When most of us think of meditation we think of a Buddhist monk living in the mountains, or a hippy sat cross-legged in a circle of flowers and incense.
What if we told you meditating for 30 minutes a day could reduce your pre-work anxiety and increase your productivity?
Karuna – a world-renowned meditation and mindfulness teacher and the keynote speaker at Thrive! in Manchester on June 9 – can help you achieve this.
The Northern Quarter event is hosting speakers and panellists to discuss bringing well-being back to the workplace through positive mental practices.
Karuna does not intend to convince people to take up meditation but instead wishes to create a space in which people can be open-minded towards the practice.
In an interview with MM she described the stages of her life which led to her becoming a meditation mentor: “I started off around the age of 25 working for a senator in the Hart Senate building in Washington DC.
“In our journey of being right we were invested in making other people wrong. It felt dishonest so despite being in a position to succeed in a prosperous profession, I knew that the trajectory of my life was going to be different.
“I started to really study eastern philosophy and decided to move to Hawaii where I worked with different clients whilst spending a lot of time with meditation teachers doing dedicated extensive study.
“I found that my client base progressed, as the clients I worked with were interested in mindfulness and meditation.”
Learning to meditate is often compared to learning any other skill – it requires repeated daily practice for a person to master it.
“Some people say to me, ‘oh I could never meditate because my mind is going off in so many different directions’.
“When you recognise that your mind can be so scattered and lead you around like a puppet, then you’re actually going places.
“It’s like this great tsunami of thoughts which will eventually come right up against this place where, if we’re very fortunate in our lives, we ask: ‘am I really this tsunami of thoughts? Is that really who I am?’”
Guided meditations are said to be preferable for people who are just starting out and aren’t quite sure how to navigate their thoughts.
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“If you want to study to be a mathematician, you study with the finest mathematicians, if you want to be a fine athlete you train with great mentors, and the same is true in this process of meditation.
“I often lead people through a very simple meditation because the mind tends to move toward complexity.
“I always encourage people to treat the mind like a very powerful best friend. We don’t admonish the mind and we don’t treat it badly.
“One of the things you can do is come to the breath which is closely linked to the mind. If you become the master of your breath, you achieve a quieting and a mastery of the mind.”
Meditation is often seen as a Buddhist practice, reserved for followers of the religion alone, or as a pseudo-science based on fiction rather than fact.
When pressed on this interpretation of the practice, Karuna fought her corner: “I could talk to you about neuroscience, I could talk to you about healthy brain function, I could talk to you about subtle energy.
“Any way you approach meditation, it has nothing to do with anything religious. We have been meditating and asking questions about who we are for centuries, but in this last 60 years we’ve had MRIs and more sophisticated technology which can be used to study brain function.
“When people meditate, and when you look at the MRIs of people who meditate, you see different areas of the brain get lit up.”
Neuroplasticity is a scientific concept which suggests that neurons (nerve cells) in the brain adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
In a recent blog post Karuna described this concept as ‘a particularly exciting area of study that shows brain function can be remodelled’.
In her interview with MM Karuna explained this process further.
“They used to think that the brain was pretty much cooked after you were a young adult but that’s not true.
“The brain can remodel itself throughout our lives so when we learn something, new neuropathways get created.
“This is so exciting because we can replace our old habits that don’t serve us so well, with new habits.”
Removing bad habits is not the only positive benefit of meditation – Karuna explained the purpose of meditation in our everyday lives.
“When people realise how relevant meditation is and become an advocate of their own mental fitness, they see a change in their own wellbeing in the workplace, and have skilful interactions with people in their world.
“With the demands that are on us right now, culturally and economically, it’s more important than ever that people dial in 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night to clear their mental cache.
“A project sat on your desk that you’re dreading takes so much energy, take positive steps to get it done rather than let it be a beast on your desk.
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“I try to get us to a place where we’re simply open, where the wheels of our mind are at a more even pace and take us to a place of BEING rather than DOING.
“By that I mean people will sometimes love us for what we do, and we accumulate these DOING activities.
“The greatest and deepest relationships come from a place of BEING, ‘I’m loving you for BEING, I’m appreciating you for BEING. I don’t care about the clothes you wear, I don’t care about the car you drive’.”
As well as advocating meditation in business Karuna also specialises in people who have experienced trauma.
“If you’re exposed to trauma when you’re young the hippocampus, which affects learning and memory, gets smaller and the amygdala, where fear and anxiety is stored, gets bigger.
“Positive affirmations work, some people think that’s corny but I’m telling you if you feel really unworthy and you say ‘I am capable, I am strong, I am going to meet my day’ it has an effect.
“It’s my job to be as open as I can, as accepting as I can and let everyone have their experience.
“I try to give people enough information where it’s relevant for them, the language that works for one person doesn’t always work for another.”
Karuna hosts corporate mindfulness programs, bespoke mentoring sessions as well as retreats and workshops.
She also has a guided meditation program on her website, Hub for the Heart, called “The 10 Qualities of a Powerful Mind” with taster meditations available on her YouTube channel.