What do David Lynch, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul McCartney, Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah have in common? (Besides net worths in the $60M-$3B range?)
They all practice Transcendental Meditation.
The twice-a-day technique is touted as an effortless way to relieve stress, increase energy and improve heart health.
Which doesn't answer the more important question: How the hell's it work?
On Insight Timer, a popular meditation app that offers 10,531 free guided meditations, a search for Transcendental Meditation brings up nothing but two music tracks. YouTube, Google and other search engines are similarly void of clues. Books about it describe powerful effects, but zilch in the way of instruction. What gives?
To pull back the curtains, we spoke with Percilla Herrera, Director of the Center for Health and Wellness at the David Lynch Foundation — a TM (as it’s commonly abbreviated) nonprofit established by the auteur that offers free classes to underserved communities like veterans, inner-city children and survivors of sexual assault. (If you’ve been to Lynch’s Festival of Disruption, you’ve essentially donated to the foundation.)
But first things first: What is TM?
“Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a simple, effortless, and natural meditation technique,” says Herrera. “It’s practiced for 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes in the afternoon or evening. You can practice it anywhere — on a bus, train or plane — all while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It’s easy to learn and enjoyable to practice, and gives the body deep rest and relaxation while the mind settles down to a state of inner calm and wakefulness.”
While that sounds about par for the course as far as meditation goes, and the practice does trace its roots back thousands of years to India’s Vedic culture, TM was officially created and first taught in 1955, as chronicled in the book Transcendental Meditation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. If that name rings a bell, it’s most likely because of the group who took him on as their spiritual advisor: the Beatles.
So why can’t we learn TM off YouTube?
As Herrera notes, TM is only officially taught one-on-one through the organization’s certified teachers. In the U.S., that organization is the nonprofit Maharishi Foundation USA. Despite the esteemed status, what a quick Google search does bring up is skepticism (and worse) about this serenity-via-paywall.
“It’s important for people to learn from a certified TM teacher to ensure that they learn the correct practice. So much can be lost in translation, and that’s why we ask people to avoid trying to explain the technique,” says Herrera when asked about the exclusivity. “It’s really to maintain the integrity of the teaching. The course fee goes towards maintaining the local TM centers and allowing teachers like myself to do this full time.”
But Herrera is forthcoming with what the four-session course entails.
“The first day is one-on-one with their TM teacher. It’s in this session that the student learns TM,” she says. “They’re given a mantra, which is just a word or sound with no meaning, and then they’re taught how to use it properly. By the end of that first session, they’ve set up the foundation of correct practice. The three days that follow are to stabilize the correctness and provide further understanding of the mechanics and goal of the meditation.”
Moreover, David Lynch Foundation CEO Bob Roth describes TM as a silent, repetitive mantra meditation. Unlike stereotypes, there is no need to “clear the mind,” no supplemental belief system or religion, no lifestyle change, not even the need to believe that it will work.
“You can be 100% skeptical and the technique works just as well,” Roth says in a 20-minute introductory video that’s been viewed more than 1.5 million times.
Teachers are found via the TM website, which also includes pricing. While it fluctuates depending on your area, an introductory course generally starts around $380 for students, with those who make an HHI above $200K paying up to $960. That fee pays for the four sessions as well as free lifetime follow-ups at every TM center worldwide.
However, it needs to be said that while the TM organization is quick to extol the evidence-based science that validates their practice, it is more accurately promising rather than conclusive. On the flip side, for those averse to the pricetag, how much have you paid for gym memberships, personal training or a salt-water hot tub? Seinfeld has been practicing for roughly 45 years. At $960, that comes out to $21.33 a year, or less than a monthly Planet Fitness plan.
Speaking of Jerry, if you’re at all interested in what your idols have to say about it, here are a few of their experiences:
Jerry Seinfeld: “What I would do [when working on Seinfeld] is every day when everyone would have lunch, I would do TM. And then we’d go back to work and then I would eat while I was working because I missed lunch, but that is how I survived the nine years. It was that 20 minutes in the middle of the day [that] would save me.”
David Lynch: “So many illnesses are called stress-related illness and stress can kill you. Look at what post-traumatic stress does to people. Look at vets ... Stress can shut down so much in a human being. If you want to get rid of it, you transcend every day.”
David Letterman: “Think of it as diving into a lake, a pool of water. It doesn’t make any difference how deep you go, you’re still going to get wet. So even if you think your meditation is superficial and not deep and as quiet and as still as you would like it, you’re still getting [the benefits].”
If that sounds like one celebrity breakdown away from Scientology, we’re not here to judge. You can always try out one of the 323 mantra meditations on Insight Timer.
They’re free, after all.
Main photo by Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images