Iowa town booms on Eastern ways (Washington Post)

Kari Lydersen, The Washington Post: When Eric Schwartz decided to move his financial services business from Silver Spring here to southeastern Iowa so he could join other practitioners of Transcendental Meditation in 1992, he worried that clients and colleagues might think he was a little crazy. “Some people think TM [Transcendental Meditation] is some kind of cult or devil worship,” he said. “I thought it might be negative for my business, that customers would freak out.”

Things turned out just the opposite.

With much lower overhead, he found revenue for Cambridge Investment Research rising from one year to the next. He went from a gross revenue of about $500,000 a year in the D.C. area to more than $50 million in 2002. The magazine Investment Advisor named him broker-dealer of the year in 2003. He credits Transcendental Meditation, which he began practicing as a freshman at Amherst College in 1971, for fueling his success.

“Even if investors or customers aren’t interested in TM, they are attracted to the fact that I moved here to do this, that I’m concerned about more than just making money or having an ocean view,” said Schwartz, who is considering changing his title from chief executive to chief spiritual officer. “That’s the kind of business they want to be involved with.”…

Many other people in Vedic City and neighboring Fairfield feel the same way. The community founded by followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ meditation guru, has become an entrepreneurial mecca of the Midwest. Followers began flocking to Fairfield after the establishment of the Maharishi University of Management in 1974, and Vedic City just outside the limits of Fairfield was incorporated in 2001, the first new Iowa city to be incorporated since 1982. Residents estimate that one-fourth of the 10,000 people in Fairfield and Vedic City practice TM.

Other successful businesses run by TM devotees include MarathonFoto, billing itself as the largest event photography company in the country; Creative Edge Master Shop, which manufactures intricate floor and wall murals out of marble and granite for Disney, the Chicago Bulls and other clients; and the Raj Ayurveda Health Center, a spa which draws national visitors paying hundreds of dollars a day. City officials say more than $200 million in venture capital has been invested in Fairfield and Vedic City companies during the past 13 years.

“For a small town in the Midwest to have so many successful businesses is really unbelievable,” said Rashi Glazer, co-director of the Center for Marketing and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, who spends summers in Fairfield. “It means something’s going on here.”

Vedic is a Sanskrit word meaning “totality of knowledge.” Residents live in spacious homes designed with entrances facing east, small onion domes called kailashes on top and rooms oriented to correspond with the cycles of the sun and moon. Practitioners of TM generally meditate for 20 minutes twice a day.

The area’s TM practitioners are not just being noticed for their entrepreneurship. For 15 years, the fully accredited Maharishi University of Management has been conducting studies funded by the National Institutes of Health on the effects of meditation on cardiovascular health, with a specific focus on how meditation can benefit African Americans with a high risk of heart disease.

“The physiological effects of this technique include a high degree of orderliness in the brain waves, which seems to spread throughout the body with lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, less reactivity to stress,” said Robert Schneider, a physician who completed a fellowship in hypertension at the University of Michigan Medical School and now serves as dean of Vedic medicine at Maharishi University.

Vedic City passed a resolution banning the sale of non-organic food and runs an organic farming operation that sells produce to Whole Foods Market and other outlets in Chicago and across Iowa. Farm director Dean Goodale notes that the farm includes one of the few greenhouses in the region that grow plants in soil rather than with hydroponics.

“Conventional farmers associate soil with bacteria and they want to kill all the bacteria,” he said. “But bacteria serves a purpose in making certain nutrients available to plants. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Across the street from the farm is the start of a housing project called “Abundance Ecovillage,” which will be powered by solar and wind energy. Vedic City and Fairfield receive federal grants from agencies including the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture for developing renewable energy sources and running recycling and composting programs.

“The composting program will make use of yard waste from the city, kitchen waste from the Raj restaurant, plant waste from the farm and manure from [a nearby] organic llama farm,” said Kent Boyum, an aquatic toxicologist who directs Vedic City’s Energy Department-funded Rebuild America program. “The compost will be used in the greenhouse and marketed as specialty soil from Vedic City.”

Residents say most people moved here from the coasts to study meditation and related practices at Maharishi University or to send their children to Maharishi School, an elementary and high school that includes meditation, Sanskrit and ayurvedic medicine in its regular curriculum.

“There weren’t many jobs for people moving in, so they had to become entrepreneurial and create jobs,” said Ed Malloy, a TM practitioner who is president of Danaher Oil Co. and was elected mayor of Fairfield in 2001. “Meditation is about really perfecting and exploring human potential, so it makes sense these people tend to be highly motivated and creative.”

Jonathan Lipman and his wife, Pam Whitworth, quit careers in Washington to move to Fairfield seven years ago. Since then, Lipman, a former president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, has designed only Vedic-style homes. Whitworth, an artist, started a business making pillows out of old kimonos and other fabrics imported from Japan, which are sold in an exclusive store in Manhattan and have been featured in home design magazines.

“She figured it was either get a job at Wal-Mart or start a business,” Lipman said.

Mario Orsatti, a Philadelphia native who studied with the Maharishi in Europe and moved to Fairfield in 1978, noted that the growing acceptance and popularity of alternative medicine and Eastern philosophy are also key to the area’s success.

