Transcendental meditation is a type of meditation during which a person repeats a Sanskrit mantra, or saying, in their mind. It is a secular practice that requires a person to take lessons from an instructor.
The Hindu monk Swami Brahmananda Saraswati first popularized transcendental meditation in the United States through his follower, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Some studies suggest that transcendental meditation may ease stress, reduce anxiety, and help with professional challenges, such as compassion fatigue and low resilience.
However, these benefits are not unique to transcendental meditation.
In this article, we provide more detail on transcendental meditation, including the benefits and risks and how it compares with other types of meditation. We also explain how beginners can get started with this practice.
Meditation is a practice that typically involves sitting quietly for some time to benefit the mind, spirit, body, or all of these. The method and purpose of meditation can vary depending on the type someone practices.
In transcendental meditation, the purpose is to reach a state of peace or “pure consciousness.” It involves someone saying a mantra, which is a saying that has a special significance to them, repeatedly in their head. The traditional language for this mantra is Sanskrit.
In the mid-20th century, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, also known as Guru Dev, began promoting transcendental meditation. He drew upon Hindu principles to create a nonreligious alternative to religious meditative practices.
In the U.S., his disciple Maharishi Mahesh Yogi promoted transcendental meditation as part of his Spiritual Regeneration Movement.
Transcendental meditation involves silently repeating a Sanskrit mantra to oneself for brief periods on a regular basis. Usually, a person will do this twice a day.
Transcendental Meditation, the organization that teaches the practice, says that a person must learn through a teacher. It charges a fee to teach the practice, and a meditation teacher provides the mantra.
This type of meditation does not require special equipment, breathing, or movement. Unlike other types of meditation, it also does not require someone to try to control or monitor their thoughts. They simply focus on the mantra.
A person does not have to have any specific belief system or lifestyle to practice transcendental meditation. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people adopt other practices alongside it, such as Ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine.
Many studies look at the benefits of meditation in general, but few specifically focus on transcendental meditation.
The research looking at meditation more generally suggests that some of the potential benefits
- reduced anxiety and stress
- lower blood pressure
- increased ability to tolerate pain
- help with stopping smoking
Transcendental Meditation argues that transcendental meditation offers several key benefits compared with other types of meditation. These include:
- no mental effort
- no special equipment
- no religious philosophy
- activation of alpha brain waves, which are associated with relaxation
- cultivation of a happy, relaxed, and focused mental state
A small 2018 study used functional MRI to measure blood flow in the brain of 16 experienced transcendental meditation practitioners. The study showed that the participants had increased blood flow in brain regions associated with attention and executive functioning and decreased blood flow in regions associated with arousal.
This finding suggests that transcendental meditation may change the brain in ways consistent with mindful attention and low anxiety.
A 2019 literature review of 21 studies identified various potential benefits to transcendental meditation, including:
- reduced anxiety and stress
- increased feelings of well-being and pleasure
- possible improvements in memory
A small 2019 study of 27 nurses concluded that transcendental meditation might also reduce compassion fatigue, which is a type of burnout that occurs in people whose role frequently requires them to offer emotional support and empathy to others.
The nurses who practiced transcendental meditation saw an increase in resilience and a reduction in compassion fatigue.
There is no evidence that meditation, including transcendental meditation, can cause physical health problems, as long as a person does not meditate in inappropriate circumstances, such as while driving.
For some people, though, meditation may exacerbate preexisting mental health issues. A 2017 survey involving 342 people who meditate found that
- anxiety symptoms
- physical pain
- depersonalization, which is when someone feels disconnected from themself, as though viewing themself from outside their body
- derealization, which is when someone feels disconnected from their surroundings
In most cases, these unwanted effects were temporary.
People who experience unpleasant side effects during meditation may want to consider a different meditation technique or try taking a break from it. It may be beneficial to speak with a mental health professional if the feelings persist.
People keen to try transcendental meditation need to find a certified teacher. This is because, according to the traditional method, a person must receive their specific mantra from a teacher. They must also practice repeating this mantra in Sanskrit under the teacher’s guidance.
However, it is possible to try a meditation style that is similar to transcendental meditation at home. To do this, a person should pick a word or phrase to use as their mantra. In a calm and quiet location, while sitting in a comfortable position, they should repeat the word while focusing on it.
People with a busy schedule can consider setting a timer at the start of their practice. Regularity is an important aspect of the practice, so it may help to meditate at the same time every day.
In addition to transcendental meditation, a person can try other types of meditation. The options include:
- Compassion-based meditation: This approach focuses on fostering loving, kind thoughts toward others or oneself, often using visualization or mantras. It is also known as loving-kindness meditation. A 2021 study suggests that this approach can help foster empathy and promote prosocial behavior.
- Mindfulness meditation: This approach focuses on the awareness of and thoughtful attention to the present moment, often by encouraging breathing, noticing one’s surroundings, and performing grounding exercises. A 2021 study found that it could reduce emotional distress and distracting thoughts.
- Yoga meditation: Yoga blends controlled breathing with movements and poses. It may ease both emotional distress and some kinds of physical pain.
- Zen meditation: Zen meditation draws from Zen Buddhism. It involves sitting in a specific position and regulating the breathing to cultivate attentiveness. It may offer similar benefits to other types of meditation.
Transcendental meditation is a specific approach to meditating that requires a person to repeat a Sanskrit mantra in their head. Unlike other types of meditation, it does not involve trying to control the thoughts. However, to receive a mantra, a person has to work with a teacher.
The practice may offer similar benefits to other types of meditation, such as reducing anxiety and stress. However, as with other forms of meditation, it is also possible to experience negative emotions and sensations.
Transcendental meditation may be easier than other types of meditation for some people, but because it requires a teacher, it might be less accessible. People can try different techniques to see which one works best for them.