Why Meditation Is One Health Trend Worth Tuning Into

As Prince Harry reveals that he meditates every day, Maria Lally asks if we'd all benefit from 'tuning in'


Supermodel Gisele Bundchen is said to be a fan of transcendental meditation. Photo / Instagram @gisele

If anybody needs the mind-calming benefits of meditation right now, it’s probably Prince Harry. After a whirlwind 12 months that has seen him marry Meghan Markle, endure endless speculation about a family rift between him and his brother and his new bride and the Duchess of Cambridge, it seems reasonable enough for him to seek some peace and quiet wherever he may find it.

Little wonder, then, that during a visit to Merseyside earlier this month, the Duke, formerly the “party prince”, revealed, while chatting to a Buddhist monk, that he meditates “every day”. The monk, Kelsang Sonam, 69, then gave Harry a copy of the meditation book Eight Steps to Happiness.

It’s thought that Meghan introduced Harry to meditation. In a 2015 post of her now-defunct lifestyle blog, The Tig, she wrote: “Last week marked the one-year anniversary of my relationship with meditation, something I found endlessly daunting at first (the thoughts, the distractions, the boredom of it), but soon became the quietude that rocked my world. I am just happier. And meditation has much to do with that.”

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Pippa Middleton is also a fan and last year revealed in her column for Waitrose magazine that she had signed up to a beginners’ meditation class. “This involved learning to meditate twice daily, ideally for 20 minutes, chanting a mantra, while sitting upright, eyes closed and focused,” wrote Pippa. “Our teacher stressed that we should ensure we always make time for this because there’s always an excuse not to.

“I was sceptical at first — but, after practising this discipline for the past month, I have noticed a huge difference in my mental wellbeing and sense of clarity.”

Last year, Katy Perry told US Vogue that the key to her success is twice-daily sessions of transcendental meditation, known as TM, brought to the US in 1959 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which involves two 20-minute sessions per day.

Its central principle is the use of a personally prescribed word repeated silently. “It’s a game-changer,” she said. “I’m so much sharper. I just fire up.”

Other high-profile fans of TM include Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Gisele Bundchen, Kate Hudson and Miranda Kerr. Lena Dunham’s mother introduced her to TM aged nine to help with her anxiety and OCD and she’s said it has “made it possible for me to weather certain challenges and storms”.

But while many may find it easy to pooh-pooh, meditation now has fairly sound science behind it. One recent study from the University of Miami found regular meditation improves your ability to focus and prevent age-related mental decline. “This study is the first to offer evidence that continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention,” said lead author Anthony Zanesco, of his seven-year study.

Other studies show it can boost your immunity, help reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress depression and improve your sleep. And one study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that 54-year-old meditators had, on average, the biological age of 42-year-olds.

The type of meditation that Harry and Meghan practise is called vedic meditation, a non-religious, mantra-based method, and the type London-based Jillian Lavender teaches.

“I first got into meditation 23 years ago, when I had a very intense job in business,” she says. “I had a lot of preconceived ideas about meditation, the first being how on earth would I be able to sit still for 20 minutes? I also felt it might be a little bit ‘brown rice and sandals’ for somebody like me, who worked in business.”

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But Jillian found the opposite was true and that meditation was in fact a science-backed way of quietening down a beehive mind and, along with her partner Michael Miller, she founded the London Meditation Centre and the New York Meditation Center. Their clients include Jasmine Hemsley and Amelia Freer, but Jillian says she also regularly teaches stressed-out mums, businessmen and schoolchildren.

Indeed, now meditation, like mindfulness, is being rolled out into British several schools and a new book, Three Breaths and Begin: A Guide to Meditation in the Classroom, is publishing this May.

“It’s not elitist or self-indulgent, or about having lots of time and money,” says Jillian, adding that everybody can fit two 20-minute meditation sessions into even the most hectic day. “Rather than seeing it as another chore that takes up precious time, meditation leaves you more able to deal with the demands of life, you get more done and conversely, have more time. When I first began meditating, I stopped procrastinating and became far more productive.

“We teach the vedic technique of meditation — you sit in a chair, with your eyes closed, for 20 minutes every morning and afternoon. You can do it anywhere, on the Tube, on a plane, on your bed.”

Wellness star Jasmine Hemsley, of Hemsley + Hemsley, once told me that during busy Tube journeys, thanks to meditation she’s able to slightly zone out, which leaves her feeling “like Teflon” as the stress slides off her.

When I tell Jillian this, she says that’s exactly the effects you can expect: “Meditation teaches you to let stress pass you by, rather than to soak it up. It quietens your mind and stops you overthinking and overreacting to stress.” Or as Meghan concluded in her blog post: “I urge you to give it a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that you gave yourself 10 minutes of quiet in an endlessly loud world.”

5 WAYS TO MEDITATE 

Loving-kindness meditation
Also known as metta meditation, the main aim is to channel positive feelings of love and goodwill towards all those around you, even sworn enemies.

Breath awareness meditation
Involves getting a little more in touch with an everyday bodily function. Take slower, more thoughtful intake and focus your mind away from distractions or intrusive thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is all about celebrating the present and not letting the “what ifs” overwhelm you. Combine it with your daily routine, such as your commute.

Progressive relaxation
A mindful body scan for your anatomy. Start from one end, such as your feet, working your way up to your head, centring on areas that cause tension.

Transcendental meditation
The aim is to transcend your current state of being by taking on a new mantra or chant. You could be assigned a particular phrase by an instructor or pick your own motivational message.

TWO WAYS TO THINK

What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Like yoga and Pilates before it, mindfulness and meditation are often confused because they share similar qualities. Meditation is when you intentionally set time aside to meditate. For example, you may sit quietly and say mantras for a set amount of time.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is when you become mindful of what you’re doing. For example, mindful eating involves chewing your food thoroughly while being mindful of the tastes and textures. Mindful walking involves thinking about the feel of the ground underneath your feet or the colours of the trees and sounds around you, and meditation is more of a dedicated practice.

— The Daily Telegraph 

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