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.