Monday, December 14, 2009

Transcendental Meditation: The Alpha Coherence Lie

In keeping with some of the questions raised in the previous post on TM teachers, and the misinformation they routinely disseminate, I'd like to talk a bit about the prevalent TM claim that TM, and esp. the TM - Sidhi programme, that these meditation techniques:

1.  Produce alpha coherence in a range that is significant, important, helpful and/or indicates a "unique" or "higher state of consciousness".


2. That there is an actual increase in Alpha power during Transcendental Meditation.

As early as the 1980's independent scientists were exploring the significance of EEG claims made by Transcendental Meditation researchers. In 1983 what researchers found was that EEG alpha waves (often simply "alpha") changed during meditation, when compared to baseline. What they weren't sure of was this change significant when utilizing appropriate controls? A study was performed on long term TM meditators and novice TM meditators and then compared to appropriate controls.

What the researchers found was that when appropriate controls were used, instead of alpha increasing during TM, it actually decreased: leaving the student at a lower level of alpha after their meditation session:

So what's the big deal about "alpha"? Is their a big deal about alpha?

The pioneer of EEG interpretation Barbara Brown was very clear when it comes to drawing any conclusions on alpha waves:

"Concluding anything about alpha is perilous."
...yet numerous TM studies try to do just this: associate alpha coherence with "higher states of consciousness". And just like Brown's warning, this is a perilous claim indeed, as it turns out: there's really nothing remarkable about alpha or alpha coherence in the range found in Transcendental Meditation meditators.

It might help to explain a little bit about the now obsolete measurement known as "EEG coherence" and what it actually is. Coherence, when referring to EEG waves, is when EEG waves at different sites in the cerebral cortex are "in synch". This is also known as "spectral covariance". "Coherence is the frequency correlation coefficient, and represents the degree to which the frequency profiles of two distant areas of the head, as reflected in the electrical signals detected by scalp electrodes, are similar." The reason this is no longer a helpful form of measurement is that coherence is a measure that does not separate the effects of amplitude and phase in the interrelations between two signals (1999, Jean-Philippe Lachaux, Eugenio Rodriguez, Jacques Martinerie, and Francisco J. Varela ).  

EEG coherence, particularly in regard to slow brain wave (like alpha), it turns out is a common phenomenon. In order for the nervous system to do what it commonly does, neurons in the brain need to work together routinely, just as part of normal human functioning. As recent researchers commented: "It is important to keep in mind that such measures reflect extremely blurred and crude estimates of the synchronous processes of the ~10^11 neurons in a human brain."

It should therefore come as no surprise, when leading neuroscientists were writing a synopsis for the state of the art in meditation research in textbook form, they would comment on the unusual claims of Transcendental Meditation researchers. They pointed out that:

The dominant frequency in the scalp EEG of human adults is the alpha rhythm. It is manifest by a ‘peak’ in spectral analysis around 10 Hz and reflects rhythmic ‘alpha waves’ (Klimesch, 1999; Nunez et al., 2001). Alpha oscillations are found primarily over occipital-parietal channels particularly when the eyes are closed, yet alpha activity can be recorded from nearly the entire upper cortical surface. During wakefulness, it is a basic EEG phenomenon that the alpha peak reflects a tonic large-scale synchronization of a very large population of neurons.

...alpha frequencies frequently produce spontaneously moderate to large coherence (0.3-0.8 over large inter-electrode distance (Nunez et al., 1997)). The alpha coherence values reported in TM studies, as a trait in the baseline or during meditation, belong to this same range. Thus a global increase of alpha power and alpha coherence might not reflect a more “ordered” or “integrated” experience, as frequently claimed in TM literature...
 It's also common for TM advocates to claim that this common EEG coherence is "unique" to TM. It turns out this has not only been long known to be untrue, but TM advocates, TM teachers and TM researchers still state this as if it were true:

Other relaxation techniques have led to the same EEG profile and studies that employed counterbalanced control relaxation conditions consistently found a lack of alpha power increases or even decreases comparing relaxation or hypnosis to TM meditation (Morse et al., 1977; Tebecis, 1975; Warrenburg, Pagano, Woods, & Hlastala, 1980).

But what of claims that this magic alpha coherence is representative of a "higher state of consciousness" different or beyond waking, dreaming and sleeping? The researchers nipped this myth in the bud as well:

Similarly, the initial claim that TM produces a unique state of consciousness different than sleep has been refuted by several EEG meditation studies which reported sleep-like stages during this technique with increased alpha and then theta power (Pagano, Rose, Stivers, & Warrenburg, 1976; Younger, Adriance, & Berger, 1975).

 So not only does Transcendental Meditation not produce a unique and/or "higher" state of consciousness, it actually is within the waking-sleeping-dreaming cycle that healthy humans normally experience.

This observation jives with recent television reports of supposedly advanced TM meditators in Maharishi Vedic City which shows these "experts" often nodding off or asleep. Anecdotal reports of Golden Domes in Fairfield, IA indicate the many people sleeping and snoring has actually become a widespread problem. Certainly not what most people would consider a "higher" type of consciousness.

This global alpha increase is similar to other relaxation techniques. The passive absorption during the recitation of the mantra, as practiced in this technique, produces a brain pattern that suggests a decrease of processing of sensory or motor information and of mental activity in general. Because alpha rhythms are ubiquitous and functionally non-specific, the claim that alpha oscillations and alpha coherence are desirable or are linked to an original and higher state of consciousness seem quite premature.

It appears this "relaxation response" is common to numerous other relaxation techniques (meditation expert and former TM researcher Dr. Herbert Benson lists 8 common techniques which produce this same type of relaxation effect) but it does not (after 50 years of Transcendental Meditation practice) produce any "higher state of consciousness". Thus even wilder metaphysical claims such as "enlightenment" seem rather preposterous, in light of actual, independent research.

No higher states of consciousness here, please keep moving!

While there are forms of EEG coherence that do correspond to the states of consciousness seen in advanced yogis and meditators, these types of changes have not been found in Transcendental Meditation meditators.

