I have tried all sorts of meditation over the years: focusing on a candle flame just made me cross-eyed; concentrating on my breathing made me feel panicky and chanting made me feel like an idiot. Needless to say, I didn’t stick to any of them. But six years ago, I learnt Vedic meditation with expert Jillian Lavender, whose book Why Meditate? Because It Works* is out this week. This was when it clicked for me.
I was particularly fraught at the time and I attended a course with Jillian, who runs The London School of Meditation. She explained how the Vedic method takes us into a rest deeper than sleep and resets both body and mind. It wasn’t weird, it wasn’t woo-woo and we sat in a chair rather than on the floor. It was Jillian’s practicality that made sense to me. Why wasn’t I doing it?
Vedic is the oldest form of meditation. Similar to the better known Transcendental Meditation, it dates back almost 5,000 years and comes from the word veda, which means pure knowledge in Sanskrit. Jillian is adamant that a key part of learning it is being taught in person. Why, I ask? ‘For the same reason that people don’t become expert piano players by reading books or watching videos,’ she says, ‘The teacher needs to meet the student to give advice suited to the individual.’ Meditation, she says, is experience-based and it’s crucial for students to be able to check in with a teacher. Having been through the process, I fully agree.
So how does it work? In Vedic meditation you are given a mantra – a meaningless sound that is chosen for you and your life stage or situation. The aim is to sit for 20 minutes and to begin by saying the mantra over and over again in your head. In the early days my mind refused to sit still, flitting from my to-do list to remembering the friend I needed to call – anything but the mantra. Jillian taught me to come back to it time and again and within just a few sessions, my thoughts began to settle.
Sometimes I would nod off. Other times I would find myself in a surreal and blissful state of being wide awake and alert, but not actually thinking. It was a journey that taught me how my brain and thoughts worked.
Over the next month I meditated twice a day and the following things happened: the click in my jaw disappeared (I had been clenching it tight at night), I slept better, I no longer dropped off at my laptop every afternoon, I breezed through work and my creativity levels were off the scale.
The mantra has a double effect – it turns our attention away from the outer world to our inner world, and its rhythmic sound soothes the brain. Eventually the mantra drops away (normally ten minutes in for me), leaving the mind calm. Jillian explained how the ‘following your breath’ technique that is often advised can involve too much ‘trying’; trying equals stress. Vedic meditation is about untrying.
Meditation will help you to stay calm, make better decisions, give you energy, boost your focus and reset your health. And we could all do with more of that. For more information, go to londonmeditationcentre.com.
A very smart yoga position
If you are able to walk and run freely, you are lucky. For many, disability, obesity, injury, old age or limited movement can mean exercise options are few and far between. Enter wellnessmoves.co.uk, which offers online chair yoga classes where you can stretch, start to build strength and balance and learn about breathing techniques using a chair for support. Classes from £12.50.
Stress relief in a jar
The Nue Co is an innovative supplement company that blends nature and science with ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. I’m currently taking the Destress 360, which is a new supplement that contains the medicinal herb ashwagandha, the amino acid theanine and magnesium to help support libido, immunity, sleep and focus at times of high stress. £45 for 60 capsules, uk.thenueco.com.
*Yellow Kite, £14.99. To order a copy for £12.74 until 25 July, go to books.mailshop.co.uk or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.