Niraj Shah, founder of Meditation: Unlocked and friend of Innermost explains why meditation is becoming increasingly popular especially in recent years on the back of a rise in stress and anxiety, and how you can get started.
Anyone can benefit from meditation. It’s becoming increasingly popular with work hard, play hard city dwellers. I think that’s because of the rise of stress and anxiety in recent years that’s been attributed to the always-on, overstimulation fuelled smartphone and social media world we’ve created.
Who is meditation for?
The author Tim Ferriss recently interviewed 140 high achievers at the top of their fields for his new book Tribe of Mentors. He observed that 'despite the fact that these are people from tennis to surfing to cryptocurrency to fill-in-the-blank, any field you can possibly imagine, some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I'd say 90% of the respondents.' I got into meditation is because of a couple of stressful work and life situations. It helped a lot and then I realised it could help me to sharpen my edge in business. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
So what is it and why should I care?
We refer to 'meditation' in the singular because it's convenient, but it’s actually an umbrella term for a number of different mental practices. Different meditative techniques develop the mind in different ways, just like running develops the body differently to weight training. Going centuries back, the traditional goal of meditative practices was to change states of consciousness. In recent decades it’s been repeatedly shown that some of these techniques help a lot with stress, anxiety, sleep, focus, creativity and happiness.
I’m not going to tell you why you should meditate, I’m not interested in trying to 'convert' you. I think you should do whatever makes you happy and what contributes something to the world. If - like I did - you want to do something about your levels of anxiety, overwhelm, stress and other modern-day mental issues then some meditative practices are clinically proven tools to help you manage and optimise your mind.
What can it do for me?
One meditation session is as likely to change your life as doing just one exercise session. However, just like one exercise session, it will definitely benefit you and the key thing is getting started and making it a habit. At the most practical level, it will give you a break from the outside world and start turning on your body’s resting and healing systems by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system and inducing the relaxation response. In bygone eras this would happen automatically - now we need to do it on purpose.
Beyond that, with more practice and depending on the specific type of meditative you're doing, a whole host of benefits are achievable. For example, systematically training attention and focus so that we can get more done without distraction, changing our relationships with situations so that they’re less stress-inducing and anxiety causing, all the way to significantly boosting our creative ability. Most folks accept that to live an optimal, bolder, brighter life to some extent we need to get enough of the right physical movement, nutrition and rest in our life. Meditation can be movement, nutrition and rest for our mind.
But I can’t clear my mind!
This is a myth that we bust in our live Meditation: Unlocked sessions - mind clearing is not necessary to meditate effectively. It’s actually nearly impossible to do! Another is that meditation is all about peace and calm. Those things may happen, but meditation is as much about changing our relationship with whatever’s going on in our minds and lives. From that position we can consciously choose our actions and responses, rather than be slaves to our subconscious programming.
Can meditation be harmful?
Good question. For most people, generic meditation is not going to be harmful. If you know you have a relatively healthy mind then there’s no need to be cautious, in the same way that generic physical exercise is fine if you are not suffering from an injury or condition. If you’re suffering from more than what would be considered typical urban levels of stress or anxiety then meditation can definitely help, but we highly recommend you have a bespoke programme created by a specialist, the same way you would work with a doctor and physio for a physical injury.
If you know anyone dealing with a mental health issue they can speak to the UK’s mental health charity Mind who offer lots of confidential and free support.
So where do I start?
There’s a lot of meditation around if you know where to look for it. There’s loads of apps and your local yoga studio or buddhist centre is highly likely to have meditation sessions, otherwise an internet search should yield results. If you’re looking for a non-religious, science-backed, fully guided approach then come and see us at a Meditation: Unlocked drop-in session running in beautiful venues in Central London or join our online community to get sent the best of what we find on the web. Sign up at www.medunlocked.com and follow us @medunlocked to be kept in the loop.