Flying yogis and flying millions

Acolyte David Lynch isn’t happy with this exposé of Transcendental Meditation

He was the original guru pop star. Made famous by the Beatles in the 1960s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the godfather of the Transcendental Meditation movement, known as TM. He inspired such acolytes as author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker David Lynch, and remained TM’s figurehead until his death in 2008 at the age of 94. The Maharishi was once dubbed “the giggling guru.” But now it appears he may have been giggling all the way to the bank. David Wants to Fly (Facebook Page), a new documentary shown last week at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, offers compelling evidence that the Maharishi’s empire of enlightenment is more devoted to shaking down its followers and amassing wealth than transcending the material world.

The “David” of David Wants to Fly refers to the film’s director, a cheeky 32-year-old German named David Sieveking, and to the dubious feat of “yogic flying” or levitation. It could also refer to David Lynch, who has emerged as TM’s most prominent spokesman and is the prime target of Sieveking’s obsessive investigation. Sieveking embarked on his documentary as an avid Lynch fan dying to meet the genius behind Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. But by the time he’d completed his film, five years later, it had turned into an exposé. Sieveking told Maclean’s that Lynch threatened to sue him and tried to block the film’s Berlin premiere. No wonder. It depicts TM as a secretive hierarchy with overtones of Scientology, and portrays Lynch as its Tom Cruise.

Sieveking, who makes himself a character in the documentary—a neurotic man on a mission—is like a cross between a young Werner Herzog and a skinny Michael Moore. He first travels to America to interview Lynch as a star-struck fan, then becomes an eager student of TM. As his odyssey takes him from Manhattan to the headwaters of the Ganges, he never loses faith in the power of meditation, but he becomes deeply skeptical about TM’s well-heeled leadership.

He learns that its “rajas” pay $1 million for their exalted rank. At a groundbreaking ceremony for a TM university in Switzerland, we see Lynch introduce Raja Emanuel, TM’s “King of Germany,” who wears a gold crown and offers a provocative pledge: “I’m a good German who wants to make Germany invincible.” Jeers erupt from the crowd and a voice yells, “That’s what Adolf Hitler wanted!” Emanuel replies: “Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the right technique.” Trying to quell the catcalls, Lynch leaps to the raja’s defence, and hails him as “a great human being.”

Sieveking interviews several TM defectors, including Colorado publisher Earl Kaplan, who donated over US$150 million toward the construction of a vast meditation centre in India, where 24-7 shifts of 10,000 yogic flyers would create world peace. Visiting the project site, Sieveking finds an abandoned, half-built ghost town. And he shows footage of “yogic flying,” which looks more like cross-legged yogic hopping. We also meet the Maharishi’s former personal assistant, who says, “He’d use people and discard them when they ran out of money.” And although the guru preached celibacy, the ex-aide says one of his jobs was to bring women to the Maharishi’s room for sex. Another ex-disciple, Judith Bourque, reminisces about her torrid love affair with the Maharishi, which ended when he found another young woman.

Rumours of the guru’s sybaritic lifestyle have been rampant ever since the Beatles heard that he had hit on Mia Farrow in the late ’60s. His behaviour provoked John Lennon to write a derisive song called Maharishi, which George Harrison persuaded him to retitle Sexy Sadie (“What have you done? You made a fool of everyone”). The film shows Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr rallying to support TM at Lynch’s star-studded 2009 TM benefit. “John Lennon,” says Sieveking, “would be rolling in his grave.”

As for the analogy between TM and Scientology, the director acknowledges certain parallels, but considers TM less rigid—“you can’t be a moderate Scientologist.” Sieveking says he became paranoid after the German raja threatened to destroy his film career. Yet Lynch “is still a guru for me as a filmmaker,” he maintains, just not as a spiritual figure. “I wanted to be his friend. It’s tough for me, because now he sees me as an enemy.” But Sieveking may have found a new guru. Apparently Michael Moore, that documentary raja, is anxious to see his film.

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Harlem renaissance

Russell Simmons has a knack for bringing underground urban culture into the mainstream. During the mid-1980s, as co-founder of the Def Jam record label, he helped launch the first hip hop megastars–LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, and The Beastie Boys. A few years later, he created the clothing label Phat Farm, turning street wear into runway fashion. His Def Poetry television series brought local slam poets into the national spotlight on HBO.

