Interview with Dr. Norman Rosenthal

Heal and Transform Your Life 
with Transcendental Meditation
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.

(Note: Renowned author and psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal is a 20-year senior researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School. He is respected worldwide for pioneering the research and treatment of Seasonal Affected Disorder.)

Ever since the Beatles introduced us to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1970s, Transcendental Meditation has symbolized peace, love and tranquility for us. But how much do you really know about the practice? BOYT spoke with Dr. Norman Rosenthal, world renowned psychiatrist and author of the recently released book Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation. Dr. Rosenthal also wrote Winter Blues, The Emotional Revolution, St. John’s Wort and How to Beat Jet Lag as well as co-authored over 200 professional articles.

BOYT: What is the difference between transcendental meditation and other types of meditation?

Dr. Rosenthal: Every type of meditation asks the meditator to do something different and some of them ask you to focus or concentrate on something, but the particular thing about TM is that there is a sort of effortlessness about it whereby the mantra is just taught in a very easy that doesn’t involve focus and concentration in the same way. That is to say it is effortless and very pleasant and therefore has a different affect.

BOYT: Are there people who cannot benefit from TM?

Buy on Amazon
Dr. Rosenthal: What I have been surprised about is that so very many people seem to benefit. I actually haven’t come across a group that doesn’t benefit, except for people who aren’t interested or don’t want to. If you want to and if you have the willingness and you’re willing to go through the course and apply your mind, I think pretty much anybody within ordinary functioning mind can benefit.

BOYT: Do you personally practice TM?

Dr. Rosenthal: I got so excited about the technique because I saw what it was doing to me and how much help I was getting from it. That’s what really got me motivated to find out more about it, recommend it to my patients, start to research it and, ultimately, write my book.

BOYT: Before you started practicing TM, did you try different forma of meditation, and if so did they work for you? Or did you start practicing TM and notice right away that it worked for you and just stayed with it instead of trying others?

Dr. Rosenthal: I did try other forms of meditation. I got a self-help book that basically used the mind for technique of following the breadth, and I just didn’t get into it like when I got onto TM. Once I gave it a little bit of time I began to love it and there was no ‘if’ about it at all.

BOYT: Would you mind sharing a little bit about where TM originated?

Dr. Rosenthal: It’s an ancient technique that comes from India, goes back thousands of years. It had kind of fallen into disuse until the modern day meditation master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi learned it from his own mentor and decided that it was a good thing to bring it to the rest of India and the rest of the world. This happened about 50 or so years ago and there have been meditators ever since. I think that it got a huge boost in the 70s after the Beatles went to visit Maharishi in India and it became a fad. A lot of people picked it up, but I think it was just like one of those things one did. I did it back then and I rapidly gave it up. I think what’s happened is that there are people now who have been meditating for a long time with continued benefit. There is really a lot of research, by my latest count 340 peer reviewed articles on the mental and physical benefits of TM, and so I think it has gained maturity and it has gained gravitas. I think that at this point, people are taking it on and are doing it in a more informed way. That’s really what I want to do with my book. I want to lay out all the good reasons and arguments for why it’s something worth pursuing.

BOYT: If somebody chooses to practice their meditation for 30 or 40 minutes instead of 20, is it harmful, is it non-harmful, is it better, is it not better?

Dr. Rosenthal: After people have been practicing it for a while, they can extend that time. There are advanced programs that teach you how to do it for longer. There’s nothing magical about 20 minutes; it could be 19 minutes, it could be 21 minutes. I think that that’s just like an average amount of time that is both manageable for most people and also beneficial and effective. I myself have thought, why can’t I do it in ten minutes? But then as I got used to meditation, I realized that sometimes it takes me seven or eight minutes to really get into that lovely space that you get into. I realized that if I had only been doing it for 10 minutes I would be sort of coming out just as I was getting in. So the 20 minutes seems like a very good amount of time for me and for other people who have done the training.

BOYT: Can TM be self-taught or is it necessary to work with an instructor?

Dr. Rosenthal: You know, it really is necessary to work with an instructor. There’s a tremendous temptation to do it yourself but if you think of it there are a lot of things that aren’t really amenable to doing it to yourself, like yoga. I have done it for many years. I have a teacher. I wouldn’t dream of doing it without a teacher. It just works better. I learn my techniques better. I keep my level of practice at a better level with a teacher and I think it’s really the same here or karate, tennis or golf. You know you need a coach and then once you know how to do it, you are off and running. But until you get the hang of it, it really does need to be taught.

BOYT: If somebody could not afford to pay $2,500 to be taught, what is your advice?

Dr. Rosenthal: Well firstly, nobody is paying that amount of money these days. It has come right down. The reason it costs any money at all is that the teachers have to earn a living wage, that’s basically how they earn their money. There’s no money in the organization itself. It all comes from people learning, or most of it does. But what the TM organization is currently highly motivated to do is to not want to turn away anybody who really wants to learn. My colleague Bob Roth who is the vice president of the David Lynch Foundation—that’s a foundation that helps people who cannot afford TM training to get it—as he says, if you will write him a good letter explaining that you really want to learn and explaining the financial circumstances, they will do whatever they can to get you a very, very reduced rate. Some people don’t pay anything at all, and then those of us who can afford to pay, we are happy to do that. I have been happy to sponsor several friends because luckily I was able to afford to do that.

