Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Transcendental Meditation and The Orioles

From the website, Birds In The Belfry:

Transcendental Meditation & the Orioles:
An Interview
Kerry's Calculus for May 6, 2005
The Yankees have just appointed a "Director of Optimal Performance" to handle motivational and mental-skills issues at the major and minor league levels for players and coaches. According to New York General Manager Brian Cashman, "Ultimately, like anything else, our players are our assets. We just want to make sure that we support them in all aspects of what they do, on and off the field." According to The New York Times 10 to 12 major league teams are believed to employ mental skills coaches. To the best of our knowledge, the Orioles are not one of those teams. Does it matter?
Over the past few weeks I’ve exchanged a few e-mails with Belfry reader Craig Berg, Orioles fan and Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioner/teacher/researcher/advocate. The conversation naturally turned to the subject of how (and why) Craig thinks that TM can benefit the Orioles. A synopsis of that discussion follows.
KL: Tell us a bit about your background, both as it relates to your interest in the Orioles and TM.
FTB: Call me FTB--For The Birds. I will tell you how they can gain the advantage over the Yanks and others in this mental-skills race. But I want you to know that I've been FTB since 1954, when I was five years old. Back then my heroes were Gus "Tremendous" Triandos, Bob "El Ropo" Boyd (he was known for his 'frozen ropes'--screaming line drives), and little Willie "Miracle" Miranda (I had a three finger "Willie Miranda Model" mitt to enable me to work my own "miracles" on the ball field near my home in northwest Baltimore). I left Baltimore when I was fourteen, but never left the Orioles. I moved to New York but always would show up in the Bronx to root for the Os, or, if they weren't in town, against the Yanks. There were about ten years when I was living abroad: India, Brazil, Portugal, Switzerland, Philippines, etc., and as a result there are several spotty patches in my knowledge of Orioles history, but the Birds have always remained my team.
Most of the years abroad were spent teaching the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, which I learned in my senior year of college. My four years of study of psychology showed me that most people use only about 10% of their mental potential. I learned TM in order to begin to unfold that other 90%. And it began to live up to its promise right from the beginning. So, in 1973 I went to Spain to study with the great Indian sage, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who personally trained me as a teacher of his Transcendental Meditation program during a five-month course.
Since then, besides earning an MBA as well as a doctoral degree, I have trained over 1,000 individuals in the technique of TM, among them several serious athletes. For the past fours years I have left my role as TM teacher in order to focus on performing research with TM and its advanced programs. I have found that TM leads to levels of achievement far beyond our ordinary expectations.
KL: Please describe Transcendental Meditation for those of us, including myself, who know relatively little about it.
FTB: The Transcendental Meditation technique is an effortless, natural mental procedure which allows an individual to experience unbounded awareness when the mind transcends--goes beyond--thought while remaining wide awake. As the mind settles down to this least excited state, the body receives deep rest. This dissolves the tension and fatigue that drag at the reactions, concentration, courage, and continued successful performance of an athlete. The Transcendental Meditation practice-- 20 minutes twice a day-- revitalizes the body and mind, producing greater energy, mental strength and dynamic action.
KL: And this will help the Orioles?
FTB: Yes, this is where I'm convinced the Orioles can gain a significant edge over the intense competition they face, especially in our division this season. At this moment the Os are in first place (ta-dah!) with an 18-9 record. That's about one-sixth through the 162-game season, and projects out to nearly 110 wins. Not bad for a team that can barely remember the last time it had a winning season. Because the TM technique is so very effective in replenishing both physical and mental energies on a daily basis, there is no reason why the players should fade as the season wears on. TM practiced twice daily would allow the team to maintain the intensity needed to come out on top at the finish.
Just think of how it could boost two of our pitchers who started off well and then faded big-time at the end of last season: Cabrera and Bedard.
So, even if the Transcendental Meditation program did not improve the player's abilities, it would still enable them to maintain their current level of success throughout the season, insuring a great season. But all my experience, and that of the five million people practicing the TM technique worldwide, and the more than 600 scientific studies on TM--conducted at over 200 universities and research institutes in more than 30 countries--shows that TM would indeed improve their performance in many ways.