Along the way, Simmons has been helping everyday urban residents make their voices heard through the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, an organization that teaches inner city youth about financial credit and political involvement. Last August, Simmons turned his attention to homeless men in Harlem, a particularly invisible and powerless population. But instead of teaching these men how to speak out or take action, Simmons offered them inner peace through Transcendental Meditation.

“You’re alive for a simple reason, and that’s to be happy,” Simmons told a rapt audience at Ready, Willing, and Able, a program that helps homeless men find jobs and housing. The program recently added meditation to its toolbox, through funding from the David Lynch Foundation, and brought Simmons in to help inspire the men to learn. Simmons himself has been meditating for years, and he told The Atlantic about his efforts to bring stillness to New York City’s most restless population.

Meditation doesn’t seem to be a basic need like food or shelter. Why should homeless men learn to meditate?

Well, food and shelter are pretty good, too. But right up there with food and shelter is peace of mind. There are many roads to peace of mind. But some roads have so much proof that you know you’re definitely on your way. Transcendental Meditation has really got so much research, so many examples, so many people who have become calmer and more peaceful–even enlightened. It’s hard to get around how valuable meditation can be.

How is meditation different from religious faith? I’d imagine a lot of these men grew up with prayer in their lives.

Praying can be a good aid to promoting presence, but praying for something you don’t have doesn’t always create stillness. In the Yoga Sutras, it says Yogash chita vritti nirodha [“Meditation is the individual discipline that leads to the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”]. You can go to church and listen to a preacher who will remind you that Jesus Christ said to be still. Consciousness comes from lots of different sources.

But when you meditate, the noise is gone and there’s only bliss. Pure happiness. Look, it’s all good. But when people say meditation is a direct route, I believe they’ve got something. My own meditation is the best part of my day, like a mini-vacation. People fly away somewhere on vacation and they drink and create more stress. I sit in my room and release lots of stress. I like that better.

When you spoke to the men at Ready, Willing, and Able, you emphasized the importance of happiness. Why do homeless people need to hear this message?

Because these are people who have been made to feel that they’re less than, or their chances for happiness should be less than. They’re never going to change their situation until they find happiness within. I believe that happy, hard-working, spiritual people are really attractive and draw good things toward themselves.

What do you think causes homelessness in the first place?

I can’t give a simple answer to that. But it’s certainly the poverty mindset that is the greatest problem for so many homeless people. Meditation gives you a rich mindset, a mindset that makes you happy with what you have. There can be a happy person living in a shanty house. Even if he has nothing, inside he feels like he has everything.

And there can be an unhappy person living in a penthouse. The other day, I spoke to a billionaire’s son who’s running a big company. He told me he goes to India and sees all that poverty and feels guilty that he’s so rich and so unhappy. He really thinks that ’cause he got shit he should be happy! I told him he’s got nothing to feel guilty about.

Have the men told you specific stories about how meditation has helped them?

I’ve heard good ones. One guy who used to be homeless learned TM and immediately had an experience of “I am That, you are That, all this is nothing but That.” People in yoga studios try to achieve that experience and pass around books about it, but this guy got it after a month! So it’s pretty amazing that these people now have a way to transcend. Certainly meditation has got to be the number one thing that I can give someone.

[via The Atlantic]
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Can meditation stop me getting angry?

A few months ago, I tore up a copy of Grazia and spat on it because I had decided my byline was too small. So a friend, who witnessed the assault, suggested I try meditation. “It might help you with your anger,” she said, observing the drool dribbling over my chin and on to the magazine. “But I like living my life in homage to An American Werewolf in London,” I replied. “No, you don’t,” she said. “And I have seen you shouting at buses.”

It seems that meditation does have health benefits, particularly for neurotics with anger and anxiety issues such as myself. This week American academics published the results of their research into the joys of transcendental meditation (TM). Apparently guinea pigs (human ones) who practised TM showed a 48% decline in depressive symptoms. Last year another study indicated that there were 47% fewer heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths among transcendental meditation-heads, which tunes in with what my friend Yogi Cameron, the former male supermodel, has told me. “Yogis,” he once said, “choose when to die.” So – could meditation save my copy of Grazia? Could it save me?