More on these fascinating findings in a later post.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Transcendental Meditation and Ignorance of Meditation

Despite being a once popular meditation method, Transcendental Meditation teachers are probably the least informed and experienced "teachers" of meditation I know of. After all, they're really not trained in the mechanics of meditation, but marketing. A recent article by TM proponent and long-time TM teacher Tom Ball is a perfect example. Let's look at how much is understood about meditation praxis and how confused some people are as to what the differing types of meditation are, and why.

Transcendental Meditation, Mindfulness And Enlightenment

Tom Ball 
"What's the difference between Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness meditation?" This frequently asked question rises out of the growing popularity of these two mainstream meditation practices. Due to requirements of time and tuition for learning the Transcendental Meditation technique, some people may wonder, "Aren't all meditations basically the same?" Mindfulness practices can be easily learned from a book, online or from a therapist, whereas the TM course involves up to 15 hours of training and can be learned only from a certified instructor. It's no wonder that people often want to compare these meditation techniques.

As is typical in Transcendental Meditation advocates, they will often posit false or ignorant statements, and then use they false assertions to try to forward their beliefs. What they are actually doing is creating a "straw man", an argument based on a false image from their own imagination or ignorance. Already in this first paragraph they've mislead the reader.

Ball states Mindfulness can easily be learned from a book or a therapist, etc. And of course, what he doesn't tell you that TM is often taught through books and tapes, or by instructions posted on the internet! But what Ball ignores is how Mindfulness is most often taught: it's most often taught in 7-10 day courses, although some people teach it over a long weekend, the 1 week or longer track is more traditional and in many ways more typical. One often receives meditational instructions from a seasoned meditator with years of inner experience in different forms of meditation. So instead of having to rely on "canned" and simply memorized "checking instructions" (a flowchart of instructions TM teachers are required to memorize), experienced meditators rely on their own extensive inner experience, tailored individually to the student.

Although both forms of meditation produce relaxation and practitioners may report some similar benefits—such as inner calm and centeredness, pain management or greater awareness and focus during the day—these techniques differ considerably, both in practice and range of effects as measured by scientific research.

Ah, here we go. Another set up. TM advocates will often cite "scientific research" on TM--but they'll fail to mention that TM research has a long, long history (several decades) of poor research. In fact TM research is so bad, it was even dismissed as "poor" in recent studies sponsored by the US government! The idea of good meditation research, is to improve and refine. Not these TM researchers! They're still putting out pilot studies and junk science after 40 years!

We'll look more into the specifics of the poor record of TM research a little later.

What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation (or guided mindfulness) generally involves watching one's thoughts, the breath or bodily sensations while sitting quietly. Typically the student does not judge or hold on to thoughts or perceptions, but merely observes them. Mindfulness is often described as the process of being attentive to one’s experiences. This practice of being mindful may also extend into daily activity, as one adheres to dispassionate observation of thoughts and actions in order to be more fully present in the moment and not overshadowed by passing concerns. [1] The practice of mindfulness takes place in what psychologists and neuroscientists generally call the waking state of consciousness, different from the sleep or the dream states.

Not a very good description, I have to say.

First it's important to explain what are the two basic forms of meditation that are taught in many Buddhist settings. These two meditation forms are 1) Mindfulness or Vipassana and 2) Shamatha or Calm Abiding meditation. Transcendental Meditation is a rudimentary practice of this latter type. But strangely here, we see no recognition or understanding of this basic fact.

Beginning meditators are welcome to begin with either a Mindfulness style of meditation or a Calm Abiding style, each one has it's own unique benefits. Advanced meditators learn they can actually unify both forms into something greater than the sum of the two: nondual meditation.

What is the Transcendental Meditation technique?
During the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, the mind spontaneously transcends, going beyond the mental activity of waking state to a unique state of restful alertness, called Transcendental Consciousness—a proposed fourth state of consciousness unlike waking, dreaming or sleep.[2]


Independent studies of TM meditators show that this claim is actually false. Most TM meditators are actually in descending stages of sleep. Despite many wild and fanciful claims, there is no evidence that TM produces any "state of consciousness" outside of waking, dreaming or sleeping states. In fact, when the EEG or electroencephalographs of actual yogis are compared to those of advanced TM meditators, they are quite different. The reason they are different is that while TM induces the same EEG and "relaxation response" found in many different forms of meditation, they do not produce the types of EEG changes seen in advanced meditators. This point is well known by leading scientists, but dutifully ignored by TM researchers (who are often TM meditators themselves!).

 This easy meditation involves using a mantra, or sound without meaning, that has a harmonizing effect on the mind and body, producing deep relaxation and quieter mental activity. Because deeper levels of the mind are more concentrated with energy, creativity and intelligence, one's awareness becomes infused with these qualities as the meditator experiences the inner depths of consciousness.

While I know from having spoken directly to many TM teachers that they were taught to tell students that their mantras were meaningless, this is not in fact the case. All of the TM mantras are listed in lengthy ancient books, encyclopedias of mantra, called koshas in Sanskrit. The koshas describe in exquisite detail the meaning and mechanics of all of the TM mantras, and many more. All of the TM mantras are mantras of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

Traditionally it is believed one can gain "boons" by repeating a certain deities mantra for a certain period or time or number of repetitions or until certain, specific signs appear. This is the origin of the idea that TM gives benefits in ones life.

TM, as a basic form of mantra meditation, simply leads one to elementary forms of mental quietude, while cutting one off from the surrounding world. Unfortunately, more advanced forms of mantra meditation or other varieties of meditation are not taught in TM or it's later techniques. This is probably why we only, after 50 years of people practicing it, still see mere relaxation response type findings, in even long-term TM meditators. In some cases, the habitual withdrawal or "transcending" can lead to psychiatric and psychological problems.

