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 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Superficially these two techniques appear to be very similar, but in fact they are quite different.
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.
Transcendental meditation on the other hand, 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 as to which meditation practice they should start with.
They generally ask questions like, “Which meditation is easy to get started with? 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 in 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 is one such practice through which this can be achieved.
We get so much caught up in our thoughts and feelings that we start judging them, and based on that judgment we create our self image. Needless to say, but most of these thoughts and feelings are negative, at least for the most of us.
So the first step in mindfulness is to make an 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 arising. Rather than trying to control the outside world we should learn to relax ourselves.
This should be done in a very kind and compassionate manner. 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 are able to 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 are suffering from a wide variety of a mental ailments such as, stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic insomnia.
Blame it on the hectic lifestyle or high level of 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 very serious impact on their mental and physical health.
Most of us have a tendency 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 in order to avoid those uncomfortable emotions which are constantly pilling up inside us. And as a result, 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 kind of judgment, whatsoever. The very action 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.
In order 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, and even listening others talk, etc.
Clarity of mind leads to 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 to settle down 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 ordinary 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 in order to be practiced efficiently. Just like the mindfulness meditation, it can be done anywhere, and at anytime.
This meditation practice was popularized in the United States during 1960s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He emphasized on the fact 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, and we become more effective in our craft.
In order understand transcendental meditation, we give the analogy of an ocean. Imagine that you are in a boat in the middle of an ocean and all of the sudden you encounter high waves which make your boat turbulent.
If you see from the perspective of the surface of the ocean, you will feel scared, and get the impression that the waves are very strong, and ocean in general is a hostile place. You would like to get out of that situation as soon as possible.
What was cannot see, is that, if you go deep inside the ocean, you will realize that the ocean is very calm and in perfect restful state at the bottom.
Our minds are similar to this ocean, and the waves are like thoughts which give us the impression that are 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 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, specially in the west. This trend was started by The Beatles in the 1960s, and since them 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 each of these meditation techniques work, the next question is, which one should I do?
One important thing to understand here is that mindfulness comes naturally when you start doing transcendental meditation.
The Electroencephalogram (or EEG, a test that detects abnormalities in the brain waves) results show that, TM produces more of alpha brain wave patterns, which are mostly associated with increased relaxation, whereas, 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.
TM on the other hand 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 use to race so fast, that it was difficult for me to sit for even ten minutes. All those negative thoughts, and hidden emotions use to surface on my active mind. But I kept at it, and slowly started realizing, that they don’t bother my anymore.
To this day I get thoughts, but now I don’t get affected by them. I don’t judge them. I just observe them in silence.
When I’m in meditation for long hours, what I notice is 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 at 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 to labelled as a person who practices this or that type of meditation. Putting a label on your meditation practice is like putting a thought on your mind which says, “I’m practicing X meditation technique”. And then, very soon you realize that you start becoming identified with a particular type of meditation you practice.
I would just like to conclude by saying that, you are the master of our own mind, and you know what’s best for it. So what type of meditation you practice, depends on the end goal you are trying to achieve.