How to do Transcendental Meditation (TM) and my experience doing it- 10 mins
My journey with Transcendental Meditation
I have been meditating for close to 4-5 years now. In that journey - I’ve experimented with several techniques - guided meditation (using apps such as Headspace, Calm and Aware), and unguided meditations (Vipassana, ambient sounds, etc). However, I just wasn’t able to find a rhythm and keep up the habit. That’s when I discovered Transcendental Meditation.
It’s been close to 2 years since I got into TM and it’s the longest meditation technique that has stuck with me. I still remember my first week experimenting with TM and feeling that sense of innate calm and focus. It’s been my go-to technique to get a recharge.
I wanted to share my personal experience and knowledge of T.M. in the hopes that you may have that you try it for yourself and experience a technique that may be as beneficial to you as it has been to me.
What does Transcendental Meditation mean?
In short - Transcendental Meditation is an unguided meditation practice that is performed by repeating a mantra silently for 15-20 minutes, twice a day.
Origins of TM
The TM meditation technique was created by an Indian Yogi - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
His goal with TM was for practitioners to achieve a “fourth major state of consciousness”. This fourth state is referred to in Maharishi’s Vedic psychology as transcendental consciousness (Maharishi, 1969; Orme-Johnson,1988) because it is said to transcend or be discontinuous with the three ordinary states of waking, dreaming, and sleep, as typically described conceptually and physiologically.
What are Transcendental Meditation Mantras?
So what are those mantras we spoke of before? Well, the word mantra translates to ‘mind vehicle’ is derived from Sanskrit: man = mind, tra = vehicle. For the TM technique - they are meaning-less sounds. These mantras hold value in the quality of the sound of the mantra rather than any special meaning.
Why should you try Transcendental Meditation
Plain simply - Transcendental Meditation is the easiest form of meditation.
A lot of beginners of meditation are advised to do guided meditation as their intro to meditation. Personally, I tried numerous apps (Headspace, Aware, Ten Percent, etc) and while they’re helpful to understand the practice - they’re not as good as having control of your meditation at your own pace. Tm requires no concentration, no control of the mind, and no mental monitoring. These aspects of TM make it perfect for beginners.
Moreover, TM can be performed anywhere - while you’re waiting in line, at busy airports, etc. All you need is your mantra. No phone, no apps, no internet.
Lastly, there’s a lot of research that supports that TM greatly helps in reducing stress, anxiety here
How to do TM?
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to give TM a shot, let’s go over how you can get to do the practice by yourself.
First, let’s tackle this ‘mantra’ -
How can you choose a mantra?
The way the TM technique was made popular around the world was through signing up for very expensive courses with teachers that guide you in choosing a mantra for your meditation.
In my opinion, it’s not required for you to sign up for a course that provides you with this mantra. You can start with whatever word that comes to the mind that is meaningless to you, but one that you feel sounds nice.
For some time now, the list of official mantras have been floating over the internet, and in case you were interested in picking one of these I’ve added an image below. These TM mantras are listed by age -
Transcendental Meditation mantras list
Understanding the practice
As mentioned earlier, the practice of T.M. requires two 15-20 minute periods per day.
For the first practice, you should ideally plan to do this right after you wake-up in the morning. Resist that cup of coffee when you wake up and perform your meditation before. You want to get into your meditation practice with a calm state of mind. Ideally, you should also be on an empty stomach.
For the second practice in the day, choose anytime between noon and 7 p.m. Personally, I’ve used T.M. as an energy boost in my afternoons. Its benefits are as good as a power nap if not better. Again you don’t want to do the practice right after lunch. Let your food digest and choose a time that works best for you. With the busy schedules we all have it can be hard to stick to the afternoon habit. What helps me is blocking time on my calendar and moving it around meetings scheduled.
Since this is an unguided meditation where you’re not using an app on your phone - how do you know when your meditation practice is over? Of course, there is the setting of an alarm on your phone for 20 minutes. However, hearing an alarm at the end of your T.M. practice can often be jarring to the mind and body. What you want to do is train your internal clock as you practice more and more. Start with an alarm clock, perhaps even check the time in the middle of the practice if you want to, but slowly your internal clock will get trained to know when your 15-20 minutes are up.
