanced meditation program of the TM-Sidhis together. That will create peace and happiness not only for these students, but for all of Thailand. That’s why we are building a bigger dormitory, so we can enroll more students.

Linda Egenes: Why do you feel that education is important for every mother, every woman in Thailand and the world?

Acharn Yai: Education is the root of life. Through education you can have the knowledge to support yourself and your family in this world, to earn a living. But even more, real education provides the proper knowledge to live a full life. It helps you to develop your inner consciousness so you can bring peace and happiness to yourself and everyone around you.

Linda Egenes: How do you feel that the TM technique can help women around the globe, to realize their full potential?

Acharn Yai: If we practice Transcendental Meditation we will have inner happiness. We will have more strength. We will be more calm and peaceful.

When we are more peaceful we have clear vision. Then if a problem arises in life, we can see clearly what is the cause and how to solve the problem properly.

If you don’t meditate, when a problem arises, you tend to keep repeating the problem, and you can’t solve the problem as easily. Some people will run away from a problem and continue to run. But if you don’t solve the problem it will just keep following you!

That’s why it’s important to have a peaceful mind so you can see the source of the problem and solve it properly.

Read Part Two of this three-part series here

During the past two years, Acharn Yai and supporters have raised funds and completed a new classroom building. Now the school is raising funds for a new dormitory building that will allow the school to expand from 500 to 1000 students. Tax-deductible donations for the school can be made at http://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate.html. When donating, be sure to click the button for Dhammajarinee Witthaya School in Thailand. Or you may donate directly to the school here: http://www.buddhistgirls.org/eng/donate.html

New Fundraising video 

Full 13 minute video

Photos by Tina McQuiston, reprinted with permission.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, October 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Tanell Pretorius

Tanell Pretorius

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

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

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

The Pressure of Constant Self-Scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raquel Zimmermann

Raquel Zimmermann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

nineanniversariesFor a writer, finding your personal voice is one of the most important parts of mastering the craft. It turns out that this is also important for visual artists such as Mindy Weisel.

An oil painter who in recent years has turned to glass as a medium, Mindy Weisel has shown her work in solo shows in prestigious galleries and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her art appears in the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Israel Museum, the U.S. Embassy, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution.

Yet despite her success, Mindy says she struggled emotionally with each piece to discover what she wanted to say. She feels this struggle has its roots in her unusual childhood.

Born in 1947 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in a displaced persons camp, she was one of the first children born to holocaust survivors after the war.

“Growing up as the only daughter of holocaust survivors, I don’t think I had a clue what it meant to live my own life,” she says.

Digging Into Personal Experiences

Mindy WeiselMindy did know she liked her art and literature classes in high school in New York City, where the family moved, and decided to major in art in college. But finding her place as an artist was daunting.

“It was during the time when my kind of art, which is a very emotional, expressive, abstract expressionist painting, was not taught,” she says. “I really struggled with my professors, but despite a lot of crying and frustration, I stuck with it.”

Mindy continued her graduate studies at American University, and with the help of mentors she found there, she established her own studio by age 27 and launched her first solo painting show.

But it wasn’t until she dug deep into her own personal experiences that she found her own voice and gained recognition in the art world.

“Basically after I learned drawing and painting through all the rigorous study—I understood that you could learn all the technique in the world, but if you don’t feel it, no one else will feel it either.”

In 1978 Weisel started a series using her father’s number at Auschwitz, which was tatooed on his arm. Weisel says, “the paintings started out colorful, but I wrote his number all over them and they became blackened out, dealing not only with the destruction of beauty, but to my surprise there was light coming through the paintings—so it became the survival of beauty.”

Created long before there was a holocaust museum, before Schindler’s List, Mindy’s paintings of 1978 were well received by art critics and laypersons alike and were shown in a traveling exhibition in museums around the country.

For someone whose art is so personal and expressive, it’s hard to imagine that Weisel has ever struggled to find her artistic voice. Yet she identifies this to be her main challenge as an artist.