There are many different types of meditation, I learn – it is a big aromatic buffet of love. It is popular with the great religions – praying or clutching a rosary can be considered a type of meditation – and, as a leisure activity, it is at least as old as war. There is mantra meditation, where you continually repeat a chosen word or phrase (transcendental meditation is a type of this) mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. All promise serenity and healing and an end to assaults on blameless magazines. I choose to try out mindfulness because, according to my blurb, it will help me “experience myself” and learn to “live in the moment” through posture and breathing work. (For Tai Chi, on the other hand, you have to stand up.)

So I telephone and beg to be admitted to a Meditation for Beginners class (£8) at the West London Buddhist Centre. It is in Notting Hill, the evil yummy mummy/latte vortex, which is surely the last place in London in which I am likely to have a spiritual experience. A few days later, I walk past the building, quite unconsciously, twice. This, I believe, is called denial. The anger and anxiety wants to stay in power. It is like having Peter Mandelson in my brain.

So I walk in late, to a cream basement room with a small shrine. Buddha is there. For some reason, he reminds me of a very small football fan. The scene is like a Sunday afternoon at my late grandmother’s. A group of women and a man with a beard are comatose and covered in blue blankets on the floor. Only the EastEnders omnibus is missing.

A man called Duncan is leading the group. He is tall and pale – handsome but slightly ghostly. He has a sinewy yoga body and bright blue eyes. He smiles gently and tells me to sit on a chair and close my eyes. I obey, and Duncan begins to say calming things. I don’t remember them all, because I can’t use a notebook with my eyes shut, but I do remember him saying: “Feel your tongue.” He encourages us to feel and to be aware of every part of our bodies and, above all, to concentrate on our breathing: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.”

There is neither a television in the room, nor books, so I decide to go along with this madness. I take a long sigh, like a Mills & Boon heroine submitting to a racked company director, and I surrender to the Saturday-morning silence. I feel like I am plunging down a well to somewhere untouchable and terrifying. This, I suppose, is myself, without distractions. I muse on how much I love my nephew Blobby – not his real name – and how I am going to buy a stew pot in John Lewis later. “Breathe in, breathe out,” says Duncan, in a mesmeric voice, “Breathe in, breathe out.” I almost fall asleep.

At the end of the session, I feel happy and giggly. I lie on the floor in my blanket, laughing like an insane person, or a baby, or an insane baby. I think I must be very tired. I speak to a few of my fellow travellers. They all seem to be in recovery from a terrible personal crisis, although I do not know if they too shout at buses.

I have a brief chat with Duncan. He is about 50 and he seems very posh, although he says he isn’t. He is concerned that I might tease Buddhists in my article. “Everyone teases Buddhists,” he says. Me? Tease Buddhists? I am supposed to be interviewing Duncan, but there is no point interviewing anyone after meditating. You just fall over. I ask: why am I so tired? “It’s the subject matter,” he says, “You are sleepy because it is a way of disengaging from being present.” We postpone.

Instead, I read the literature that Duncan has given me. “Mindfulness,” I read, “means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. There is nothing cold, analytical or unfeeling about mindfulness. The overall tenor of mindfulness is gentle, appreciative and nurturing. It is about being more aware in the present moment. This makes life more enjoyable, vivid and fulfilling.” To me, this is language beyond gobbledygook. Perhaps I will have an epiphany after lunch?

Later, I face the first challenge of my meditating life. I go to see my friend Raymond in Kentish Town. I am making him lamb stew. But when I put the stew pot on the hob, it explodes. “The pot has exploded,” I tell Raymond. “Oh, dear,” says Raymond, not moving from the sofa, where he is reading a book titled Town Planning in Britain Since 1900: The Rise and Fall of the Planning Ideal. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“It has exploded,” I say.

“Oh dear,” he says, and turns a page. If I had not meditated, I believe I would have maimed Raymond. But I do not; I am calm. I feel a sense of serenity, which I have always associated with unconsciousness or Valium. And so I simply bin the stew and leave. When he calls later, to say he has removed the stew from the bin, cooked and eaten it – “It was horrible” – I emit a serene cackle.