How to do Transcendental Meditation
Now, let’s get into doing the practice. I’ll run through a step-by-step procedure -
1) Find a comfortable place to sit. Let your backrest against the chair or wall, but let your head be free. Your legs can be crossed or stretched depending on how comfortable you are. 2) Take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Do this about 2-3 times. 3) For the next 1-2 minutes - focus on all your senses. Hear all the sounds surrounding you. Move on to focus on the subtle smells that surround you. Next, focus on your sense of taste. The key is to make the transition to the mantra as seamless as possible. 4) Let the mantra bubble up from the back of your brain effortlessly. The mantra is not supposed to be spoken out loudly, just repeated in your mind at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. Do this for the next 15-17 minutes. 5) As mentioned earlier, you can start with an alarm clock initially but your goal should be to let go of the alarm clock and use your internal clock to gradually come out of the practice.
The thinking behind most people is that their mind needs to be empty during meditation - that’s how they know they’re doing their meditation ‘right’. However, try to think of meditation as a mental exercise for your brain. Your brain will have random thoughts come in during your practice, but train it to get back to your mantra. The more you train it, the better your ability to focus becomes.
Remember you don’t need to be perfect with this practice. Just doing it every day is what matters. As you get deep into the practice of T.M., you stop need an alarm for when 15 minutes is up.
What you can expect from doing T.M.
If you’re new to the meditation practice, you will realize that often your mind gets flooded with many thoughts during meditation practice. Don’t worry about them. Think of this as a cleaning-of-the-mind practice.
Sometimes it might feel that you have gotten carried away with a thought train for a long time- that’s completely okay. Remember, your goal is not to have a perfectly clear state. Your goal is simply to get back to the mantra as often as you can.
Mistakes to avoid when doing T.M.
The following are the key mistakes to avoid as you begin your T.M. practice -
Choosing a mantra that triggers thoughts
As mentioned previously, choose a mantra that doesn’t have a meaning. But say - you selected one and noticed in your early practices that the mantra is triggering other thoughts. In that case, choose another one. You’ll know you have the right one when your thoughts are being triggered not by the mantra.
Using meditation for contemplation
In our busy schedules, we often don’t get time to contemplate in the day. When I started the practice, I used my meditation practice time as a time to think about ideas or things that were bothering me. I realized soon that I wasn’t going anywhere with my goal to attain a focused and calm mind.
Don’t confuse meditation time with contemplation time. Take out additional minutes in your day to go out for a walk or however else you think works best to introspect and reflect on your day. It will be worth the time you spend on this and your meditation practice.
Too focused on attaining Zen
This is the most common and basic mistake that I hear from meditation beginners. “I’m not very good at meditation because my mind is always too busy.”
Well, reemphasizing my point earlier - your goal is not to attain some level of bliss. The harder you try to attain this, the further away you’ll get from it.
So give yourself room to be sloppy with your practice. Be nice to yourself. And realize that this practice is all about getting back to the mantra.
My experience with Transcendental Meditation
First few days
- When I started T.M. I stuck to doing the practice only once a day. I would do it immediately after waking up.
- And since I started feeling really good after my morning practice, I tried to squeeze one at work around 2-3 pm. I would try to sit in the nice afternoon sun and just mediate there with an alarm of 15 minutes.
Few weeks of training
- I stopped using an alarm clock about 10-15 days into my practice.
- I had to also switch my mantra up because I made the mistake of choosing a mantra that had a meaning. (not having read into T.M. then)
- Choosing a mantra to a meaningless one was a task and so I experimented with a couple and finally settled on one that ‘felt better’.
- T.M. is still my go-to technique anytime I feel that I need my mind to rest and feel energized.
- I’ve combined T.M. with a breath-work practice. More on that in another post.
Here I just wanted to share a few resources that I found helpful when getting into T.M. -
Apps and Resources for getting started
- Insight Timer - Intro to Transcendental Meditation - This is a free app and I highly recommend getting started with this.
- Stress Less, Accomplish More Meditation for Extraordinary Performance - Emily Fletcher - This book is a good intro into a technique called the Z-technique that’s very similar to T.M.
You can follow me on Twitter as I continue to document my journey.