Wildmind videos come to YouTube

Wildmind has begun creating YouTube versions of our mantras and of selected guided meditations. There’s a 10 minute limit on YouTube videos and most of our meditations are 20 minutes or longer, so we’re going to have to record some short tracks specially.

We started with a YouTube video of the Om Shanti mantra. If you like the mantra, please give the video a rating after listening.

You can view all of Bodhipaksa’s YouTube videos here.

We hope that these videos will help the benefits of meditation to reach a wider audience.

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The top ten myths about meditation

meditation incense

Buddhist meditation teacher Bodhipaksa debunks the ten most common meditation myths.

Even though meditation is now widely used in sports, medicine, psychiatry, and of course as part of the spiritual practice of millions of people around the world, there are still many misconceptions in circulation about what meditation actually is.

Myth #10. Meditation is relaxation

To say that some people’s conception of meditation is “Think of warm puppies, and let your mind go limp” is an exaggeration, but not much of one. Perhaps because meditation has found a home in stress management classes around the world, many people think that “letting your tensions dissolve away” is the be-all and end-all of a meditation practice. But while it’s important to let go of unnecessary effort while meditating, meditation is still a practice — that is, it involves effort. Sure, we start by letting go of tensions in the body, but that’s only the start.

Myth #9. Meditation is just self-hypnosis

Hypnosis, when used in therapy, involves a patient being guided into having experiences that he or she would have difficulty in attaining unaided — experiences as varied as being content without a cigarette in hand and remembering forgotten events from childhood. Self-hypnosis does the same thing, but the practitioner uses a remembered script or visualization to, say, increase relaxation or to experience greater confidence. There’s actually some overlap between hypnosis and meditation (although some meditation teachers, being suspicious of hypnosis, would deny this). In both disciplines we start with inducing a state of relaxation and then proceed to doing some kind of inner work. In hypnosis and in some forms of meditation that inner work involves visualization or the use of repeated phrases. But many forms of meditation (for example, Zen “just sitting” or Theravadin mindfulness meditation) make no use of such tools. The overlap between hypnosis and meditation is only partial.

Myth #8. There are technological shortcuts

“I want to relax, and I want to do it now!” is the approach taken by many goal-oriented Westerners. And that makes them suckers for promises of quick-fix technological approaches to meditating. The web is full of products that promise you that you’ll meditate like a Zen monk at the touch of a button. Just stick your headphones on and hit play, and let the magical audio technology do the rest! But like myth #10, this overlooks the fact that meditation involves effort. Sure, if you stop running around being stressed for half an hour and listen to some blandly pleasant music you’ll find you’re more relaxed. Why wouldn’t you be? But it’s a mistake to confuse this with real meditation. The “Zen monk” in these ads would surely be puzzled to think that someone listening to a CD for a few minutes had attained the depths of mindfulness and compassion that come from thousands of hours of sitting on a cushion watching your breath.

Myth #7. Transcendental Meditation is the most common kind of meditation

“Oh, so is it Transcendental meditation you do?” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked that question when people have found out I’m a meditation teacher. Just about everyone has heard of Transcendental Meditation because of famous practitioners like the Beatles and because of controversies about TM being taught in U.S. schools, but TM is very much a minority pursuit — probably because it’s so darned expensive to learn (and the question of where those millions of dollars go is still open). The most common form of meditation in the West is Mindfulness or Insight meditation, which comes from Theradavin Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia. Zen meditation and Tibetan meditation (which often involves visualization) isn’t far behind.

Myth #6. You have to sit in lotus position

In the Asian countries where Buddhist meditation developed people generally sit on the floor and have flexible hips. It’s natural for them to sit cross-legged, and so they sit in a variety of cross-legged postures in order to meditate, the lotus position being one of the most common and stable postures. In the West we sit in chairs from an early age and have stiffer hips. It’s therefore a rare Westerner who can sit in the lotus position to meditate — at least with any degree of comfort. In actual fact it’s possible to sit comfortably to meditate on a chair, a meditation stool, kneeling, or even lying down (although you’ll have trouble staying awake). The most important thing is that you find a posture that’s comfortable for you — and that you don’t beat yourself up about not being able to twist your legs like a pretzel.