KL: Has TM been used by major league players?
FTB: In 1973 the Phillies finished sixth in their division. They implemented the Transcendental Meditation program in the spring of 1974. That year they improved to third place. The next season they finished in second place. Each of the next three years they finished in first place. By 1975 more than ten percent of all major league ballplayers were practicing the Transcendental Meditation program.
Here's what the great multi-Cy Young Award winner, Steve Carlton, who learned TM with the Phillies, had to say about the program: "When people ask me about the Transcendental Meditation program, I just tell them that it's helping me make myself a better person, and that I just feel real good about it. Once the stresses are gone from the nervous system, everything just naturally goes better."
Carlton's teammate, Jim Lonborg, also a Cy Young Award winner, recommends TM for any ballplayer. He says TM greatly helped his pitching (listen up, Oriole hurlers) by clearing his mind of extraneous thoughts while on the mound. Having a clearer idea of what he wanted to do on the mound made him a more aggressive, more effective pitcher, he contends. Just the other day Lee Mazzilli commented that Daniel Cabrera's only real problem was "concentration." Here's the solution.
KL: But you’re not saying that TM is actually teaching “better concentration”?
FTB: No. That is the great misunderstanding about meditation. Unfortunately, there are many people who think that meditation techniques must teach how to concentrate. Wrong! The Transcendental Meditation technique, as taught by Maharishi, is a rediscovery of the natural, effortless nature of proper meditation. No concentration is used in TM. Through personal instruction the mind is shown how to flow effortlessly to its own unbounded source. But a result of reaching this area of vast energy and intelligence deep within the mind is greater ability to spontaneously concentrate outside of meditation on whatever it is we need to focus on.
Getting back to Lonborg... he also emphasizes that TM was a big help in harmonizing his family life. Indeed, many of the benefits players get from TM manifest off the field as well as on it. But off the field problems can often have big effects on the field.
Here's what another Phillies meditator had to say: "I know the Transcendental Meditation program helps me. It takes away tensions and anxieties. I don't let little things bother me anymore. Before I started TM every game I played carried over. I let things build up and before I knew it I was 0-for-28. I was buried. Now, if I go 0-for-4, I start all over again the next day, just like a new season for me. The same with my home life. I used to take things out on my wife, but TM helps me leave my baseball problems at the ballpark."
KL: You've discussed mental, psychological and social benefits some players who are practitioners attribute to TM. What about actual physical improvements?
FTB: Hall of Famer Willie Stargell pointed out that, before he learned the Transcendental Meditation program, he often would wake up in the morning with nothing to look forward to but a tired body to drag him through the day. After TM that all changed; TM gave him a big boost in his energy level, he said. He could revitalize his mind and body daily through the simple mental technique. But he also praised TM's ability to foster greater communication between people. "It might just be the key to everything," he said during an interview when he was playing for the Pirates. (That from one of the most universally beloved players in baseball.)
KL: Who are some of the athletes who currently use the TM program?
Current athletes who've learned the TM technique include NBA personalities such as Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, Shaquille O'Neill, and Steve Nash. In ice hockey, Rangers' goalie Dan Blackburn ("the freshest, calmest guy in the house") and Paul Kariya practice TM.
KL: What about amateur athletes?
FTB: I've taught TM to many high school athletes with great results, both on the field and in the classroom as well. Teachers find that students are more attentive in class with TM. Research shows that their grade point average rises. The point is that TM increases intelligence. That can only help in a game like baseball.
