Finding your zen with Vedic meditation

We all know that meditation is good for us. In the busy lives that we lead, it has become recognised by science as the most effective antidote to stress and we believe an essential life tool.

There are many types of meditation and one that is an effortless and proven technique is Vedic meditation. We sit down with VM teacher Lauren Fitzgerald to learn why it is regarded as one of the most effective forms of meditation.

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Tell us about your Vedic meditation journey:


For as long as I can remember I've enjoyed and felt the benefit of carving out quiet time for stillness and solitude. I dabbled for years with all manner of practices, I tried on different styles of meditation like I was on the hunt for the perfect pair of jeans, and I quite liked them all; guided meditation, moving meditation, contemplation techniques, etc. But it was the unignorable, impassioned recommendation from a dear and trusted friend that saw me learn Vedic Meditation. Having been rock bottom, he attributed turning his health and life right-side-up to his practice of Vedic Meditation. A little like when Harry Met Sally, I wanted what he was having so I sought out a teacher and learnt.
That was 2014. I was 6ft of stress at the time and doing a stellar job hiding it. I was working full time as a senior project manager in the highly pressurised environment of the Olympic Movement, and simultaneously trying to keep my own semi-professional athletic career alive. I was plagued by performance anxiety on the sporting field, and in the workplace I suffered a significant case of imposter syndrome; I was convinced that my responsibilities outweighed my capabilities, and that I didn't deserve the opportunities that came my way. Sometimes with, but even without justifiable cause, my mind raced, I was always worrying, over-thinking, doubting, and I had trouble sleeping despite feeling permanently exhausted and physically fatigued. 

Despite all that, my poker-face was rocksteady, I was perceived as successful, respected, and popular, but I was a bit of a wreck on the inside. My coping strategy was to ignore what I was feeling, block it out, squash it down. I distracted myself from the constant sense of unease bubbling away under the surface by being busy, working harder, and training more. That was my normal, and then I learnt Vedic Meditation. 

The change in me was rapid and obvious, friends and family remarked; you look so well, so alive, so happy. They even commented that my stature had changed, that I had a presence about me, a quality of confidence. The benefits of the practice quickly, positively and profoundly influenced my health, my happiness, and my general experience of life to such a degree that I felt compelled to share the practice with others, I left my career behind and ventured down the rigorous and rewarding road to become a teacher of Vedic Meditation. While I continue to reap the benefits of my own practice, it's now an added privilege to help and witness others find the health and happiness they've been looking for and deserve.

What does the practice involve:
 
Vedic Meditation involves sitting comfortably with the back supported, the head and neck free, and the eyes closed for 20 minutes twice each day. During that 20 minutes we think a mantra (a meaningless sound) inside the mind, we think it as effortlessly as we think any other thought. We don't concentrate on it, we don't focus on it, we don't apply any effort or force whatsoever, the act of 'trying' is prohibited! The aim: to think the mantra with such ease, such effortlessness that we begin to forget to think it at all. As counterintuitive as it may sound, forgetting to think the mantra is actually the name of the game! Forgetting to think the mantra is pivotal to our practice, it's when we forget to think it, that we're really getting somewhere.

Vedic Meditation has so many effects on health and well-being. Can you describe these benefits:

Atop of the lengthy list of benefits is deep and profound rest. During the practice of Vedic Meditation the body moves into a metabolic rate of rest that is two to five times deeper than what we achieve during sleep at night. When the body is afforded the opportunity to rest in this manner, stress is unwound and released from the body. It's in the cells of the body that stress is stored, and a physiology relieved of excess stress chemistry leads to improved health, increased energy levels, clarity of thought, adaptive and creative responses to challenges and demands, better sleep quality, a rise in self esteem and confidence, and freedom from old habitual stress-driven behaviours and reactions. 

During meditation the relaxation response switches on; we breathe more efficiently, our heart rate slows down and bloody pressure normalises which is great for cardiovascular health. We stop producing stress chemistry (adrenaline, cortisol, lactic acid, etc) and instead increase the production of bliss chemistry in the body (serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, anandamide etc), and so we come out of meditation feeling spontaneously happier and more joyful.  

Why do you practice Vedic meditation twice daily? Will you still get benefits with less frequency?
 
20 minutes twice a day is the recommended daily dose. Meditating for 20 minutes in the morning, and then another 20 minutes in the afternoon or early evening, consistently day after day, is the formula that has brought maximum results to many millions of meditators across the globe. To meditate for longer than 20 minutes using this technique, or to meditate more frequently than twice each day is unnecessary, and suboptimal. Whilst 20 minutes twice a day is best practice, we place added importance on the frequency, that 'twice a day' element than we do the 20 minutes duration. It is actually better to meditate for 10 minutes twice each day, than it is to meditate for 20 minutes just the once, here's why:
Every day we inadvertently collect new stress and fatigue. Meditating once a day is a little like jogging on the spot; meditating once does an okay job of removing the stress and fatigue we've picked up over the last 8 - 12 hours or so. However, when we add in a second meditation it has a compounding effect, we are now super-charging stress removal. By meditating twice each day we are unpicking and unwinding the stress and fatigue we've been accumulating over our entire lifetime, we are chipping away at the back-log and this opens up the opportunity for us to tap into the field of infinite adaptability and creativity. We’re no longer jogging on the spot, instead we’re moving forward, striding ahead, making real progress and thriving in life. Meditating frequently (twice daily) and consistently (everyday) is key.