Myth #5. In meditation you sit there saying “OM”

Mantra meditation is only one kind of meditation, and “OM” is only one mantra (or part of a mantra). ‘Nuff said.

Myth #4. Meditation is a religious activity

Although meditation comes from various spiritual or religious traditions, it’s not in itself necessarily a religious practice. The most common forms of meditation practice, for example, involve observing the sensations of the breath. What’s religious about that? Sure, there are some forms of meditation that involve using religious words of phrases as objects of concentration (e.g. Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist Mantra meditation, etc.) but many of the most common meditation practices have no religious overtones — which is probably one of the reasons they’re so common.

Myth #3. Meditation is somehow “Eastern”

A lot of people (usually Christians) have told me that they think Buddhist practice is “foreign” because it comes from an Eastern context. Hmm, where does Christianity come from again? Oh yes, the Middle East. But as with Myth #4 (“Meditation is a religious activity”) there’s nothing inherently Eastern, Southern, or Northern about counting your breath or wishing people well. Some Tibetan practices do involve visualizing rather bizarre (to Western eyes) figures, and mantra meditation usually involves repeating Sanskrit words or phrases — but those constitute a minority of meditation practices. Oh, all right, it’s a large minority — but what’s wrong with a little exoticism?

Myth #2. Meditation is escapist

To some people, meditation is “running away from problems,” “navel gazing,” “lotus eating,” or “disregarding the world.” Actually, running around being busy and never having time to experience yourself deeply is escapism. When you meditate you’re brought face-to-face in a very direct way with your own anger, delusion, craving, pain, and selfishness. There’s nothing to do in meditation but to experience and work with these things. Also, some forms of meditation — such as lovingkindness and compassion meditation — involve us working at transforming our relationship with the world by cultivating love and empathy for others. Perhaps that’s why so many meditators are involved in social work, psychotherapy, nursing, bereavement counseling, prison work, etc.

Myth #1 Meditation is about letting your mind go blank

Here it is, the all-time number one meditation myth — that meditation is about “making your mind go blank.” Sure, in meditation we aim to reduce the amount of thinking that goes on. Sure, just sit there for a few minutes watching all those pointless and even downright unhelpful thoughts bubbling up nonstop in the mind and you’d start to think that a blank mind would be preferable! But what would it be like to have a blank mind? Would you even be awake? Would you have any consciousness at all? Would you be able to know that your mind was blank? The confusion arises because we identify so much with our verbal thoughts (our inner self-talk) that we think that that’s all our experience is. And if we reduce or even stop our thinking (and that can happen) we assume that the mind must be blank. But a blank mind simply isn’t possible.

No, in meditation we aim to develop mindfulness — that’s mind-full-ness. When we’re mindful the mind is very much not blank. Rather, we’re aware of physical sensations, emotions, thoughts — and of how all those things interact with each other. The mind is so full of our present-moment experience that there’s less room for it to be full of useless thoughts, and instead we’re aware of the incredible richness of our experience — a richness that we overlook entirely when we spend our whole lives lost in thinking.

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Ok, kids, chill out (Montreal Gazette)

Children as young as 10 are picking up Transcendental Meditation, and they’re not the only ones feeling good about it

Stephanie Whittaker: Every morning, as soon as she awakens, 13-year-old Joelle Cazeault sits up in her bed, closes her eyes and performs a ritual unknown to most children. She spends 10 minutes doing Transcendental Meditation.

“I repeat my mantra and it slows my breathing,” says the student at College St. Maurice in Ste. Hyacinthe.

Ditto for the afternoon. Joelle meditates when she gets home from school and, she says, it gives her the alertness and focus she needs to do her homework.

Meditation is a ritual she began three years ago when her parents, who have meditated since the 1970s, enrolled her in a Transcendental Meditation course: “They think it’s important for my life and that it can help me become enlightened.”

Perhaps it is inevitable that baby boomers, the generation that learned to chill out in heightened states of consciousness, want their offspring to experience the same.

Children as young as 10 are learning Transcendental Meditation and are reaping the rewards at school. “I always had good marks but they got even better after I learned to meditate,” says Joelle.