“It was a lot different 30 years ago,” he said. “There was a lot of suspicion of things that are foreign, things from India. Today lots of people are doing yoga and meditation, looking at our tradition and saying, ‘That is so cool.’ Lots of small midwestern towns are dying, but Fairfield and Vedic City are thriving. People are moving here instead of moving away. Iowa would love to see this happening everywhere.”

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It’s Not Just Quiet Time (Palm Beach Post, Florida)

wildmind meditation newsCarolyn Susman: In a stressed-out world, many find the road to peace comes by way of meditation and relaxation.

An old woman sits on a couch, bent over her rosary beads, fingering and fondling them, and repeating her prayers.

Another spends time saying a Hebrew prayer over and over: The Lord is God. The Lord is One.

Is either of these women meditating?

Neither might think so, but thousands of years of reflection by spiritual masters and mental health experts say otherwise.

“Every major religion has some form of meditation connected with it,” Daniel Goleman, author of Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, explained last year on CNN. “There’s the centering prayer in Catholicism. There are Jewish meditations. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism.

“Transcendental meditation has its roots in India. Those forms have been taken out of the religious context and put into a format that anybody, no matter what your religious belief, can benefit from.”

Continuing experiments show the benefit of meditation, and so-called “focused breathing,” for physical and spiritual health – arguably the most famous being Dr. Herbert Benson’s 1975 book, The Relaxation Response.

“We have… shown how the Relaxation Response may be used as a new approach to aid in the treatment and perhaps prevention of diseases such as hypertension,” Benson maintained, a ground-breaking approach at the time.

Just a few years before, in 1968, Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, elevating this elegant form of breathing and concentration to popular acceptance.

Continuing experiments show the benefit of meditation, and so-called “focused breathing,” for physical and spiritual health – arguably the most famous being Dr. Herbert Benson’s 1975 book, “The Relaxation Response.”

“We have shown how the Relaxation Response may be used as a new approach to aid in the treatment and perhaps prevention of diseases such as hypertension,” Benson maintained, a ground-breaking approach at the time,
Just a few years before, in 1968, Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, elevating this elegant form of breathing and concentration to popular acceptance.

In our stressed-out world, the advice “Take a deep breath” has renewed meaning.

One of the most recent studies to attest to the value of meditation –simply defined as deep breathing combined with focused attention to relax the body – is published in the April issue of the “American Journal of Hypertension.”

Conducted by Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, the study showed that African-American teenagers, at risk for having high blood pressure, lowered their day-time blood pressures over four months by practicing 15 minutes of transcendental meditation twice daily.

“Allowing your mind to go to that state of inner quietness and be there for a time has an effect on the physiology by reducing stress hormone levels like cortisol and reducing activation of the fight-or-flight response,” Barnes said when the study was released.

Nothing is new here, except that Barnes’ study is fueling the idea that meditation should become a part of classroom learning and an option for children at risk for or suffering with conditions ranging from high blood pressure, to anxiety and depression, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Balancing emotions

As a society, we are always looking for methods of dealing with emotional and physical illness that can reduce or eliminate drugs.

One of those on that search was Dr. Kamara Elaine Altman of Jupiter, a holistic health counselor and yoga therapist. Thirteen years ago, she went from a public relations career to teaching stress reduction techniques (she has studied with Benson and another renowned stress-reduction clinician, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Altman says she overcame a debilitating fatigue and irritability when she incorporated yoga and relaxation techniques into her life. “When people are under stress, they are irritable, emotionally vulnerable. I would get angry quickly, raise my voice, and I had very little patience. So I think it gave me the tools, time and commitment to relax myself and calm myself and center myself. I was able to balance my emotions better.”

She defines meditation as “the process of liberating your mind from distracting thoughts. The physical aspect of sitting down, slowing down, slows your heart rate and respiration rate. You are occupying your mind so distracting thoughts don’t come in.”

Meditators say the process actually reprograms your brain, accelerating physical healing.

Altman credits meditation and focused breathing with helping her concentrate on what she considers important, her inner peace. “If I find my mind wandering off, I take a centering breath to let go of distractions, not be reactive (to surroundings) and to bring myself into the present moment.”

She can practice focused breathing – relaxing breaths without the intensity of meditation – anywhere, doing a grocery list, at the dentist’s office or sitting in a car.

Especially when she’s caught in traffic, she finds the technique helpful.

“I put my hands on my belly and relax. It reminds me there is nothing I can do. I’m not so reactive.”

In her personal relationship, she finds it helpful, too, with the man she is dating.

“He could do something that in the past would have been irritating.” she says. “I can listen now and let it be.

And I’ll do my breathing and think, ‘Is this a good time to discuss this?'” Perspective and inner peace were also the goals sought by therapist Miriam R. Davis of West Palm Beach when she sought out meditation to ease her mind more than 30 years ago.

Davis, a single mother at the time, describes her state as one of “constant mind chatter that allowed me no peace.”
She went to England to study with The Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and practiced the technique twice a day, 20 minutes at a time.