A few days later, meditation calls me back. I actually want to do it. Could the anger be ready to fly away, like a bad love song? This time I go to City Lit in Holborn, which has a mindfulness class, again run by Duncan. Again, I am late – the power of denial! So, when I go in, 20 women are sitting on mats with their eyes closed, doing the practice session. One opens her eye and scowls at me. I scowl back. There is also, inevitably, a solitary man. In meditation class, there is always a solitary man. It seems to be a law.

When everyone has opened their eyes, Duncan checks if they have done their mindfulness homework. Everyone has been asked to practise meditating for 10 minutes each day and to record their pleasant thoughts, also noting what moods and feelings accompanied the precious pleasant thought. Not everyone has done it, which seems to make Duncan cross. He winces. The class is full of obsessives. Duncan asks us to write the word “flower” on a piece of paper, and meditate on it. At least three people ask for more paper because, says one, “I didn’t write ‘flower’ in the middle of the page.”

We practise again – I close my eyes, listening to Duncan talk about tongues and feet and the need to be aware of them and live in them; again I fall down the friendly well. It’s easier this time. I am possibly entering the realm of nothing matters. Everything. Will. Be. Fine.

I love this new sensation. Normally, when pouncing from anger to anger, I end the day gibbering and falling into a half-sleep from which I awake exhausted, usually with a BBC3 reality show still murmuring in the corner. (Once I awoke to watch a man in a wheelchair ballroom dancing.)

Then, we have an event. A woman in the street outside screams and I am pulled back into Holborn. She screams again and the kind thoughts melt, cinematically. I panic. I am a failure! A monster! I hate everyone and everyone hates me! I feel my body contorting, into a giant fist. I feel Hulk-ish. I have always identified with the Incredible Hulk, for obvious reasons; I can even play his theme tune on the piano. But this, I know, is familiar; this is why I am here – to be cured of my anxiety and its inevitable sequel, the desire to punch pot plants. I tune back to Duncan, my salvation. “Breathe in, breathe out,” he says. “Breathe in, breathe out.”

I take Duncan out to lunch to ask why meditation works; I am sure it is working, but I do not know why. “The refusal to acknowledge ourselves,” he says, “is the cause of most grief. Meditation will lead you to a relishing of being alive, but it can only be known through direct experience. Even pain,” he adds optimistically, “can feel quite rich.” But he thinks I should work on my posture. Apparently I sit there with my head lolling on one side, like a stroke victim.

I continue to meditate and as I do, I can feel the anger waving goodbye. I stay soothed. For example, a friend asks me to a dinner party. I fear dinner parties like I fear Nazis. But I go, and I am polite, even when someone asks me if I have cystitis. (I do not.) Meditation is effective, I fear. I am in danger of turning into a rug. I am in danger of being happy.

Tanya Gold, The Guardian

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Moby on meditation

Moby has spoken out in favour of Transcendental Meditation, or TM, as it’s often abbreviated to. He explained that he had avoided it for a long time because it “scared the shit” out of him, saying “I thought that TM involved ritual animal sacrifice and moving to some country and renouncing wealth and materialism”.

He continued: “One of the things that impressed me so much about TM when I finally learned it was its simplicity. It’s a simple practice that calms the mind… and the thing that won me over about TM, apart from having my hero David Lynch as its vocal practitioner, was its effectiveness. Nothing else helped me quiet my mind and go to a calm, centred place. The thing that makes it effective is you don’t have to do all that much, and, as a profoundly lazy person, I appreciate that”.

CMU Music News

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From incarceration to meditation in Missouri

It was a routine business conference for the judge: Agendas. Handshakes. Business cards.

But then something kind of mystical happened.

David Mason was approached by a man wearing a crisp suit with a neatly pointed kerchief in his breast pocket. In a measured Indian accent, the man said he, too, was a lawyer and knew all about the judge and his enlightened views on criminal rehabilitation. He wanted to tell him about the power of meditation in prisons.

The man was Farrokh Anklesaria. He was a direct student of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and he’d been sent around the world by him to bring meditation to convicts. He’d been to Switzerland, Senegal, Kenya, Brazil and Sri Lanka. And by a mixture of circumstances — and perhaps karma — he had landed in Missouri.