She’s at the forefront of a coming trend. There is a growing push in the U.S. to put “ohm” in schools by making Transcendental Meditation part of the curriculum. The movement is poised to take Canada with it.

A U.S.-based group called Stress-Free Schools has helped set up T.M. programs in 50 schools south of the border and has piqued the interest of educators in Canada.

Six Montreal-area schools want the program.

“My students deserve to have this, and it will transform the whole school,” says Marielle Mayers, an elementary school principal in Ville d’Anjou.

Michele Beausoleil, a Montreal teacher of T.M., is keen to get started: “We’re ready to teach the children, teachers and principals and I’ll work to help the schools find funding from foundations.”

Stress-Free Schools was founded in 2004 by a group of meditating parents in New York City, who were concerned about social problems in their schools.

Two months ago, the organization held a conference at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel to explain to educators how teaching T.M. to children as young as 10 can benefit their schools.

Original article no longer available.

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Christian Meditation: Death of the Self (The Times of India)

Christopher Mendonca, The Times of India: Christians the world over celebrate the Sacred Triduum, the three holy days that form the core of their spiritual calendar. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter mark the commemoration of events that literally changed the course of history. The word ”memorial” in Hebrew means to relive the event; so the celebration of the Eucharist is much more than a mere commemorative event. The practice of Christian meditation dates back to the beginning of Christianity; its objective is to daily ”empty the self” to experience the fullness of God. It is consonant with Jesus”s invitation to his disciples to take up their cross daily and follow him. It is central to Easter celebrations, ”dying” to rise to a New Life.

The way of meditation is the way of silence. Silencing the ceaseless chatter of a mind buzzing with thoughts is not easy. The way to silence is the way of the mantra. Choosing a sac-red word and repeating it from the beginning to the end of the period of meditation forms part of the essential teaching of Christian meditation. It is advisable to choose a word of four syllables and pronounce them with equal length. The recommended word in the Christian Tradition is Ma-ra-na-tha. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus’s time, it means ”The Lord comes”.

Once we commence this daily practice, a few guidelines can enable us to go deeper. Firstly, we are not to assess our progress. The feeling of success or failure may be the biggest distraction of all. We are not to look for ”experiences” in our meditation. We come to meditation in poverty of spirit. So be faithful to the recitation of the word/mantra during the period of meditation, and to the daily practice, twice a day, morning and evening. The minimum time prescribed is 20 minutes, the optimum 30 minutes…

The way of saying your word, your mantra, is the way to stillness. Eastern Christians call it hesychia. It is pure prayer, worship in spirit and truth. It purifies the heart of contradictory desires and unifies us. The place of unity is the heart where we find our deepest and most natural orientation towards God as our personal source and goal.

A still mind creates conditions for receptivity. We open ourselves to God”s presence, so that his life can pour into us, making us channels of his grace. There is a Zen story about receptivity. A Japanese professor went to a Zen master. They talked and had tea together. The teacher took a cup and handed it to the visitor. He poured in the tea until the cup was full. He went on pouring and the tea spilled everywhere. It is overflowing, cried the professor. The master replied, “Yes, when something is full you can”t put anything else in. So I can give you nothing because you are already filled with yourself and your own ideas. We cannot receive God”s love and it cannot grow in us unless there is some space. When we meditate we are creating space within us, space that God can fill.

Jesus is the personification of this “emptying of self” who, though God, did not think equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself (Phil. 2:6). When you have nothing more to live for; when your own righteousness ceases to count for anything; when you are knocked down, battered and bruised; when rituals cease to work their magic for you and observances fail to appease; when words become meaningless and the logic of your syllogism proves nothing; when the silence of the empty tomb beckons you, only then can you be filled with the fullness of God.


(Today is Maundy Thursday.)

Read the rest of the article…

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Time to reflect called religion (Charlotte Observer, North Carolina)

Cristina Breen Bolling and Gail Smith-Arrants, Charlotte Observer, North Carolina: What started as an unheralded effort to open Cabarrus County’s first charter school became a battle this month after local residents raised questions about the school’s plans to teach Transcendental Meditation.

Directors of the planned Carolina International School say they want to offer 10 minutes of Transcendental Meditation — commonly called TM — to fifth- through 12th-graders each day, to help them center themselves and learn better.

