Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’

A mantra a day keeps the doctor away

October 1, 2012

This is a wonderful personal account by Nikki Walsh of her experiences first hearing about and later learning Transcendental Meditation. The article appeared in The Irish Mail on Sunday in their Body & Soul section of the paper and as a feature article in The Mail on Sunday in London, England, September 9, 2012. You can see a colorful layout of the 2-page spread on pages 12 and 13 by downloading the PDFs. You can also see it online if you’re willing to register for a free 7-day trial offer.

A mantra a day keeps the doctor away by Nikki Walsh

It beats stress, aids healing and brings focus to the most anxiety-prone life. So exactly why does the ancient practice of meditation succeed where many modern therapies fail? Nikki Walsh enters the big silence…

I first heard of Transcendental Meditation or TM in my twenties, when I was living in a Georgian house overlooking Dublin’s Royal Canal. The house next door was a TM centre, and the girls I lived with often attributed our happiness to what they called ‘the good vibes’. I never took this too seriously, but there were times I was sitting in the garden, when I became aware of a silence that was not my own. I would look up and feel the stillness coming from the other side of the fence, and wonder what exactly was going on.

I moved out of that house, and did not hear about TM again until almost ten years later, when I befriended an artist in her 60s. Her productivity was impressive and yet she always seemed to have time for family and friends. I asked her how she did it. She told me she practised TM. I asked her a little more about it but when I found out the cost – €600 for four sessions with a trained TM teacher – I put it to the back of my mind. A few months later I attended an exhibition of this artist’s work, and TM came up again. One of her friends, also an artist, told me she had been practising it for some months, and that it had had a profound effect on her work. Another said it had improved her health. ‘I was in therapy for years,’ she said, ‘but I never found the peace that I have found in meditation.’

I booked what the TM website calls ‘a free introductory presentation’ and a week later I met a TM teacher called Judy Kelly. Judy is a tall, slim, dark-haired woman whose warmth is so genuine, it is disarming. In her apartment in Monkstown, she explained that the technique was a simple form of meditation, practised twice daily for 20 minutes. Each beginner is given a mantra, and this word, which they repeat to themselves during the meditation, has a gentle assonance, that helps to bring them deeper within themselves, towards a place of peace. In order to show me what this place might be like Judy used an illustration of a cross section of water. If the ripples at the surface were our thoughts, she said, it was possible to go beneath these thoughts to a calmer, much stiller place, not unlike the bottom of an ocean. Then she outlined its benefits. People who do TM have peace, she told me. They don’t worry as much, their minds are clearer, they are more creative. She spoke of ex-students of hers that she was still in touch with, who felt their lives had been transformed by TM. And she talked a little about her own life too.

I decided to give it a go. The next time we met Judy asked me to bring a flower to represent the life that can blossom through TM, a white handkerchief to represent the pure silence at the centre of life and a piece of fruit to represent the fullness of life. I arrived a week later on a morning in spring, with a nectarine, a white hydrangea I’d snipped from my deck, and a handkerchief of my father’s. Judy arranged them all on an altar of sorts beside some spices and a candle. As she lit the candle, she sang a song. As an ex-Catholic I associate rituals with incense, much kneeling and standing, and an ingrained sense of myself as unworthy; but in Judy’s living room, the pink flesh of the nectarine, the whiteness of the petals, the terracotta depth of the spices and the flame of the candle, all combined to create something altogether more soothing. Judy then gave me my mantra and we began to meditate.

I thought about what I needed to do after I left Judy’s, about something irritating someone had said to me the day before, and about a conversation I needed to have with someone I don’t really like. I opened my eyes. Judy was sitting in front of me, her eyes closed, her face set in an expression of bliss. I closed them again. I thought about what I needed to get for dinner, and how I was going to get home. A breakthrough came when I told myself that it was okay to have such thoughts. They began to drift away. Then Judy spoke, and I realised the meditation was over. That night I meditated again. I could not remember the mantra. The next morning the same thing happened. I went back to Judy, and told her, rather pink-faced, what had happened. She laughed and told me it happens all the time.