The sports teams at my alma mater, Maharishi University of Management, and the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield, Iowa all use TM. The golf team became state champions in 1996, just two years after they got started, and were featured in Sports Illustrated (Dec. 23, 1996). And for the first time in the 70-year history of Iowa high school tennis, Maharishi School won the celebrated Triple Crown by winning first-place in State Class 1-A titles in singles, doubles and team competitions two years in a row, 1999 and 2000. The Iowa Tennis Association (ITA) chose their coach, Lawrence Eyre, Coach of the Year for 2000. In a Tennis magazine article coach Eyre was quoted as saying that, "Seventy percent of a tennis match is between points and whoever recovers better and can return to a steady state is going to do better." TM helped his players recover quicker from unforced errors and then move on to the next point without getting upset or distracted. I'm sure you can appreciate how this quick recovery would be an enormous benefit to our Birds.
KL: I mentioned in the lead that a number of big league clubs have “mental skills” coaches. Presumably some—perhaps all—of these individuals are using techniques other than TM. How does the Transcendental Meditation program compare with the other programs out there?
FTB: First of all, there's no conflict between the TM program and other programs a team may use. One way in which TM may differ from some other programs is that TM does not involve trying to do anything special during a game. Players meditate and then no longer have to think about it after the meditation session. It's like a shower; we don't have to remind ourselves that we feel good after it. Also, the Transcendental Meditation program is the world's most scientifically researched program for self-development, by far. And I would advise anyone who wants to make an educated judgment about the TM program to at least take a look at some of the more than 600 published studies on TM. A good summary of the research can be found at www.TM.org. (There is also an excellent video on TM at the Web site.)
It is worth mentioning here that the U.S. government has already spent more than $20 million for scientific research on the health benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Studies done at Stanford and other universities show that TM produces a much greater reduction in trait anxiety (an indicator of stress) than all other techniques studied. This superior effect of the TM program is related to TM's naturalness. And this naturalness means that anyone can learn it easily, irrespective of their educational level or whether they believe it will work or not; people of all faiths practice TM.
It is good to keep in mind that Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation program comes from an ancient tradition of knowledge. It is not in its experimental stage, like many relatively new programs. Maharishi brought this age-old wisdom from the Himalayas to the rest of the world about the same time the Orioles were getting started in 1954. The O’s have been one of the world's most successful sports franchises throughout these fifty years. The TM program has made meditation a household word during the same time.
KL: I'm sure many people hear the term "meditation" and immediately disregard anything associated with it as New Age hocus-pocus or something similar. I'm sure you've heard that sort of thing before. How do you respond to such statements?
FTB: When Jim Essian, who learned the practice of Transcendental Meditation when he played for the Phillies, says in a newspaper interview: "TM makes you blissful," it is fine for you to be skeptical. "Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon, or to the first comer," wrote George Santayana. Yes, we should be cautious of what may be nothing but "hocus-pocus" out there. But we should use our intellects to separate the wheat from the chaff. Otherwise we may be narrow-minded and miss our chance to progress. Didn’t they think Marconi’s ideas were hocus-pocus? He had to actually take the skeptics out to sea on a ship to prove that his mysterious "radio waves" could really communicate back to shore without the use of wires.
Any significant, serious-minded person must look at the facts. They must acquaint themselves with the 600 scientific studies (published in more than 100 scientific and scholarly journals, including such peer-reviewed journals as Science, American Journal of Physiology, Scientific American, International Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, and many others) showing that Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation program has profound effects on the body, mind and behavior. And they must look at the track record of the five million people who’ve learned the technique, the many hundreds of companies who’ve implemented it, and so on. My hope is that the Orioles and Orioles management will realize that many clubs have already seen the importance of the mental component in baseball and are doing something about it. If the Os look into TM properly, I’m fairly certain it will be clear that it is the most tested and most effective program available. And if they find something proven to be better, then they should go for that. But I very seriously doubt there is anything better out there.
KL: About two years ago Sports Illustrated mentioned that the Chicago Cubs were into some type of yoga. What is TM's relationship with yoga?
FTB: Yoga involves physical postures and TM is a mental technique. I practice yoga every day, and enjoy it very much; but its effects are superficial compared to TM.
KL: How does one convince professional athletes to adopt something as "out-of-the-box" as TM?