But about a half-dozen local residents and Cabarrus County commissioner Bob Carruth contend that TM is rooted in Hinduism, and as a religious practice, shouldn’t be taught in a school that receives public money.

The meditation, developed from an ancient Indian practice, was introduced in the United States around 1960 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known to many for his friendship with the Beatles.

Psychology researchers most often study the physical and psychological aspects of the meditation rather than a religious component. TM is practiced by people of many faiths.

School director Richard Beall, who practices TM, defends the meditation, which he says is just one feature of a school that touts individual learning plans, small class sizes and the International Baccalaureate program.

“I’m standing here telling people that this has nothing to do with religion. It’s a mechanical technique,” Beall said during a meeting Thursday night for parents interested in enrolling their children in the school.

“It requires no religious or philosophical belief. … Our contract with the state is our charter, and we’re going to obey that.”

State officials are talking to experts about TM in response to the parents’ complaints.

Like other schools that receive public money, Carolina International School isn’t allowed to include religion as part of its curriculum and must give its students the same End of Grade tests that public school students take.

N.C. law allows up to 100 charter schools, which are privately run and publicly funded. A Charter School Advisory Committee recommends schools to the N.C. State Board of Education, which authorizes the schools with a charter. Carolina International received its charter in January.

It would be the first charter school in Cabarrus County and the county’s first school to offer the International Baccalaureate program geared toward students who can do accelerated work. The school has already enrolled more than 300 students, and more than 200 others are on a waiting list, Beall said. About 60 percent are from Mecklenburg County, 40 percent are from Cabarrus County and a few are from Stanly County, he said.

Beall received several graduate degrees related to education from the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, which was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 1981 he helped established Maharishi Middle and Upper Schools in Iowa, where he served for 10 years as middle and high school principal, social studies teacher and coach.

People who use Transcendental Meditation learn to focus on a mantra to let stress and other distractions slip away.

Critics, however, say the trademarked practice can cause depression, anxiety and other side effects, and say they worry the practice will involve more than 10 minutes of relaxation.

TM is rare in schools, but not unheard of. Students at one Detroit charter school practice TM daily. High school students in a Georgia public school district took part in a study into whether TM could affect their blood pressure and response to stress.
What qualifies as religion?

N.C. charter school officials say they’ve heard about a half-dozen complaints about the Cabarrus County school and are researching whether the meditation technique has ties to religion.”If that has been determined to be religion, then that can’t be part of the school. It’s really that simple,” said Michael Fedewa, chairman of the state charter school advisory committee.

Workers at the state office of charter schools are trying to sort out whether TM has religious links and will report back, possibly as early as April 8.

State charter school leaders have questioned the school’s plans to offer TM in the past, but never did outside research on the topic, Fedewa said. The charter school advisory board asked Beall and other Carolina International School leaders to come in a few months ago for a meeting to talk about TM.

“In all cases, they looked us dead in the eye and said `This is not religion. There is no religion being taught,’ ” Fedewa said. “They appear to have answered our questions forthrightly and to our satisfaction.”

That’s not enough for Beverly Henley, a Harrisburg parent who said she doesn’t think state charter school officials took the time to investigate TM fully. Henley said she started looking into the school for her own children, but now opposes taxpayer funding for it because she says the religious tie is clear.

“It sounds like the (charter school advisory board) asked him, `Is this TM a religion?’ and he said, `No.’ So they said, `It needs to stay that way.’ ”

Carruth, the county commissioner, said if Carolina International School is allowed to open using TM, then he’d encourage Christian schools to apply for charter school status so they, too, could receive public funding.

“Why not? To me, that shows that’s how they interpret the law,” he said.
Court ruling

Thursday’s meeting heated up when critics challenged Beall’s explanation that TM is simply a peaceful moment of reflection and has nothing to do with religion.

Some questioned whether students would be forced to go further than meditation, perhaps having to watch teachers undergo a ceremony that allows them to teach TM.

They also cited a 1977 federal court ruling in which a judge in New Jersey ruled that Transcendental Meditation was a religious practice and cannot be funded in public schools.