“I began to clear my mind. It’s not positive thinking: it’s not a way to change your thinking by thinking more. It involves watching your thoughts without being drawn into them,” she explains.

“By dwelling inwardly for extend ed periods,” she says of her meditating, “I came to realize the poverty of always looking outside myself for happiness, understanding and wisdom.”

Today she uses meditation and relaxation techniques with clients who are anxious, depressed or have high blood pressure or chronic pain.

Tools for managing stress

I was introduced to a form of meditation when a perceptive rheumatologist years ago handed me a book about the Catholic technique of centering prayer — very similar to meditation — when I visited him with complaints of strange muscle cramping that others couldn’t diagnose.

This doesn’t shock Davis. “Meditation and relaxation are powerful tools for managing stress,” she says, “and stress can lead to extreme body tension that can affect your health.

So much so that Benson, the “Relaxation Response” author and a Harvard Medical School associate professor, has just released a book that discusses how depression, anger and hostility can adversely affect your heart.

One of the goals of “Mind Your Heart, A Mind/Body Approach to Stress Management, Exercise and Nutrition for Heart Health” (Free Press, $12) is to maintain calm and “allow blood to flow more easily throughout the body.”

Stress can damage the heart, Benson points out. But with meditation, yoga and focused breathing, it is possible to prevent and reduce heart damage, and even avoid and manage other illnesses.

Local meditator: Dr. Jean Malecki

When you have to deal with anthrax and terrorism, having an inner sanctuary is essential.

Dr. Jean Malecki, Palm Beach County Health Department director, has nurtured that private place since she was studying pre-med in college, “I majored in pre-med and minored in religion and philosophy. I’ve been studying it for a long time. I spend a lot of my free time pursuing it,” she said.

“Some people call it prayer. Others call it meditation. It’s a time of quiet, silence in your surrounding. It’s time set aside from the normal day when you think, contemplate. I usually do it in the early morning hours, and it brings me a lot of energy and satisfaction. I couldn’t do what I do every day if I didn’t have that connection.”

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School offers transcendental meditation for ADHD Students (WAFF, Alabama)

WAFF, Alabama: At Chelsea School in Silver Spring [Maryland], 10 students with ADHD are trying transcendental meditation. The school is part of a 3-month study to see if meditation can help the children overcome the stresses of their disorder.

Project director Sarina Grosswald, Ph.D. said, “TM is a mental technique that allows the mind to settle down – when the mind settles down the body settles down.”

Settling down is one of the problems of kids who suffer from ADHD, they often have difficulty focussing and paying attention.

“It’s frustrating when these children become behavioral problems but it’s not something they do intentionally, it’s something they really can’t control.”

At Chelsea, students in the pilot program gather twice a day to meditate, and they say it’s helping.

Taylor David, student said, “It’s helping me do my homework and helping me with my relationship with my friends.”

“It’s helped me in not getting as frustrated with my work, not being disrespectful with my teachers and basically just being a normal teenager,” said Scott Schwartzman.

The academic head of Chelsea Academy says the meditation program benefits the entire school.

Principal Dr. Linda Handy said, “I see this as having tremendous impact for all our students. I’m excited about being able to take it to all of them.” Original article no longer available…

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Meditation earns high marks (Yoga Journal)

Andrea Menzie, Yoga Journal: “It gives you a boost in the morning,” says eighth grader Kenia Bradley about the meditation practice she has learned at school. “When you don’t meditate, you get tired during your classes.”

There’s no proof that sitting practice improves kids’ grades. But a recent University of Michigan pilot study suggests that students who practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) at school may be happier and have higher self-esteem than their counterparts who don’t meditate.

The study, the first to involve African American children and TM, examined 83 sixth graders at two charter schools in the Detroit area. At the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse, the children were each given an individual mantra and taught how to meditate…

using it. (In TM, the mantras used are not words but sounds without specific meaning.) They practiced twice during the school day: 10 minutes at the beginning and end of each day. Students at the control-group school didn’t meditate at all.

TM was chosen because it was considered one of the easier practices for youngsters to understand, according to meditation instructor Jane Pitt, who taught the Nataki Talibah students. Unlike many other meditation practices, she says, TM is not a concentration process or an exercise in contemplation or focus, but simply a gentle method of quieting the mind.

Four months after the sixth graders learned TM, researchers scored them and the nonmeditating students on several scales, including loneliness, emotional competence, self-esteem, positive affectivity, anxiety, and aggression. The meditators scored higher in the areas of emotional competence, self-esteem, and positive affectivity, though there was no significant difference between the groups in the other areas.

The Nataki Talibah pupils were actually taught to meditate as part of the school curriculum before the research began. Then Rita Benn, lead researcher and director of education at the Integrative Medicine Program at UM’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Center, evaluated them. While the study doesn’t provide conclusive evidence of TM’s effects on every one of its practitioners, Benn says it does suggest that TM is good for emotional development in early adolescent African American children.

Benn isn’t planning to assess meditation’s influence on overall academic achievement. But she would like to investigate other forms of meditation and yoga to see if they are helpful to children. Meanwhile, Pitt confirms the all-important anecdotal info that after learning to meditate, “many of the students felt their studies were better.”

