Both Transcendental Meditation and Acem meditation are relatively young, non-directive techniques developed in the mid-twentieth century and involving the mental repetition of a mantra (which in Acem they refer to as a “method sound”).
According to Wikipedia, a mantra is “is a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words in Sanskrit believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers.” TM and Acem have divorced mantra from its religious backgrounds for the purpose of reaching more people and gaining more practitioners. Meditators can be religious or spiritual but it is not a requirement.
Practitioners of both have reported similar benefits including relaxation, improvements in blood pressure, heart rate variability, increased empathy, greater ability to relate to others, self- acceptance and understanding. Regular practice leads to relaxation, which alleviates symptoms related to insomnia, concentration problems, headaches, and any disease caused by stress.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
The Transcendental Meditation technique was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India over 50 years ago. It has been taught to over six million people worldwide. It is reported to be one of the most widely practiced meditation techniques.
The Maharishi gave spiritual instruction to thousands during his seven years of world travels beginning in 1958. TM became wildly popular in the 1960s and 70s. At this time, the Maharishi shifted to a technical rather than spiritual presentation. He began training teachers and creating a giant international organization. By the early 2000s, the TM organization had grown to include educational programs, health products and other services.
This specific form of silent mantra meditation can only be taught by certified teachers in a seven-step course. Maharishi explicitly said that mantras should not be spoken aloud, written down or assigned meaning. The guru passed away in 2008, but the TM organization is still going strong.
TM is seen in vastly different ways, depending on who you talk to. It is considered to be religious by some and non-religious by others. It has been labeled a cult by some authorities and has been endorsed by celebrities from The Beatles in the sixties to Jerry Seinfeld today.
TM practice involves the use of a mantra for 15 to 20 minutes twice per day while sitting with the eyes closed. It differs from other common styles of meditation in that it involves no concentrating, no control of the mind, no monitoring or labeling of thoughts (as in mindfulness) and no trying to “empty the mind”.
Acem meditation is a non-religious meditation technique that grew out of Transcendental Meditation. Developed in Norway beginning in the sixties by Are Holen, who had learned TM from Mahesh Yogi in 1962. Four years later, Holen established the Academic Meditation Society, later renamed Acem School of Meditation, and began to teach at the University of Oslo. However, Acem distanced itself from the TM movement in the early seventies due to disagreements about methods and ideology.
Like TM, Acem meditation involves mental repetition of a sound without effort. Thoughts and impressions are allowed to come and go freely. There is no attempt at emptying the mind.
The technique is now taught throughout Europe and in India, Dominican Republic, Taiwan, the UK and the US. A secular meditation style, it is scientifically-backed with psychological and physiological benefits. It has nothing to do with religious belief systems.
Its main difference from many other forms of meditation is that it is process-oriented and does not focus on concentration. Instead, the technique allows the practitioner to let go of effort and engage in some of the spontaneous thoughts that come and go during the practice. This practice enhances relaxation and deep personal growth, according to Acem.
Acem meditation may help the practitioner to alter his or her personality, leading to a mindset of expanded consciousness and greater sensitivity.
The limitations in one’s everyday life are often mirrored in their meditation practice. A bossy person may repeat the meditation sound too forcefully, for example. Adjusting one’s meditative practice simultaneously helps one overcome our limitations in meditation and in everyday life.
According to the Acem website: “Relaxation comes naturally. Knots and ties unravel, stress and worries gradually give way to a calmer frame of mind. Afterwards you feel refreshed, energized and often more creative.”
Acem and TM offer the same basic technique, but the two meditations do have some serious differences.
In its early days, TM was taught by donation or on a sliding scale based on income. Today, TM is quite pricey at $960 dollars for adults, $480 for full-time college students and $360 for high school students to enroll in a beginner’s course at any TM Center in the United States. Mahesh Yogi made a public address in the mid 1990s stating that the technique should primarily be taught to wealthy leaders in order to enact maximum change in society. Immediately, TM centers worldwide raised their prices substantially.
In contrast, because Acem meditation teachers are unpaid volunteers, their courses are much more affordable. The beginner’s course is $95 in the US, advanced meditation courses are $60 and most group meetings are either $5 or free.
Length of practice
Acem is recommended to be performed twice a day for 30 minutes or once daily for 45 minutes a day. TM suggests 20 minutes, twice a day.