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Health check The no fluff case for transcendental meditation

September 19, 2018

Over the years I’ve been called to meditation at times when I was fraught with internal chaos and felt meditation held something that could bring me some peace.

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never answered the call, but last Sunday I came one step closer and attended the free introductory talk at the Norwalk office of the Transcendental Meditation Program, a global nonprofit, known commonly as TM, with 180 centers in the U.S.

In a large nondescript building, the Norwalk TM center could be confused for a doctor’s office with its bare walls and waiting room chairs. Five middle-aged people, one who brought her son, made up the class attendees. None of them were overtly hippy-dippy and nearly everyone said they wanted to their reduce anxiety and have a better quality of life. All of us were referred to TM by someone who practiced it. I myself chose TM over other meditation techniques because my sister’s friend Antonia swears by it.

During the hour and a half lecture, our teacher, Kathy Connor, laid out a convincing case for the benefits of TM for stress relief, enhanced brain functioning, and a healthier heart. A TM teacher in Fairfield County for the last 27 years, Connor emphasized the benefits of TM are ground in scientific studies from research universities, such as Harvard Medical School, that have found, among other results, that TM reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, by 30 percent.

I was most drawn to the argument TM helps brings order to the brain, a broad statement born out in a 1999 article in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Human Physiology. When people are exposed to stimuli during TM, there’s greater participation of the whole brain in the response to the stimuli. In layman’s terms, TM prompts engagement of the whole brain and consequently reduces purely emotional responses and enhances clarity and creativity.

“I think people are recognizing TM now more as a practical tool to improve their health and well-being and not as a strange thing to do,” Connor said. These days she’s seeing a lot more people with high energy and high-stress jobs, including many people who work in finance.

“If you want to enjoy life you need to get rid of the stress that accumulates and doesn’t go anywhere,” Connor said. After the free-info class, a hefty sum is required to take the full course, which includes one on one sessions with Kathy who will start you on the journey of meditating for 20 minutes twice a day.

A few days after the class I gave my sister’s friend Antonia a call. She’s in her mid-20s, lives in Manhattan, works at a finance-related job and took the TM course in January with her boyfriend, also a business savant, who was inspired to try TM by Ray Dalio, the founder of Westport-based investment firm Bridgewater Associates, who’s a proud TM evangelist. “Transcendental meditation has probably been the single most important reason for whatever success I’ve had,” Dalio wrote in an Instagram post last March.

“I have a greater appreciation for reality rather than being caught up in ego or anxiety and better able to relinquish anxiety and focus on the things that matter — in my personal life and work,” Antonia said. Although she now meditates only for about 20 minutes every other day, she said even that level of consistency provides her with a high-impact that carries beyond her time meditating.

“It definitely surpassed my expectations. I immediately saw the benefits and was able to make decisions in my life that were directly impacted by the fact that I made them with a clear mind,” Antonia said.

I’m just about convinced. My editor frowns on this, but if anyone wants to be my meditation benefactor and pay for me to take the course, my contact info is below.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1

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