FTB: When the Phillies first implemented the Transcendental Meditation program in 1974 it was "out-of-the box." But by now meditation is quite mainstream. Most doctors will tell you meditation is good for health. It seems nearly everyone has at least some friends who meditate. Maharishi has appeared on the cover of Time magazine. And another Time cover showed actress Heather Graham practicing Transcendental Meditation. Clergy do TM. Elite athletes like Bill Walton and the late Arthur Ashe have endorsed TM. Top executives do it. Clint Eastwood has been on television extolling the virtues of TM.
But even if we were to consider TM as "out-of-the box," it doesn't matter because it works. And athletes are quick to adopt what works to enhance their performance. Of course, sometimes they are too quick. Some were quick to pick up steroids and amphetamines in order to boost performance, but this was a pact with the devil, for sure. So many athletes have found that the Transcendental Meditation program greatly enhances their performance without harmful side effects, and with many side benefits. They just need to look into it.
KL: Can you be more specific about the benefits you feel the Orioles could obtain from implementing the Transcendental Meditation program?
FTB: Sure:
1. Players will be "In the Zone" more often and for longer periods. "In the zone" is sort of a catch-all phrase that encompasses many different experiences, but they are best characterized, I think, by the notion "extraordinary experiences." TM gives the direct experience of the zone—transcendental consciousness, which is an unbounded state of restful alertness of the mind. Through transcending thought during meditation the mind begins to enjoy more and more of that inner creative silence even when engaged in very dynamic activity. This is the experience of being "in the zone."
2. So far this season (today is 5/5) the Orioles have not been on a cross-country road trip. Those can be exhausting, what with time zone changes and all. Plus, as the season wears on, its many other demands also tire the players out. Meditating, they will be more rested—TM gives deep rest which neutralizes the stress-- physical, mental and psychological--of daily competition. It has been amazing for me to see that nearly every one of my more than 1,000 students, when I ask them on the fourth (final) day of the TM course, "How many feel more rested now?" virtually every hand goes up! As I mentioned, this would result in more stamina over the course of a season; no fading in the final two months. More relaxed, energetic players win ballgames.
3. Better teamwork and team harmony-- We've heard reports that there is a good feeling in the clubhouse so far this season. This is good to hear, especially when none of our starters are from the same country! “We are family” spontaneously becomes a reality when all team members, from diverse backgrounds, transcend thought. They experience their common source.
4. With TM we can expect better lifestyle choices—The many temptations major league ballplayers players face are dealt with more maturely as they enjoy the refinement of their personality through the Transcendental Meditation program. Self-confidence, self-reliance, stability and inner control, naturally develop. By the way, I think you'll agree that the Orioles are extremely fortunate to have the great Rafael Palmeiro, not only for his abilities on the field, but for the very mature example of his lifestyle.
5. Decreased drug and alcohol usage-- Naturally, the use of prescribed and non-prescribed drugs falls off when players are feeling great through TM. Performance enhancing drugs likewise lose their attractiveness since players are naturally performing better and are more sensitive to the detrimental effects of unnatural drugs, once they start TM. We've already seen at least two instances where alcohol has created problems for the Orioles this year. (Are there other instances we don't know about?) Scientific publications such as Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly point to the Transcendental Meditation program as perhaps the best modality for preventing and treating alcohol and drug abuse. TM makes a person feel good naturally, obviating the desire for drugs or alcohol.
6. Many studies show TM meditators have faster reactions. This means batters who meditate can react quicker to a pitched ball by, on average, between 20 and 30 milliseconds. (A batter gains this amount of time normally when facing a curveball instead of a fastball.) This faster reaction time also allows fielders to respond more quickly to a batted ball.
7. As I mentioned before, TM would offer our players a clearer mind-- the troubles from home aren’t carried onto the field and players can concentrate better on the task at hand. Intelligence, memory and learning ability improve with TM. Current training programs in place will be even more effective. Mental errors can be expected to occur less often.
8. The Transcendental Meditation program results in greater creativity—The difficult naturally becomes easier. In other words, you could expect to see more unbelievable plays like Miggy routinely turns in at short.