Working in the Moment

Mindy has noticed that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique has made it easier for her to be in the moment. “It seems to me that the last eight years, since I started meditating, that’s what’s changed. If the art is not coming, I don’t even struggle with it. I simply put myself in a place where it’s possible to make art.”

She’s also more at peace. “I was very much a holocaust survivor’s daughter, running to stay ahead of everything, to fill up the loss,” she says. “And that running had made me very, very sick. Since meditating, I can just be. I take better care of myself, I take the time to meditate, and I love the experience.”

Another dramatic shift for Mindy Weisel is that she is now using glass as a medium. Her colorful, light-filled glass wall paintings are a feast to the eyes.

“This is amazing to me, because I never knew anything about glass,” she says. “I walked into this glass studio, I recognized something, I was ready to learn, and I didn’t doubt it. I can attribute this switch in materials to practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, because it kept me open enough to try it and enough in the present to make it.”

Mindy took classes at Pilcher Glass School in Seattle to learn her new medium, and just a year and a half later, her vibrant, colorful works appeared in a solo exhibition, “Words in a Journey of Glass,” at Katzen Art Museum, American University.

Describing her experience in meditation as a deep, profound, meaningful rest that is beautiful, easy, and simple, she says, “You are in a state of being, of being in the moment, and somehow that lasts—it accumulates.”

Mindy says that this experience of awareness carries over into the process of making her art. “I’m being more present in the creative process as well,” she says. “Work doesn’t have to be so hard. Work can come from a place of flowing, of openness, of responsiveness, of hearing, of listening. You don’t have to fight so hard to get to that work.”

Somehow Mindy finds time to express herself in writing as well. The author of five books, she recently completed her memoir, Making Marks, in which she writes about making marks of longing, of loss, of survival, of beauty.

“I think that’s what my work is about. It’s very emotional, and I’m always thrilled that somebody feels something when they look at it. You can change your mind about things but you can’t change your feelings about things. You really have to understand them. They won’t go away until you understand them.”

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

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 19, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

No More Teacher Burnout
August 22, 2014

BY LINDA EGENES

No more teacher burnoutRecently I’ve been wishing I could thank my favorite elementary school teacher, Mrs. Hartman, for inspiring me to become a writer. A white-haired, dignified woman with tons of energy and enthusiasm, she knew precisely how to cultivate creativity in her students and keep them orderly and focused at the same time. She brought a near-religious zeal to her teaching of seventh grade language arts, permanently embedding in my mind the rules of grammar that I refer to every day as a writer. And I can still remember the laughter as we read our creative writing aloud to each other each week in her class, fueling my love of sharing stories.

Alas, the Mrs. Hartmans of the world are becoming hard to find. Not because there aren’t dedicated and talented teachers—there are plenty of those—but because few teachers are able to stay in the profession long enough to become seasoned veterans. 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 an even higher turnover rate results in a higher percentage of under-qualified teachers. And the yearly cost to constantly replace teachers nationwide is a staggering $5.8 billion.

While teachers are paid less than people in comparable professions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s not the low pay, but teacher burnout that is causing teachers to flee. And teacher burnout is on the rise.

And what is the cause of burnout? Poor working conditions, threat of layoffs, long hours, lack of support from administrators, isolation, the pressures created by the emphasis on standardized tests, fear of safety in an increasingly violent school environment, and the placement of new teachers in the most distressed schools are a few of the issues cited.It’s not just America’s teachers who are experiencing burnout from stressful classroom conditions. A recent survey conducted by Monash University in Victoria, Australia, showed that 27% of new teachers were already suffering from emotional exhaustion akin to burnout and PTSD.

In a profession dominated by women, who according to research are more vulnerable to stress than men, the high stress levels can contribute to depression, anxiety, obesity, hypertension and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

While educational reform could take years, something needs to be done now to end teacher burnout. Some teachers are reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. A recent research study published in the Permanente Journal conducted at the Bennington School in Vermont, a special in-residence school for students with behavioral problems, found that teachers’ perceived levels of stress were significantly lowered after learning to meditate.