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Education Ministry denies plan for TM in schools (Newsday Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago)

Newsday, Trinidad: The [Trinidad and Tobago] Education Ministry yesterday denied any plan to introduce Transcendental Meditation (TM) into schools, as was being reported in some media claiming TM would soon be introduced into the school’s curriculum. Responding to queries by various persons, the Ministry yesterday issued a release advising of its policy when introducing new elements into the school curriculum. “The process is one of consultation, research and investigation. No one and no organisation has approached the Ministry of Education with respect to the introduction of Transcendental Meditation techniques in schools,” the release stated.

The ministry admitted to responding to an invitation last week from the TT Peace Government to attend a seminar with the theme — “The Brain Campaign — Substance Abuse and the Brain” in which TM was discussed. However, at no time during the seminar did the ministry’s representatives indicate an acceptance of this approach, claimed the ministry. The use of TM has been offered as an alternative to reducing crime, substance abuse, illiteracy and violence which is currently plaguing society. The suggestion was proffered by leader of the TT Peace Government, David Lee Sheng Tin, and leading neuroscientist, educator and researcher into the neurobiology of the human brain development and potential, Dr Alarik Arenander. The TT Peace Government is a non-religious, non-political organisation.

TM, which has been practiced in the Western world for over 50 years, is an ancient Asian form of meditation which has been scientifically proven to increase a person’s mental, emotional and physical health. TM is being used in 108 countries around the world, and at all levels of society, both governmental and non-governmental. Speaking with Newsday, Communications Specialist at the Ministry of Education, Mervyn Crichlow said while the invitation extended by the TT Peace Government had been accepted, at no time did ministry representatives indicate that TM would be introduced into schools.

When contacted for a comment on the issue of TM, President of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), Zena Ramatali said she was unable to comment, as their General Council had not yet met to obtain a consensus from its entire membership. First Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association, Sally Siriram told Newsday she fully endorsed remarks by TTUTA President Trevor Oliver to support any initiative which helped to curb the violence and indiscipline in schools. She said TTUTA would support any intervention or strategy which can be used to impact on students in a positive manner.

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Heavenly Mountain’s developer cuts ties with group (Winston-Salem Journal, North Carolina)

Monte Mitchell, Winston-Salem Journal: A developer of the more than 7,000 acre Heavenly Mountain resort in southeastern Watauga County says he is severing ties with the Transcendental Meditation movement and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The Maharishi Spiritual Center of America has separate campuses for men and women at Heavenly Mountain.

Hundreds of Transcendental Meditation practitioners meditate there in opulent surroundings.

David Kaplan used to be one of them, but he said in a letter dated last Friday and released this week that he was kicked out of the movement in 1999 after getting married.

That prompted him and his twin brother Earl Kaplan, the president of the Spiritual Center of America, to investigate the maharishi and the TM organization.

“Due to our findings, I can no longer support or be associated with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his ideas, his knowledge, or any of this organizations, in any way whatsoever,” he wrote.

Kaplan sent out two almost-identical letters, one to business associates of Heavenly Mountain and one to TM practitioners.

To both groups, he said he is not writing to share what he has learned about the maharishi.

“But I will say what I have found out is shocking, and because of what I have learned I feel very sorry for you,” he wrote to the TM practitioners.

Kaplan said he has donated tens of millions of dollars and practiced a form of TM for hours a day for 25 years.

In 1999, he got so sick he nearly died, he said. When he recovered, he voluntarily left the Purusha TM program for single men and got married.

“For that I was kicked out of the movement,” he wrote.

A phone message left yesterday at the Spiritual Center of America was not returned.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a former Hindu monk, drew from ancient Eastern techniques of meditation as he began the TM movement in 1958. He gained worldwide fame in the 1960s when the Beatles visited with him and practiced TM.

David Kaplan owns the biggest chunk of private property in Watauga County. He started Heavenly Mountain in 1993, putting in $8 million of his own money, the head accountant at the Spiritual Center said in a 1998 Winston-Salem Journal story.

All told, the Heavenly Mountain developers spent $60 million buying the property and developing the resort and spiritual center up to that point, the accountant said.

In addition to the 500-acre nonprofit Spiritual Center of America, Heavenly Mountain includes 1,000 acres of for-profit development of private lots and houses. About 30 houses have been built there so far.

Sales of lots and houses have helped pay for the Spiritual Center of America.

Heavenly Mountain includes an additional 5,800 acres. A championship golf course designed by Scott Miller is being developed on part of that property.

A spokeswoman for David Kaplan said that he did not wish to comment further right now but that he sees the development moving away from its spiritual roots.

During the past year, property owners have filed lawsuits against the Kaplans, saying that the changes violate the reasons they came there in the first place.

The Web site of the Maharishi Spiritual Center of America says that the center is creating a reality of the age-old dream of a mythical Shangri-la and a Garden of Eden, where life is ideal and perfection reigns supreme.

Practitioners of TM seek bliss and peace through levitation, or yogic flying, and through repeating a mantra in meditation aimed at creating a state of deep relaxation. That feeling of bliss is an unconditional happiness and joy that wells up spontaneously from within and begins to pervade every moment of the day, according to the Web site.