Meditation and the brain
Over the last several decades, many scientists have become fascinated with researching physiological correlates of the meditative state—studying Tibetan monks, Indian yogis and trained Western meditators as their subjects. One thing that has become obvious: different meditation techniques do not produce the same levels of relaxation, change in breath rate, brain patterns, or benefits for mind and body.

Unfortunately, you must be reading different science than leaders in the field are. It was long known (since the 1950's) that unusually high-amplitude gamma coherence was seen in Hindu Patanjali yogis who could go into samadhi, a higher state of consciousness, at will. One of the most "remarkable" things about meditation research during the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's was that these finding were never replicated in westerners.

That is until recently. Advanced Tibetan Buddhist meditators who had mastered samadhi have been not only been able to go into higher, more integrated states of consciousness at will, they've been able to replicate the highly coherent EEG seen in Patanjali yogis! Samadhi it turns out is a common "skill" in even very different philosophical and religious traditions. It's no surprise therefore that this seminal finding was published in a major journal. It appears samadhi is a skill that can be acquired, with the proper instruction and with powerful enough meditative methodology, just like any other skill can be acquired (language, speech, writing, etc.).

For example, recent research on mindfulness meditation recorded a pattern of increased gamma in the rear of the brain, and found no significant changes in alpha activity. [3] Increased gamma is associated with heightened focus of attention.

Increased gamma coherence is common in advanced Hindu and Buddhist yogis. It is not found in TM practitioners.

Research on the Transcendental Meditation technique has repeatedly shown highly synchronous alpha throughout the entire brain, especially in the pre-frontal cortex. [4] Heightened alpha is associated with relaxed wakefulness, and increased coherence indicating improved overall brain functioning and is correlated with improved learning ability, higher IQ, better moral reasoning and increased neurological efficiency. This state of coherence is not found in ordinary relaxation or other meditation practices.

Actually the range of alpha coherence found in TM meditators is the same as that seen in normal humans, according to leading independent neuroscientists.

Meditation techniques that keep the mind actively attentive in the waking state, as mindfulness-type practices do, have not been found to consistently produce a level of relaxation deeper than ordinary eyes-closed rest—and relaxation is not a primary intention of all meditation practices. Transcendental Meditation is the only meditation found by research to produce a level of rest more than twice as deep as ordinary relaxation, indicated by changes in breath rate, skin resistance and plasma lactate. [5]

Actually TM is physiologically the same as napping. When using good controls (uncommon in almost all TM research), the difference is insignificant.

Though meditation can be practiced strictly for health benefits—such as reduction of high blood pressure[6]—the awakening of full human potential, called nirvana or enlightenment, has historically been the goal of many of the venerated traditions of meditation. Fortunately, modern researchers have discovered a scientific basis for identifying higher consciousness—a coherent style of brain functioning and a balanced, more refined state of physiology. Numerous, peer-reviewed studies show that EEG coherence and more harmonious physiological functioning accompany both deep meditation and heightened awareness when stabilized in daily activity.[7] Research breakthroughs such as these are raising the field of meditation and personal growth to the evidence-based standards of science.

Unfortunately basic meditation methods, like TM, do not exhibit any "higher" states of consciousness outside waking, dreaming or sleeping. While it would be nice if such things were true, independent research shows us that this is clearly not the case. After 50 years of the pop-meditation practice, no such higher states of consciousness have been found.

The mindfulness approach to enlightenment
Many contemporary approaches of mindfulness strive to attain enlightenment by recapitulating the qualities of the enlightened state as a practice in meditation and daily life. Equanimity of mind, being fully present in the moment, and impartially observing ones thoughts are some of the attributes often associated with the state of enlightenment. Many spiritual aspirants believe that consciously striving to maintain these "enlightened" qualities in daily life will lead to total mindfulness or enlightenment.

It's obvious you have little training in meditation, although I know you must be proud you were able to memorize some charts of mantras, and the religious ceremony to give them out at great expense.

This isn't even close to how enlightenment is seen or cultivated in Buddhist meditative practice! Another straw man Platonic fallacy.

Enlightenment through Transcendental Meditation
TM practice offers another approach to enlightenment, one that involves simultaneously culturing both mind and body through twice-daily transcending. By alternating morning and evening TM with one's normal, natural daily routine, the inner, silent state of "pure consciousness" becomes stabilized and lived in the midst of one's outer activity.

While this is an interesting and colorful claim by Mr. Ball, in actuality no such yogic states of consciousness, called turiyatita, are seen nor have they ever been seen associated with Transcendental Meditation! It's unlikely that they ever will. Repeated scientific studies have shown that TM is a simple, yet expensive form of relaxation response meditation, but that it does not lead to any "higher states of consciousness". The numerous side effects of TM, (which apparently is why the vast majority of TM meditators eventually stop meditation) esp. dissociation, depression and the desire to withdraw from life, are more likely what students of TM mistake for "witnessing" (a phenomenon desperately sought after by many TM meditators).

 With this approach, there is no conscious attempt to maintain equanimity or detachment during or after meditation. The brain spontaneously becomes habituated to maintain a more orderly, coherent style of functioning, naturally giving rise to inner calm, broader comprehension, increased creativity and self actualization.[6] When the physiology gains deep relaxation during TM practice, accumulated stress is dissolved and the whole system becomes more balanced and resilient, able to support the spontaneous growth of higher consciousness in a natural way.

This is typical TM teacher nonsense. Part of the reason TM has been so unsuccessful in working to integrate different states of consciousness into activity is believed to be because they ignore the prerequisites to samadhi. It is said that even if one meditates for hundreds of years, one will never attain samadhi if one ignore it's prerequisites. TM training does ignore these prerequisites so important in the tradition of Patanjali and in the Buddhist yogic traditions.

Modern day interpretations of meditation, often self taught and without expert guidance, can account for the differences in effectiveness between the various meditation practices.

Good point. Since there are no experts in meditation in the TM movement, only mantra-salesman, this should be considered a warning sign. TM teachers primarily are trained in marketing, memorization, pseudoscience, Neo-vedism and canned "checking" techniques to help see if the meditation is working. Unfortunately, not everyone falls within the scope of this "cookie cutter" and assembly-line approach to meditation checking.