“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, lead author of the study and a Senior Physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

“The take-home message is that teachers can reduce stress and emotional exhaustion associated with burnout through the practice of Transcendental Meditation,” said Sanford Nidich, Ed.D., the study’s principal investigator who is also a professor of education and a research psychologist at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

“Even though the study was conducted over several months, the participants informally reported feeling less stressed and more energetic within a few days,” said Nidich.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 40 men and women to participate in either the TM program or serve as “waitlist” controls and eventually learn TM. At the end of the four-month study, those on the waitlist also learned TM.

In the TM group, the strongest effect was found on a measurement of stress, called the “perceived stress scale,” with an effect size of 0.94 (showing a large effect of the TM program on stress).

“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,” says Dr. Eider.

And teacher burnout is not the only benefit of practicing meditation. Recent published studies have shown a positive impact of the Transcendental Meditation technique on student graduation rates, academic achievement, and psychological distress.

When students practice Transcendental Meditation in schools, it has a positive effect on teachers as well. Ugandan geography teacher Nadunga Rebecca, who teaches in a girls school in Uganda where all the students practice TM, says, “In the school where I used to be, the students used to give me a hard time and I was thinking of getting another occupation. But now I will never leave teaching.”

View a video about one teacher’s experience of Transcendental Meditation here.

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

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Does Positive Thinking WorkMy mom and I have a nightly ritual. Before I fall asleep I call her from Iowa, where I live, and chat with her in California, where she lives in an assisted living near my sister and her family.

Because of the different time zones, and because she goes to bed early these days, we are both saying our goodnights to each other at the same moment.

I ask about her day, and she asks how my husband, Tom, and I are doing. She loves Tom. “He’s such a nice young man,” she says. “And you are so happy together.

”Sometimes she gives me advice. “Always be nice to each other. Don’t be angry. Try to stay positive,” she counsels.

“You’re really positive, Mom,” I say. “You’re my hero, because you’re choosing to be happy every single day.”And it’s true. Here is a woman who has lost everything — her home, her husband, her short-term memory and her ability to walk and use her right arm due to strokes — yet every day she is choosing to look at the positives. She doesn’t just like it at her assisted living facility, she loves it there. (“Everyone here is so nice.”)

She often talks about my father and how much she misses him, but then she stops and says, “but I can’t dwell on it. I have to go on. Sometimes I look in the mirror and laugh. Even just putting your mouth in a smile makes you feel better. And people wonder—why is she laughing?”

And then she laughs.

What she said is true. There is research that the act of smiling itself can make you feel happier. Russian researchers are also discovering that the sound of positive words has a healing effect on the body, and can even heal the DNA.

In the book, My Stroke of Insight by the Harvard-trained brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., the author talks from her own experience about the emotional and neurological effects of having a major stroke. She relates that one of the positive effects of her stroke was losing memories of stress and patterns of negativity. When she started to regain her memory, these patterns started coming back. So she worked hard to create new patterns. “The brain is like a muscle, she explained, actually becoming larger in the areas that are used more. The more you make a habit of reaching for the positive thought, the more your brain will automatically go there.

Yet even though there is a huge self-help industry based on this concept—that thinking positively is important for our relationships and our mental, physical and emotional health—we also know that in times of pressure or stress, all the good intentions and positive thinking can fly out the window.

We also know that straining to think positively when you don’t feel it inside can create a disconnect. Probably we’ve all met people who are trying so hard to be positive, but somehow it doesn’t match who they really are.

The strain of trying to be someone you aren’t can actually cause stress to your own body and create discord in the environment. I think this is especially true for women — many of us try too hard to harmonize and be nice and sometimes end up feeling resentful, used, and exhausted. And then there are people like the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada — someone who plasters a smile on her face even while acting maliciously can be downright scary.

So is there a way to naturally feel more positive, to actually change your physiology so you lose the stresses and strains that cloud a sunny outlook in the first place? (And we’re talking about a way that doesn’t involve a major stroke here.)

Because I feel more negative when I’m stressed and tired, doing Transcendental Meditation twice a day — which gives me deep rest and eliminates my stress and fatigue — naturally allows me to be more clear and positive in all my relationships. When you are dissolving stress in your meditations every day, you find your mind naturally thinking more positive thoughts about others, about yourself, about the future.