The sessions continued. I began to realise that something happens when you distance yourself from your thoughts. You gain a little mastery over them. I began to notice when I was thinking futile or negative thoughts – thoughts that wouldn’t help me get where I wanted to be – and I began to change them, or if they overwhelmed me, to meditate, so I could be free of them. In the same way I was able to move away from my mind, I could also move away from what some meditators call ‘the physical body.’ Around the time I met Judy I had just sold my wardrobe which contained a full length mirror. I never bothered to replace it.

Talk to people who practice TM and they will tell you that its effects are subtle and profound. Some feel calmer, others more efficient. The other day I met a 50-year-old woman who told me that TM is the only thing that has helped her stay away from alcohol. ‘It did wonders for my self-esteem,’ she told me. ‘I realised there was a place inside me that was so peaceful and beautiful. I said to myself, how could I be a bad person if such a place was inside me?’ It has given her a coping mechanism she never had. ‘At times of stress, I say my mantra and it is a call to the deepest, strongest part of me, that soothes me like nothing else and enables me in the midst of crisis to feel very still. It is empowering.’ She is also better at making decisions. ‘I have
higher concentration and know more easily what I want.’

TM teachers recommend 20 minutes practice twice a day, but I tend to skip it in the morning and do a longer meditation in the middle of the day. I don’t see colours or have mystical experiences, and some meditations are more frustrating than others, but it does clear my mind. Afterwards I feel lighter and more vital. Now I know when I need to do it: I feel as if I have not showered; there is a fuzziness, a sense of incompletion.

Last week I met an old friend. She told me her husband had begun to meditate six months ago. Since then she has seen a marked improvement in his wellbeing. She would like to try it herself, but – at this I had a smile – she couldn’t get comfortable. She is jealous. ‘He has this place inside him where he can go, and that must be such a comfort.’ Judy Kelly puts it differently. ‘I am so happy,’ she once said to me. ‘I have so much inside me. I really don’t need anything. I am my own best friend.’

Did you know? According to TM Ireland, around 40,000 Irish people have learned the technique in the last 50 years. Celebrity TM practitioners include Eva Mendes, Naomi Watts, Oprah and – a bit less Hollywood – British Deputy PM, Nick Clegg.

WHAT MEDITATION CAN DO FOR YOU
■ Provides a deep physiological state of rest
■ Increases energy
■ Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels
■ Increases happiness and improves relationships
■ Reduces stress and anxiety – decreases stress hormones
■ Improves sleeping
■ Reduces the symptoms of asthma
■ Increases creativity and intelligence
■ Gives broader comprehension and improved ability to focus
■ Improves perception and memory
■ Improves students’ learning skills and intellectual performance
■ Increases orderliness of brain functioning increases Self-Actualisation and Self-Concept
■ Reduces the use of cigarettes, alcohol and non-prescription drugs
■ Improves general psychological health and wellbeing
■ Results in more positive health habits
■ Increases life span and reduces effects of ageing
■ Increases levels of DHEA – a hormone described as the elixir of life
■ Improves job performance (productivity) and job satisfaction
■ Helps in the treatment of traumatic stress
For more information on TM, and details of a teacher near you, log on to www.tm-ireland.org

The 8.15 train to Nirvana: How you can meditate your stresses away… even on the daily commute

May 23, 2012
The 8.15 train to Nirvana: How you can meditate your stresses away… even on the daily commute

By Marianne Power
12 May 12, 2012

Last summer I bumped into an old colleague. We hadn’t seen each other for years and it transpired that in the previous 18 months, her mother had died of cancer, her father had moved in with her and she had been made redundant.

Yet she seemed remarkably calm. How on earth was she coping? After joking about the healing power of gin, she admitted her secret: she had learned how to meditate.

