Everyone from Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Tom Hanks has adopted the trendy meditation technique sweeping Wall Street
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- The David Lynch Foundation is the premiere Transcendental Meditation (TM) organization in the United States, with members like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Tom Hanks, and Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio.
- TM is a simple meditation practice that federally funded, peer-reviewed research has determined to be effective in lowering blood pressure and reducing stress.
- The DLF teaches TM for free to elementary school students and veterans with PTSD.
When Bob Roth went to Tom Hanks' home to teach him Transcendental Meditation about a year and a half ago, Hanks told him he was shocked he didn't have yoga pants and a man bun.
Roth, 67, has been teaching TM, as it's called, since 1972 and is often wearing a suit with no tie or a blazer over jeans.
"I think real meditation has been co-opted," he told Business Insider, in an interview about his new book, "Strength in Stillness." "You have to have a mood, you have to have a certain affectation - 'Oh, I'm a spiritual person and I dress this way and I used this language and I don't eat that.' I think it's nonsense."
His goal, which he's made considerable progress toward over the last 13 years, is to make meditation as normal in the United States and Canada as exercise. "I think TM - I think any meditation - properly understood and practiced, it should be as normal as everything else," he said.
Roth is the CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, which the surrealist director ("Twin Peaks," "Mulholland Drive") founded in 2005 to fund TM training for underserved students, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and victims of domestic abuse.
The DLF has also been the vehicle for spreading TM to people like Hanks, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, director Martin Scorsese, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Around half of its New York City clients are on Wall Street, a movement largely motivated by Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio.
Dalio, a practitioner of TM since 1969, is one of the its foremost evangelists - calling it "the single biggest influence" on his life - and the DLF's lead donor, contributing more than $20 million since its founding.
So what exactly is TM? The Indian-born Hindu monk Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who received a degree in physics before devoting his life to monkhood, could not succeed his teacher as head of the monastery because of his caste. Instead, Maharishi tapped into a mid-20th century movement of Indian spiritual teachers bringing the practice of meditation to the West.
His form of meditation, which he eventually called Transcendental Meditation, was similar to the way he would meditate in a monastery, but without a religious element. In it, the practitioner sits comfortably with eyes closed and repeats a meaningless mantra in their head, not to a particular cadence, but as a vehicle for keeping focus from other thoughts. Maharishi declared that, in the tradition of guru and student, a teacher would teach the person how to meditate and give them their mantra, ensuring they learn the technique correctly.
TM gained popularity in the 1960s after the Beatles sought out Maharishi to teach them how to meditate.
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The celebrity endorsements have certainly helped, but perhaps more important has been the research from the federally funded National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School, Stanford Medical School, and more recently, the University of Chicago. There is now enough evidence that TM, practiced twice a day in 20-minute sessions, can lower blood pressure and decrease the presence of stress-reducing hormones. Both the American Heart Association and Veterans Association recommend TM.
For decades, critics have called TM a cult, but after I spent months learning, practicing, and researching it in 2016, I concluded that while the TM organization has its eccentricities, the technique itself was effective. The worst thing it had going for it was that it felt like an exclusive rich person's club (albeit with beneficiaries who learned for free).
The fee, which the organization had waived for me for the purpose of research, was $960, and a primary reason why so many of the DLF's clientele were highly paid professionals.
Roth told me that he recognizes the criticism, and that's why in the last year, the DLF moved to a salary-based fee system ranging from $360-$960, allowing practitioners to pay in four installments. The highest tier is for those making $250,000 and above. "We're really doing everything we can to make it accessible to everybody," he said. He added that, if someone were willing to put in the work but struggling financially, he could find a way to subsidize their fee.
The other challenge he said he's working on is increasing the number of their teaching centers, to make them more accessible for those interested.
Roth said his ultimate goal right now - which will take care of barriers to entry for those interested in learning, as well as expanding the number of school kids, veterans, and abuse victims taught for free - is raising funds for Phase 3 clinical trials, which can definitively state if a method of treatment is superior to others.
Roth said he wants to see more companies follow Bridgewater's lead and reimburse TM training, and hopes to see the day where it can be covered by insurance.
In the meantime, it's back to making the act of going to meditate for 20 minutes as accepted as jogging or lifting weights.
He said that people often assume he envisions a world where everyone meditates, which he said is "presumptuous."
"I'm not going to tell people what they should do," he said. "I would like everyone to know what it is," he said, referring to TM. " "I'd like them to know this is the research, this is how it differs - you make up your own mind."