Anklesaria, a native of Mumbai who chose meditation over his family’s legacy in law, hadn’t had much luck in other parts of the country. He had heard that Mason was a proponent of alternative sentencing, and he wanted his help to start a meditation program for criminal offenders in Missouri.

“I thought he was crazy at first,” recalled Mason, a circuit judge in St. Louis.

That was 14 years ago. With the backing of Mason and other judges ranging from the circuit court to the federal bench and the Missouri Supreme Court, Anklesaria has become the region’s guru for training parolees in meditation.

His nonprofit Enlightened Sentencing Project provides 20 weeks of instruction in Transcendental Stress Management for parolees who have committed a gamut of crimes, including drunken driving, assault and theft.

Numerous studies point to the health benefits of Transcendental Meditation, including one by the National Institutes of Health that indicates regular meditation decreases high blood pressure and depression. Other studies find merits in meditation programs done in prisons — places that Anklesaria calls “areas of concentrated stress.” But no one has formally studied Anklesaria’s program. He’s calculated that of the hundreds who have completed the program, just 6 percent have returned to crime.

His students meet downtown in a musty meeting room at the Centenary United Methodist Church. After several yoga poses on mats, participants silently chant a private mantra in a circle of frayed wingback chairs and worn couches.

“The experience is one of very, very deep physiological rest,” said Anklesaria, now a resident of Ferguson, Mo.

He said the practice enables clients to conquer the anxiety that leads many to addictions, depression or rage — things that can drive them back to crime.

Meditation works, he said, because it makes no attempt to counsel the offenders.

“This is the magic,” he said. “No matter how much he or she has sunk down in the mud and dust of his environment, once he has started on this path, the process itself will cleanse him of his stress.” One of his clients, Clark Moore, was facing seven years in prison for domestic assault because he blew the terms of his sentencing for fighting. He said St. Louis Circuit Judge Philip Heagney gave him a choice: probation with meditation or go to jail. Moore said he had no self-control. But meditation is changing that.

When a relative recently stole money from him, he said he kept his temper.

“I just called it a loss,” he said minutes after he and 16 other participants sat so still in their chairs meditating the room filled with the hushed whoosh of lungs inhaling and exhaling.

Graduate Mark Edwards — a man who said he had kidnapped his child in a raging custody dispute — said he now meditates twice daily and three times on nights when he works as a disc jockey at local clubs. It rids him of his anger and chronic headaches, he said.

“With me being so mad, I was either going to get killed or get sent to jail,” he said.

Donations support the program. Anklesaria, who earns about $30,000 a year from it, gets no local, state or federal funding, though several judges said he should.

Henry Autrey, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, said repeat offenders plagued his former bench in the St. Louis circuit court. When he began referring parolees to Enlightened Sentencing he didn’t expect much. But then they started passing drug tests. The offenders also did a better job grooming themselves and most had “an apparent sense of calm in their eyes,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch and observe when you hear people talking about their experiences who are calm, straightforward, plain-talking and plain-thinking without any confusion,” he said. “Months before, they would have never been in a position to do anything like that.”

Washington Post

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Colleges use meditation to cut rising stress among students

Amid the stress-inducing madness of finals, two Georgetown University seniors kick off their shoes and settle into wooden chairs. A soft gong fills the room. They close their eyes and clear their minds of everything but a four-syllable mantra.

The session, held in a tiny brick building nestled between dormitories, is part of a movement to provide college students more opportunities to relax and reflect through meditation. A study of D.C. college students published this month found the benefits can include lower blood pressure and reduced anxiety and depression.

“Stress is definitely on the rise at college campuses,” said Sanford I. Nidich, the lead author of the study and a professor at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, which was founded by the yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation. “It’s a major problem, and it’s getting worse. . . . More and more we are seeing students with elevated blood pressure.”

At Georgetown, students and others can attend general meditation sessions twice a day at the John Main Center for Meditation and InterReligious Dialogue. On Wednesday afternoon, the two students sat quietly along with two university employees and tried to put aside what they needed to accomplish before Christmas break.

Then a buzzer went off. The gong sounded again. Everyone opened their eyes and stretched their arms.

“It has taught me the skill of stepping back,” said Bradley Pollina, 21, a senior history major from Long Island, N.Y., who started meditating a year ago. “You teach yourself to slow down.”

