Have you noticed how mindfulness and meditation, two terms that have crept into mainstream culture, have been slowly gaining momentum over the past few years?
With their plethora of health benefits and ability to reduce stress and bring balance back into your life, coupled with a global pandemic, worldwide burnout and mental health statistics on the rise, there seems no time like the present to experience and implement these natural antidotes into your life.
Show me a person who wouldn’t find any benefits from meditation. I’ll wait...
Over time, the regular practice of mediation allows individuals to react to their environment and anything that arises in the course of their day with more calm and equanimity.
A study published in May 2020 looking at the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19, showed that introducing a mindfulness and meditation practice during this pandemic has the potential to complement treatment and is a low-cost beneficial method of providing support with anxiety for all. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that change is the only constant. Meditation and mindfulness can offer a helpful way to live with this constant change. Alongside meditation and yoga, spa treatments and retreats can be a part of your self-care routine too.
Both meditation and mindfulness serve as powerful and simplistic tools to have in your self-care toolbox. So when thinking about your own meditation and what that looks like for you, there are so many different kinds of practices, and you might be asking yourself, where do I start and how can I incorporate meditation into my life?
Meditation has many guises, and when it comes to life, experiences, food, tea and spiritual practices, I like to keep mine as simple as possible. Like many people, I’ve tried meditation in the past and often found it hard to stick to. It has always felt strangely uncomfortable, my creaky body positioning itself on a flimsy mat or tiny cushion, my dodgy knees aching from crossing my legs, back achy, trying to keep my shoulders back, spine elongated and head up and remembering to breath…. Not exactly selling the dream here, am I?
So that has been my reality, until I discovered the beautiful art of Vedic meditation (VM), which quite literally has changed my life. My attitude towards how this practise can be used daily to sit with fears and circumstances has also changed.
VM is a simple and powerful technique that dates back more than 5000 years and originates in India. It’s the oldest documented form of meditation by the Vedas and the original form from which other styles came into being.
One of the profound differences of this style of meditation is that you’re given a personal mantra which is gently repeated in your mind silently. What I love about VM it is that you’re not trying to push your thoughts away or let go of anything or focus on your breathing, this kind of meditating is totally different.
Whether you’re consumed with thoughts about what you need to make for dinner, or you’re running through your to do list in your head or remembering something that has popped up from your past, the key to VM is to acknowledge the thoughts that you’re having and quietly return to the mantra.
You can practise in a chair or sitting up in bed, in the park, in a meeting room in the office or in your car and all it takes is 20 minutes, twice a day. How easy is that?!
The simplicity of VM and the way it relaxes your body, helps you to release stored stress. It also goes deep into unlocking your samskaras, the trauma, residue, impressions and any conditioning from this life or the past, that have been created from your actions.
Samskaras in time are what make you and your personality uniquely you. VM can reverse these imprints and you then begin to look at life through different eyes, you’ll notice your usual habitual actions to situations change and you’ll develop a deeper connection to your place in the world and your dharma, your purpose or true calling. It also becomes simpatico, allowing you to live in tune and in harmony with nature and the natural environment.
VM came into my life a few months ago. Like so many people on the planet who are suffering right now, I experienced a horrible year of illness in the form of a liver tumour and subsequent liver resection, a separation from my partner, my mum having a stroke and a personal period of anxiety and depression.
VM had been on my mind since I discovered it through a couple of friends in New Zealand last year, but I kept thinking to myself, meditation is hard and it’s just another thing to do.
When Anna Young Ferris told me about her course I just knew there was no better time to learn more about it and I had nothing to lose so I eagerly signed up to learn more.
Anna Young-Ferris’s Vedic Meditation Course
On the day of the course we were asked to prepare six flowers and three fruits but not citrus for the initiation ceremony. We arrived at the course and walked down a flight of well-worn winding steps to come to a lovely meditation area in the middle of a beautiful leafy outlook on the waterways of Newport. I was immediately welcomed into the meditation space by Anna with a warm smile and a funny Covid elbow bump.