At the same time, I do feel my mom is right too — most of us can benefit from leaning toward the positive in our lives.

Maharishi talks about this phenomenon in the Science of Being and Art of Living. He writes,“Therefore we must so cultivate our minds that we think and act naturally in a manner which is elevating and beneficial. In this way we will benefit ourselves and others.”

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to live. And thanks to Maharishi for this beautiful technique that allows me to dissolve stress in my meditations instead of taking out my frustrations on the people I love.

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, June 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2668When I was growing up, I distinctly saw two different approaches to life.

One: you work hard to get the job, the car, the house—and then once you have all those things, you’ll not only be satisfied and happy but you’ll have time to pursue the interests, family life and social life that you envision will actually make you happy.

Two: Start by pursuing your passions, even if they don’t seem to make much money, and on the basis of that happiness, satisfaction and success will come.

My older brother followed the first path and I followed the second. Perhaps it was a generational thing—he felt that happiness came from having the right stuff even if you had to work hard at a high-paying job you didn’t like in order to get it. I felt that happiness came from having the freedom to do what you loved in life, even if it didn’t pay much.

And then I learned that you could take the idea of basing your decisions on happiness a step further.

Three: “Expansion of happiness is the purpose of creation.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, wrote that in his book the Science of Being and Art of Living in 1963, but I didn’t read it until 1972, the year I learned to meditate as a sophomore in college.

Whoa, now that blew my socks off. This was an entirely new idea to me and to most people I knew.

In the Science of Being, Maharishi’s main message was “first meditate and then act.” He explained that the field of true happiness— absolute bliss consciousness ( sat chit ānanda in Sanskrit) — is inside of us. And it can be easily accessed by contacting that transcendental field of pure bliss during the Transcendental Meditation technique.

And when you experience more inner bliss, energy and peace during meditation, you naturally find yourself feeling more happy, dynamic and peaceful outside of meditation, in your daily life.

Maharishi also pointed out that just as a forest can only be green if the individual trees are green, our world will be peaceful only when the individuals within it are experiencing inner peace. Meditation not only helps us fulfill our individual aspirations to be more happy, successful and healthy — it also helps us to create a more healthy society and world.

This made sense to me when I read it, since I was already meditating 20 minutes twice a day, and I was already finding that life was somehow easier, that I didn’t have to study as hard, that frustration was less, that I felt more pure contentment and peace inside. I was able to function better as a friend, a daughter, and a student teacher.

In our society, where achievement and hard work are so highly valued, it’s sometimes hard to explain that you are not being selfish by taking time twice a day to meditate. Moms, especially, have a hard time putting their own happiness, their own “me time” at the top of a list of priorities.

Yet if a mother can keep her own emotional balance by meditating twice a day, she is going to be in a much better position to radiate love to her family than if she feels tired, angry, and resentful due to the many responsibilities of her life.

Recently I was intrigued to read a NY Times Opinionator blog by Daniel M. Haybron, philosophy professor at St. Louis University and author of Happiness: A Very Short Introduction that summed up the research on happiness, and how we, as a society, view happiness. It seemed to parallel the changes in my personal views.

Haybron traces his own responses to three evolving definitions of happiness:

  1. Happiness = life satisfaction. This has been the prevalent definition of happiness for the past 30 years, and is the definition behind much of the research on happiness. This is more of a self-reflective review of whether your life is turning out the way you want it to, Haybron explains. Yet, Haybron points out, this has little to do with our day-to-day experience of happiness, which is more about feelings.
  2. Happiness = feeling good. Also popular with researchers, this correlates happiness with pleasure, and unhappiness with pain or suffering. In the view of philosophers such as Epicurus and John Stuart Mill, this is “hedonism” about happiness. It defines happiness as the superficial pursuit of pleasure, which also falls short, Haybron believes.
  3. Happiness = a state of emotional well-being. This is a more complex understanding of happiness as the opposite of anxiety or depression, which Haybron describes as “someone in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life.” Happiness as a state of being was not even discussed as a definition of happiness until 20 years ago, and still is not widely embraced by researchers.

