Meditation on the rise locally, nationally


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Yosra Elkhalifa felt stressed. She sat in an individual study room at the Blank Honors Center, her midterm in Theory and Practice of Argument just an hour away. But instead of cramming, she began to meditate.

She did not twist into a yogic pose but sat comfortably in a straight-backed chair with her eyes closed and her hands folded in her lap.

The University of Iowa freshman said transcendental meditation has given her a more positive outlook on life, though she has been practicing for only six weeks.

“I felt like I almost had an advantage over other people because I wasn’t panicking over the test,” she said. “I’ve been able to focus better, which is crucial, because I’m taking 17 credit hours.”

Nationally, the number of Americans meditating is increasing.

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According to a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau Survey, nearly 10 percent of the population over 18 practices some form of meditation, up from about 8 percent in 2002.

Locally, both transcendental and Buddhist meditation techniques are growing in popularity, Iowa City instructors said.

Linda Rainforth, who taught Elkhalifa transcendental meditation, conducts free introductory lectures. She said there are well more than 100 Iowa City residents who meditate, with thousands in Iowa.

Her students, who range from 6-year-olds to seniors, often meet at the Iowa City Public Library for group meditation.

Before beginning, they decide how long to meditate, then sit comfortably in their chairs with their eyes closed; the only sound is the ticking of a nearby clock.

“Take a few minutes to come out,” Rainforth whispers when the time is up, prompting students to slowly open their eyes.

College students who want to learn the art of transcendental meditation can take courses, which require a tuition payment.

The David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Fairfield, Iowa, aims to fund scholarship programs for schools and other groups and pay for transcendental-meditation training for those wanting to learn the technique. The organization boasts many celebrities on its advisory boards, such as hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and actor Stephen Collins.

“We find that people are excited about transcendental meditation as they hear about the [foundation],” Rainforth said. “Many people at the top of their field are coming out and talking about transcendental meditation.”

Rainforth, who has practiced the technique for 34 years, said more than 30 UI students, staff, and faculty practice transcendental meditation regularly. One-third of the participants are new to meditation, she said, but the other two-thirds are “long-term.”

Katie Nimmer-Tsilosani, a North Liberty resident, said she runs a demanding childcare business in her home.

“[Transcendental meditation] provides me deep relaxation as well as a boost of energy that is much appreciated in my busy and fun life,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Susan Taylor, who founded the National Meditation Specialist Certification Board in Honesdale, Pa., said she began in 1996 with a class of five and now has certified more than 200 instructors.

Graduation from her program requires 100 hours of intensive training and meditating.

“Each year, more and more people use meditation for health and healing,” Taylor said.

One unique aspect of transcendental meditation, she said, is that it is a secular technique.

“I’m not preaching Buddhism or Hinduism,” she said.

But Joe Gauthier, a meditation instructor at the Lamrim Kadampa Buddhist Center, 708 Sunset St., said Buddhists focus on love, compassion, and patience to change their outlook. Though meditators are encouraged to be comfortable, Gauthier said, some positions, such as sitting cross-legged, help make meditation more effective.

“It’s a method to transform yourself,” he said. “Meditation is a tool, but what you do with that tool is what you meditate on.”

His classes have seen an increase in the number of students this semester, he said, and the center provides discounts for unemployed individuals, seniors, and students.

Rainforth said she was not entirely certain why the practice is roaring back into popularity.

“There is so much stress in the world, and I think that’s just another reason that transcendental meditation has made such a great leap back,” she said.

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