Naomi Roochnik works for the David Lynch Foundation and introduced Transcendental Meditation to the New Village Girls Academy, a college preparatory charter school based in Los Angeles, California.
In this TED talk Naomi discusses what effect TM has had on the students she works with at the New Village Girls Academy. The school teaches girls with difficult circumstances. Fights used to be a regular occurrence at the school, but since the implementation of TM, fights are now scarce.
Naomi paints a picture of a day in the life of a student at New Village Girls Academy, “Imagine waking up at 5 in the morning to get your siblings ready for school, having to catch two buses to not even make it on time, and after school catching two more buses to get to your job and not getting home until 2 in the morning. Imagine seeing your mum get deported, or bouncing from foster home to foster home only to face unspeakable abuses.”
These sorts of stresses in the kids lives cause them to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “PTSD leaves minds and bodies in a perpetual state of hypervigilance”, says Naomi, while explaining the effects the disorder has. “It can leave you with a fear of forming new relationships, asking for help or expressing yourself.”
Naomi reveals the routine she put in place at the school, “Every day first thing in the morning and right after lunch, all the classrooms dim the lights. Students and teachers close their eyes and practice the Transcendental Meditation technique for 15 minutes.”
“When the lights turn on and eyes are open, anxiety has melted away. Students feel refreshed, relaxed and ready to learn. Like somebody pushed the reset button on their brain.”
For many of the students at New Village Girls Academy these meditations are the only time in the day that they will experience silence.
Since it was introduced, many people have criticised the technique, however there have been many scientific studies which counteract this criticism. “Since the 1970’s over 400 studies have been published in prestigious scientific journals . Peer reviewed studies conducted at reputable research facilities like the NIH. All those studies overwhelmingly show that regular TM practice lowers the heart rate, reduces anxiety, relieves depression and sharpens mental focus.”
Naomi talks a little about what these scientific studies have shown us; “EEG studies indicate that during Transcendental Meditation all the different parts of the brain start to work together in a more orderly fashion. Alpha wave activity spreads from the back of the brain across the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is like the CEO of the brain – that’s where all of the major decisions are made.”
She describes the effect that stress has on our brains; “Stress floods the prefrontal cortex with cortisol causing it to shut down temporarily. Chronic stress shuts it down chronically. When the CEO drops the ball, the fear centre or the amygdala takes charge.”
Naomi goes on to explain why this is a negative process for concentration while studying.
“How do we expect our brains to process math, English, science, history etc. when the fear centre is in charge and the higher level thinking skills have been disengaged. It can’t, it thinks its in a war time situation. You hear a book drop and you want to duck for cover.”
Naomi then explains why TM is so good for their students in this context; “It dampens the amygdala and enlivens the prefrontal cortex, leaving students in a state of restful alertness, the ideal condition for learning to take place.”
The New Village Girls Academy is no different to any other girls school, apart from perhaps the students’ background and home environments. “Here we have girls that have undergone severe trauma. When New Village Academy first opened its doors, fights broke out every day. The dropout rate greatly exceeded the average, few students applied to or went to college.”
“After New Village implemented the TM programme, fights diminished and just about disappeared. This year we haven’t had a single fight. Last year, every single senior eligible for a four year university applied and got in.”
After Naomi started teaching Transcendental Meditation, she was approached by many girls explaining how TM had changed their lives for the better. “For years they’ve had insomnia and for the first time in forever they can finally sleep through the night”
“One student even told me that her doctor was able to wean her off her antidepressant medication.”
Addictions are a big commonality at the school, and while addiction recovery programmes focus on self discipline, and quitting cold turkey, some people report they are still left with a void that was previously filled by their addiction. “What I’ve heard from the students that do TM is that meditation fills that void. One of the reasons people abuse drugs or alcohol is because they are stressed out, so it’s no surprise that many of our meditators tell us that they’ve reduced their drug or alcohol intake.”
Naomi also opens up about her personal struggle with anorexia and bulimia, and explains how TM helped her with her self-improvement. “Every time I meditated it was like my head stopped exploding with fear and self doubt and loathing. My mile a minute mind slowed down and allowed me to think clearly like a thick fog had been lifted. The first week I meditated regularly, my purging went down to twice a day…that’s a huge triumph in a very short space of time.”
Stephanie, a student from New Village Girls Academy, talks briefly about the confidence TM has given her, “I would have never imagined myself standing up and speaking or even introducing myself to a class.”
“TM is the best tool I have in my life right now because I can carry it everywhere I go all of the time, and the cool thing about it is that as a very introverted person, I get my energy from being alone. I can get that solitude without my criticism, anxiety and shakiness.”
“It gives me a silence that is free.”
Naomi Roochnik graduated from Barnard Collage with a degree in English in 2012. She started working for the David Lynch Foundation and taught TM to students at Burton High School in San Francisco before moving to become a Transcendental Meditation guide for the girls at New Village Girls Academy.
Transcendental Meditation can help with addiction, trauma, PTSD, anxiety and depression. Depending on your circumstance we may suggest you take alternative help such as therapy alongside meditation to improve your situation.