In May 2003, the N.C. Supreme Court reversed the N.C. Court of Appeals, and upheld a ruling by Watauga County tax officials that denied the Maharishi Spiritual Center of America tax-exempt status as an educational, scientific or charitable organization.

County tax administrators said that, if the lower court’s decision had stood, Watauga County would have had to return more than $1 million in taxes and interest the center paid for the tax years 1999 through 2002.

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Future of Heavenly Mountain disputed (Watauga Democrat, North Carolina)

Jason Reagan, Watauga Democrat: The man who, along with his twin brother, owns most of the land at Heavenly Mountain Resort, has disavowed the spiritual movement that helped establish the retreat.

David Kaplan, who owns the largest privately-owned land tract in Watauga County, publicly repudiated the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in a letter released Tuesday to Heavenly Mountain residents and the public.

In the letter, Kaplan said he and his brother, Earl, investigated Maharishi and the TM movement closely, and subsequently could “no longer support or be associated with Maharishi, his ideas, his knowledge or any of his organizations in any way whatsoever.”

“I am not involved in the TM movement or in any of Maharishi organizations in any way and have nothing to do with his teaching,” he repeated in the letter.

Heavenly Mountain, located east of Boone overlooking the Triplett community, has been synonymous with Maharishi’s technique of meditation since its establishment in 1996.

The tract, mostly owned by David Kaplan, is divided into two areas. The Heavenly Mountain Resort is a for-profit venture that develops and markets homesites. Currently, about 30 homes are located in the development as well as a community center and meditation hall. A landowner, who asked not to be identified, said most landowners are TM practitioners.

Amid the 7,000-acre tract sits the non-profit Spiritual Center of America.

According to its Web site, the center “was established to bring fulfillment to the spiritual and material aspirations of all Americans through Maharishi Vedic Science and Technology” and is said to be a study of consciousness, based on classical Indian Vedic literature.

Split into two campuses for men and women, the center has provided a place for TM adherents to live and practice the technique. Although the center is not owned by the Kaplans, Earl Kaplan is listed as its board chairman and president. Currently, the center still houses TM adherents and is presumably still teaching TM classes (the center’s Web site actively advocates TM classes and Maharishi’s teachings).

The center’s attempt to garner tax-exempt status as an educational institution failed before the N.C. Supreme Court in May 2003. The center had sought county tax exemption since 1997 on property valued at more than $6 million.

The Kaplan brothers initially bought 1,100 acres of forest and farm land, eventually buying a total of 7,000 acres. Developers later sold some of the land as homesites and several TM practitioners bought lots. Currently, 5,800 acres are undeveloped.

After reading Kaplan’s letter, a group of Heavenly Mountain homeowners issued an e-mail statement emphasizing their continued support and practice of the technique.

“It is important to remember that the benefits of the TM program have been published in hundreds of studies reported in major medical journals all over the world. What has brought people here is the opportunity to practice those programs and to participate in a development which is dedicated to peace, harmony, and personal development.”

“Each family has made a large investment in the community here and feels the promises made to them should be honored, namely, that this would be a permanent home for the TM programs and knowledge. We expect to get what we paid for,” the statement continued. Last fall, dozens of Heavenly Mountain residents sued David Kaplan, claiming the developer breached his fiduciary duty and required potential land buyers to donate to the TM movement “as a condition to building a home in Heavenly Mountain.”

The suit accuses Kaplan of “endangering the tax status of the center and thereby acting contrary to its well-being by causing it to engage in private benefit transactions,” in alleged violation of the federal tax code.

The property owners asked the court to appoint a receiver for the center and require an “accounting of all funds contributed directly or indirectly to the Spiritual Center, including loan guarantees and contributions that the individual defendants caused to be made.”

Superior Judge Ronald K. Payne heard a motion to dismiss the case in March and has taken the motion under advisement with no date set for a hearing.

Kaplan sees the development eventually moving away from its spiritual roots.

“I hope Heavenly Mountain becomes a normal development not a TM development,” Kaplan said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding he plans to develop a Scott Miller-designed championship golf course on his property.

What is TM?

Practitioners of Transcendental Meditation define TM as a technique that aids relaxation, relieves stress and provides physical and mental energy.

Indian mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made headlines in the 1960s after teaching The Beatles meditation techniques.

His association with the group helped popularize TM. By the early 1970s, meditation centers had spread across the globe.

Bob Roth, a spokesman for the movement, said there are an estimated 5 million people who have practiced TM.

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Meditation controversy (The Journal News, New York)

Joy Victory, The Journal News: It seems harmless enough: With eyes closed, you sit upright in a quiet room and mentally repeat a word for 10 to 20 minutes – a technique known as Transcendental Meditation. When young children practice it twice a day, according to research provided by the national Committee for Stress-Free Schools, it decreases their blood pressure, improves their grades and lowers their stress levels.

Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is just one of many forms of meditation, a process in which a person narrowly focuses his attention to clear the mind. But some worry that the committee’s claims about TM’s benefits are overblown. Most of the research on TM is skewed toward positive results, critics say, and the TM movement has religious overtones.

