Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An Alternative to Transcendental Meditation

In my post "Transcendental Meditation and the Alternatives", I previously linked to an excellent article published on Examiner.com called "An alternative to Transcendental Meditation". In the article, author and meditation teacher Wayne Purdin talks with former TM teacher David Spector, who runs the Natural Stress Relief organization. Since 2006, NSR has assisted meditators around the world by offering an inexpensive way to learn effortless mantra meditation via a distance and online class.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, the article disappeared. Recently, I discovered to my delight that it had been posted in its entirety to the Yahoo Group discussion board Fairfield Life, so respectfully I re-publish it here as well.

Some readers think that I am a proponent of Transcendental Meditation. And I've received email from TMers accusing me of putting TM in a bad light by allowing negative comments about it. They're both wrong. I am an objective reporter. In this article I will objectively report on an alternative to TM, called Natural Stress Relief (NSR).

You might ask, if TM is so great why do we need an alternative?

Unfortunately, TM has developed several aspects that prevent many people from being able to learn. Its course fee has become prohibitively high ($1500.00 for adults, $750 for students and $375 for children under 18), and it includes nonessential elements that many find to be religious or mystical, and therefore objectionable to some people. The need for an alternative was clear, and a nonprofit group in Italy called Istituto Scientia, led by physics researcher Fabrizio Coppola, got together in the late 1990's to develop a comparable technique that did not have these objectional aspects. By 2003, Istituto Scientia was offering their own course, called la Tecnica Naturale Anti-Stress (TNAS) in Italian, and Natural Stress Relief in English.

In 2006 David Spector, a former TM teacher, was inspired to help. David founded Natural Stress Relief, Inc., an independent nonprofit corporation, to produce and distribute the NSR learning materials in hardcopy and CDs throughout the world in cooperation with Istituto Scientia. Since 2006 nearly one thousand individuals have learned NSR Meditation through NSR Meditation/USA.

I recently talked with David about NSR and this is what he had to say:

Q. Doesn't NSR violate copyright law? Aren't you guilty of plaigarism?

A. We have copied no written or copyrighted TM material except for very brief and attributed quotations from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of TM.

Q. When I became a TM teacher, I had to sign a legal document promising not to teach it outside of the TMO. How did you get around this?

A: When I graduated from 8 months of teacher training in residence with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1972, our group was asked orally not to teach TM outside of Maharishi's organizations, and I have not done so. My last TM teaching was done in 1974. I was also asked not to reveal that pledge, but you did ask a direct question and I believe that only an honest answer is ethical.

Maharishi was certainly very concerned (as am I) about what he liked to call "the purity of the teaching", but he was at the same time supportive (at least in the early 1970s) of people teaching the simple, natural, effortless, and effective technique of transcending to as many people as possible. He taught us that this knowledge is no one's property but that it comes to us from the long and freely available Vedic tradition passed from teacher to student in India. He said we should enlighten the world, whether we called it TM and worked through his organizations or whether we called it something else and worked independently of his organizations.

An early example was Deepak Chopra, a disciple of Maharishi who decided to form his own organization and teach his own techniques based on the same Vedic tradition of effortless enlightenment. Maharishi reluctantly approved his doing so and Deepak is still helping the world today. Another example is the Advaita Meditation organization, which is teaching mantra meditation independently with the blessing of the current leader of that Vedic tradition in South India at Sringeri (Maharishi was a disciple of the leader of the same tradition in the north of India at Jyotir Math).

Q. What do you say to critics who accuse you of being in it for the money?

A. Natural Stress Relief, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation registered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The NSR organizations are not only nonprofit, but volunteer as well. The officers receive no income from sales of the NSR learning materials or from their personal support services. Indeed, our prices are a small fraction of what we could charge; they are only what we have found necessary to publicize and produce the NSR materials.

Q. Is NSR identical to TM?

A. NSR is not the same as TM. For example, NSR is self-learned from a manual and a CD, while TM is learned through personal instruction from a teacher. We only state that experimentation and experience have confirmed that it produces similar results (decreased stress, increased intelligence, creativity, ability to focus, etc.) as TM.

Q. What research has been done on NSR and how does it compare with research on TM?

A. NSR has been available to researchers for only 6 years, as compared to 51 years for TM. In spite of our newness, we have published two papers in peer-reviewed psychological journals. In addition, we have several unpublished studies (including a current longitudinal STAI study with N=45). All of our studies produce virtually identical results as the published studies on TM. Our research measurements include EEG, GSR, STAI, and a standard psychological inventory (SISA) showing the growth of self-actualization.