BOYT: Have you seen people who, once they start to practicing meditation or TM are able to get off medication, and their lives take a positive turn without any of medication?

Dr. Rosenthal: I know what you mean. There are so many stories in the book. But let me tell you one thing that comes from my practice. I have a client who is herself a therapist, a psychologist and a very brilliant woman who has a husband with a rage problem. Something would upset him and he would feel like he had been rejected or dissed or whatever. He would have such a rage attack it could last for days. It was not helped by medication, he went into behavior therapy, and that didn’t help him. He couldn’t get the things squared away; nothing helped. It was making both of them very, very unhappy. He would scream and yell at her and that really upset her, as you can imagine. So I said to them, what’s to be lost, try this other approach of kind of centering yourself and brining peace inside yourself and see how it works. Well, they did it and in her opinion it’s been a complete game changer. In other words, he doesn’t have these temper tantrums hardly at all now and their lives are much more pleasant. She says, after all that therapy, after all those medicines, to think that this simple technique could do what all those things didn’t do, and now she recommends it to her own patients.

BOYT: We understand when you’re in a state of meditation your brain actually functions slightly differently. Can you explain what happens to the brain while in the state of TM?

Dr. Rosenthal: Yes there really are two major things that you should know. The first is that the brain has different kinds of rhythms—alpha, beta, gama, and delta—all depending on the frequency of the rhythm. The alpha rhythm is associated with calm, reflective, contentment and you see a whole wave of these alpha rhythms move towards the front of the brain during meditation; the front part of the brain is associated with good judgment. The other thing is something called coherence, and what that means is, different parts of the brain need to work together. They need to collaborate in order for the brain to do anything; an idea, an action, a decision all need a collaborative effort from different parts of the brain. Well during meditation what you see is brain waves in different parts of the brain begin to correlate with each other. They are inset with each other, and this would suggest that that’s one way that TM helps people to become more effective, more efficient. You wondered earlier if people with ADHD do this kind of meditation and the answer is absolutely yes, and they can benefit enormously from it.

BOYT: So even if they just sit there effortlessly and just do the best that they can do and their mantras actually do whatever they’re needed to do?

Dr. Rosenthal: Well, I think essentially that’s true, but I would say that that’s the beauty of having a teacher, because if anything comes up that isn’t working you have got an expert on the other end of phone or an expert that you can drop in on and say, “Will you check my meditation because something isn’t really working right.” That’s the whole beauty of this personalized mentorship, as opposed to getting a $10 book off of Amazon and hoping that it’s going to answer all of your questions.

BOYT: Is it ever recommended to practice in a group instead of by yourself or with an instructor?

Dr. Rosenthal: You know they do have group meditations at the meditation center. It’s not how it’s initially taught one-on-one, but later on, yes sometimes group meditation is very powerful. I have meditated in groups and I am amazed how sometimes that just seems to be even more powerful than the individual meditation.

BOYT: What’s the most ideal surrounding for meditations?

Dr. Rosenthal: The nice thing about it is that you can do it in many different places. It’s nice to do it at a place where you feel safe, so I think the park would be fine as long as it’s not a park where people are getting mugged, because you are eyes are shut and so you want to do it in a place that’s safe. That’s the thing with these children who are meditating there’s an adult in the room supervising so the children know they can close their eyes, nobody is going to swat them over the head with anything. They know that’s a safe time. So I would say a safe place, preferably a quiet place. Very few of us have got complete silence and it’s not necessary. Often there are noises outside; but then you are unlikely to be able to meditate in a machinist shop for example. Make it like a pleasant place to meditate. I have a room in my house where I sit down in a comfortable chair and it has become my meditation room. It’s very pleasant. But of course, you could do it at your office, you could do it anywhere really.

BOYT: Is there someone that you really admire in your industry?

Dr. Rosenthal: An author that I admire, well somebody who is my hero is a man named Victor Franco who wrote an amazing book called Man’s Search for Meaning. He is now deceased. He was a holocaust survivor who was able to find meaning even in those terrible concentration camps. I had the good luck to meet him during his life.

About Dr. Norman Rosenthal:

Dr. Rosenthal is the author or co-author of over 200 professional articles and five popular books, including Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation, Winter Blues, The Emotional Revolution, St. John’s Wort and How to Beat Jet Lag. Dr. Rosenthal currently serves as medical director and CEO of Capital Clinical Research Associates in Rockville, Maryland, where he directs clinical trials in both pharmaceuticals and complementary and alternative medicine. Dr. Rosenthal and his work have been widely covered in the popular media and he has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, National Public Radio and many other forums.

Most Popular