Still, at least four schools in the United States have implemented TM into their curriculum, and the committee has been aggressively promoting its program in major cities, including New York City.

In March, the committee held a conference on TM for New York-area school administrators. School-age children demonstrated the technique and researchers shared study results. So far, only private or charter schools are using TM, according to Joseph Boxerman, a TM teacher and media liaison for the committee.

“We will go where we’re welcome,” says Boxerman, who says the school program would be offered free of charge. “It’s a new, emerging trend that’s still below the radar.”

However, outspoken ex-members of the TM movement and other critics would like it to stay that way. They say the mantra, the word that is repeated silently, is a Hindu-based word, and therefore a possible violation of the separation of church and state if used in a school setting. TM critics also are skeptical of the committee’s research about the benefits of TM, which they say is rarely conducted by independent researchers.

“To hear them speak about this, you would think this is the greatest thing since ice cream,” says Barry Markovsky, a researcher of social networks and sociology department head at the University of South Carolina. “It’s a way to foist an actual religion onto unknowing people and a way to turn a profit.”

Committee’s origins

The committee is an offshoot of the Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of TM for all ages. There are dozens of similar groups around the world, funded by followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (also known as “His Holiness”), an Indian mystic who became famous in the 1960s after teaching The Beatles to meditate.

This celebrity connection popularized Mahesh and TM, and by the early 1970s, TM centers had sprung up across the world. Over the years, hundreds of groups influenced by Mahesh’s teachings have taught the same technique, under names like the Spiritual Regeneration Movement and later as the more academic-sounding Science of Creative Intelligence.

Now Mahesh and his supporters have a virtual empire of nonprofit TM teaching centers, real-estate ventures and even accredited universities, such as the Maharishi University of Management in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa (residents of the city recently approved the name through a vote). There are an estimated 5 million people worldwide who have learned TM, says Bob Roth, a spokesman for the movement.

TM does not come cheap: It costs $2,500 to learn the technique from a qualified teacher, Roth says. That money does not go to Mahesh, however, because he is a monk and lives in poverty, Roth says. Instead, the earnings help create nonprofit centers owned by his supporters.

The inner workings of the various organizations and centers aren’t readily disclosed, and what a person learns during TM training is kept private, Boxerman says.

“The teaching process is a one-to-one experience; that’s the reason we don’t discuss it or publish it in book form,” Boxerman says. “If people try it themselves, they don’t have the experience to know what to do under different circumstances.”

‘Effortless technique’

Boxerman defines TM as “a simple, natural and effortless technique that allows the attention to automatically settle to more subtle levels of the thinking process.”

The movement’s main Web site,, describes it as “the single most effective meditation technique available for gaining deep relaxation, eliminating stress, promoting health, increasing creativity and intelligence, and attaining inner happiness and fulfillment.”

Scientifically, the many forms of meditation, including TM, are thought to elicit a physical sense of relaxation brought about by a calm state of mind, also known as the body’s “relaxation response,” a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School and author of the bestselling book “The Relaxation Response.”

By slowly repeating a word or activity for 10 to 20 minutes, soothing hormones and other chemicals are released by the body, making a person feel rested, according to research by Benson.

While Benson’s method for learning the relaxation response is free to anyone with Web access (, followers of Transcendental Meditation must pay for training from a TM teacher or center. (Benson declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Of TM’s many benefits, the Committee for Stress-Free Schools says that stress relief would be the most useful for students, thereby potentially curbing “poor academic achievement, substance abuse, apathy, depression, school violence and teacher burnout,” according to materials provided by the committee.

In a school setting, TM is taught individually, although students do meditate together in large groups. The committee plans to use donated money to teach TM at no cost to taxpayers, but already the National Institutes of Health has given them close to $20 million to study TM in mostly minority communities.

The group also has received more than $100,000 from DaimlerChrysler for the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse, a Detroit charter school that has used Transcendental Meditation since 1997. Besides Talibah, the other schools using TM are in Silver Spring, Md., and Washington, D.C., and at an elementary school on the campus of the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.

The Research

The Talibah school’s TM program was studied by University of Michigan psychologist Rita Benn, who researches alternative medical therapies. She compared the Talibah students, who meditate twice a day, to a group of similarly-aged students who didn’t meditate. From that, she concluded that TM helped the Talibah students with self-esteem, stress management, depression and anxiety.

However, Benn began her research after the students were already practicing TM, so it’s only possible to conclude that the children were in better mental health than the other group, and not necessarily because of TM.

“Our study is just one small study. We need more studies with larger numbers that show its value before widespread implementation should occur,” Benn said. “Again, that being said, most programs are implemented in schools without solid research behind them.”

The committee, however, feels Benn’s study and other TM research on TM proves its value in schools. The committee’s literature states there are more than 500 studies on TM by “200 independent research institutions worldwide.”

But a large-scale literature review published in 2003 in The Middle European Journal of Medicine found that of 700 studies on TM spanning 40 years, only 10 were conducted in the clinical tradition of using strict control groups, randomization and placebos. Of those 10, four of the studies recruited subjects who had already shown an interest in TM.