 When comparing meditations, whether the Transcendental Meditation technique, Vipassana, Zen, or guided meditation, it is now possible to refer to scientific research on the benefits before committing time to a meditation program.

Good point. Independent researchers have consistently found TM research to be both "poor", "exaggerated" and misleading. Such observations began as early as the 1980's and have continued up to the present day. The important element of honesty and integrity, hallmarks of good science and integral to actual scientific method have consistently been missing from TM Org-based meditation research. TM teacher training does not actually teach mastery of meditation, but a minimal subset of skills in order to be able to market, deceive and sell Hindu goddess mantras. Canned "checking" techniques (also memorized) are believed capable of helping students learn meditation.

Future posts will detail the science behind these claims, the opposing science and the references mentioned in this response.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Transcendental Meditation Org legal threatens Freedom of Speech


Wikileaks Threat from TMO

Transcendental Meditation in schools, the David Lynch program

November 1, 4:36 PM Boston Underground Examiner Douglas Mesner

This previously posted article has been updated with appended material following a letter received from the General Counsel for Maharishi University of Management and the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace, William Goldstein, under the subject heading "Retraction of Defamatory Article". Upon reviewing Goldstein's criticisms, the author has decided that there are no grounds for labeling this article "defamatory". An open reply to Goldstein's letter follows the article below:

Expel from your mind the stereotyped image of the robed, bearded yogi. Forget the worn image of the unkempt, hash-headed, lotus-seated hippy listening to sitar music in an incense-filled room behind a beaded curtain. This is not the Transcendental Meditation [TM] we are talking about. This is Science!
“Hundreds of scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation program at more than 200 independent universities and research institutions worldwide in the past 35 years,” explains the TM-promoting David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace website. Among the positive side-effects of the TM program, we find: increased focus, decreased hostility, reduced anxiety, even a reduction in cardiovascular disease among practitioners.
Surely, with this in mind, no reasonable person would argue against teaching the TM method in public schools.

And this is exactly what the David Lynch Foundation - founded by the cult film director of Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive - proposes: implementation of a TM teaching program “in public and private schools and in after-school programs across the U.S. and around the world, with thousands of students enjoying its benefits.”

This past April, the foundation held a large benefit concert in New York - including performances by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Ben Harper, and Moby - which, according to USA Today, raised an estimated $3 million toward funding the TM-in-schools program.

But, despite the attributed benefits and celebrity endorsements, some worry that the teaching of a TM-based program in public schools constitutes another breach across the ever-eroding church-state dividing line. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reports, “Slowly but steadily, TM seems to be gaining a foothold in public schools across the country. The trend has alarmed some advocates of church-state separation, who point out that the practice is based in Hinduism and that the federal courts removed it from New Jersey public schools on church-state grounds in 1979.”

In regards to funding being offered by the David Lynch Foundation in support of the TM program, “Americans United is urging school officials to turn down the money, reminding educators that TM in the schools can spark litigation. In 1976, Americans United and other groups joined with Roman Catholic and Protestant parents to bring a lawsuit against the use of TM in five New Jersey public schools.” […] “A federal court struck down the TM classes in October of 1977, a decision that was affirmed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February of 1979…Ruling in Malnak v. Yogi, the federal appeals court declared that TM is grounded in Hinduism. Students, the court pointed out, were assigned the name of a Hindu god to chant, and even went through a type of religious initiation ceremony called a puja.” (

Indeed, though the David Lynch Foundation seems keen to express that TM is just a technique, with real estate holdings, schools, and clinics—even a town, Vedic City, in Iowa—“worth more than $3 billion in the late 1990s,” TM is clearly something more. Some go so far as describe TM as “a cult that ultimately seeks to strip individuals of their ability to think and choose freely.”

Therapist John Knapp, specializing in providing help to ex-cult members and people entangled in “cultic relationships” left TM after 23 years of involvement. “I married somebody who was not involved with the group, and part of my group experience was that I was asked to lie about a number of items. And living every day with someone and having to lie to them was extremely difficult… It caused what you could call a cognitive dissonance. It really caused a bifurcation in my mind. It was really difficult to live with. And I’d also gotten very far away from my family, which is not uncommon for people who are in these kinds of [cultic] relationships. As my mother was getting older I wanted to re-establish my ties with her and the family. These kinds of things led me to begin questioning my relationship [with TM].”

Upon deciding that he would leave TM, Knapp reports that he suffered a good deal of harassing behavior from the group. “It was difficult for me, because I had believed so strongly in this group [TM]. My spiritual and emotional life was really bound up completely with this group, so when they turned on me it was very confusing and very difficult for me…”

Worse, Knapp reports negative effects derived from the meditation technique itself, from addictive behavior to increased feelings of dissociation. He claims that many clients of his that come from TM have experienced the same.

TM was founded by a man known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1956 in India, and the revered guru himself had once been accused of using “fear and intimidation” in order to work to prevent a disciple from leaving the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. The disillusioned student, Robert Kropinski, and six other people sued Maharishi’s University for $9 million on the grounds of “fraud, neglect, and intentionally inflicting emotional damage”. Kropinski stated that none of the promised TM benefits ever surfaced during his time as a student, and he was awarded $138,000 by a Washington D.C. jury. Maharishi did not appear in court, as he was never available to receive summons.

Admittedly, all of this sounds most unpleasant, but what of the scientific data supporting the individual benefits of TM?

There are problems with TM’s data. While the David Lynch Foundation endlessly promotes the “unique” benefits of TM, there is a conspicuous shortage of comparative analytical studies that measure TM against other relaxation techniques. Surprisingly, studies measuring the effects of a simple mid-day nap report many of the same “unique” benefits touted by TM.

In fact, a study published in the journal Science in 1976 found in studying “five experienced practitioners of Transcendental Meditation”, that they “spent appreciable parts of meditation sessions” merely napping.