9. Faster running—Studies show an improvement of more than one-tenth of a second over 50 meters for TM meditators over a six-week period. (Read: more extra base hits and steals.) All this comes from less fatigue and less stressed nervous systems. (And opposing pitchers think they've got troubles NOW with Roberts and Matos on the base paths....)
10. "Slower to boil, quicker to cool off"-- that's the way Del Unser, the former All-star who learned TM with the Phillies, described how he changed after learning TM. The Transcendental Meditation program gives greater stability to the nervous system, so the pressures on the field are less distracting. (By the way, I spoke with Del--who is now a scout for the Phillies--about two years ago. He practices his TM while in the airplane flying around the country. He recommends TM for any ballplayer.)
11. Recently, I heard Lee Mazzilli say that the players are "Staying within themselves." This is a common expression in baseball used to describe a state of naturalness where there is no strain. TM gives the direct experience of one’s own inner silent self, thereby fostering this ability that is so coveted in baseball.
12. The Orioles have had a high incidence of injuries in recent years. Expect fewer injuries among meditators. Fatigue is a main factor in injuries. The Transcendental Meditation program gives players the most effective technique for removing fatigue on a daily basis. If an injury does occur, the profound rest TM gives to the body provides it the ideal conditions for rapid and full recovery.
13. Greater happiness—Success comes from happiness. TM enhances happiness, morale.
14. Better family life is a natural result of TM. The former owner of the Phillies, Ruly Carpenter, told me that the Phillies also offered the Transcendental Meditation program to the wives of the players. This went a long way to further the family harmony without which a Pandora's box of problems may plague a player's performance.
15. Better health—Transcendental meditators have, on average, 50% fewer hospital and doctor visits. That's because they are generally healthier. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We've seen how illness can debilitate the team, both physically and emotionally. Will we take up this proven program for stacking the odds in our favor? Just this week the American Journal of Cardiology published a study showing that practice of the TM program extended people’s life span by 23%, and reduced heart disease by even more. It would be both wise and compassionate for the Orioles to offer Ellie Hendricks the TM course to help him heal more quickly and thoroughly from his stroke.
16. Management from a level of an expanded awareness develops with the TM program. I think Peter Angelos was brilliant in hiring the dynamic duo of Beattie/Flanagan. And they, in turn, hired the right skipper to take us all the way. These guys have enormous responsibilities and need to ensure that they are always making right decisions, since the well-being of so many depend on the clarity, comprehensiveness and correctness of their thought. I've taught the TM program to a great many executives over the past 32 years, and am sure that TM would be a boon to Jim, Mike and Mazz.
17. Reversal of Aging--Palmeiro and Surhoff are both now 40 years old. I see them both potentially making very valuable contributions leading up to a playoff berth (and beyond) this year and next. If you knew that there was a way to turn back Raffy's and B.J.'s biological clock, you'd do it, right? Read the research. There is! Click on "scientific research" at www.TM.org.
18.Better luck...that's what TMers report. TM harmonizes an individual with his environment. In tune, things tend to go his way. It's like a surfer who catches the wave just right: his progress is unrestricted.
KL: What do you plan to do to promote your idea with the team?
FTB: Actually, this interview has what I think are the key ideas that management and/or the players need to know in order to decide to look into the TM program more seriously. Since my time is committed to TM research, and since I live about eight hours from Baltimore, there is little more I can do. I'm hoping that the word will spread from the Belfry to those concerned. Thanks for this opportunity to share my views with my fellow Orioles fans.

UPDATE: Three players at the Orioles 2014 spring training camp learned the Transcendental Meditation technique: Brock Bond, Aaron Laffey and Jack Cust. All three remain enthusiastic about their TM practice. Bond is now leaving baseball and plans to become a teacher of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation program. He intends to teach it to baseball players. Laffey (now in the Colorado Rockies organization) and his wife, ardent in their Christian faith, report that TM deepens their prayers. Cust has completed his ten year MLB career (105 home runs) but he says he will never leave his TM. (photos - Bond, Laffey & Cust):