“My review concludes it seems that there is a strong placebo effect going on which probably works through the expectations being set up,” responded Peter Canter via e-mail. He is a researcher from the Peninsula Medical School of the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

The review also stated that many of the authors of the TM studies were connected to one of Mahesh’s universities.

“In effect, they gatekeep who can and who cannot do research on TM,” Canter says.

Yogic flying

For sure, some of Mahesh’s own strange claims have hurt his agenda. In the ’70s, he said meditators could become enlightened enough to float off the ground, in a trance. He dubbed this “yogic flying” and released photos showing meditators aloft. It was soon exposed that the meditators were hopping, not flying.

He also says that if enough meditators meditate or “fly” together, it can affect world events. In 1988, the group issued a press release saying that meditators in Texas were able to affect the path of Hurricane Gilbert, a powerful storm predicted to cause major damage that ended up hitting rural areas of the Gulf Coast.

Followers of TM have dubbed this the “Maharishi Effect,” in which minds meditating together can have an effect on “global consciousness.” The group has built “peace palaces” around the world where they can meditate collectively.

Dr. Gary Kaplan, a transcendental meditator and director of clinical neurophysiology at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, says research has proven the Maharishi Effect to be possible.

“It’s difficult for the public in general and the scientific community to grasp these concepts because they are not common in the rest of scientific literature,” Kaplan says. “This whole idea of group and environmental effect, it’s been repeated a number of times (in studies.)”

That claim irks skeptics like Markovsky, the sociology researcher at University of South Carolina, who spoke out publicly against the group when he was a professor at the University of Iowa.

“These are obviously cases of selective evidence,” he says, explaining that the group typically takes credit for something when the result is positive. “What bothers me more than anything is the way they use their research as a way to get funding to train new members who become part of the movement.”
Stress relief

It’s the simple stress-reducing effects that the New York committee is primarily interested in, says Sally Rosenfeld, chairwoman of Stress-Free Schools in Westchester and a TM teacher.

She says it is a mental technique, and nothing more.

“What happens when you meditate is the mind quiets or settles down … when the mind settles, the body settles. We call that rest; it’s a very, very deep rest,” Rosenfeld says. “Once that stress is gone, of course what happens is one’s own potential blossoms forth.”

“As life gets more and more stressful, with kids, it’s very hard for them,” Rosenfeld says. “There’s a lot of fear everywhere & in the schools, in the cities. It has gotten completely out of hand. And so many of these young students are on heavy medication (such as antidepressants or Ritalin) and really suffering. … So I think we all decided we would try to get together to get some attention on this subject.”

The power of TM is evident in the Detroit students, she says, which inspired the committee to spread their effort to New York.

About 70 people attended the March educators’ conference on TM in Manhattan, says Janet Hoffman, who heads the New York Committee for Stress-Free Schools. She wouldn’t disclose any names of school administrators in this area that indicated an interest in the TM program.

Hoffman, a TM teacher, says she watched a video of the Detroit students meditating and was amazed.

“When you have 160 kids in a gym, it’s a recipe for disaster,” she says. “But they go in, take their seats, and there’s silence. It’s tangible. It’s palpable.”

Croton-Harmon schools Superintendent Marjorie Castro doubts the program will garner much interest. The district briefly offered yoga as a course, but it was pulled after parents raised concerns that exercises like the “prayer pose” had religious overtones.

“Children in public schools come from so many backgrounds, and that’s a wonderful thing. But you have to be very careful,” she says.

Rosenfeld points out that many activities are potentially religious, such as bowing before a karate teacher. It’s all a matter of perspective, she says, and she rarely hears complaints.

“We have had all sorts of people from different religions,” she says.

An entrepreneur

Cult expert Rick Ross, however, says parents should be extremely wary of the TM movement. The TM movement is cult-like, if not indeed a cult, especially in the way members tend to revere Mahesh, he says.

“The personality-driven nature of TM is what leads people to see it (as a cult),” says Ross, who runs the Rick Ross Institute, a Jersey City, N.J.-based nonprofit organization that studies cults and controversial groups. “People involved with the Maharishi have been so deeply devoted to him.”

While devotion is not inherently dangerous, Ross says, he points out that TM followers have donated millions of dollars to the movement.

“So many people felt that once The Beatles dismissed him (Mahesh), that he wandered off into obscurity,” Ross says. “That is anything but the truth. … He’s always coming up with something – peace bonds, peace palaces. He’s an entrepreneur.”

Ex-TM teacher Don Krieger left the group after his wife was concerned that it was interfering with their Jewish faith. He estimates he spent tens of thousands of dollars as a member attending TM sessions, retreats and teacher training.

He says the mantra is actually a Hindu word, usually the name of a god. (Boxerman refutes this and says it’s a meaningless word, although he couldn’t provide an example, since the mantra is always kept secret by teachers and practitioners.)

More disturbing, Krieger says, is the religious tone of the “induction ceremony” for new meditators.