And, according to a June 2007 report, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that evaluated the quality of the meditation research along an array of standard scientific criteria such as the proper use of randomization and control group techniques, “Overall, the methodological quality of both intervention and observational analytic studies on meditation practices is poor.”

According to Dr. Barry Markovsky, professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina, “Poor evidence, even in large quantities, falls short of establishing scientifically the benefits of TM.”

Worst of all, TM makes a series of staggering claims that can be charitably described as “unlikely”. Old advertisements for TM claim that practitioners of TM will develop “supernormal powers” including “supernormal sight and hearing”, invisibility, and levitation! The organization even circulated photos with pictures of lotus-seated students apparently hovering above the ground, but first-hand observations of the “levitations” left many unconvinced. The levitators never managed to levitate for very long; they never really “hovered”. In fact, they sprung up rather abruptly and dropped immediately to the ground again. Really, it was quite apparent that these transcendent hopefuls were merely hopping about from a seated position.

Nor has TM provided any legitimized demonstrations of any of its supernormal powers.

When asked about “advanced techniques” such as “yogic flight” during a press conference promoting his benefit concert, David Lynch replied with some rambling vagaries about a “field of unity”, “bliss”, and the “collective consciousness”.

The David Lynch Foundation has a stated of goal of teaching TM to one million children, which is reminiscent of another supernatural claim of TM: the Maharishi Effect, which states that a certain critical mass of TM meditators can affect change upon the material world.

While John Hagelin of the David Lynch Foundation claims that the Maharishi Effect is a scientifically proven phenomenon, there is no reliable evidence to support this. (Hagelin, it should be noted, is partially to blame for the simple-minded buffoonery of the best-selling book The Secret, which promotes a simpler version of the Maharishi Effect: The idea that one can obtain what one wants through mere wishful thinking.) Hagelin claims that in 1993 crime was reduced in Washington, DC during a two month period due to the collective effort of 4000 TM practitioners.

As Skeptico reports: “There were many problems with this experiment. One was that the murder rate rose during the period in question. Another was that Hagelin’s report stated violent crime had been reduced by 18% (in the film [What The Bleep Do We Know] he says 25%), but reduced compared with what? How did he know what the crime rate would have been without the TM? It was discovered later that all the members of the “independent scientific review board” that scrutinized the project were followers of the Maharishi. The study was pseudoscience: no double blinding, the reviewers were not independent, and the experiment has never been independently replicated. Hagelin deservedly won an Ig Nobel Prize in 1994 for this outstanding piece of work.”

James Randi, famed stage magician, author, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and debunker of supernatural claims, explains that TM has “always maintained this… [the idea] that if a certain critical number of people take up TM, they will protect everybody, and the world will be perfectly safe from then on.”

Randi came to be aware of TM through his friend and fellow magician, Doug Henning. “I knew [Henning] very well as a kid, and later as a mature magician. We were always in touch…” Randi describes a deeply cultic relationship between Henning and Transcendental Meditation that would destroy Henning’s career and eventually take his life. Henning’s career as a television magician was compromised as he strove to hire only TM initiates to work on the set. According to Randi, this was not only problematic for the fact that it was difficult to find people within TM who were talented in television production, but “every so often they went in to meditation and work just stopped…” Eventually, TV executives grew weary of Henning’s professional antics.

Henning became even more deeply involved with TM following his diagnosis of liver cancer, eventually removing himself from contact with non-TM practitioners. “He gave up all medical care… the Maharishi had told him that he could recover from his liver cancer simply from meditating… he meditated himself to death.” Henning died in February of 2000.

“I’m so angry at the TM movement,” says Randi, “for having taken an innocent person.”

John Knapp feels that the drive to bring TM into more schools is destined to failure as any critical scrutiny of the organization will prove its undoing. According to him, “It’s just too damn strange…”

Relaxation – whether by crude napping, or practiced meditation – holds certain benefits that are not the monopoly of the TM brand. It is this author’s hope that schools will continue to seek techniques to aid the reduction of stress and conflict - while increasing health and focus - without reducing their curriculum to supernatural philosophies that cross the church-state line.


On October 13 editors at Examiner received an email from William Goldstein, General Counsel for Maharishi University of Management and the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace. The email's subject heading was "Retraction of Defamatory Article", and it ended with strong words claiming that the "falsehoods, defamations and omissions [in the article above] compel me [Goldstein] to ask you to remove this article from your newspaper to put an end to the continuing damage its publication causes to my client."

And what were these "falsehoods, defamations and omissions"? Goldstein opens: "I will not comment on the inappropriate statements on the scientific research conducted on the TM program contained in Mr. Mesner’s article. Dr. Orme Johnson’s comments you have received reply more expertly than I could on that subject and I incorporate them."

I had read Dr. Orme Johnson's criticisms and found them less than compelling, some of them nonsensical. For instance, this comment - "To Knapp’s statement that TM is “too strange” for America, one has to ask, strange for whom, the narrow minded and ethnocentric? I think our nation has gotten past a lot of that." - left me to merely wonder what in the world ethnocentricism might have to do with any of this if TM is not to be viewed as an Eastern practice rooted in Eastern beliefs and traditions?

Dr. Orme Johnson made comments suggesting that James Randi was incorrect regarding Henning's situation: "Maharishi’s advice was always to seek medical attention when one gets sick, not “just meditate” as Randi alleges. Studies of medical care utilization that I conducted on Blue Cross statistics found that 2,000 TM subjects over a five-year period had on average 50% less hospitalization and doctors visits than the norm or matched controls, with reductions in all categories of disease."

This comment would be laughable if the ramifications were less grave. When the criticism is that TM discouraged a sick man from seeking medical attention, the statistic of 50% less hospitalization amongst TM practitioners hardly makes that claim seem less credible. But, just the same, if Randi's comments are "falsehoods, defamations, or omissions", that is problem that must be taken up with James Randi. He is accurately quoted in the article above.

