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The case against meditation apps: why there’s no shortcut to inner peace

The case against meditation apps: why there’s no shortcut to inner peace

Today, meditation is — quite unliterally — all the rage.

You may have heard of Transcendental Meditation aka “TM” (because anything cool must have an abbreviated nickname, of course). This is the form of meditation popular with celebrities from Katy Perry to Sting to Gwyneth Paltrow to Jerry Seinfeld, among many other brilliant, hilarious, and artistic people.

According to Bob Roth, Executive Director of The David Lynch Foundation, and one of the world’s most sought after meditation teachers, “TM appeals to busy, practical people everywhere. The only difference is we hear about the famous people! But for every Jerry Seinfeld there are 10,000 business people, single moms, high school and college students, retired folks and more who meditate. TM appeals to everyone because everyone can use more energy and resilience, less stress and anxiety, greater clarity and creativity of thought, and, perhaps most importantly, more genuine inner happiness.”

So, more energy, less stress, and more happiness? Sold! So how do we do it?

In fact, the beauty of TM is that you don’t have to “do” anything. A TM teacher will give you your own mantra, aka a weird Sanskrit word with no meaning attached to it. Sit for 20 minutes twice a day and repeat the word in your head. That’s it. No fancy chanting. No need to bend your body into lotus position or stand on your head. Special pillow and quiet room optional — you can meditate in your bed, on the subway, in an airport, in a house, with a mouse, in a box or with a fox, here or there — you can meditate everywhere. Oh the places you’ll go!

In fact, you don’t even have to “believe in” TM for it to work.

“There is nothing to believe in, nothing to adopt. It is a simple technique that has been learned by nearly 8 million people of all ages, educational backgrounds and religious beliefs,” Roth explains, adding: “The great thing about TM is it requires no belief to do it properly and gain all the benefits. It’s like you don’t have to believe in gravity for a tennis ball to fall out of your hand and hit the ground. In the same way, the ability to transcend, to allow your active, excited mind to experience a state of deep inner wakefulness (which we all already have inside!) is completely effortless and natural. We are all hardwired for it.”

Who says? Science says!

According to brain science, there are three categories of basic meditation: focused attention, open monitoring, and self-transcending. Focused attention involves intense concentration or mind control and creates gamma brain waves that is helpful for doing one particular task or activity. Open monitoring is synonymous with what we usually refer to as “mindfulness” or a focus on staying in the present moment — this is where many meditation apps focus. This approach creates “theta” brain waves and according to Roth “is an excellent 2-minute coping mechanism when things get tense at home or around the office.” The last form of meditation is called self-transcending, and includes Transcendental Meditation. TM creates “alpha 1” brain waves, a mental state of deep inner calm and self-reflection.

But we’re so busy — isn’t there an app for this!

Bad news for meditation hackers: um, no.

“Scientific research has made clear that all meditations are not created equal. Most of the serious research is on TM or mindfulness,” Roth explains. And while mindfulness is always a good idea and can be a useful tool for reducing stress, “Research shows that TM uniquely wakes up the brain to function in a more integrated and creative manner and gives the body a profound state of relaxation which alone eliminates the build of stress and stress-related disorders, such as heart disease, anxiety, depression, learning disorders, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress and a host of other illnesses.”

Taking deep breaths and focusing on the present moment never hurts, and Roth says that quick-fix meditation apps can be a simple, entry-level approach to the field of meditation, but adds that “to really develop the brain and to really reduce stress and anxiety and increase energy over a sustained period of time, research shows you need to learn a legitimate form of meditation from a qualified, professionally trained teacher.”

So why 20 minutes, twice a day?

Is there such a thing as “batch meditation”? Wouldn’t it be great to turn off our brains for hours on Sunday then not meditate all week? Like yoga, or more practically, brushing our teeth or making our beds, meditation needs to be a daily practice.

“Life is getting more and more and more intense: more demands, more pressure, more challenges. And there is no quiet anywhere. We are plugged in just about 24/7,” says Roth.

He adds, “In the past, a good night’s sleep would do a good job of neutralizing the build of daily stresses. But no more. First of all, most people don’t sleep that well at night. And even if we do, we still feel the residue of stress accumulate, day by day. So we don’t have the resilience, the energy, the creativity we once had. We get more headaches, drink more coffee to get going in the morning and more alcohol at night to attempt to unwind from the tension of the day. But such self-medications cause more problems than they solve. Twenty minutes, twice a day, of TM can eliminate the build of toxic stress in our lives, awaken the brain, and allow us to live healthier, more productive and satisfying lives during the day and sleep much better at night.”

Plus, “According to the American Heart Association, TM is the only form of meditation that can reliably reduce high blood pressure, which is the number one cause of death in America (and many other countries). Research also shows a more marked and sustained reduction in anxiety and depression and reductions in many other stress-related disorders.”

20 minutes twice a day to help prevent chronic illness? Suddenly our schedules just got a lot clearer!