Still, it’s difficult to persuade agenda-packed, competition-driven students to take time to slow down, said Marco Svoboda, the volunteer director of the center, who quit his accounting job in California five years ago to focus on meditation. Of the half-dozen people who typically show up to the sessions, only one or two are students.

“These students have been conditioned since kindergarten to evaluate their performance. Anything they do, they’re comparing to their friends and even competing with their friends,” Svoboda said. “When you come in here, you don’t have to do that.”

Georgetown isn’t the only college to offer meditation: The University of Maryland at College Park offers sessions one night a week at its recreation center. At U-Md.’s campus in Baltimore County, the women’s center has a meditation room stocked with tapes and guides. George Washington University’s Mindfulness Meditation group meets weekly in the counseling center.

In most cases, leaders of these groups follow common meditation techniques — sitting quietly, clearing the mind, focusing on a mantra, breathing slowly and deeply. The style of meditation used in the study was Transcendental Meditation, a trademarked technique taught through a series of lectures and meetings with a certified teacher who presents each student with a secret, personalized mantra.

Although the 298 students in the study attended these classes for free, they typically cost $750 for college students and $1,500 for everyone else. The Maharishi University and a foundation dedicated to Transcendental Meditation have done hundreds of studies on the technique’s benefits.

To recruit test subjects for this study, the researchers decided to look in the District instead of on their campus, where everyone meditates twice a day. With the help of David A.F. Haaga, a psychology professor at American University who had never meditated, they recruited nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate students.

The students were split into two groups, one that was immediately taught Transcendental Meditation and another that was taught the techniques later. After three months of practicing on their own, the students were reevaluated.

Many students reported that they enjoyed the experience and felt better, but the most substantial finding was that students who were at risk for developing hypertension often saw their blood pressure drop significantly, Haaga said.

Josh Goulding, 24, participated in the study during his junior year at Georgetown. After three months of meditating daily, Goulding said his high blood pressure dropped significantly and he was able to focus better in class.

“There’s no question that it helped me,” said Goulding, who continues to meditate. “It’s almost like cleaning and dusting your mind on a daily basis.”

Washington Post

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Meditation pilot for city school

BBC: Cardiff schools could introduce a pilot Transcendental Meditation (TM) programme to relieve stress on pupils.

One unnamed secondary school is to give it a trial on a voluntary basis.

It followers say TM is a means of clearing and resting the mind through a series of chants and relaxation exercises which anyone can learn.

Freda Salway, Cardiff council’s executive member for education, said anything to lessen the load was a welcome addition to the curriculum.

TM hit the headlines in 1967 in Wales, when the Beatles met the movement’s founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on a retreat in Bangor.

According to south Wales instructor Helen Evans, however, the 60s left a legacy of mixed blessings, with TM becoming more widely known and associated with the era of psychedelia and the Woodstock generation.

“Sgt Pepper and the like probably put back serious scientific research into the benefits of TM by about 10 or 20 years,” said Ms Evans.

“But experiments in US schools have found that it can have a dramatic effect on reducing violence and bullying in the classroom, as well as improving concentration and self-esteem.”

Ms Evans said: “Most meditation systems will tell you to blank your thoughts out, but I don’t think that’s realistic. As soon as someone tells you to think of nothing, then something will pop into your mind.

“The thing that’s different about TM is that it teaches you to cope with the feelings that you do have rather than trying to get rid of them.

“It’s about relaxing, giving your mind the space to rest and allowing your subconscious to come to terms with problems without the clutter that’s normally there.”

She said modern life could be “highly stressful because there’s so much about our lives which we can’t control ourselves”. She added: “If you can find a way, not of changing your emotions, but of coping with them and accepting them for what they are, then you can be a much more relaxed and contented person with better self-esteem”.

Ms Salway said: “It’s not going to work for everyone, but it’s certainly not going to do any harm.

“Like anything, you can’t ram it down people’s throats – it’s entirely up to students and their parents to decide if it’s something they’d like to try.

“But today’s children face more stress than any generation before them with exams and peer-pressure and problems in the home.

“So if TM can provide an outlet for even a small percentage of them, then it’s something worth offering.”

