Group coherence: what is it and does it matter?
And while those of us practising Transcendental Meditation feel we’re missing out by not being able to meditate together in-person, many are paradoxically finding that our TM practice feels deeper than usual.
So what is this all about? Is there a real benefit of meditating together, in-person or virtually? How come TM feels deeper than usual? And why has Dr Tony Nader, the leader of the TM organisations, called for us all to prioritise our meditations and align our meditation time with others who are meditating?
Let’s explore these questions together, and see if we can unpack the power of group meditation.
It’s all about group coherence
Coherence, according to the dictionary definition, is ‘the quality of forming a unified whole.’
People in the TM community use the word ‘coherence’ a lot and if you’re new to TM, it can be a bit baffling to understand what they’re talking about.
When we hear about TM increasing coherence, we tend to think of ‘harmony,’ or people just getting along. This is true to an extent, but on a technical level it is related to the brain – how meditating makes the brain function in a more coherent way.
Specifically, coherence is the term that scientists use when looking at brain waves and seeing whether they cohere with one another. In essence, this is about whether the communication of brain cells (neurons) is coherent.
Brain cells communicate using a small electric current, which creates electrical fields. These electrical fields are measured using a method called electroencephalography (EEG), using electrodes attached to the scalp. The measurement of the electrical fields can be seen on a graph, which look like waves (so-called ‘brain waves’). These brain waves measured on different regions of the brain are compared – the more similarity, the greater the coherence, and the more efficiently the neurons are communicating.
To illustrate this, think of a company. If each department of a company is communicating well with one another, their work is going to be better. Say the company is trying to launch a new website for their products. The executives of the company need to communicate to the marketing team the core messages they want to show on the website. The marketers then need to communicate with the developers, designers, and customer service representatives to figure out more in detail the exact messages they want to display, what products they should prioritise, and how to make sure they are meeting the needs of the customers. Then of course, the executives have to sign off on the whole thing throughout the process. The better these departments communicate, the more efficiently the website will be done, and the happier everyone will be!
In the same way, because EEG alpha coherence increases through the practice of the TM technique¹, the brain is going to be working better. High EEG alpha coherence has been shown to correlate with higher creativity, higher moral reasoning, increased IQ, a better grade point average, and more. In other words, the brain is able to take care of all its crucial tasks much more effectively.¹
‘High EEG alpha coherence has been shown to correlate with higher creativity, higher moral reasoning, increased IQ, a better grade point average, and more.’
How does group meditation affect wider society? A personal example
So it’s well established that our TM practice helps us as individuals. How then do we know whether our practice affects others?
Back in 2018, I had the good fortune to see a live EEG demonstration on a TM retreat.
We were sitting in the meeting hall when the demonstration took place, and at the front there was a man sitting in a chair with a funny looking hat on his head, electrodes attached (which was amusing both for him and the 50-something other people watching the demonstration).
Firstly, we observed the subject’s coherence while he was sitting with his eyes closed, without practising TM. The presenter then asked everyone to start practising TM for five minutes, but not the subject, so we could see how his brain waves changed. I remember halfway through the meditation peeking to see if it was actually working, and it was! His brain waves became remarkably more steady, a clear contrast from when we weren’t meditating.
Even though I already knew that Transcendental Meditation works for myself, it really amazed me to see the subject’s EEG coherence increase just from a group of people meditating.
‘I remember halfway through the meditation peeking to see if it was actually working, and it was! His brain waves became remarkably more steady, a clear contrast from when we weren’t meditating.‘
Group TM transforms society: the Maharishi Effect
But don’t just take my anecdote for it. This effect, and the positive influences that come with it, have been shown to happen on a societal level, too, and have been confirmed by about 50 studies on the city, state, nation and international level. This is now known as the Maharishi Effect.
The Maharishi Effect was first discovered by social scientists in the USA in 1974, in four towns where the number of people participating in the Transcendental Meditation programme had reached one percent of the town’s population. The scientists noted that when one percent of the town’s population practised TM, negative trends like crime, violence, and other behavioural indicators of societal stress were reversed, indicating increasing order and harmony in collective consciousness. Gunter Chasse, vice-president of military science in the Global Union of Scientists for Peace, noted to me in a recent interview that these studies show ‘it is not necessary that the Meditators practise TM together as a group, in the same place, for the Maharishi Effect to occur’. What is most important to achieve results, he explained, is to meditate at the same time.
‘it is not necessary that the Meditators practise TM together as a group, in the same place, for the Maharishi Effect to occur. What is most important to achieve results is to meditate at the same time.‘
When to meditate
While some of you reading this may be doing essential work that requires you to be outside of the home at this time, many of us are finding we have more free time inside our homes than usual.
We already knew that it’s good for our mental health to prioritise our meditation time. Now we know there’s something more we can do. If group practice of TM correlates with positive changes in society, it’s a no-brainer to practise group meditation in times like these, when stress is especially high because of the pandemic.
This is why, during these times when we cannot go to the TM Centre to meditate, we are being encouraged by Dr Nader to meditate at the same time – to form a unified whole – and increase coherence in the world, in order to create the positive effect that scientists have been observing since the 1970s.
The TM organisation has put together a list of ‘Super Radiance Times’, a list of time zones with a corresponding list of times for morning and evening meditation. While this has been especially created for TM meditators, we invite everyone to join us and practise whatever kind of meditation or prayer they practise at these times.
Time to go within
I know when I’ve meditated as part of a group before, whether that be in a TM centre or online, I’ve felt the wonderful benefit of diving deeper and having a sense of unity.
But you don’t have to take my word for it (or even the scientists’ word for it). Try meditating at your coherence time and see how you feel! You’ll certainly help yourself out, and you may very well help out the rest of the world, too.
¹ Nidich, R., Nidich, S.I., Orme-Johnson, D.W. and Wallace, R.K. (1983) ‘EEG Coherence and the Length of Practice of the Transcendental Meditation Program’, Scientific Research on Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Programme: Collected Papers, 4, pp. 2273-2282.
² Harung, H.S. and Travis, F. (2015) Excellence through Mind-Brain Development: The Secrets of World-Class Performers. London and New York: Routledge.
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