Likewise, the claim that TM is a "cult" is attributed, and Goldstein must take any disagreement with that label up with those who use it to describe his... "client". In my favorite part of his email, Goldstein writes: Mr. Mesner then goes on to paste the horrific label of a “cult” on the TM program. Al Gore, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul McCartney would find it remarkable to be told they are members of a cult, but that does not mitigate the serious damages that such thoughtless labeling can have on the organizations which teach these programs to the public. And while Jerry may laugh at such a characterization, Al Gore may not have as well developed a sense of humor.

This shameless name-dropping is pointless, as it can be worked both ways. "Jerry may laugh", and Al Gore may be a humorless bore. Or Jerry may in fact cringe in disgust if presented with the idea that TM practitioners may learn to levitate, or that the Maharishi Effect is a proven phenomena. Al Gore may laugh at such nonsense. We really don't know, do we? Were Jerry Seinfeld, Al Gore, or Paul McCartney asked to give an opinion of my article? Is it just too remarkable to imagine that such celebrities might be involved in a "cult" or cult-based practices? Do Tom Cruise and John Travolta find it remarkable that many accuse Scientology of being a cult? For that matter, isn't Scientology's Dianetics "auditing" practice nothing more than a therapeutic technique? As such, perhaps it too should be welcomed into school rooms.

Goldstein goes on to question the credibility of John Knapp: "Mr. Knapp has developed a niche in the field of counseling for victims of cults which he actively promotes on his websites. He has created a straw man, and now he is selling expensive medicine to him. "
While I'm not exactly sure what is meant by this, it seems to imply that counseling ex-TM practitioners has proven lucrative for Knapp which would also imply a consistent client base of TM disaffected. But, again, if Goldstein takes issue with what is said by Knapp, he must take it up with him. Knapp is accurately quoted in the article above.

The one helpful item mentioned in Goldstein's email was the fact that the Kropinski finding was over-turned on appeal - though this would better have been mentioned in the comments, not in a full letter claiming "defamation".

Most other comments regarding this article, by Dr. Orme Johnson and others, take exception to the criticisms regarding the Maharishi Effect. I have no intention of being ambiguous about this: the Maharishi Effect is not a proven phenomena. I seriously doubt it can even be considered a valid hypothesis. It's failed hippy mysticism, and it has no place whatever in public schools.

I said it.

Go ahead and sue me.

Speaking only for myself,

Douglas Mesner

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Transcendental Meditation research barely gets a mention on American Heart Association website

Despite dozens of press and web announcements about a:

"...nine-year, randomized control trial followed 201 African American men and women, average age 59 years, with narrowing of arteries in their hearts who were randomly assigned to either practice the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique or to participate in a control group which received health education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise."
which was to be presented during the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla., on Nov.16, 2009, the Transcendental Meditation study did not make the Top Scoring Abstracts from Scientific Sessions 2009, nor were the slides of the presentation even posted on the American Heart Association website. And apparently no one has agreed to even publish this research. It's only barely mentioned in the typical list of abstracts that are published with any scientific conference.

This is hardly surprising. The Transcendental Meditation technique has a long history of research labeled "poor" by independent scientists, esp. when it comes to heart health. A recent independent review actually showed that Transcendental Meditation was the worst meditation technique at lowering blood pressure.

Like many TM studies, this recent one by long-time TM meditator and TM advocate, Dr. Robert Schneider, has a poor study design in that it uses controls very poorly, a long-time failing in TM research, especially when it is sponsored or performed by Transcendental Meditation adherents or the organization that sells the pricey Transcendental Meditation technique.

One would hope after decades of research that the Transcendental Meditation researchers would improve their methods and their study designs, like other meditation research (i.e. Christian meditation, Mindfulness and Vipassana meditation). But it appears, as has been stated in independent reviews since the early 1980's, Transcendental Meditation research remains greatly "exaggerated". It is therefore no surprise that Transcendental Meditation failed to make the Top Scoring Abstracts from Scientific Sessions 2009. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Bad Research on Transcendental Meditation and ADHD

In a clear attempt to deceive with biased, poorly executed "research" TM advocates attempt to promote the use of Transcendental Meditation in schools - but his time they get caught.

Space City Skeptics does an excellent job at exposing the fraud common in TM research.

Check out the blow-by-blow analysis at:

Some excerpts:

"The flaws in this study are numerous. The number of subjects is too small, there is no control group and it isn’t blinded. The study reveals that some of the children are on medication but it does not take into account the possibility of recent changes in medical therapy, or improved compliance while on the study. It is based purely on self-report and subjective questionairres and there is very high liklihood that a placebo effect could have been the sole responsible factor in the subjects’ apparent improvements. The authors then call for larger and better designed studies, something which I don’t think is justified for these reasons, but my problem with this study, and concerns regarding the credulous take by the media, go much deeper than what I’ve already explained.
What led me to dig deeper after reading the Reuters’ report was the following quote:
The effect was much greater than we expected,” lead researcher Sarina J. Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist in Arlington, Virginia, said in a written statement.”
I wondered why the researcher had expected an effect and hypothesized that there may be a connection between the researchers and TM more significant than academic curiosity. I was quickly able to discover that Grosswald is a hardcore believer in TM. Just read this quote by Grosswald from a website called Ask The Doctors, which provides a forum for specialists to answer questions related to TM and health:
The TM technique is the exact opposite of harmful. It reduces your risk of getting serious chronic health problems like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, research on the Transcendental Meditation program shows that people who practice it go to the doctor about 50% less than the general population. And if they are in the hospital for some reason, their hospital stay is 50% shorter, on average. For some conditions, the need for medical care is as much as 87% less for TM meditators. Practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is one of the best things you can do for your health.”
She clearly does not come across as an unbiased investigator. In reading her other responses on the “Ask The Doctors” website, and especially after listening to a 16-minute talk she gave in 2005, when this research actually took place, which is posted on a Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation sponsored website that focuses on “ADHD, the Mind and the Transcendental Meditation technique” called Insights in Health, it is obvious that she is a true believer. That doesn’t prove the research is bogus by itself, but it is a red flag.
A more concerning red flag, and one which was also discovered in the talk given by Grosswald, is the fact that the 10 children involved in the study may have been coached. In the last few minutes of the presentation, Grosswald presents clips of the children meeting with the TM proponents prior to the initiation of the study, where it appears that they are told what the expected outcome of the trial is, that their symptoms will improve with TM. "
"It wasn’t difficult to look at this study and see that the claims being made by TM supporters aren’t valid. It wasn’t even that hard to uncover the connections between the investigators, the school where the study was conducted and pro-TM organizations. Yet I was unable to find one news report that displayed even the slightest amount of critical thinking, instead reading like press releases from TM believers. The current state of science and health reporting is rather depressing, and I don’t see things improving any time soon as more and more dedicated science writers are falling prey to the poor economy."

