The recent death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought an avalanche of attention to the man and the spiritual practice, Transcendental Meditation (also known as TM), that he made famous. The guru had many celebrated followers, including the Beatles, and his pop icon status brought him controversy along with celebrity. Over the years he was charged with building a cult (a familiar charge for spiritual teachers) and with the perhaps even more egregious sin, for a guru, of parlaying his insights into a sizable business empire.
Over the years, advocates have touted TM’s ability to improve physical and mental health and social behavior. They don’t stop there with their claims: They also believe it can help create, ahem, world peace. What does the science say about these claims? Are they the delusions of true believers or do they have real merit?
As it happens, TM may be the most researched meditative technique of all time. More than 500 studies have been conducted on its physiological, psychological and sociological impacts. It turns out that the health benefits are pretty unequivocally substantial. Here’s a sampling of research findings:
Studies suggest that TM promotes the regulation of cortisol and other hormones associated with chronic stress, and that it also regulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia, anxiety and cholesterol levels. TM also reduces the incidence of illness and associated medical expenses.
Although the evidence is a bit more mixed here, the preponderance of studies suggest that TM increases intelligence and creativity.
What about the more extravagant claim that TM can contribute to world peace? Batty as it sounds, there’s a method to this madness. Advocates claim that if you gather a large number of TM practitioners in a single space and have them meditate actively, a mood of orderliness and harmony is radiated to the broader community. The result: The negative energy of conflict and unhappiness is swept away by all those good vibrations.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was so persuaded that this was the only effective path to world peace that he dubbed negotiation a “very childish approach.”
Believe it or not, there’s research supporting the claim that mass meditation can reduce violence. TM advocates cite more than 40 studies as validating this claim. In one representative study, group TM practice was found to improve “the quality of life in Israel as measured by improvement on an index consisting of reduced crime rate, reduced traffic accidents, reduced fires, the reduced number of war deaths in Lebanon, increases in the national stock market, and improvements in national mood.”
Needless to say, there are skeptics, especially about the more improbable claims that are made for TM. Be that as it may, the science strongly suggests that TM is good for your body and your mind.
Whether it’s good for the world—whether it’s the best path to world peace—well, that’s another question.