We have all read about the healing powers of meditation. Medical research has found that it can reduce the risk of everything from heart disease to strokes, depression and insomnia – but this was the first time I had seen its benefits up close.

Down time: Marianne Power meditates as she waits for a Tube train in London

Soon I was meditating twice a day, too, even learning to fit it into train journeys to work or sneaking a few quiet minutes in a bathroom cubicle at the office.

Before I bumped into my colleague I was running on empty. By day I was stressed by silly things that made me snap at people.

By night I would try to unwind with too many hours of television and too many glasses of wine before lying awake in bed stewing over all my worries.

I was run-down, got every cold going and at my very lowest points was prescribed antidepressants. My friend recommended Transcendental Meditation, which is different from other forms of meditation.

Instead of focusing on your breathing, you are given a Sanskrit word, known as a mantra, that you repeat in your head. The idea is that the repetition of the sound calms your mind.

The practice was made famous by The Beatles, who became devotees after meeting its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the Sixties. Since then everyone from Clint Eastwood to William Hague and Nick Clegg has become a fan.

Latest research from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry has shown that meditation brings about neurological changes. After  a few months of meditation, the parts of the brain with a tendency to worry are switched off.

Clinical trials have proved that as a standalone treatment it can  prevent relapse of depression and is effective alongside medication.

But I was most interested in its effects in counteracting stress. And I can say that learning to meditate has changed my life.

At my first lesson I was given my mantra, which you don’t share with anyone, and told to close my eyes and repeat it again and again in my head. Straight away I was hooked.

There’s something about the sound vibration of the mantra going over and over in your mind that lulls you into a kind of trance. The repetition of the sound is like a lullaby.

You go into your own world and yet you are still aware of your surroundings. You’re neither awake, nor asleep, nor dreaming – just beautifully relaxed. It’s like a warm bath for your brain.

After that first lesson, I felt calm and focused and that night I enjoyed a longer, deeper sleep than I’ve had since I was a child. And I’ve been sleeping well ever since.

The more I meditate, the less I seem to be bothered by things. Situations that would once have sent me into a tailspin no longer have the same effect.

My heart doesn’t race in the way it once did; I have become more calm and rational; my concentration at work has also improved.

I think this is primarily because I am better rested and less stressed, but scans have shown that meditation actually increases the size of your hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with memory and learning. I also feel healthier.

I have had only one cold in the past seven months. And then there are the less tangible changes, the ones to your personality and relationships.

Friends have commented on the fact that I seem more relaxed. I  certainly feel more content, less inclined to snap or overreact.

So is this a miracle? Am I now the perfect person? Hardly. Like most of the good things in life, it takes work. Like going to the gym or eating well, you have to keep doing it even on days when you tell yourself you are too busy.

I meditate for 20 minutes morning and night. After breakfast, and then at 4pm – and on days when that’s not possible, on the train or in a taxi. Every little helps. It doesn’t matter whether I close my eyes for two minutes or 20, when I open them I feel better.

I have yet to experience the so-called ‘bliss’ that devotees talk about but I’m just so happy that I’ve found a tool that helps me perform well in the day and sleep better at night.

I wish I’d been taught this at school – it’s the best life skill I’ve ever learnt. But it’s not cheap.

When I turned up for the first open evening at my local TM centre (they’re all over the country), I was told that fees were charged according to income. I would have to  pay £490.

But I did it – and it was the best money I’ve ever spent.

uk.tm.org

Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd, part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group. Also published in Independent Online: The 8.15 train to Nirvana.

Here is a related article, Transcendental Meditation, by Julie Eagleton, another British journalist who also learned to meditate and wrote about it. Julie has covered arts & culture, fashion, food, health & beauty and travel. Find out more at http://www.julieeagleton.com.

Also see this article by Julie: Meditation Creativity Peace: A Documentary of David Lynch’s 16 Country Tour.


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