Latest TM Research Joke

Veteran TM writer Mike Doughney's at it again skewering the latest Transcendental Meditation marketing scheme in the, uh, heart over at TM-Free blog.

As before (the most recent attempt being TM and Breast cancer in a typical, poorly controlled study) this is being pushed to all the blogs and media outlets, but it doesn't sound like anyone has actually read the paper in question! Indeed unlike actual cutting edge science, where you can read the latest and greatest paper in PDF format and decide for yourself, in TM research it is increasingly hard to find the actual paper behind the press releases! Obviously they don't want all of us sciencey-types actually reading the papers.

It's no surprise why.

This latest round of meditational masturbation is actually done by Dr. Robert Schneider, the same bozo who stared into the camera on the BBC meditation special, glassy-eyed (they had to awaken him from his meditation, apparently he had forgotten about the appointment) and told us that TM--which mostly involves nap-like, descending sleep stages--is actually a form of "deep rest".

My grandmother will be happy to hear this.

Mike nails it quite well:

The title, "Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?" is one of those leading questions that snake-oil salesmen love, since they can then respond with the answer they've already prepared. In fact, that's the strategy of the TM sales pitch for decades, as founding TM salesman Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once stated during a TM teacher training course: "Every question is a perfect opportunity for the answer we have already prepared." The New York Times has set the stage, creating a vacuum into which the following stage-managed presentation perfectly fits. A better title might have been, "Vedic theocrats claim introductory technique of their faith curbs heart attacks." It would have from the beginning clarified who's making the claim, and the nature of the organization that's making the claim. Unfortunately my expectations of New York Times reporters aren't likely to be fulfilled in my lifetime; this is a sad benchmark of how poor the reporting is in one of the nation's leading newspapers today.

But wait, there's more! Featured at the top of this slightly rewritten press release masquerading as a New York Times story is an account of a 70 year old woman with high blood pressure who meditates. Clearly, meditating isn't the only thing she's been doing about her high blood pressure. See, it says so right there in the article:

Could the mental relaxation have real physiological benefits? For Mrs. Banks, the study suggests, it may have. She has gotten her blood pressure under control, though she still takes medication for it...

I think the cause of her blood pressure being under control is rather obvious, and it isn't the practice of TM. But that didn't stop the TM salesmen from putting one over on this reporter, claiming that instead of the scientifically proven benefits of those nasty nasty "pills" from "allopathic" doctors (the words that some TM devotees use for scientifically-validated medications and medicine), the magic words in somebody's head were the real cause of their lowered blood pressure. The best they can come up with, as a clear statement of TM's efficacy, is "could have;" those of us familiar with the ineffectiveness of the whole "health" regimen sold by the Transcendental Meditation organization would say, "probably not." The rest is just a tornado of blowing smoke, leaving the reader with an illusion that TM is proven to be something of value when the evidence, after decades of trying, is just not there.

Mentioned nowhere in this story is a connection, obvious to knowledgeable observers, that takes the sheen off this glowing report alleging TM effectiveness: the lead researcher, and the primary person quoted in this article, works for the same organization that sells the TM program. The reader can certainly tease it out if so motivated, since the researcher, Robert Schneider, is a medical doctor who's identified as a director of a "research institute" based at Maharishi Institute of Management. But not everybody knows that "Maharishi" is the founder of the organization that sells the TM program, and that should have been made clear to readers. Also evident is another of the TM movement's habits, of giving grandiose institutional names to various elements of TM promotions and assigning "directors" to them. While its name may create the impression that the "Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention" is a large imposing white-columned building full of top-notch scientists working on the latest cutting-edge discoveries in their fields, the fact is that this "Institute" is probably just Schneider and a few associates, and the only means of "prevention" they're researching, or even the least bit interested in, are those things that are part of the faith-based, allegedly "Vedic" stable of "Maharishi" branded products and services.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Most Maharishi University students aren't interested in Transcendental Meditation

According to recent research performed by Maharishi University of Management students, the vast majority of them aren't interested in TM, let alone being forced to do it (or be expelled). 

According to the internally taken poll:

"300 students signed a petition vowing that they were all going to drop out if the university didn't stop forcing them to meditate by taking attendance at mandatory group meditations. MUM caved, and that policy was dropped. A study was then conducted that determined that the student body consists of

  • 30% entrepreneurs - career-oriented kids who mainly want to learn skills and enter the workforce. TM and SCI aren't high priorities.
  • 60% "dreamers" who want to change the world. They appreciate TM but don't see it as the lynchpin of that endeavor. They're into environmentalism and other causes.
  • 10% devotees


The faculty are about 90% devotees, so their attempts to impose their values on the students weren't working. The university is trying to translate this assessment into practical steps to become more relevant and appealing to students."


The conclusion seems obvious: no one likes to be forced to do anything. Especially intelligent college students.

