What Is Transcendental Meditation? Benefits, Techniques, & More

Warning: This article references childhood sexual abuse, drug abuse, and PTSD.

IF YOU TOLD me a few years ago that I would end up in tears in front of a shrine to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the creator of Transcendental Meditation, at the celebrity-frequented David Lynch Foundation, I would have laughed in your face. But here we are.

After a decade of cycling through various forms of self-destruction, in 2018 I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), which is caused by long-term trauma rather than a single traumatic event. Up until this point, I’d had night terrors and self-medicated with sleeping pills. I’d had daily panic attacks and swallowed palmfuls of benzos, erasing weeks from my mind. I’d find men who would get me high before we’d have sex. I’d run for miles and playe video games until my vision blurred and blasted away my own consciousness. I needed to feel nothing. No pain, no memories, no connection to my past.


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The past: A guy messaged me online when I was 14 years old. He was older, but I met up with him. He drugged me, raped me, and took naked pictures of me that he would post online to find other older men who would pay to rape me.

I didn’t talk about what happened for many years. Part of this was because I didn’t have the language for it. I was very young and barely passed high school. While other students went to college, I was planning to run away to California the second I could to get far away from New York. Being close to what occurred sickened me. The day I graduated, I packed a bag and moved to San Diego.

Any escape meant a better chance of staying alive. I started to plan a future. I met a guy and fell in love. We adopted a dog. I took adult education classes, then community college classes, and transferred to a school in New York. But then I had a mental breakdown that landed me in the psych ward, and even there I refused to tell the doctors why I felt so bad.

Part of me felt like nobody cared if a man was sexually abused. The literature passed around in the psych wards and treatment centers and online always referenced a woman getting abused by a man. The FBI didn’t include men in their definition of rape until 2014. We didn’t count for statistics. I didn’t exist.

In 2018, I started grad school at NYU, where I received a referral to the Crime Victims Treatment Center. My therapist specialized in male childhood sexual abuse, and he helped me see all of the ways I was organizing my life around not feeling the effects of the violence. Whether it was sex, drugs, liquor, video games, or exercise, I spent much of my time creating avoidant patterns because if I finally admitted how angry and hurt and sad I was about what happened to me, I would explode.

“The FBI didn’t include men in their definition of rape until 2014. We didn’t count for statistics. I didn’t exist.”

That year, the world conspired to push me further in my healing. New York planned to pass a law called the Child Victims Act, which created a one-year lookback window for childhood victims of sexual assault. It’s the inspiration behind my novel, The Lookback Window. This meant, if you were like me and the statute of limitations had already expired, you had a one-year window to decide whether or not you would bring a civil case against your abuser. I heard this debated on the radio, opined over in papers, advertised by law firms online. I felt like everywhere I turned there were billboards saying “YOU WERE RAPED! DEAL WITH IT!”

‘The Lookback Window’

'The Lookback Window'

At this point I was two years into treatment, and my therapist asked if I would be interested in learning Transcendental Meditation—a meditation technique where you sit upright and close your eyes while repeating a mantra for 20 minutes, twice a day. Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the technique has been taught to everyone, from The Beatles in the 1970s to first responders during Covid to victims of sexual assault. When your body enters this state of rest, the health benefits range from greater attention capabilities to lower blood pressure to decreased stress. Some people study it for relaxation, some for expanded creativity, and others for trauma-related treatment.

“Since our response to trauma can be both mental (ruminating about traumatic events) and physical (elevated heart rate or feeling flushed/hot when reminded of trauma), strategies like trauma-informed yoga and trauma-informed meditation are working their way into mental health practices to offer patients more options,” says Gregory Scott Brown, M.D., psychiatrist and Men’s Health advisory board member. (Editor’s note: Dr. Brown is not affiliated with the author.) “And I’m encouraged by that.”

The David Lynch Foundation, which teaches the technique to everybody from Martin Scorsese to CEOs to school teachers, reached out to my therapist and offered scholarships to survivors of sexual assault like myself. The course would be two weeks long with a check-in a month later, and my group would consist of three other people. I was at the point in treatment where I’d do anything that would help me feel a moment of relief, and I heard the technique helped artists with creation. I had an easier time accepting help when it would also benefit my art or body. Choosing treatment for mental health alone would mean admitting to myself how much I needed it, and, worse than that, it would also mean admitting how much I wanted it. Like many victims, I often felt like I didn’t deserve to want anything.