Q. What do you say to critics' claim that NSR is "watered-down" TM?

A. Not so. NSR contains a complete technique for experiencing transcendental consciousness (restful alertness) in the very first session, as reported by our clients. It also contains much of the other essential knowledge brought to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, including an explanation for various kinds of experiences that can occur during the practice.

Q. When I asked Denise Gerace why TM was so expensive and if one could learn TM from a CD, she said that the TMO provides meditators with a lifetime of free instruction and checking by highly trained professionals at TM centers around the world. Also, TM teachers can instruct each person at their own pace.

A. That's correct. When people ask me what they should learn to reduce stress and improve their life, I nearly always mention TM. I recommend TM over NSR when they can afford it, can travel easily to a TM center, and are not alienated by the unnecessary mysticism. We are here to offer an acceptable alternative so everyone can learn how to transcend thinking. We are not here to criticize the highly effective instruction system of TM.

Q. But do you offer any kind of instructional support for the people who learn NSR with a CD?

A. Unlike TM, we actually offer a free, online forum in which we answer client questions about experiences related to NSR. We also offer optional private email, phone, and online consultations for small additional fees. Those who participate in the support program have very good results in terms of increased understanding and, for those few who have the need, the clarification and resolving of any difficulties related to the practice of NSR.

Q. Dr. Patricia Carrington, a psychologist at Princeton, developed a Clinical Standardized Meditation (CSM) based on TM. She found that TMers who were having difficulty unstressing felt better when their meditation time was reduced, something which TM teachers and checkers were reluctant to do. Can you explain how NSR is related to CSM and why TM teachers are unwilling to reduce meditation time?

A. NSR has no connection with CSM other than that we were also inspired by TM (unlike Dr. Herbert Benson, the inventor of the comparatively superficial or at least simplistic "Relaxation Response" technique, Dr. Carrington was willing to learn and practice TM herself).

TM teachers are taught that TM is all anyone needs, and if they have problems they should have their meditation checked in person with a trained checker or teacher. TM teachers don't like to deviate from what they've learned, which is actually a good thing since they may be tempted to add something that doesn't benefit the student.

However, NSR is not TM. We are free to experiment and find out what works, in the same Western scientific tradition that informed Dr. Carrington's early work in developing CSM. We are finding as she did that the very few people who have problems as a result of practicing the technique of transcending respond well to an immediate but temporary reduction in their meditation time.

To avoid confusion for your readers, I'd like to emphasize that most of our clients receive nothing but enjoyment and benefits such as deep refreshment and alertness from their practice. Persistent problems resulting from NSR have an incidence of roughly one-half percent, which is well below the 9% or so incidence of severe mental illness in the general population.

Q. Do many of your clients learn NSR because of concerns about TM being quasi-religious?

A. Many of our clients choose NSR because they have heard about the puja (ceremony of gratitude) performed during personal instruction in TM and object to it as being religious. We realize that most TM teachers themselves are "high-minded", only interested in helping people. I have found this to be true of every TM teacher I have ever known, both in teacher training and out in the field, associated with many different TM centers. The high prices, quasi-religious programs, and weird projects all come from the top leadership, not from TM teachers themselves.

Q. That has been my experience too. What are some of the other policies of the leadership that have alienated people?

A. The leadership makes inconsistent and irrational policy decisions such as prohibiting the teaching of TM in Great Britain (and only there) from May, 2005 until July, 2007 because they "re-elected Tony Blair as Prime Minister and thereby perpetuated the destructive policy of Britain in the world, including its leading role in the war in Iraq."

They advocate the adoption of Vaastu principles such as the rebuilding of all buildings whose entrances do not face exactly toward true east or true north. They also promote astrology as a science, and Maharishi Vedic Vibration Technology, with its $900 (initial fee per disorder) program to bring "instant relief" for any in a long list of medical disorders through an "expert" whispering Vedic words.

The leadership spend millions on extravagant and impractical world-level projects such as undertaking the building of so-called Towers of Invincibility in 48 countries and fruitless projects to interest world governments in subsidizing high-priced TM instruction for their populations instead of making TM more accessible and down-to-earth so everyone will want to learn it.

Much of the current TM activity centers on its Global Country of World Peace headed by "Rajas" (kings) who frequently wear white robes and golden crowns and who are reluctant to make sufficient changes to their policies to make TM appealing to the entire world population.

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