My daughter and I did the course together and we were asked to take off shoes and sit down in comfortable chairs as we and were guided through the process and what was to happen over the four sessions.
The initial session ran for about an hour and we learnt about what VM is and the process of how it came to be. We then had our own blessing ceremony to give thanks to the masters of the tradition and that’s where we offered up our fruit and flowers and incense was burned. A beautiful moment was when Anna sang in Sanskrit. That was when we started to feel very calm and relaxed.
After the gratitude ceremony was finished, we were led into a separate room and given our own personal mantra. In VM, each person has their own mantra, and they cannot share it with anyone or write it down as it is a sacred sound or vibration.
Once we had our mantras, it was then time to start using them in a meditation practice. We started by closing our eyes and settling into our body. Then we meditated in stages, for a few minutes and then longer for up to 15 minutes.
It was such a simple process where you repeat the mantra in your head whilst you are seated very comfortably in a chair. At this point I can honestly say that I started to feel my nervous system settling down. Once it was finished, we were then able to talk about how we felt during the mediation.
Once it was time to leave, we were given some blessed fruit and a white cloth to write down the date that we started our own VM practice.
The second session began with a mantra check and I had already forgotten mine oops! We then settled into the very clam studio rainforest setting in the middle of Pittwater and all its glorious nature and we we’re taken through background and theory and we also practised meditation and talked about our experiences with it.
There were three other ladies on the course, and we sat around and shared our experiences whilst enjoying some delicious tea. On the third session we learnt more about the mind and the different ways that people experience the meditation. Anna made it so simple and easy by drawing diagrams for us to follow and that is where a lot of things fell into place. We were able to ask questions and were fully supported through the experience.
After a few sessions, I started feeling happier, and able to control my emotions which improved my moods, clarity and focus. Because it has been such a profound experience for me, I wanted to sit Anna down and ask her some further questions about herself and her VM courses.
What attracted you to Vedic meditation?
I had heard Vedic meditation was the ‘gold standard’ of meditation techniques and lots of analogies got me intrigued. It was “like riding the bike, when other techniques were like riding the bike with training wheels”. It was “an industrial strength clean, when others were like a light dusting”. It was “learning to swim, when other techniques were about dipping your toes in the water”. I can absolutely attest to all of these analogies now from direct experience. The other thing I was very curious about was the how the mantra would work and the effect it would have.
Have you always meditated, or did something lead you to it?
I have been an avid yoga asana (physical postures) and meditator since my teenage years. I was practising my own Buddhist/Yogi inspired contemplative meditation every day for about 5 years and having lovely experiences. But I wanted something deeper. I had heard of the twice daily Vedic meditation practice then set off to find a teacher. That was more than 8 years ago. I continue to do a lot of further study, practice and teaching all towards deepening my own understanding/experience of the Veda and sharing this ancient wisdom with my students and community. It is a stunning way to interact with the world, and so relevant to our experiences as individuals and a collective.
Is this the same kind of meditation The Beatles famously practised?
Our master teachers trained with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who is famed for teaching the Beatles to meditate, though he called it Transcendental Meditation. Using a specific and personalised mantra to transcend the mind, Vedic Meditation is a transcending technique, like Transcendental Meditation, Deepak Chopra’s Primordial Sound Meditation and some others out there.
Is it a guru centred practise?
In Vedic meditation we honour a long lineage of master teachers, some may be considered ‘gurus’ in a sense that they remove the darkness (cast by our egos and mistaken intellects) and shine light so we can live our best human lives. What I have come to appreciate over the years is I have many gurus and teachers that come in all forms. I have trained with and continue to train with many Vedic master teachers – who I am eternally grateful for. And sometimes my greatest teacher is my Self, sometimes it is my children or the person making my coffee.
Where did the technique evolve from?
