What do Russell Brand, Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah have in common?
They've all been taught Transcendental Meditation (TM) by the American practitioner and teacher Bob Roth.
As have many professional athletes, CEOs, war veterans, and victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. He is one of the most sought after and experienced meditation teachers in the world and a passionate advocate for this particular style and its unique ability to transform not just lives but the physiology of the people who commit to regular practice.
Bob Roth has written a book on the topic called Strength in Stillness, and here he explains why TM might be the answer you've been searching for.
Why has there been an explosion of interest in meditation recently?
I think stress is worse now than ever before. It's not just imaginary. Our 24/7 plugged-in world means there's not a moment to get away – there's nowhere you can go. And we know the devastating effect that stress has on people.
I work with some of the world's greatest athletes, people who are in top physical shape; they eat as healthily as possible and they are still anxious. They can't sleep at night, they are worrying about their kids, and they feel stressed.
I think that's because we've been missing a key component in how to be healthy and well and that is that we exercise from the neck down. The science is quite clear that mind and body are connected and you can't ignore the mind when you're trying to keep the body healthy.
The second reason I think is that modern medicine has no magic pill you can take to prevent or cure stress. We can mask it with alcohol and caffeine or manage it with sleeping pills and antidepressant medications, but the tumour of stress inside of us continues to metastasise.
Is everyone suited to meditation?
There's a sense that meditation means one thing – and that it doesn't matter whether you do mindfulness meditation or walking meditation or concentration meditation.
There are many different types and some are, by nature, very difficult to do, but TM is incredibly accessible. If someone comes to me and says 'I tried to meditate but I couldn't clear my mind of thoughts and I found it very frustrating', I say 'Don't stop there, try other forms'. The problem is not going to go away. The trajectory that we're on is not suddenly going to get peaceful. It's going to get more intense.
How does TM differ from other types of meditation?
There are three types of meditation.
There is focused meditation and that is concentrated attention – like at the end of a yoga class where they say 'Now clear your mind of thoughts'. That's working with thoughts on the surface of the ocean, to stop trying to make waves.
The second type is open monitoring, which is many mindfulness techniques. It's an observational approach; just dispassionately watching your feelings come and go. Both of these train your mind to think in a particular way but they're not overly physiological.
TM, the third type, gives access to that peaceful state within. When that happens your body gains a state of rest that many regard as twice as deep as the deepest state of sleep, which doesn't show up in other forms of meditation. If you get a good night's sleep, cortisol levels could drop 10-12 per cent.
In TM, cortisol levels drop 30-40 per cent. It just shows this profound healing and resetting of the system that you don't find in any other form of meditation. It's really giving your body profound relaxation.
That's why people with trauma are healed and those of us regular folk who are balancing impossible demands at home and at work benefit from it so immediately and so enormously, because it's so easy to do.
How do we learn TM?
The types of meditation where you're clearing the mind of thoughts can be taught online but to have that transcendent experience of your own inner stillness and silence; that requires a couple of hours of individual guidance from a teacher.