Meditation; it faces a lot of preconceptions as a modern-day practice, but in my own experience it is a pretty powerful tool, and you have to stick with it because the effects certainly aren’t instantaneous, but they are definitely rewarding. The practice of meditation has been around for centuries and is most commonly attributed to Buddhist and Hindi religions, but some of the earliest records of meditation date much further back. I suppose one of the most obvious preconceptions is that meditation must have a religious link; of course it can, and it’s used widely within various methods of religious practice, but this is not a prerequisite. As a form of introspection and focus, meditation in its many forms is actually used across the board – it just might not be labelled as ‘meditation’ per se, and could be more focused on breathing techniques, behavioural analysis, or simply being more present, more mindful. Not only is meditation encouraged from a spiritual perspective, it’s also practised as a science and is used widely in the medical world as a form of practical therapy – encouraging specific lifestyle changes in order to combat various stressors and anxieties brought about by, well, life.
Like many, I have experienced meditation often in conjunction with yoga – that final cool down and relaxation segment. It’s the part I really look forward to because it gives me a chance to just switch off and shut out the world for a few minutes. It’s also a nice way to let my muscles chill out after an intensive Vinyasa flow session. But it can often be tricky to find that state of calm, particularly after a crazy week at work, and once you feel that inner sense of quiet, it is such a rewarding sensation.
However, I have only touched upon the practice of meditation and its benefits, and I wanted to find out more, so I turned to the experts for some advice. I caught up with Suki Bains, Founder of I AM WOMAN, female empowerment mentor, cycling instructor, and meditation coach at Fit Squad DXB to really get to grips with meditation and how to incorporate it into our busy lifestyles.
1. How would you explain meditation?
Suki: Meditation is a technique for finding inner peace. The mind becomes clear and relaxed and you focus on your inner being. You are still fully awake and alert but your mind is not focused on any external stresses or events taking place around you.
2. Why should we practice meditation?
Suki: It reduces stress, increases productivity and leads to longer lives.
3. Are there particular preconceptions about meditation?
Suki: A LOT. The main one that it is religious; it is not, it is a science. Then that it is about stopping your thoughts when in fact it is about observing them, and lastly that you have to do it for at least an hour every day; meditation can be practiced for as short as you wish.
4. How did you become involved in the practice?
Suki: I have meditated for as long as I can remember. My mother is very religious (Sikh) and for an hour every morning before school I would repeat mantras which helped relax my mind and almost take me into a trance-like state. I stopped when I was around 15 and then found my way again in a way that suited me which was more spiritual than religious.
5. How can we add meditation to a busy schedule?
Suki: We don’t need any equipment or need to go anywhere to meditate. You can do it in your office, on the beach or at a home. Ten minutes a day is all you need. I would also say instead of scrolling through social media for those ten minutes a day maybe try meditation; trust me it will be more helpful.
6. Can we meditate in alternative ways if we struggle to focus?
Suki: Meditation is practiced in a variety of ways. The list is endless and it is endless because it is an individual practice. You have to explore, experiment and then find your own preference. Guided and visual meditations are generally good for people who really struggle with concentration. You can also download meditation apps – one of my favourites is buddhify; they have meditations for all areas of your life and even have walking meditations if you don’t like sitting still.
7. Has there been a rise in demand for meditation practice more recently? Why do you think this is?
Suki: There has; people are becoming more clued up. In the 21st century we have so many stresses, humans are looking for ways to relieve this and meditation is it! I also think it helps that celebrities are endorsing meditation: Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, and Hugh Jackman have been meditating for years and talk about how it helps them to be more successful.
8. What effects does meditation have on the body and mind?
Suki: I could be here forever, the list is so long! A few: it changes your brain leading to higher productivity; it boosts your health by increasing immune function, and it boosts your happiness by decreasing depression, anxiety and fear.
9. How often and for how long do we need to meditate in order to feel the benefits?
Suki: Meditation is an individual practice. You have to find your own way. What I will say is you have to make it a habit; build it into your life gradually, starting with twice a week then daily. You will soon start seeing the benefits.
10. What has been one of your most memorable or biggest success stories with meditation?
Suki: It changed my life. Yep seriously; my whole life transformed. I was working in the corporate industry, twelve-hour days and my daily practice reminded me of my core values and made me realise that life was passing by and I wasn’t living the life I wanted. So I quit my very successful career and started a new journey.
11. How do we shut out our surroundings and just focus internally?
Suki: Find a quiet spot, somewhere you will not be disturbed. Either sit on the floor or in your chair with you back straight but not tensed and your eyes gently closed. Bring your awareness slowly down through your body, allowing your muscles to relax. Once your body is relaxed, bring your awareness to your breath. Do not judge or control it, just inhale and exhale gently Every time your mind wanders bring it back to your breath. You will have hundreds of thoughts in your head; your aim is not to stop them but to observe them and not react. Once you start doing this you will start realising that your thoughts can’t actually disturb or control you. This is the art of focusing internally.
12. How is meditation linked to the wider concept of mindfulness?
Suki: Mindfulness and meditation overlap and intertwine. Both give you the tools to access inner peace, which is already there, you just need to bring it to the surface. However they are separate practices. Mindfulness refers to the practice of present moment awareness; rather than being on autopilot it is a way of being actively aware of what you are doing whilst you are doing it. Meditation on the other hand is focusing internally and finding peace within. However, both practices offer a way to increase happiness and decrease suffering.
13. Is meditation becoming more mainstream? Does this deter from the intrinsic benefits of the practice?
Suki: It doesn’t matter if it is becoming more mainstream; in fact that can only be a good thing. The more people who practice meditation the better. If we start educating children about meditation and mindfulness from an early age I truly believe the world will be a better place.
14. How does your style of meditation coaching differ from others, and what makes it unique?
Suki: I have adapted all my knowledge and education into a modern practice that even the most cynical people will hopefully be able to adopt. It is authentic and I vibe off the crowd and I don’t teach anything that I don’t practice myself.
15. How can we make meditation a long term lifestyle practice?
Suki: It’s a habit. You have to hold yourself accountable. When we want tools to lose weight we start looking into PTs, nutrition and gyms to incorporate into our lives. With a goal of leading a healthier lifestyle and being fitter in the mind we make sure we make time for fitness. It’s the same concept for meditation: have a goal in mind, what do you want to achieve from meditation? Is it a clear mind? Less stress? To be happier? Whatever it is, write it down; believe that meditating will help and start with ten minutes daily. It will become part of your everyday routine, and when you start feeling the benefits you will never want to not do it!
16. Is meditation a strictly solo practice, or can it be done as a group?
Suki: There are no yes’s and no’s when it comes to meditation. Groups, or solo, or duo. Do what feels right for you. Some people like to go it alone, whereas others like the group feel and a teacher guiding them.
17. What do people come away with after one of your meditation sessions?
Suki: You would have to ask them. For me if just one person walks away from one of my sessions feeling good about themselves then that makes me fulfilled.
So for any of the skeptics out there, I would say, don’t knock it until you try it – you might be surprised by the experience. Meditation is such an easy practice to try out, and as Suki said, it can be done from pretty much anywhere; you don’t need anything, and if you do need a bit of guidance then there are plenty of guided sessions available, or apps even! You can follow Suki on Instagram @i.am.suki.bains and if you want to know more about meditation you can contact her here: firstname.lastname@example.org.