Each individual gets their own personal mantra during training, can you tell us more about the mantra?

The word mantra literally means "mind vehicle". There are many different types of mantras; there are mantras you can recite whilst cooking to enhance the healing qualities of your food, there are mantras you can chant to your children to help them sleep at night, no doubt there are even mantras designed to help one find a good husband or wife! The type of mantra we use in Vedic Meditation is called a 'Bija' mantra, Bija means "seed", and just  like the seed of a tree encapsulates all the possibilities of the tree, a Bija mantra itself contains everything a meditator needs to meditate effectively. The meditator is not required to do anything, it's the Bija mantra that does all the work. 

A Bija mantra is a vibration of sound that has no intended meaning. Being meaningless, the mantra's nature is to self-refine; when we think it effortlessly in the mind the mantra naturally and spontaneously becomes softer, subtler, vaguer and fainter. The mind finds the resonant sound quality of the mantra soothing and incredibly charming, and the mind follows it inward. But the mantra, in it's ever increasing softness and subtlety becomes very slippery, very difficult to hold onto. A Bija mantra is essentially a forgetting device, they are designed to be forgotten. We use the Bija mantra as a vehicle to move the mind from thinking into Being, which is the opposite of what we are used to; regular thoughts move the mind from thinking into action. The state of Being is completely silent, still, timeless. The inward march of the mind towards that state is an experience of de-excitation, of slowing, quietening, and settling down. Both the road to Being and the state of Being itself are the goal, and the mantra is a reliable chauffeur, the mantra is the systematic procedure that delivers the mind to the goal. 

There are many Bija mantras, not quite enough for one each, there are groups and sets of them, and a qualified teacher of Vedic Meditation is trained to select the best and most appropriate Bija mantra for each individual student. The chosen mantra will be the sound that resonates best with the physiology of the student, the sound that the mind of the student finds most soothing, most charming, and the sound that will provide the student with maximum results.

How is VM connected to the Ayurvedic tradition?
 
Vedic Meditation and Ayurveda both come from the same ancient body of knowledge we refer to as the Veda. Veda means knowledge or truth. It is from this ancient body of timeless, universal wisdom - the Veda - that we get yoga, all meditation techniques, and the health science of balance and longevity known as Ayurveda.

What are the most profound changes you have seen in students?
There are so many to choose! I've seen students who have struggled for years to fall pregnant, learn to meditate and fall pregnant within weeks! I've had students suffering from insomnia learn to meditate and enjoy their first full night's sleep in a long time. The changes I see which I am moved by the most tend to be those that I can personally relate to from my own pre-meditation days; the lifting of anxiety, the dissolving of depression, submissive patterns and behaviours being replaced with assertion and confidence, students once crippled by extreme self consciousness reporting that they just don't care that much what others think of them anymore, that sort of thing. 

I taught a 14 year old to meditate and he told me he hadn't been able to say "I love you" out loud to his family who he loved, then having learnt to meditate he found that he couldn't stop declaring his love! That was pretty special to hear. My favourite change though, it's as profound as it is commonly reported: "I'm noticing waves of happiness bubble up for no apparent reason, I just feel so happy and I don't know why!"

Can regular practice help us to avoid illness?

Absolutely. Vedic Meditation is a stress-busting technique, and stress more than anything else suppresses our immune system. When we practice Vedic Meditation stress chemistry in the body is dissolved and disposed of, its removal from the physiology frees up our immune system to operate optimally. Vedic Meditation is a weapon against stress accumulation, and therefore it's the ticket to robust health and immunity by increasing our ability to prevent illness and fight disease.

Do you have any Vedic wisdom to share during these changing and challenging times?

It sounds so cliche, but it's also the truth that change is the only certainty. How counterintuitive it is then that we pine for security and stability, humans have a penchant for craving non-change! Rather than resisting that which is constant and inevitable (change), or trying in vain to control everything and stop things from changing, we would benefit from learning instead how to embrace change, to welcome and invite it, and thrive in the face of it. "Embrace change", it's so easy to say, and it's easier to do than most might realise....

Adaptation energy is the resource we draw on in order to respond effectively to demands that are placed on us. By practicing Vedic Meditation we are gifting ourselves deep and profound states of rest, and it's through rest that we top up our stores of adaptation energy. Generally, if they have any at all, most folks at best run low on adaptation energy. My advice; learn to meditate in order to keep your coffers of adaptation energy well stocked, then relax and enjoy witnessing yourself respond with ease and effectiveness to changes and challenges that come your way.