Transcend

Delve into Transcendental Meditation and yoga.

 

By Carol Sorgen

Woman in lotus pose outdoors

Like many of us, Cameron and Debbie Ailiff lead a stressful life. The couple, who live in Davisonville, have five children, own their own business and “Cam” also teaches and coaches high school. “We have a lot going on,” says Cam. “My mind was always racing.” The couple was searching for a calm in their busy lives.

Cam had tried exercise, changing his diet, taking vitamin supplements, all in an attempt to ease his general anxiety. Nothing did the trick. Until, that is, he came across Transcendental Meditation (TM). “I didn’t know what to expect,” says Cam. “I thought it was a quasi-religious movement. But it’s not at all. It’s simply something one practices.”

The TM technique was founded by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and based on the ancient Vedic tradition of India. He brought the technique to the United States in the 1960s. Today, it is easily learned from a trained instructor and is practiced sitting comfortably in a chair with the eyes closed for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day. During the TM practice, one repeats a single word or a mantra; the active mind settles down naturally to a state where it is silent yet fully alert, while at the same time the body gains a state of rest and relaxation.

Among its many benefits, TM can reduce stress and burnout and improve focus, learning and resiliency, according to 380 peer-reviewed studies. Research is also investigating the beneficial effects of TM on heart disease, hypertension and stroke, and has shown significant reductions in high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia and other stress-related disorders.

TM (and meditation in general) has become increasingly accepted not only in the lay community, but among medical practitioners as well. “More and more healthcare practitioners are realizing the potential value of … meditation, both for themselves and for their patients,” says Delia Chiaramonte, M.D., associate director and director of education at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Center for Integrative Medicine.

Paul Roochnik, Ph.D., director of the Baltimore/Annapolis Transcendental Meditation Program, has been meditating for almost 44 years. “It gets rid of the stress and calms the mind,” he says. “It makes me feel as though I just got back from vacation—twice a day.”

TM is but one kind of meditation. While concentration and mind-fulness are central to every form of meditation, different styles have different objects of focus, ranging from breath to sound, visualization, movement, standing and walking. They all have impressive results though. Indeed, Annapolis physician Fritz Sutter cites a study that appeared in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, in which a team
of Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that meditation actually produces measurable changes in
the brain.

There is no one right form of meditation. For Chiaramonte, the most beneficial kind of meditation is the one that you actually do on a regular basis, no matter the style. “Some people respond better to sitting in silent meditation while others do better with a more active form of meditation such as walking meditation or a moving meditative practice such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong,” she says.

While TM is taught by trained instructors, other forms of meditation can be learned in a class, or even through books, videos or apps (try the app Headspace or the free podcasts by Tara Brach, of the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, DC).

It didn’t take long for Cam Ailiff to see the results of his TM practice, but he became convinced of its effects when his wife and a colleague at work commented on his newfound sense of calm.

In fact, Debbie, who has been practicing yoga for the past six years, was so impressed that she too took the four-day TM training class, and now the two get up before dawn every morning and meditate together. “We’re relaxed, joyful and healthy!” say the couple, who have also become vegans in an effort to live a “cleaner” lifestyle.

Yoga, which has a long tradition dating back more than 4,000 years, can bring transcendence and calm to busy lives as well. In the last 20 years it has flourished in the Unites States, with approximately 21 million adults now practicing. In addition to its mental benefits, yoga has also been shown to offer numerous health benefits, including better sleep, decrease in blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduction in chronic pain and improved breathing.

“The physicality combined with the spirituality of the experience is amazing,” Debbie Ailiff says of the classes she takes at Evolutions, a full-service health, fitness and wellness studio in Annapolis, adding that she’s never felt better in her life. “I’m physically stronger, my lower back issues have cleared up and my balance and posture are much improved.” “Yoga is a very holistic, comprehensive practice,” according to registered yoga therapist Pam Blum, Evolutions’ program director. “People who take yoga are looking for more than just a physical workout,” she says. “They’re looking for a practice that they can take off the mat and out into the world.”

“Many students come to yoga class for a time to be still and present,” adds Severna Park YogaWorks instructor Jen Hoenshied. “Others come to work on a particular pose or just overall flexibility and body movement. They all walk away more at peace.”

World peace is certainly elusive. However, the wise teach us that inner peace is not. Why not try to access your own peace? It is there waiting. Or at least meditate on the possibility. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died in 2005, believed that meditation is itself a powerful action and that all true change comes from within.

Resources

Evolutions, evolutionsannapolis.com

YogaWorks, yogaworks.com

Insight Meditation Community of Washington, imcw.org

Transcendental Meditation Annapolis, tm.org/transcendental-meditation-annapolis

Transcendental Meditation, tm.org