Vedic meditation is a mantra-based meditation technique originating from a more than 5000-year-old lineage of Indian masters. The source of which is a beautiful system of knowledge known as the Veda, which is all about living in flow with Nature and being of service. This is the same system of knowledge that Ayurveda (science of life and longevity) comes from, as does the physical asana yoga practice that we are familiar with in the West.
Can anyone practice it?
Yes! The great thing is anyone can practice Vedic meditation and you don’t need to clear your mind of thoughts or sit in stillness in funny pretzel positions. It is a very simple and relaxed technique. Like everyone, I once held the misconception that meditation was about clearing the mind of thoughts. That was, until I found Vedic meditation which has been perfectly honed for ‘householders’ - like you and I - who live in the modern world, with jobs, possessions and families etc.
The issue is most meditation techniques have actually been designed for monks or nuns that live in solitude with little to no possessions or distractions. When we transport these monastic style techniques to our busy modern ‘householder’ lives, it is easy to see why we feel like ‘failures’ and get frustrated because we can’t stop the thoughts.
Vedic meditation dispels these myths: it can be practised by anyone, pretty much anywhere. We learn that asking the mind to stop thinking is like asking the lungs to stop breathing; and we accept that thoughts in meditation are perfectly fine. We learn to allow, accept and let the thoughts go. This is the essence of the practice and by doing this with our eyes closed we are more able to allow, accept and let go when our eyes are opened and adapt to whatever life throws us.
How can Vedic meditation help a person?
In Vedic meditation, we sit twice per day, ideally twenty minutes, and gently repeat our personal mantra inside our mind. We learn how to dive beyond the surface level thinking/doing mind, de-excite our nervous system and rest in a place of deep stillness and bliss. This connection with Source opens our heart to a realisation that our happiness and fulfilment is not something we can get from another person or a material thing, our happiness and fulfilment is right within us. We just need the right tools and techniques to access it.
Neurologically speaking when we sit in Vedic meditation, we are flooding our nervous system with bliss chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system known as our rest and digest function. This is opposed to operating from our sympathetic nervous system and a state of fight or flight where adrenalin and cortisol wreak havoc causing all sorts of illness. In other words, Vedic meditation is the perfect antidote to stress and has a healing effect on both the mind and body.
During the Vedic meditation course of personal instruction, we learn about the mind-body connection and how everything that happens to us physically affects us mentally and vice versa. We learn that when there are thoughts in meditation it is actually a sign that stress is being laundered out of our nervous system. This can be accumulated stress - from superficial day-to-day situations to more significant stress situations, like a relationship break up, buying/selling a house, illness and death etc - that have been layered into our nervous systems over the years. Each of us will have a different cellular imprints of stress that need to be released and Vedic meditation can help with this in a very effective and sustainable way.
Is it easy to integrate into your life?
The beautiful thing about the technique is that it is a householder technique, as I mentioned above. It is not a monastic style technique that we are trying to import to the West, rather it was designed to be compatible to the lives of busy Western humans. The 20 minutes twice per day has been found to be optimal but there is flexibility around this depending on your unique circumstances. You can also meditate anywhere you can close your eyes and think the mantra. Children, pets, and noise are no barrier either. Trust me I have a wealth of experience in adapting the practice around little people and work very closely with each of my students to help them make the ritual part of their life no matter what their circumstances.
Do you recommend it for everyone?
Everyone can benefit from the Vedic meditation practice because of its ease and flexibility and the incredible stress laundering effect it has on the nervous system. The challenge for most people is prioritising the time to sit twice per day. This is where the effort comes in. I also coach my students that it can take time to establish a regular meditation practice and help them establish a ritual of self-care of mediation. We say that we wouldn’t leave the house without brushing our teeth or showering so why leave the house without cleaning our minds. If you’re seeking clarity, calm and endless charm and want to live your most elegant life then it is for you.
Written By Lee Holmes On January 12, 2021