“It’s a restated form of Hinduism. I believe that’s the real question here,” said Cindy Picarella, a Cabarrus County resident. “I would like to put my child here, but I cannot put my child in this school because I believe it is a religion. … And I still have to pay for it, but I don’t want to pay for it.”

Beall responded: “TM isn’t a religious experience for me, and it shouldn’t be for a student….

“We’re going to make sure everybody involved in this understands what it’s about.”

[Original article no longer available]
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Wind and a Prayer (Village Voice, NY)

Erik Baard, Village Voice: Freedom Tower Engineer Wants Turbines To Double as Prayer Wheels

The shining tower planned for the gawked-upon gap of the World Trade Center may be the first skyscraper to pray for its city. The designer of the wind turbines that will occupy the top of the “Freedom Tower” wants the rotors to serve as prayer wheels, cycling through mantras of peace.

Tibetan Buddhists write the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” many times over on thin papers and enclose them within cylinders called mani, which are also inscribed with the mantra. These spin on an axle, continuously repeating the prayer. The words aren’t directly translatable, but they invoke blessings from Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion.

That tradition could be a starting point for a spiritual gesture in the same airy reaches once filled with death, according to engineer Guy Battle, who’s overseeing the wind farm for the planned Freedom Tower. Architect David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, master planner Daniel Libeskind, and developer Larry Silverstein haven’t yet ruled on the proposal, and no artists have been commissioned to explore it.

The turbines are to produce a fifth of the electricity needed by the building. “They are simple generators, but they can be somehow linked with the memorial. People could even put prayers on the propellers,” Battle says. A reflection of mourning, forgiveness, and hope open to all faiths and ethical traditions would give real meaning to the skyscraper’s somewhat stilted name.

Imagine if, from miles away in any direction, you could look to that skyscraper and know that within its ethereal, translucent summit was a testament to our better selves, our shared prayers. That is the architecture of who we are as a people. And coincidentally, the northwesterly winds turning those prayer wheels would follow the same glinting line of the Hudson River that the planes of 9-11 used as a flight path to murder. It’s the kind of gentle defiance that would drive Al Qaeda mad.

Leaders of the rebuilding process have emerged from storied grapples over the shape of the tapering structure. The reported debates between Childs and Libeskind about the building’s proportions comically reprise the tale of how Sen no Rikyu, the 16th-century tea master, was tested by a carpenter over exactly where a flower basket should be placed. So it seems somehow fitting that such a humble, quiet idea inspired by Buddhism and entering so late would bring an apt element of remembrance, and restore to the urban spire a spiritual and aspirational force.

Of course, the prayer wheels would be an unorthodox interpretation of an ancient practice. Such wheels, or mani, are usually vertical, while the turbines would be horizontal. Nor are they usually as hard to see as what Battle proposes. “But the intention is a large part of the process, so if your intention is genuine, then the slight variations in the execution of the device are less important,” says Ganden Thurman, director of special projects at Tibet House.

The metropolitan cynic is tempted to dismiss such sentiments as hokey, but at some level, any sincere gesture of love is. Many residents of Lower Manhattan have remarked that the twin towers were a familiar presence, felt over the shoulder even when not seen. The thrill of the new won’t fill that void for long. Downtown planners must create a symbol that earns enduring affection by not just building high, but by giving a sense of renewal to those who look up.

Such an invisible aspect wouldn’t force any change in the appearance of the Freedom Tower or the contested 16-acre site. “I think the final form will be very close to what you saw at the unveiling. The broad strokes will be the same,” says Kenneth Lewis, SOM’s project manager. The building will rise from the street grid and torque to minimize wind resistance. Despite its glassy skin, an exoskeleton of diagonal supports and a concrete core will lend the building rigidity. A lacy truss of cables, which Childs says was inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge, will characterize the upper portion where the turbines are to be housed. Workers in the tower’s 2.6 million square feet of office space will be protected by fireproof safe havens and filtering systems to guard against chemical and biological attacks.

Mocked as everything from a martini toothpick to a toy soldier’s feather, the spire and antenna have been thorny issues. Skyscraper architect Cesar Pelli has consistently argued that such towers should have a spire, that the tapering profile is intrinsic to the medium. Yet after viewing the Freedom Tower, he told the Voice, “I think they should get rid of the spire. It detracts from the design, makes it lose strength.”

