Transcendental Meditation Thrives in Iowa

When you think of Iowa, you think of cornfields, you think of caucuses, you think of old-fashioned country-living.

Chances are, you don't think of meditation and communal living.

Welcome to Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa -- the only city in the country built on the tenets of transcendental meditation, for meditators, by meditators.

Meg and Erik Vigmostad moved here from St. Louis in 1982.

"We wanted to come to a meditating community," said Meg Vigmostad. "We had two children at the time, one of them was an infant, and we felt like it was the best place to bring up our children."

If You Meditate, They Will Come
If You Meditate, They Will Come

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Vigmostad acknowledged that the couple's families thought they were "crazy" for making the move. Crazy, because those words, "transcendental meditation," sound, well, different. Many people first heard of transcendental meditation, or TM, in the 1960s, when the Beatles started following Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the official founder of TM.

"Transcendental meditation is a simple technique practiced for about 15-20 minutes sitting comfortably in a chair with the eyes closed," said Bob Roth, national director of the TM program. "It allows the body to get a profound state of rest while the mind just settles down and experiences a state of inner wakefulness, inner calm, inner coherence."

The followers of Mahesh Yogi -- mostly from East and West Coast universities -- moved to Iowa en masse in 1974 to set up their own college, the Maharishi University of Management. The group chose Iowa because that is where they could find the land.

Now the settlement features two huge domes, one for men and one for women, with residents streaming in to meditate together twice a day.

But at the university and in the city, the commitment to Vedic principles of natural law and balance, derived from ancient Sanskrit texts, goes far beyond meditation. The community has banned the sale of nonorganic food within its boundaries. And that's not all.

"The primary characteristics of Vedic architecture, the most obvious one, is that ideally, buildings face east, the direction of the rising sun," said Jon Lipman, the country's leading Vedic architect.

'Greater Happiness'

Lipman says the buildings at the university and most new houses in town are constructed in line with ancient precepts.

"Just like the organs in the human body, there is a right place for different kinds of functions within a building," Lipman said.

"And so, a kitchen is typically in one location. A living room in a house is typically in another location."

Every Vedic building has a silent core known as a Bramastan, which is lit by a skylight and is never walked on. Lipman claims miraculous effects.

"The results are that, families find that their lives are improved, that there's greater family harmony, that there is greater financial success, there's greater happiness," said Lipman. "There are many many cases where members of a family had disharmony between them, and it dissolved when they moved into a Vedic home. There are many cases where even such things as chronic diseases were abated by moving into a Vedic home."

Lipman said "it's a real challenge" to be poor, unhappy or unhealthy if you live in a Vedic building.

The Vigmostads live in a Vedic house, and seem like happy customers.

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