And then, to my delight, Haybron went on to say that he found even this more expanded view of happiness to be incomplete. “Our very language is deficient, and so we sometimes reach for other expressions that better convey the depth and richness of happiness: happiness as a matter of the psyche, spirit or soul,” he wrote.

And this is really the crux of the matter. Happiness is not a frivolous, superficial pursuit — it is embedded in our nature as human beings. The impulse to seek happiness and fulfillment is the basic impulse of life, which is, as Haybron wrote, “why there is a long history of philosophical thought that conceives of humans flourishing in terms of the fulfillment of the self.”

Haybron goes on to write, “Human well-being, on this sort of view, means living in accordance with your nature, with who you are. On this way of thinking, we might regard happiness as a central part of self-fulfillment.”

So beautifully expressed. So wonderful to hear a modern philosopher talking about the pursuit of happiness as a spiritual need that is essential to life.

Taking time to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day is not a superficial pursuit. By directly contacting the field of pure happiness through the TM technique, we infuse happiness into our actions and environment. Through regular practice, stress and strain falls away, and our true nature—happiness—becomes our natural state of mind. Then every action we take, every interaction with our friends, family and co-workers, spontaneously becomes a wave of joy, without us having to try to be happy.

As Maharishi wrote in the Science of Being, “The only way to make the entire field of action joyful is to fill the mind with joy. This can only be accomplished through the experience 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, June 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

My parents, Gerald and Sarah Ward, on their wedding day in 1945. They were happily married for 65 years.

My parents, Gerald and Sarah Ward, on their wedding day in 1945. They were happily married for 65 years.

It’s a debate that goes on endlessly—are marriages less or more happy than they were in the past? And what contributes to a happy marriage anyway?

According to a new study by Eli Finkel and his fellow psychological researchers, reported in a recent article in the NY Times, the findings are as confusing as a Midwestern weather forecast. While the average marriage is less happy than the average marriage in the past, there are some marriages that are even more happy than ever before. It’s a bit of a divide between the loved and the loved not.

And the divorce rate increasingly appears to fall along economic lines, it’s not increased wealth itself that creates more marital satisfaction, the researchers say. It’s the fact that since 1980, many middle-class families have struggled with economic challenges, often working multiple jobs. This struggle to feed their families has resulted in less time spent together as couples, and according to their research, it is the time spent together that is the critical factor for a happy marriage.

In fact, since 1975, time spent enjoying fun activities together has decreased for both couples with kids and couples without kids, leading to a decrease in marital happiness for the average marriage.

One of the most interesting aspects of this highly nuanced article is the author’s discussion of the evolution of marriage, which he equates with the evolution of human consciousness described by Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” Finkel notes that Americans have moved through three stages of marriage—starting with the institutional marriage of past centuries, when a good marriage was expected to provide food and shelter, to the companionate marriage (1850-1965), which was expected to provide romance and companionship, to today’s self-expressive marriage, when couples expect marriage to bring self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth, or “the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.”

And herein lies the rub: couples have much higher expectations for marriage than ever before, but because of the fast pace of life, the intrusion of technology, increasing parental demands, and economic burdens, many couples aren’t able to spend the time or effort to realize those expectations.

But those who do invest more time into their relationship are happier than ever before because they are able to fulfill the expectations of the modern marriage and grow in self-actualization together.

Finkel cited additional research by the sociologist Jeffrey Dew showing that couples who spent “time alone with each other, talking, or sharing an activity” on a type of date night at least once per week were 3.5 times more likely to be very happy in their marriage than spouses who did so less frequently, and couples with a larger percentage of shared friends spent more time together and had better marriages.

I personally think the researchers are on to something—the couple that plays together stays together. When my husband and I married 33 years ago, we had different ideas about what would keep our marriage together. Like many women, I wanted to talk about our relationship and iron out differences with verbal discussions and affirmations. My husband wanted to focus on spending quality time together each week (biking, walking, traveling, eating out with friends). This would strengthen our marriage more than anything else, he felt, because then we would be growing in joy together. Rather than talking about a happy marriage, we’d be living it.

