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 last week, 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 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.”
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,” she wrote.
“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, singer Katy Perry told US Vogue that the key to her success is twice-daily sessions of transcendental meditation, known as TM, brought to the United States in 1959 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which involves two 20-minute sessions a 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.”
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,” says 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. Another 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 practitioner 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.”
But Lavender found the opposite was true and that meditation was 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 Centre.
Meditation’s time has come
Meditation, like mindfulness, is being rolled out into several schools and a new book, Three Breaths and Begin: A Guide to Meditation in the Classroom, is publishing in May (available in Australia at Angus & Robertson from April 30 for $26.43).
“It’s not elitist or self-indulgent, or about having lots of time and money,” says Lavender, 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. .
“We teach the vedic technique – you sit in a chair, with your eyes closed, for 20 minutes every morning and afternoon. You can do it anywhere.
“The worst thing that can happen is that you gave yourself 10 minutes of quiet in an endlessly loud world.”
This piece by Maria Lally was first seen on ‘Australian Financial Review’, 23 January 2019.