I took a meditation class during my lunch break -- here's what I learned

Photo: Sarah Kimmorley.

Many business leaders attribute part of their success to the power of meditation.

From hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, who uses transcendental meditation to check his ego, to Salesforce’s Marc Benioff who does it to relieve stress, even Rupert Murdoch zens out from time to time.

By taking time out the of the day to focus thoughts and objectives, and clear the mind, meditating can improve productivity and increases your ability to cope with demands and pressure of work.

Until recently, I could only take their word for it. I had always like the idea of it but didn’t think I could manage sitting still enough to ever really appreciate its full potential, let alone find the time to do so.

Then I heard about a place called in Sydney called “Centred Meditation”, which offers 30-minute guided meditation sessions for busy professionals.

Why not?

I went online and reserved an armchair for a lunch time session.

As part of an introductory offer beginners can sign up for a week of unlimited classes for $20, and after that drop in as a casual for $16 a class or sign up for a range of packages, which includes an unlimited membership for $108 for four weeks.

Just above Rockpool Bar & Grill in the City Mutual Building on Hunter Street in the CBD, the space is an unexpected sanctuary. I walked there from my office in Circular Quay.

Surrounded by other office suites, it’s not immediately clear which one it is, but the waft of incense gives away that you’re in the right place.

After you have followed your nose to the converted office space, you’re greeted by the class instructor, co-founder Nikki.

Before founding the business Nikki discovered the power of meditation during her final year of Psychology at university.

“I experienced first-hand the raw, visceral effect of pressure and stress on my physiology and I decided I was sick of sabotaging my health for a certain outcome that may never actually eventuate,” she says.

“I had heard about meditation before but it had always seemed too difficult to still my chaotic mind. I gave it a go and began meditating regularly, immediately discovering the profound effects that it had on all aspects of my life: study, work, relationships, health.”

She offered me a choice of water, coconut water or herbal tea and directed me to the meditation area.

There are pigeonholes for your belongings and phones must be put on silent, without vibration, or aeroplane mode during the class.

Don’t think about nothing

Nikki told me it was important to know that the purpose of session was not to think of nothing, rather it was about “letting the mind debug the best way it knows how”.

“Everyone experiences meditation differently. Your meditations might be filled with random thoughts or your daily to-do lists. They also might have the tendency to make you sleepy, or they might actually give you a buzz,” she says.

The room has no more than a dozen chairs, so if it was a full class you wouldn’t feel cramped.

The lightening is dim and the scent makes you feel like you’re in an expensive day spa.

Nikki invites you to take your shoes off and get comfortable in an armchair of your choice, using the pillow and blanket should you need them.

She sits at front of the room, talking in a soothing, calm voice guiding you through a sequence of breathing and visualisation.

The breathing exercises are hard!

Surprisingly, the breathing exercises were the hardest part of the class.

We were asked to hold one hand on our chest and the other on our stomach to make sure we were breathing through our stomach, ensuring our chest was not rising.

It was this breathing pattern that we had to maintain for the duration of the class.

She called our attention to each part of the body from head to toes, releasing tension as you found it. For me, it was in my jaw and back.

Then came the visualisation. She told us to imagine ourselves in the middle of the desert, on top on a dune looking out over world.

Then walk through sand to an oasis. In the oasis is a pool of water and some date trees.

Don’t fall asleep

I’d tell you what happened next, but I fell asleep. I woke myself with an unexpectedly loud inhale — I will not call it a snore.

Nikki tells me the purpose of this journey is to allow meditators to conjure up specific images in the mind, which are known to have a calming effect on your physiology.

“Research has shown that being in nature contributes to both our emotional well-being by reducing negative feelings of anger, fear and stress, and increasing our positive affect, and our physical well-being by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones,” she says.

“The amazing thing about the brain is that you don’t even need to be in nature to experience its benefits.”

Well, I certainly worked for more. Perhaps a little too well.

She said falling asleep often happens to beginners, and that when you’re fatigued, naturally the first port of call is going to be a deep slumber.

But once you master the art of meditating, she said, it can provide a person with more revitalisation than sleeping.

Tips and tricks for beginners

To ensure you don’t fall asleep, Nikki said there are a few techniques that help.

“First of all, ensure that you are getting enough rest at night,” she says. “Not just quantity, but quality too.

“Then when you meditate, keep in mind is that when we lean our heads against something, our brain is likely to start releasing sleep chemicals, so keeping it upright will assist in staying awake.

“It’s also best to avoid eating a big meal right before you meditate as this can make the body feel heavier and more drowsy.”

Safe to say I wasn’t an instant master but the rush of energy I experienced once I returned to work was enough for me to want to go back.

Even if I can only master the power nap.

The writer was a guest of Centred Meditation.

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