Transcendental Meditation, Mindfulness, and Vipassana

Mindfulness meditation, often associated with Vipassana ( a form of Buddhist meditation), is generally considered to be a practice of "open monitoring"—watching thoughts, perceptions or sensations come and go without judging or holding on, practiced to gain insight and equanimity.

However, there are various forms of mindfulness meditation and Vipassana—practiced in different ways. Some methods referred to as ‘mindfulness’ or 'Vipassana' may veer into controlled focus or contemplation.

How is the TM technique different?

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a very different process, and the scientific research shows that TM produces different results—especially on stress levels and brain function. The TM technique is not a religious or philosophical practice. It does not involve monitoring your thoughts, watching your breathing, or scanning the body; nor is it concentration or contemplation. One distinction between TM practice and mindfulness meditation (and Vipassana) is that the TM technique is very easy to learn and effortless to practice. In fact, effortlessness is the key to the TM technique's effectiveness.

American Heart Association: After considering the latest scientific evidence on different forms of meditation, a recent American Heart Association study concluded that meditation techniques other than the TM technique cannot be recommended: "All other meditation techniques (including mindfulness) received a 'no benefit level of evidence’ ...[and] are not recommended at this time."

The Main Distinction: TM is Designed for Transcending

"Transcending thought is infinitely more powerful than thinking." —Maharishi

 The TM technique is characterized in the scientific and scholarly literature as an "automatic self-transcending" type of meditation. It is a practice of systematically going beyond mental activity—transcending all thoughts to experience increasingly refined, more powerful stages of the thinking process, until one arrives at the state of pure awareness. Experienced as the deepest level of the mind or the source of thought, here there are no thoughts, perceptions or sensations, only consciousness—in its most pure and peaceful state, fully awake within itself. Most people who learn the TM technique report the experience of transcending within just a few days.

Studies have found this state of pure transcendence to be highly rejuvenating for mind and body. In this fourth state of consciousness—which is unlike waking, dreaming or sleep—mind and body become more balanced; in the words of neuroscience, it is a resetting of the brain's natural ground state. Deeply rooted stresses or imbalances in the system naturally, spontaneously dissolve during TM practice. As a result, after 20 minutes of the TM technique, the meditator feels refreshed and energized, the mind is clearer and more alert, awareness is expanded.

Twice daily practice of the TM technique is said to awaken the full potential of one's inner Being—activating the silent source of creativity and intelligence at the basis of the mind. While very different in practice, the TM technique fulfills the goals of mindfulness and Vipassana in a graceful, natural way. Increased "mindfulness" is just one of the many benefits found to result from TM practice.

See: American University Research Study: Does Transcendental Meditation Create Mindfulness?

Although transcending is natural to the mind, most meditation techniques are not designed for transcending and tend to keep the mind active and engaged on the more gross, surface levels of experience. While any form of meditation can be beneficial, no other practice has been shown by scientific research to produce the levels of deep physiological rest, EEG coherence or holistic range of benefits gained from the process of transcending through TM practice.

Differences in Brain function:
Brain researchers have found that during mindfulness-type practices, the brain shows EEG patterns typical of monitoring inner processes or performing internal memory tasks—frontal theta waves (5-8 Hz) and possibly posterior gamma (30-40 Hz) (Cognitive Processing, 2010).

Practicing the TM technique creates a brain wave pattern distinct from mindfulness-type meditation and also different from ordinary focused attention: during TM practice, widespread or long-range alpha coherence
(8-12 Hz) is commonly seen, especially in the frontal regions of the brain, indicating more efficient, integrated brain functioning and increased inner wakefulness (Cognitive Processing 11:1, 2010).

Different Levels of Relaxation:
Research studies show that the unique style of physiological functioning typically gained during TM practice is a state of rest much deeper than ordinary, eyes-closed rest—a distinct mind-body state not reported from research on mindfulness or other meditation or relaxation methods. Meditation practices that keep the mind actively attentive in the waking state have not been found to produce this deep, rejuvenating state of relaxation.

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