Mindfulness meditation originates from the Buddhist traditions, whereas transcendental meditation (popularly referred to as TM ) stems from the Vedic tradition and was widely popularized in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Superficially these two techniques appear to be very similar, but they are pretty different when you go deep.
The practice of mindfulness meditation focuses on bringing your awareness to the present moment. It allows you to observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions without any judgment.
On the other hand, transcendental meditation allows you to go beyond those thoughts, feelings, and emotions and reach a stage where the mind sits in complete silence.
As these two practices are becoming popular across the globe, people are getting more and more confused about how to get started.
They generally ask questions like, “Which meditation is easy for beginners? Will TM be more effective in curing anxiety and depression than mindfulness meditation? Which meditation is best for relaxation and helps relieve stress, or cures chronic insomnia?”
Let’s go deep into the subject to try to understand how these two techniques work.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Buddhism says that we continue to suffer till we don’t learn to see things as they are. Mindfulness meditation offers a possibility to deliver this message successfully.
We get so much caught up in our thoughts and feelings that we start judging them, and based on that judgment, we create a false self-image. Needless to say, but most of these thoughts and feelings are negative, at least for most of us.
So the first step in mindfulness is to attempt to be more conscious of what your mind is thinking without invoking any reaction or judgment.
For example, if we are standing in a noisy and crowded subway, our mind tends to get stressed, and as a result, negative thoughts and emotions start rising. Rather than trying to control the outside world, we should learn to relax.
Be kind and compassionate to yourself while doing this. Trying to fight with your mind, forcing it to concentrate, and trying to block negative thoughts will be counterproductive.
By accepting these troublesome feelings and emotions, there comes a stage when we can let go of them, and that is when our mind is truly free.
Mindfulness in the Modern Culture
Mindfulness has become mainstream in the present culture, as modern-day human beings suffer from a wide variety of mental ailments such as stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic insomnia.
Blame it on the hectic lifestyle or high expectations, but stress has become a part of daily life for most of us.
Not only grown-ups but also children are experiencing high levels of worry, stress, and anxiety. And this can have a severe impact on their mental and physical health.
Most of us tend to ignore our uncomfortable feelings. And one of the mechanisms to do that is to divert our attention to something else like, smoking, watching television, playing video games (for long hours), eating sugary foods, and drinking alcohol, among other things.
We seek these small bouts of pleasure to avoid those uncomfortable emotions that are constantly pilling up inside. These emotions get accumulated over time and start giving us pain. We start losing the capability of enjoying life and seeing it in totality.
Bringing awareness to the present moment allows us to see our emotions as they are, without making any judgment whatsoever. The very act of witnessing our emotions reduces the worry and brings calm.
With repeated mindfulness practice, the frequency of these afflicting thoughts and emotions starts reducing, and we stop reacting negatively to them. Eventually, we train ourselves not to be or impacted or controlled by them.
To practice mindfulness, you don’t necessarily have to prepare yourself to sit in a complicated posture or go to an expensive meditation retreat.
You can practice mindfulness while doing simple everyday activities such as walking, eating, driving, listening to others talk, etc.
Clarity of mind leads to a good life, general well-being and also helps in better decision making. In addition, scientific research also shows that mindfulness meditation also helps in healing physical health problems such as:
- Improved Hearth health
- Regulates blood pressure
- Reduces addictions
- Improves metabolism and immune system.
- Reduces obesity by regulating eating behaviors.
- Increases Grey Matter in the brain.
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Understanding TM (Transcendental Meditation)
Transcendental meditation or TM is a natural and effortless meditation technique in which you sit comfortably with your eyes closed and silently repeat a mantra. This mantra can be a word or a sound that helps the mind settle naturally in a calm and restful state.
TM does not focus on building concentration or contemplation, as is generally believed.
Repeated practice of TM allows you to transcend the normal thinking process and take your awareness to subtler regions of the mind, where it rests in perfect stillness, stability, peace, and silence.
TM is not a philosophy or a concept and does not require any lifestyle change to be practiced efficiently. Just like mindfulness meditation, it can be done anywhere and at any time.
This meditation practice was popularized in the United States during the 1960s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He emphasized that in the subtler regions of our mind, we have access to centers of unbounded creativity and joy. As we learn to access these regions, our creative intelligence increases manifolds, becoming more effective in our craft.
To understand transcendental meditation, we give the analogy of an ocean. Imagine that you are in a boat in the middle of an ocean, and suddenly you encounter high waves that make your boat turbulent.
If you see from the perspective of the ocean’s surface, you will feel scared and get the impression that the waves are very strong, and the ocean, in general, is a hostile place. You would like to get out of that situation as soon as possible.
If you go deep inside the ocean, you will realize that the ocean is very calm and in a perfect restful state at the bottom.
Our minds are similar to this ocean, and the waves are like thoughts that give us the impression that our minds are overactive.
At the surface, our minds are always busy with thoughts, such as “I have to pick my kid from school, I have to finish that assignment by the weekend, I have to work on my relationships, etc., etc.”. Only when you learn to sit still in silence, you reach the bottom of the ocean.
Transcendental meditation also offers the same health benefits as mindfulness meditation. Reduces stress and anxiety, improves heart health, helps in depression and insomnia, attention deficit disorder, and even Alzheimer’s.
TM has become quite popular among many celebrities and other well-known personalities, especially in the west. The Beatles started this trend in the 1960s. Many more celebrities like Client Eastwood, Stevie Wonder, Howard Stern, Mick Jagger, Oprah Winfrey, and many more have been practicing TM.
So which one should I do?
Now that you know how these meditation techniques work, the next question is, which one should I do? Mindfulness happens when you start doing transcendental meditation or any other practice.
The Electroencephalogram (or EEG, a test that detects abnormalities in the brain waves) results show that TM produces more alpha brain wave patterns, primarily associated with increased relaxation. In contrast, mindfulness meditation produces theta waves which indicate more wakeful alertness.
The goal of practicing mindfulness is to learn to be fully present in the moment. When you are fully present, you are not thinking about your past or are worried about the future. Therefore, the ego has nothing to feed on in the present moment. And as a result, you are more joyful.
On the other hand, TM enables you to transcend the barrier of thoughts and emotions and finally reach a place of restful calm. It allows you to merge your consciousness with the universal consciousness and be in that state of pure awareness, without objects such as thoughts and emotions.
My Personal Experience
I started practicing mindfulness meditation a couple of years back.
Initially, my mind started racing so fast that it was difficult for me to sit for even ten minutes. All those negative thoughts and hidden emotions used to surface in my active mind. But I kept at it and slowly started realizing that they didn’t bother me anymore.
To this day, I get thoughts, but now I don’t get affected by them. I don’t judge them. I observe them in silence.
When I’m in meditation for long hours, I notice that my thoughts start fading, and I reach a place of absolute silence and calm. In a way, starting with mindfulness, I gradually transcend my thoughts and emotions and reach the bottom of the ocean. So in a way, I can say that I practice both of these techniques (or none of them).
I don’t like it when people label me as someone who practices this or that type of meditation. Putting a label on your meditation practice is like putting a thought in your mind, saying, “I’m practicing X meditation technique.” And then, you realize that you’re no more in meditation but contemplating on a particular practice.
I’ll conclude by saying that you are the master of our mind and know what’s best for you. So what type of meditation you practice depends on your choice. Do what feels comfortable and comes naturally to you.