So we compromised and made time for both elements in our marriage—communication and spending quality time together. By planning “date nights” and other outings, by consciously making time to do fun things together, it seems like the small differences go unnoticed and the shared the experience of happiness binds us together.

Meditating together has also been a huge factor in our marital harmony. Both of us practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, and there’s no doubt that when you take time to rest, recharge and refresh twice a day, your relationships can’t help but improve.

Stress is known to be a major cause of marital discord—and the TM technique is the most effective stress-reduction technique available, according to peer-reviewed research. When you start the day with the clarity of mind that meditation creates, you are naturally more successful on your job or whatever tasks you need to accomplish during the day.  In the early evening when you take time to meditate again, dipping into that transcendental field of infinite energy, joy, and love, you come out feeling that the stresses of the day are behind you. You’re ready to devote your full attention to your home life, to enjoy the evening with your family and spouse.

And when you’re growing as an individual, unfolding your inner potential and experiencing transcendental consciousness each time you meditate, it takes a great deal of strain off your marriage. You don’t have the expectation that the other person is going to fill your cup full. Rather, you meet on the basis of inner fulfillment, and when two full hearts meet, there is a flow of happiness that is, indeed, extraordinary.

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 17, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Why doctors need to talk to women about how Transcendental Meditation can help with stressAs women take on more responsibility in the workplace while continuing as the primary caregiver for their children and in many cases, their aging parents as well, stress levels in women are on the rise. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), almost half of all women (49 percent) surveyed said their stress has increased over the past five years, compared to four in 10 (39 percent) men.

And even though stress is linked with chronic disease, most Americans feel that healthcare providers are not taking enough time to address stress issues during office visits. According to the 2012 APA survey “Stress in America: Missing the Healthcare Connection,” 32 percent of the 2020 Americans surveyed felt that it was extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management. Yet 53 percent said that these conversations never happened.

There are exceptions, of course. Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., who is the author of Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Wisdom After Forty and has a private practice in women’s integrative and holistic medicine in Fairfield, IA, routinely discusses stress management with her patients. “When women go home from work at the end of the day, they face another set of responsibilities and stressors at home,” she says. “At times the stress can be overwhelming, and that can result in fatigue, chronic health problems, and burnout. And many of these stressors are not going away tomorrow. They’re not within your control, and the best that you can do is learn how to deal with them more effectively.”

Dr. Lonsdorf recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique to alleviate stress, because the research is solid and she has seen it work with her patients. “The TM technique offers something unique in stress management programs. It actually changes the way your nervous system processes stress. As shown in scientific research, with just four months of practice of the Transcendental Meditation program, baseline cortisol levels, meaning the amount of cortisol in the blood day-by-day, drops significantly, by one-third when compared to a control group that simply was instructed about health education or how to manage stress better.”
manage stress better.”

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and NIH researcher who discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), saw striking results in several patients in his psychiatry practice and in family members who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique, as well as in his own personal experience. As someone who has witnessed “the mental and spiritual anguish of many hundreds of people,” he couldn’t keep quiet about a technique with so much promise to ease suffering and wrote the book Transcendence to tell people about this natural way to lessen stress without drugs or harmful side-effects.

Rosenthal and his son Josh, also a psychiatric researcher, were so impressed with the effect that the TM technique had on themselves, and the 350 research studies on TM’s health benefits—conducted at the National Institutes of Health and other major research institutes and published in major peer-reviewed journals—that they collaborated on a research study of the effect of TM on veterans with PTSD.

The study showed that veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars showed a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after just eight weeks of practicing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique, according to a pilot study published this month in Military Medicine.

In his book Dr. Rosenthal writes, “The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 40 million adults have some form of anxiety disorder. These people feel an internal sense of their alarm bells ringing even though there is no genuine stress. They’re constantly feeling they are under some emergency. This drains their emotional and physical resources.”