The once glassy-eyed followers of the Maharishi have been replaced by a new generation who are much more knowledgeable about Transcendental Meditation, it's side effects, pitfalls and exaggerated claims. Unfortunately Maharishi University of Management censors the university internet connection for TM-critical sites, so it's not always easy for students to find the truth.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Lies of TM 1: The Effortless Lie

Most people generally think of a part of interior methods of self-improvement as a search for, or way to come to a realization of, who we truly are. As Robert Burns opined"

"If only we could see ourselves as others see us."
Alas, few of us have this insight. Meditation is often seen as a way to see ourselves honestly, with the objective lens of truth. A way to uncover our true nature.
But what happens when the meditation teacher or guru lies to us and lies to us about our meditation and then we accept these lies as part of the way we think?

One possible answer: if we accept what we are told without critical examination and simply believe what we were told, we're doomed to repeat the lies we were given as if they were true.

I've found a number of such lies in my own examination of the Transcendental Meditation program and the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. So I'd like to share them with you and explain why they are important and give some lineal, experiential and textual reasons for why uncovering such deceptions is vitally important.

This can be especially helpful if you never even realized you were lied to in the first place.

The first of these "lies" or deceptions about Transcendental Meditation (TM) that I'd like to talk about is the idea of effortlessness. It is often claimed that TM is "effortless" and that this somehow makes it superior to other forms of meditation that are not effortless and often (according to TM Org dogma) involve "straining".

First of all, it's important to understand what effort and effortlessness mean within the context of traditional meditation. At the end of any path, the goal of meditation, meditating on some thing (a mantra, the breath, etc.) is accomplished and after that point one just merely has the intention to go into meditative absorption (or samādhi) and one can effortlessly enter that state: 1) when one desires to do so and 2) for as long as one wishes to. Before this point is attained one will need "props" or "supports" (Skt.: ālambana), as the sage Patanjali calls them, to dualistically interact with in order to fabricate briefer, earlier levels of meditative attention.

Until one reaches the point of being able to enter samādhi at will and for whatever duration, one has not reached the point of meditation being effortless. In fact, if one is still relying on some technique or method (like TM) one is not at the level of true effortlessness. Actually the Sanskrit word Patanjali uses for meditation technique, prayatna, means "with effort"!

So the claim that Transcendental Meditation is somehow superior to other forms of meditation because it is effortless is a lie. And a prominent one at that. The TM Org has consistently used this lie to imply that it's form of meditation is superior to all other forms of meditation out there. The honest truth is, TM is dualistic form of meditation, not a nondual form of meditation and therefore it must rely on some sort of prop, all of which require some modicum of effort.

Mastering meditation means mastering the fine art of balancing ones attention. If meditation, esp. in the early stages becomes too lax, one simply falls asleep, a common defect in TM. The Buddha described this as like tuning a lute: you don't want the strings too tight or they'll break, nor do you want them too loose. You want them "just right". When a culture of faux-effortlessness becomes your dogma, there's always the danger (and I've seen this in many TMers) one will try to cultivate 'effortlessness' and fall into being too lax.

Both Hindu and Buddhist meditation masters warn on the dangers of loosing the correct balance and simply becoming lazy. If one is trained to fear balancing one's attention (or the fear becomes institutionalized), there's even more of a danger of falling into laxity. Yogis (real yogis that is) describe this laxity as distinct from lethargy. Laxity is actually considered an obscuration to realization of the goals of meditation. And actually subtle laxity is considered the worst kind of slackness. One knows one is falling into subtle laxity when you have uncultivated pauses in the breath, a known (and believe it or not actually heralded) effect during Transcendental Meditation. What yogic wisdom tells us is this type of obscuration guarantees we will be unable to truly obtain a formless (and thus truly effortless) absorption.

Monday, September 21, 2009 vs. TM?

A non-sectarian "Buddhist" meditation has had a very successful school meditation program called Innerkids (

Mysteriously, Innerkids website was taken down last week by hackers. Then, all of the sudden a NEW group hits the net called "Smart Method Kids", but it uses TM. Is it the TM Org in disguise or just a school using TM? Probably just coincidence.

According to the web site, kids using meditation watching the breath can create STRAIN and FRUSTRATION for them! Ouch, breath awareness sounds PAINFUL! We should avoid it at all costs! I mean, who would want their kids to STRAIN. They could get hemorrhoids or something.

As their website claims:

"The ancient, venerated Vedic Tradition of meditation prescribes different practices at specific stages of development in the child’s life. Because very young children are still integrating their inner world with the outer world around them, they may find it difficult to practice a meditation that requires them to sit still or inhibits their natural inclination to know and discover. Attempts to settle a child through directing their attention to breathing or trying to create inner silence may instead cause strain and frustration for the exuberant, growing child.

One technique of meditation that has been successfully introduced to many middle and high schools throughout America and around the world is the Transcendental Meditation technique. Based on the broad spectrum of scientific research on the effectiveness of the TM technique for students, [1] educators have felt confident that the Transcendental Meditation program is a safe and reliable practice to help children cope with stress and improve learning ability [2] and behavior [3]. Over 140,000 school children around the world have learned the TM technique in the past three years."

Prepare to be assimilated. Don't worry, it's Vedic, it won't hurt you! (actually TM is a tantric meditation method, but these people who are teaching it, don't seem to even be aware of the difference)

140,000 (!!!) other kids have learned it in just the last three years all over our Big Blue Marble and you don't hear them complaining, do you?

Check it out at:

Of course TM hasn't really been shown via any independent research that I'm aware of to be beneficial for kids. The only research I've seen was done by TM True Believers where the kids were coached on what their benefits would be. And then they asked them how they felt after they were indoctrinated on TM. Imagine that!

The "strain" word is a mantra long heard in Transcendental Meditation circles to attempt to demonize other meditation techniques which use balanced attention. Certainly from the perspective of people who learn to practice a balanced form of attention, lax, unbalanced attention just means your more likely to fall asleep. It's actually considered a defect in most forms of meditation, including mantra meditation (like TM).

Maybe there is something to independent research on Transcendental Meditation that shows 50 some per cent are not actually meditating at all, they're asleep! That's one of the disadvantages of not learning the nature of ones own mind and how to (properly) regulate attentional skills.