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July 04, 2011

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Laura V. Rodriguez

Thank you so much, Tom, for providing such a comprehensive explanation. You have definitely educated me! I have only read the first 40 pages of so of Transcendence. I did take an official TM course way back in 1973 as a high school senior. It's possible that since I do not recall having taken a refresher that I may have forgotten some vital aspects of the TM practice. I do remember the sessions with the TM trainer at the time - the type of room I was in. But, I don't recall some of the explanation you have provided. Of course, during the past 38 years, the instruction has likely been expanded. A few years after I took TM, I stumbled across Benson's books and also heard him speak here in Washington, DC in 1988. I guess the only basis for my comment about TM and the Relaxation resonse seeming to be the same was that when I did the Relaxation response as described in his book, I "felt" a similar type of "alpha" state that I experienced with TM. And, if I used a phrase from scripture that I particularly liked, I felt the same sense of effortlessness and I think, of transcendence. In the past few days since I have meditating more consistently, it has been bliss. Clearly, I need to explore this further and I look forward to reading more of the book. I am especially interested in investigating TM for my 14-year old son who has challenges with focusing in the school classroom and in tackling his homework. I will create another post and include your comments. I will also check into some programs soon at the Bethesda TM center.

Thanks again for the wealth of information you have provided me!

Laura Venecia Rodriguez

Tom Ball

Hi Laura. Thanks for your succinct writeup of Norman Rosenthal's new book. Your book also sounds interesting.

You bring up an interesting and important point: is the relaxation response technique, developed by Benson, "identical" to the Transcendental Meditation technique? The TM technique was introduced by Maharishi in 1955 -- revived from an ancient tradition of meditation after being lost to society, even in India, for centuries.

I've been teaching TM for many years and would like to note some of the differences between the techniques, from my perspective. Aside from their origins, there are many ways to contrast the two practices. Perhaps most important, they are very different when you look at the instructions on how to meditate (even though Benson tried to model his technique after TM). When one learns TM, one takes a comprehensive course that includes gaining an understanding of the mechanism of "transcending," which is something that Benson doesn't talk about.

Benson's technique asks that you keep your mantra (usually the word "one") in step with your breathing. In TM, one does not associate the mantra with the breathing because this would involve some control or effort, and TM is based on effortlessness. Associating the mantra with the breath would also keep attention active on the surface, disallowing the deeper rest gained through TM practice. With TM, there are many subtle differences regarding how one is instructed to use the mantra, which naturally make a difference in the experience and the outcome of daily practice.


Of course, in TM, great importance is placed on the effect of the sound, the mantra. In the ancient traditions of meditation, sound itself is known to have a tangible effect on mind and body, and the effects of the TM mantras are known to be harmonizing and life-supportive. The sound serves as a vehicle for transcending.

TM is designed for transcending, for going beyond thinking and sensations to experience the state of pure awareness. This is also known as the state of yoga (yoga, of course, means union, and refers to the individual, active mind settling inward, beyond thinking, to this state of transcendence).

During this transcending process, one does experience deep relaxation, but scores of studies show that the mind-body state produced by TM is neurophysiologically distinct from the state produced by the relaxation response. The measured changes in respiration rate, oxygen consumption, cortisol, plasma lactate, skin resistance, heart rate and other factors, during TM, exceed the levels of rest recorded by Benson himself in studies on the relaxation response.

Benson's hypothesis, that there is a general meditative state produced by the different meditation practices, was actually never substantiated by research. The theory gained some popularity in the 1970s, but now meditation researchers know that different meditation techniques produce very different effects on mind, body and behavior. For example, during Benson's technique, EEG coherence has never been recorded in any published studies. We see a mix of brainwaves, mostly mid-range alpha, with some beta and gamma, during the relaxation response, and the alpha is generally of the same sort seen during ordinary eyes-closed relaxation. During mindfulness we see theta, and during concentration, gamma. During TM practice, there is high amplitude alpha and consistent EEG coherence in the prefrontal cortex and spreading throughout the brain. For more on the measured distinctions between TM and the relaxation response, please see: http://meditationasheville.blogspot.com/2011/03/transcendental-meditation-technique-and.html

In his book, Dr. Rosenthal explains the differences between TM and ordinary relaxation (and Benson's technique). The distinctions are most striking in the realm of daily benefits. It is the process of transcending that Dr. Rosenthal finds so life transforming, not the relaxation response. The research on TM shows a range of effects not seen on any other practice.

Thanks for allowing me to explain.

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