Fortunately for women who suffer from extreme stress and anxiety, a 2013 meta-analysis (a type of rigorous review of multiple randomized controlled research studies, considered the gold standard of research) showed that TM had a significant effect in reducing anxiety. In fact, the greater the starting level of anxiety in the test subjects, the greater the reduction with meditation. This 2013 meta-analysis by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., and Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., analyzed 16 randomized controlled studies among 1295 participants and was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

“Transcendental Meditation is completely the opposite of trauma,” says veteran Tara Wise, director of the National Women Veterans Association of America (NWVAA). “As soon as I started, something shifted. I didn’t have to rehash traumatic experiences.

”The TM technique has been so successful in helping women veterans recover from PTSD that the Fatigues to Fabulous organization, which helps women vets get back on their feet, has partnered with Transcendental Meditation for Women to make it available to women vets.

With the TM technique, women can amplify their natural reserves and prevent stress from taking over. “A year ago this month I was suicidal,” Tara Weiss said. “I felt so low I wanted to just not be here.”

Now Weiss is functioning like a whole woman again. “Transcendental Meditation saved my life,” she says.

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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, March 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Women Transcendentalists The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them

Women Transcendentalists The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them

Emily Dickenson. Helen Keller. Emily Bronte. Clare Boothe Luce. Billie Jean King.

What do these women have in common? You might say fame, or talent or creativity, and that is true. But what underlies all of their achievements—the one thread that they all have in common?

They have all had a transcendental experience—at least one, in some cases many—that lifted them up to such heights that they were able to express profound insights in their art or music or literature.

In other words, it was the transcendental experience that illuminated their minds and helped them become the great figures in history that they were.

I’ve been reading about these women in a fascinating new book by Dr. Craig Pearson called The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them.

Full disclosure: Craig is a long-time friend of mine. We both taught the Transcendental Meditation technique in Lombard, Illinois, in the 1970s and later were graduate students at Maharishi University of Management (then MIU) in Fairfield, Iowa.

I remember seeing Craig and his wife, Melissa, sitting in the library with stacks and stacks of books. They were researching transcendental experiences. That research, started in the 1980s, became the seed for this book.

But let’s get back to the great women (and men) that he portrays in his.

Each of these women recounts beautiful inner experiences. For instance, Emily Bronte writes that “a messenger of Hope comes every night to me, and offers, for short life, eternal liberty.”

She elaborates, “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!”

Dr. Pearson points out that this is the experience of pure awareness, which is not visible to the eye but is a tangible experience of inner calm, inner peace, is a universal experience, open to everyone.

The only problem is that until recently, there has not been a way to access it systematically. Only those rare individuals who slipped into it by accident were able to experience it. And for many, it was so remarkable that they spent their whole lives trying to repeat the experience.

All that changed when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought the Transcendental Meditation technique to the world. Now millions of people are experiencing the beauty and power of the transcendental field that lies within each of us.

I think that everyone who practices the Transcendental Meditation technique can identify with the exalted experience described by Emily Bronte above. In his book, Dr. Pearson shares some of these experiences that everyday people are having in their daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, and it’s remarkable how they parallel the experiences of the great thinkers.

For example, one woman writes: “During the Transcendental Meditation technique my mind settles down, thoughts become less and then suddenly all thought activity ceases and I slip into an unbounded ocean of awareness which is pure, quiet, unexcited and infinitely extended beyond space and time. In this state, I am not aware of any thought or any thing; I am just aware of awareness, you could say, wide-awake inside but not thinking. Simultaneously my body settles down, breathing becomes less, and I feel relaxed.”

Both Emily Bronte and the 21st-century woman who practices the Transcendental Meditation technique describe their experience in similar words: eternal, infinite, calm, peaceful, quiet, unexcited. For both, the experience is a distinctly different state from the waking state.

The book includes hundreds of such exalted experiences, not only of the fourth state of consciousness, which Maharishi called Transcendental Consciousness, but higher states of consciousness as well. It’s inspiring reading, to say the least, and it explains, in concrete terms, the worlds of experience awaiting us all as we grow in enlightenment and self-awareness.

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 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

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