4 MIN READ
Meditation is having a moment. It's frequently regarded as a daily must-do by leaders, entrepreneurs and other wildly successful human beings, and there are countless scientific studies into the benefits of meditative practice. People say it makes them feel happier.
Or is that hippier?
Rory is a Vedic meditation teacher, and while he does have the beard, he's not a barefoot hippy who spends his days sitting cross-legged, chanting to the trees. He works in media, writes, and plays in a band. He began meditating in his mid-thirties after realising there had to be more to life than the corporate grind and the highs and lows of living for the weekend. And while you could say he's now found his peace, he's still, well, Rory.
Here, he gives us the 411 on Vedic meditation.
Vedic meditation is a technique dating back thousands of years in India. Practitioners use a mantra – a word or sound with no meaning – which they silently repeat in their heads. This helps draw awareness away from the usual compulsive and repetitive thought patterns that occupy us (the never ending to-do lists, remembering to text back, wondering what to make for dinner … you know). It's practised sitting comfortably in a chair for 20 minutes, ideally twice a day, and is generally learned in person.
So, how does it work? We sit, close our eyes and gently begin to think our mantra. This takes the energy of our awareness away from our thoughts and lets our minds and bodies relax. As we relax, we release stress stored in the body and find ourselves thinking. When we realise our mind is wandering, we simply return to our mantra.
It's a very simple process. You can do it anywhere you're happy to sit and close your eyes – on the bus, a park bench, a meeting room at work. The benefits come from regular practice so it helps if you're prepared to do it wherever you happen to be.
"YOU DON'T NEED TO CLEAR YOUR MIND TO MEDITATE"
Often people think their minds are too busy to meditate – especially if they've tried a technique that says "clear your mind". Clearing your mind is pretty much impossible. You don't need to clear your mind to meditate, you just place your awareness on a meditation anchor – in this case, your mantra – whenever you remember to during your practice.
When we think, we're essentially talking to ourselves in our heads. Because Vedic uses the same internal system of sound that thoughts already use, it's kind of a like-for-like swap. Many people find this more natural and easier to pick up than focusing on their breath, which uses physical sensations as an anchor.
Thinking during meditation actually helps us process stress triggers related to our thoughts, which means we end up carrying around less psychological baggage. It's a good thing!
When I teach meditation, I talk about how one of the basic aspects of the human condition is the contradictory voices in our heads. We're goal-oriented thinkers who make plans towards our glorious futures, but we're also the product of our more animalistic pasts, and creatures that can only think about now and take every pleasure that comes along.
In fact, we have different parts of our brains that control these parts of "us". What we think of as our more rational self lives in the pre-frontal cortex, the outer part of the brain that came along relatively late in our evolution.
This "higher self" has to contend with our more primal urges, concerned with survival and basic functions – eating, fighting, mating – just your regular Saturday night out. These instincts come from the limbic and reptilian parts of the brain.
Meditation helps strengthen the pre-frontal cortex and puts your "higher self" in the driving seat more of the time.
The best way to get all the benefits of meditation is to do it every day. You can set up a daily practice through an in-person course, where you'll learn your personal mantra, how to use it, and be able to ask any questions you might have. If that's a bit more than you feel you can commit to right now, get a taste via the 1GiantMind app or read or listen to Bliss More by Light Watkins.
Some of the biggest reported upsides of meditation include decreased stress levels, improved sleep, a strengthened immune system, and increased productivity. It also feels pretty good while you're doing it.
Find out more about Rory or follow him
Written by Rory Kinsella