Wade McKinley recalls the day he first stepped into a class on transcendental meditation (TM). As a young man in Vancouver, he’d been experiencing anxiety and depression, and a friend had recommended enrolling.
“I strolled in not knowing anything and said, Hi, I’d like to learn,” said the Calgary resident.
Now 54, McKinley has been practicing TM for 33 years. He says he values the rest it brings to his nervous system and body.
“There are times when distractions interrupt my peace of mind,” he said, but the stability that twice-daily meditation brings stays with him. “I still do TM exactly the way I was taught, but there’s growth in my experience. The quality of silence and settled-ness, it’s expanded into more aspects of my day.”
Setting the mind to rest
TM is a simple technique based on ancient yogic practices from India and renewed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the middle of the 20th century. It aims to bring the body and mind into a settled state of rest, without any concentrated effort.
A 1978 study in Hormones and Behaviour showed TM reduced cortisol--the ‘stress hormone’--by 30 per cent. A 1987 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed TM reduced hospitalizations and doctor visits among seniors, with the biggest reduction--about 70% --in people over 40.
In his 2018 book Strength in Stillness, longtime TM practitioner Bob Roth said the surge in interest in TM is partly due to an epidemic of chronic stress and related illness, and medication’s inability to prevent or cure it. He points to four decades of science showing TM’s capacity for improving brain and cognitive functioning, cardiovascular health and emotional well-being.
Help with medical issues
For Ruth Yanor, TM provides a priceless “reset button”. Seven years ago, she was weathering the debilitating effects of sleep apnea, in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
“I was wrung out from poor quality sleep, and pretty close to not being able to function. Nothing was helping,” said the Edmonton resident.
An incident at a cross-walk--where she was hit and dragged by a truck--sent her to the hospital with rib fractures and lung punctures. An allergy to opioids meant Yanor was only given extra strength Tylenol to deal with her pain, so her physician suggested enrolling in a TM program.
“Meditating would clear things. I could keep the pain out of my mind, until someone would ask ‘how’s your pain’,” she said.
Now 63, Yanor concedes that while TM hasn’t corrected her sleep apnea it has been invaluable in allowing her to function over the day.
“I calm my mind down with TM. It’s so wonderful to have this practice."
Yanor’s instructor, Ami Stadnick, says the simplicity of TM relies on the mind’s natural capacity to settle, despite its tendency to be distracted.
“It may be a favourite piece of music or a conversation. Our attention, at least momentarily, is (wired) to jump to that,” said Stadnick, a registered psychologist. “We know that if given the opportunity, the mind would rather be in a restful state. TM sets the conditions so the mind will move to finer levels of activity. It is nature at work."
At the Edmonton TM centre (there are centres across Canada, including in Edmonton and Calgary), Stadnick handles requests ranging from people who need to focus in a stressful workplace, to medical referrals to military veterans wanting a medication-free way to deal with anxiety. As a licensed TM practitioner, Stadnick has continuing access to seminars and follow-up training as needed.
For more information about Calgary and Edmonton TM centres, go to https://ca.tm.org/en/transcendental-meditation-calgary or https://ca.tm.org/en/transcendental-meditation-edmonton .
Veterans benefitting from TM
TM is now being offered to Canadian veterans and their families thanks to the Canadian Women’s Wellness Institute and a grant from Veterans Affairs Canada. As part of an overall initiative to bring benefits to people in at-risk situations or who are suffering from PTSD, a TM pilot program has been offering veterans and their family members TM instruction and a twice-daily home practice, along with follow-up meetings.
“We know veterans are not prone to sharing their experiences,” said Stadnick, a TM instructor in the pilot program. “Their peer group is always looking for a way to treat PTSD in a more natural way.”
A 2021 report on the program showed participating veterans, who averaged 51 years of age, went from higher levels of stress, depression, anxiety and anger to significantly lower ones after only 3 months of TM practice. Family members also experienced significant decreases in stress and anxiety levels.
Out of the 36 participants, half reported improvements in general health, depression and fatigue. About 60% indicated a better relationship with their spouse and family members, while 86% reported a considerable reduction in stress.
The program is now extended into 2023 in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Montreal and Fredericton. If you know any veterans who might like to enrol in the TM program, contact Ami Stadnick at [email protected]