Multi-cultural areas

Several schools in England are already in the process of introducing TM to staff and pupils, with funding from a foundation set up by cult film director David Lynch.

A common objection from parents, especially in highly multi-cultural areas, has apparently been a perception that TM is closely associated with Buddhism and Hinduism, and is therefore incompatible with other faiths.

But north Wales instructor David Hughes said TM had a strictly non-denominational approach.

“Yes, TM has its roots in India, and there are some overlapping features with Buddhism and Hinduism, but fundamentally it’s a technique, not a belief system,” he said.

“It’s practiced by millions of Muslims, especially in the Middle East, and it’s no more true to say that TM is Buddhist than it is to say that singing is Christian.”

“It’s something which comes naturally to some people – elite athletes like Usain Bolt seem to slip into the zone without ever having been taught.

“But most people need a little bit of help to harness the mental powers we all have inside.”

If the pilot study is a success, it could be offered to students throughout Cardiff.

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They get by with a little help from TM

National Catholic Reporter: More than 40 years after they traveled to India to study transcendental meditation, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will reunite for the cause. The only two surviving Beatles, who rarely appear in public together, will perform at “Paul McCartney and Friends: Change Begins Within,” an April 4 benefit at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Proceeds will go to the meditation-promoting David Lynch Foundation, with the goal of teaching a million at-risk children to meditate. Read more here.

McCartney said in a news release he has benefited from practicing meditation over the last four decades.

“In moments of madness, it has helped me find moments of serenity,” he said. Of the goal to help children learn to meditate, he added, “I would like to think that it would help provide them a quiet haven in a not-so-quiet world.”

In the same news release, Starr called the aims of the charity “wonderful.”

It is not known to what extent McCartney and Starr will perform together. Other performers will include Sheryl Crow, Donovan, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Moby, Paul Horn, Bettye LaVette and Jim James (of the band My Morning Jacket).

Donovan and Horn studied transcendental meditation along with the Beatles in India, in 1968. Their instructor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, died last year.

Filmmaker Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive,” “The Elephant Man”) will serve as a presenter at the event, as will other celebrities including Russell Simmons and Laura Dern.

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Much dispute about nothing

Newsweek: Transcendental meditation is meant to make kids calmer, happier. But for some parents, it’s having the opposite effect. A small but growing movement is bringing Transcendental Meditation into more U.S. schools as a stress-buster for America’s overwhelmed kids. However, critics believe that TM is a repackaged Eastern religious philosophy that should not be infiltrating public schools. Read more here.

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Sign of the Times: mindfulness in schools

The New York Times reports on the adoption of Mindfulness-Based Education in schools to help children learn to pay attention and to handle their emotions.

“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” one student reported to his classmates the day after learning the technique. “The mindfulness really helped.”

Mindfulness-Based Education was featured in Wildmind’s first meditation news podcast, in which we interviewed Dr. Amy Salzman, who was also quoted in the Times article. A point she made in our interview was taken up by Philippe R. Goldin, a researcher at Stanford: “Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention. But we never teach them how.”

Institutions like the psychology department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to measure the effects as schools across the US train students in mindfulness.

Although mindfulness comes from a Buddhist context, it is not primarily a religious practice and involves focused attention, often centered on the breath, and awareness of the emotions combined with the cultivation of compassion. Because of its secular nature mindfulness has so far avoided the kinds of controversy in which Transcendental Meditation has become mired. Late last year plans to start a TM club in a California school were shelved after an outcry from parents.

Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr. Saltzman said.

According to the article a recent study of teenagers by Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, California, found that meditation techniques helped improve mood disorders, depression, and self-harming behaviors like anorexia and bulimia.

The Times article has a healthy skepticism about the notion of mindfulness as the answer to all of life’s problems, with a statements such as mindfulness is “not a magic bullet” being quoted from Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the U.C.L.A. Mindful Awareness Research Center, and a second grade teacher observing that “some students tapped pencils and drummed on desks instead of closing their eyes.”

Nevertheless, mindfulness in education is an idea whose time has surely come. Children today are massively overstimulated and living under greater levels of stress than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations. Tools for handling the stress of modern life as a child or teenager are urgently needed.

Bodhipaksa is the founder and director of Wildmind. His personal blog is called Bodhi Tree Swaying.

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