“It’s a ceremony with incense, camphor and a candle. There’s offerings on a tray and a little altar with a picture of Mahesh’s master (Guru Dev),” says Krieger, who is a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh. “At the end, the teacher gets down on their knees and bows and invites the new meditators to get down on their knees. It’s an act of idolatry … For a religious person, that’s going to be upsetting.”

But many people don’t object, Krieger says. Of the 400 or so people he taught, only two refused to kneel and bow to the picture, he says.

“Only a small percentage will stick with it, but they’re really stuck,” he says. “When you hear the lectures, they give you a whole laundry list of what it does…. If you have any fears, they’re going to get evoked by that lecture. You think, ‘What a relief! My health will be perfect.’ ”
Religious undertones

Bob Roth, a TM spokesman, denied that TM is in any way religious.

“I find people who don’t practice TM tell me that what I’m doing is religious,” Roth says. “They say it has roots in Hinduism. It predates that.”

Ex-member Joe Kellett, who related the same indoctrination process as Krieger, said leaders of the movement are able to recruit new members because the teachings and practice are essentially forms of hypnotism and self-hypnotism.

“Basically, the reason you become relaxed is because you were given a suggestion to be relaxed. You’re in a trance, and if you’re susceptible, you will carry out the suggestion,” says Kellett, a computer consultant in Castro Valley, Calif.

Kellett runs, a Web site critical of TM, which he hopes will explain the unknown elements of the movement – like the side effects of TM – to people interested in learning the technique.

Kellett says some people are unable to fully come out of the trance after they meditate, leaving them groggy, tired and nauseous.

Krieger knows this firsthand. After meditating, he says he often struggled to stay awake, although he was getting enough sleep. (He was meditating throughout the day, rather than just twice a day.)

“They tell you it’s your fault, or that you’re ‘unstressing.’ They’re not described as negative side effects,” Krieger says.

Based on his experience, Krieger is completely against TM in schools.

“I certainly wouldn’t recommend TM to anybody, or expose their children to it,” he says. “I consider the organization to be a predatory cult … although it’s not the most malignant cult.”

Boxerman fully denies the allegations that TM is a cult, and is skeptical of Web sites that criticize TM.

“It’s not a cult,” he says. “It’s a scientifically verifiable technique where you do the practice and get the results. (The critics) are people who have crazy ideas, and that’s their responsibility. I don’t myself keep track of the Web sites that are critical of TM, but whatever their makeup is, they have misunderstood what is being represented. There’s no question it’s not a cult.”

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Ministry considers ‘TM’ in schools (Trinidad and Tobago Express)

The use of transcendental meditation in schools is being considered by the Ministry of Education as a tool to deal with the problem of troubled and under-performing students.

Steve Williams, supervisor, Guidance Officer Unit, Ministry of Education, speaking yesterday at the “Improve the Brain Campaign” held by the Trinidad and Tobago Peace Government at the Hilton Trinidad, said that a presentation on the subject would be made on Monday to teachers and principals in a move “to open up their eyes” to the benefits of meditation.

The seminar, which was held in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, was geared towards developing the total brain function and using this as the key to consciousness-based education.

Dr Richard Thompson, Minister of Education of the Trinidad and Tobago Peace Government, said he has seen the effect this technology (transcendental meditation) has had “on improving self-confidence, social interaction and academic performance”.

Dr Alarik Arenander, director, Brain Research Institute, Iowa, United States of America, in delivering the feature presentation, said it would not matter if students were given the best facilities “if they are not awake”.

Arenander, who has 35 years of brain research experience, said if 300 students were exposed to transcendental meditation for three to six months, he believed they would change their entire school and that this change would eventually have an impact on the nation as a whole.

Trevor Oliver, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association, said that while he was not aware of the consideration being given to the use of transcendental meditation, “anything dealing with prayer and meditation” being implemented in the schools would be a positive thing.

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Proponents want schools to introduce meditation (Access North Georgia)

A group of people who practice Transcendental Meditation want officials to consider introducing the technique into Lexington’s public schools.

At a news conference Tuesday, Janet Smith, chairwoman of the Committee for Successful, Stress-Free Schools, cited studies about the benefits of Transcendental Meditation, including one conducted in schools in Augusta, Ga.

In that study, black students who meditated 15 minutes at school and 15 minutes at home for several months had fewer discipline problems and absences than a control group, and lower blood pressure.

Vernon Barnes, a researcher at the Medical College of Georgia who was the primary author of the study, said in a telephone interview from Georgia that blacks were chosen because they tend to have more high blood pressure problems.

Smith said the committee has started making preliminary contacts with Fayette County school officials but declined to identify the officials.

Karen Acar, a spokeswoman for Fayette County schools, said she had not heard of the committee. She referred questions to another official, who could not be reached for comment.

Schools in Augusta were closed Tuesday for spring break, and officials there could not be reached for comment. But Superintendent Charles Larke was identified by the Augusta Chronicle last week as a key supporter of the studies.

Several people attended the news conference and sang the praises of TM and its chief practitioner, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

“One thing the maharishi wanted people to know is about the scientific aspects of TM, because too many people think it’s a religion,” said Richard Knittel, a retired chiropractor who lives in Versailles.

“I wouldn’t want to live without it,” he said.

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