The antenna will likely bring the entire structure to 2,000 feet, the limit imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, Lewis said. It needs to be that high to widen the television broadcast area. Even PBS has joined this cause, because the poor can’t afford cable educational programs. But at the 1,776-foot mark the materials used to build the spire will change, and it will be illuminated. “The 1,776-foot mark will definitely be acknowledged. The bottom part of the antenna will be like the Statue of Liberty’s torch and the upper part like the flame,” he said.

It’s doubtful that the Statue of Liberty echo will resonate much, over time. In truth, Liberty Enlightening the World already has its counterpoint across the harbor in Battery Park City. The comparatively small, tiered hexagon of the Museum of Jewish Heritage urges contemplation of the genocide unleashed by intolerance and the achievements that are possible for even a minority community when freedoms are secure. But the spire’s offset placement atop the Freedom Tower will be distinctive—centering it would push the design toward mimicry, and lopping it off would leave a silhouette that’s unjustifiably banal. As Skyscraper Museum director Carol Willis says, “I think that its slender proportions and pointing to sky really satisfy the definition of a skyscraper as a romantic notion.”

And height, in this case, does matter. “As architects, we don’t talk about designing the world’s tallest building,” Lewis says, but there’s an undeniable groundswell of desire to see the Freedom Tower become the world’s pinnacle.

If only for the moment. In a stark reminder of the ways of this world, the ecologically friendly Freedom Tower, even if recognized as the world’s tallest by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, will be closely bracketed by two monuments to oil power. For now, the title belongs to the Petronas Towers, designed by Pelli for the Petroliam Nasional Berhad, the national oil company of Malaysia. Upcoming is the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which breaks ground this month and is slated for completion by 2009. The latter tower is also being built by SOM, and will be “comfortably taller” than anything else in the world, according to the firm.

The Burj Dubai derives its graceful symmetry from a six-petaled desert flower. Other examples of the newest generation of record-setting skyscrapers, like the bamboo-stalk-inspired Taipei Financial Center, have eschewed the boxy international style to reflect local cultures and organic forms. But perhaps the unseen prayer wheels will allow the Freedom Tower, as no building ever has, to speak profoundly for, and of, the people of its city.

Original article no longer available…

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Transcending stress

A simple repetitive mantra can have complex benefits for those who set aside 20 minutes a day for peaceful contemplation. People who practice transcendental meditation tick off a litany of medical advantages attributed to its practice, but doctors generally agree that most kinds of meditation can boost the practitioner’s health.

Transcendental meditation involves sitting in a quiet place for 15 to 20 minutes and gently repeating a personalized mantra, typically a phrase from Hindu scriptures. The repetition allows the mind to take a break from the many stimuli around us at any given time.

The Beatles took up transcendental meditation during the band’s 1960s heyday, perhaps to keep centered in the eye of the Beatlemania storm. Today, the meditative technique is practiced by 1.5 million Americans, including the anything-but-docile radio star Howard Stern…

Read the original article…

Tomorrow, director David Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks”) will be in Bethesda to help raise funds for a $1 billion endowment for world peace at the Maharishi Peace Palace. The nonviolence measure is part of transcendental meditation founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s worldview.The Hindu monk created transcendental meditation in the 1950s and remains a key figure in its existence.

The practice is but one form of meditation practiced worldwide. Some meditation practices like TM focus on breathing rates, while others involve a fixed image or thought. Transcendental meditation proponents say their methods offer the best results both for the immediate benefits and for the practitioner’s overall physical health.

“Nothing really compares to transcendental meditation,” says Sally Jackson, a teacher with the Maharishi Vedic School in Falls Church.

Ms. Jackson describes the technique as turning a person’s attentions inward to transcend thought altogether.

“Throughout the ages, there have been poets who have described this state,” she says. “Transcendental meditation is … a simple, reliable method for achieving that state.”

The process sounds deceptively simple, but Ms. Jackson insists it takes a properly trained teacher to help the uninitiated learn the techniques.

The lessons aren’t cheap.