I said yes.

I took a train to Midtown Manhattan and met Sarah, the instructor. Sarah brought me to a room, and motioned for me to sit in the empty chair. In the silent room, I waited for her to speak while staring at the shrine of a bearded Indian guru in an orange robe. Next to his portrait were candles, incense, violet, and gold flowers. I felt as if I were part of something intimate, as if she were truly about to reveal something to me, and my own cynicism abated.

“When your body enters this state of rest, the health benefits range from greater attention capabilities to lower blood pressure to decreased stress.”

After I finished answering some follow-up questions, Sarah told me what would happen next: she was going to sing to honor the teachers who had taught this way of meditation before us, out of gratitude, and then I could lay a flower at the altar. She was going to give me a mantra, a single sound that I would repeat for the meditation, and she asked if I would keep the mantra secret in order to protect the sacred method. I agreed. She began to sing, softly and beautifully, in a language I didn’t recognize, and she moved to the altar to light the candle and incense. I put down the flower and Sarah told me the mantra. It wasn’t a word, but a sound, that I repeated until I said it correctly, and she instructed me to repeat it aloud until I said it as quietly as possible. Then to repeat it only in my head with my eyes closed.

The sound vibrated in my chest and then in my mind, where it created space inside of me. I had no thoughts. If thoughts came, I didn’t judge them, but allowed them to pass through me until they were gone. This was the purpose: to clear your mind without judgment. The process took 10 minutes, and when we finished I felt as though I had awoken from a deep sleep.

I had not gotten a good sleep in so long, and this was the first time that I felt rested without pills in a year. I knew that I was exhausted, but I hadn’t realized how tired avoiding my own emotions made me. I never gave myself time to really feel anything, which meant my mind, body, and spirit were always working, even if they were working to avoid. If I’m being honest, this was the hardest lesson to learn in trauma therapy, and I still have to tend to it today: If I repress my emotions, I will break down. I would have avoided major physical and emotional tolls if I had simply let myself feel bad, if I had simply let myself cry or scream. Deceiving myself into seeming okay not only exhausted me, but made it difficult to know how I was actually feeling, which made my mental health impossible to treat correctly.

Now, I cry almost every day. When I first met my husband in 2022, I teared up in every bar we went to, on our walks, in our beds. He joked that we should get a map of Brooklyn and put pushpins where I cried. This has become my meter on how honest I’m being with myself, how safe I feel around the people I love, and how far I’ve come from hiding the years of abuse.

“Even when I am triggered, I have a way to heal myself, and that’s a lifelong gift.”

Eventually I returned to the program the following week to further learn the technique. I also meditated at home once in the morning after I woke up and once around four in the afternoon, but meditating with the group felt easier. Knowing everyone there was trying to recover from abuse gave it purpose. I used to think meditation was a vain exercise given to you by a doctor who didn’t know how to help you. But the more I studied Transcendental Meditation, the more I learned that if I didn’t give my body time to recover and heal, I would never be okay.

I found the idea of creating a practice of following your body’s impulses without judgment moving. When you’re abused, the abuser doesn’t want you to yell out of pain. You adapt quickly, and you learn how to deny what your body actually needs. Transcendental Meditation does the opposite. You give your body time to do whatever it wants, even if it just brings thoughts to the surface that you need to acknowledge and let go.

I’m a better husband, friend, and artist for giving myself permission to feel anything I feel because the only way to know what is going on with yourself is to ask yourself the questions: what do you feel and how can I help you recover? Through programs like the one I went to, people are given tools to clear their mind and lower their traumatic stress at home for the rest of their lives. That’s what Transcendental Meditation did for me. Even when I am triggered, I have a way to heal myself, and that’s a lifelong gift.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, RAINN is available for free and confidential support 24/7 by dialing 800-656-4673.

Headshot of Kyle Dillon Hertz

Kyle Dillon Hertz received an MFA in fiction at NYU, where he was the Writer in Public Schools Fellow. He lives in Brooklyn.

This article was originally posted here.

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