The Independent: Transcendental Meditation: Were the hippies right all along?

Transcendental Meditation: Were the hippies right all along?

For years, it has been ridiculed as a 1960s embarrassment. Now Transcendental Meditation is back in a big way. So were those hippies on to something all along?

By Laura Tennant
Sunday, 10 July 2011

Remember M-People’s 1995 Top 10 hit instructing you to “search for the hero inside yourself”? A decade-and-a-half on, it seems that things have changed – these days, it’s not so much a hero as a guru that many of us are hoping to internalise. For strange as it may sound, among those of us who seek to surf the zeitgeist, the most fashionable thinker of 2011 may turn out to be Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement – and the fact that he passed to a better place in 2008 doesn’t appear to have discouraged us one bit.

TM, as its followers call it, is rapidly moving from kooky margin to respectable mainstream thanks largely to a burgeoning body of scientific research which indicates that regular meditators can expect to enjoy striking reductions in heart attack, stroke and early mortality (as much as 47 per cent, according to one study). And the apparent benefits don’t stop there: according k to a pilot study just published in the US journal Military Medicine, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars showed a 50 per cent reduction in their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after eight weeks of TM.

Meanwhile, educational establishments which introduce a “quiet time programme” – as did Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco – report drops in fights and suspensions, increased attendance and improvements in exam results. In this country, the Maharishi School in Ormskirk, Lancashire, gets glowing reports from Ofsted and achieves exceptional academic results.

An estimated four million people now practise TM globally – 20 minutes twice daily, as per the Maharishi’s prescription – many of them over the course of many decades, and there are some famous, and rather surprising, names on the list. Clint Eastwood, for example, has been doing it for 40 years, a fact he vouchsafed via video link at a fund-raising dinner for the David Lynch Foundation, an organisation set up by the film-maker to teach TM to school children, soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress, the homeless and convicted prisoners. Other celebrity adherents include Paul McCartney, Russell Brand, Martin Scorsese, Ringo Starr, Mary Tyler Moore, Laura Dern and Moby.

TM reaches far into the rational and sceptical world, too; the American philosopher Daniel Dennett does it, as does Dr Jonathan Rowson, head of the Social Brain project at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and a chess grandmaster (more from them later). Now a psychiatrist with 30 years’ clinical experience, Dr Norman Rosenthal has written a book, Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation, which gathers all the available evidence for TM and urges healthcare professionals to offer it to patients suffering from mental illnesses ranging from mild depression to bipolar disorder.

While the research on the health benefits of TM is fascinating, there’s another, more compelling, reason why meditation is in the air just now. Done consistently, it seems to offer some sort of corrective to modernity, a respite from anxiety and the ability to really, truly relax, without chemical assistance; a break from our constant, restless and often doomed aspirations to be thinner, richer and more popular on Facebook; the welcome discovery that happiness is to be found not in retail therapy, but within.

Those spiritual cravings explain why Rosenthal’s book is now riding high at number 14 on America’s Publishers Weekly non-fiction list. And according to TM UK’s official representative, David Hughes, there’s a similar surge of interest on this side of the Atlantic; figures are vague, but he reports that “there’s definitely an ongoing increase month by month” to the estimated 200,000 people who have learnt TM in the UK since 1960.

I first began to ponder the notion of meditation while writing a piece on solitude. While aloneness might not be a state that comes naturally to most humans, without it, mental-health experts believe, it is impossible to be creative or even really to know oneself. It was the sheerest coincidence that on the day I contacted TM’s UK website they were preparing for Dr Rosenthal’s press conference.

Click on this link to read the rest of the article:

According to David Hughes, TM is a not-for-profit, charitable and educational foundation which, once it has paid its teachers and covered its costs, ploughs its revenue back into outreach programmes in the developing world. It is certainly not shy about proselytising; but if its impact on public health is as great as Dr Rosenthal believes, one could argue it has a moral responsibility to spread its message. As for me, I’m seriously considering introducing my children to a stress- and anxiety-busting daily ritual that seems to do no harm and may well do a great deal of good.

For more information on the movement, visit


A nicely edited version of this article was posted Tues Jul 12, 2011 in the Times of Oman: In search of a quiet time.

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2 Responses to “The Independent: Transcendental Meditation: Were the hippies right all along?”

  1. Ellen Finkelstein Says:

    I started TM in 1971 and was definitely influenced by the Beatles starting.


  2. Lucy Says:

    I began in 1976 and stopped when my life got better, in every way. It went down hill from there and have recently rediscovered it 3 years ago. It has made a hugh difference in every aspect of my life, although I still have my struggles, I’m much better able to deal with them. I highly recommend to all and there is a hugh potential for further development!


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