The first two and last of the seven necessary steps Ms. Jackson’s group teaches are free of charge. The remaining four steps, which include one-on-one consultations that take place over four consecutive days, cost $2,500, she says.

“It’s a significant investment for a lot of people,” she says. “That’s why we give all the information beforehand. … We show people all the research on transcendental meditation in the realms of health.”

Doctors generally agree that most meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rates and slow the body’s breathing.

Last month, a research study released during the American Heart Association’s Orlando, Fla., meeting, said a group of 150 black patients with high blood pressure experienced a more than five-point drop in their diastolic blood pressure after practicing transcendental meditation. Researchers from the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa, credited meditation with reducing stress-related hormones in the patients.

Miriam Ratner, a clinical counselor for the Outpatient Oncology Program at the Washington Cancer Institute, says meditative techniques help many of her patients find a measure of peace.

“In my field, when they hear what they have, all sense of everything disappears,” says Ms. Ratner, whose group is part of the Washington Hospital Center.

“From experience with my patients, even in one session, one automatically gets positive results [from meditation],” she says, including feeling less afraid of their diagnosis.

Ms. Ratner leads her patients into a general meditative state by having them focus on one body part at a time. She asks them to focus on any sensations in that part of the body, be it pain, tightness or any other feeling.

After about 30 minutes of scanning the body in that way, “they become inner-focused, which is what you want,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a patient whose breathing isn’t deeper, who hasn’t said, ‘I feel peaceful,’” after a meditation session.

“It begins to give them a sense of mastery over how they feel,” she says.

Sterling, Va., resident Rose Rosetree taught transcendental meditation for 16 years before turning her attentions to aura readings. Meditation teachers must be instructed by someone associated with its founder’s group before they can claim to teach true transcendental meditation.

Ms. Rosetree says some meditation classes say they teach the Maharishi’s version of transcendental meditation but often practice a generic form of the discipline.

“Beware of people who claim to teach it to you ‘without the trappings,’” she says. “They don’t know what they’re talking about … you can’t learn it from a book.”

Some of the Maharishi’s proponents contend that gathering together people who practice transcendental meditation can create a peaceful ripple effect that can harmonize otherwise destructive behaviors in that region.

“The follow-up activities have a lot to do with the belief system of the founder,” says Ms. Rosetree, who eventually found some of the founder’s dictums to resemble activities that might be found in a cult.

Ms. Rosetree still meditates once or twice daily, though with a more flexible approach than that of transcendental meditation, but she doesn’t ignore its benefits or its impact.

“It has become part of the culture,” she says.

Another meditative form akin to the technique is awareness meditation.

Nancy Harazduk, director of the Mind Body Medicine Program at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, teaches this form of meditation, also know as Vipassana meditation — meaning to see things as they really are.

“You focus on your breathing, and thoughts will come as they always do,” Ms. Harazduk says. “The idea is not to push them away. It’s to become mindful of them and let it go and come back to your breathing.”

Transcendental meditation, she says, tells its practitioners not to focus on any such thoughts.

Aur Gal, director of the Maharishi Peace Palace in Bethesda, says meditations generally fall into two categories. Concentration techniques focus the mind on a particular object or thought. Contemplative techniques take that perspective, but let practitioners ruminate on the object or thought in question.

“In both, the mind is kept on the surface thinking level of the mind,” Mr. Gal says. “That is why concentration is so difficult. The nature of the mind is to move.”

Transcendental meditation allows the mind to go where it naturally wants to go, he says, “to the more subtle levels of awareness.”

Marcia Corey, a naturopath with the Washington Institute of Natural Medicine, says every method of meditation has value and reaches the same goal.

“You’re focusing on clearing your mind so you can become more attentive and aware,” says Ms. Corey, who as a naturopath is trained in such noninvasive techniques as herbology, acupressure, muscle relaxation and exercise therapy. “It eventually gets you beyond yourself. It opens up your mind to taking control of your life, of understanding your life.”

Some people are able to do that by paying attention to their breathing, while others pay attention to a spot or a sight beyond themselves, she says.

Our increasingly complex world makes meditation a much-needed respite in our lives, Ms. Corey says.

“This is an ability to keep the mind calm. It helps to react in a calmer fashion to everyday situations,” she says.

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