How meditation changed my life

Writer Judy Cogan reveals how meditation transformed her life and helped her break unhealthy patterns once and for all

Meditation
(Image credit: Tusen Følgere | Pexels)

“If someone had told me little over a year ago, I’d be meditating twice a day, every day and reaping the benefits I would have laughed out loud. No chance, not for me – I’m too busy.

I would have written it off as something monks and hippies in harem pants get up to. Yet, here I am a year into my daily practice feeling healthy, balanced and happier than ever. Turning 35 in September 2017 all I wanted was to turn off the incessant whir of worry in my mind – even just for 30 seconds.

I knew my life needed to change, fast and drastically, but I had no idea how. I’d celebrated my birthday with a 12-hour boozy bender in London, which culminated with me crying on my knees in my mum’s living room the next day. I can see now it was a poignant turning point, but at the time it was my own pitiful rock bottom.

I had moved back home six months earlier from a high-octane three-year stint in Dubai. The plan was simple. I’d settle into my new job in publishing and find a place to live in London using my mum’s house in Hertfordshire as a base. I was so fortunate in so many ways, but deeply unhappy.

I hurtled through that first summer partying hard doing all the things that made me feel worse. I was irritable, stressed and anxious all the time. Through a fog of depression and hang-overs I damaged relationships with my family and friends. I felt panicked and overwhelmed at work and running on adrenaline I fell into the trap of blaming everyone else for my shortcomings. Somehow, I managed to cling on to the wreckage and make a pact with myself to change. The first step.

I could feel myself boomeranging towards bad habits.

First up I gave up smoking, I took up running and successfully completed dry January for the first time. I found the courage to book a solo holiday to Nicaragua in February 2018: surf lessons, yoga, transformative workshops and long walks on empty beaches. It was here I noticed people meditating for the first time – normal professionals who’d take themselves off for 20 minutes and come back calm and refreshed.

Back home I could feel myself boomeranging towards bad habits and so when a new friend from the trip suggested I give meditation a whirl I thought “why not.” He recommended the London Meditation Centre, co-founded by Jillian Lavender and Michael Miller who teach Vedic meditation - a non-religious, mantra-based method and suggested I go to a free intro talk and report back.

“If nothing else you’ve learnt something new for nothing,” he said. The benefits listed on their website caught my attention immediately: “reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep, boosts energy, feel healthy and younger, get along better with other people.”

But arriving at the intro talk my head was in a spin. ‘This could be a cult! Was this really for me? I’ll never keep it up! Who meditates anyway?’

Since then I’ve discovered that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle practice and Michael and Jillian taught Sienna Miller the week before me – so reassuringly, plenty of people are doing it!

That sunny day in June my eyes were bloodshot, my skin pale, palms clammy and I was wearing head to toe black. Michael looked me in the eye on my way in and said: “you go sit right at the front,” so I did. After the talk I signed up to a four-day course in Vedic meditation. It was instinctive: exactly what I needed at exactly the right time in my life.

In the first couple of days meditating I felt lighter and happier. I noticed myself smiling more and suddenly I was craving vegetables and picking out colourful sundresses to wear. I had worried how I’d fit in two 20-minute meditations to my day, but with Michael’s guidance it just worked. I reasoned I easily lost 40 minutes a day to Instagram and this came with so many benefits.

In the first couple of days meditating I felt lighter and happier

I’ve since meditated in parks, on trains, the tube, up mountains, on the beach and in the shower room at work: anywhere I can sit and safely close my eyes. Vedic meditation isn’t about clearing your mind of thoughts, there’s no effort involved, which makes it super easy. It also goes far beyond feeling calm and clearer. I am in tune with my gut feeling and make better decisions from what to have for breakfast to who I want in my life. I’ve rebuilt important relationships with my family – who have supported this journey and noticed a huge change in me.

There’s been a few surprises, too. One weekend in July last year I was on a hiking trip in Switzerland when we reached the top of a mountain 2627m high and it struck me my fear of heights had vanished. I’d been traversing gravelly paths and climbing steep verges all day. Through the glittery lens of summer I’d been enjoying stunning alpine views lost in every moment. I’ve always been wary of heights, but this time there were no panicked tears. Michael later confirmed meditation is key to smoothly out fear in all aspects of life.

It struck me my fear of heights had vanished.

Letting go has been a big theme: the past, habits that no longer serve me, my inhibitions – I’ve found courage to try new things from stand-up comedy to sober dance raves.

The most important thing is I feel like myself again and I have learnt so much about loving myself and valuing others. Vedic meditation has changed my life and I will never go back.”

What is vedic mediation?

Jillian Lavender, co-founder of London Meditation Centre, explains: “Vedic Meditation comes from the Veda, the ancient body of knowledge from India and the source of yoga, meditation, and Ayurvedic medicine.

When you learn to meditate you learn a mantra — a simple meaningless sound — that you repeat silently. The mantra quiets the mind and takes you to a settled state.

As your mind settles, your body begins to rest more deeply than sleep. Vedic Meditation doesn’t involve any effort to try and silence the mind. You simply sit in a chair with your eyes closed for about 20 minutes twice a day. The mantra pulls the mind into quieter, deeper levels automatically and easily. This is why Vedic Meditation is one of the most efficient and powerful ways to rest the nervous system.”

Vedic mediation: how it can help you

London Meditation Centre’s Jillian explains: “Vedic Meditation is key to overcoming fear in all aspects of life. Fear and anxiety are a by-product of stress and fatigue building up in the nervous system. Meditation gets to the root cause of fear by releasing the tension and stress that are getting in the way of someone feeling calm, grounded and balanced. Today the world is saturated with fear and suffering. People are exhausted. The pace of change is relentless.

It’s vital we all have the tools to be able to adapt and deal with the demands of life. Racing to try and keep up is not going to work. We need to do the opposite – a counterbalance to the over-excitation and hectic pace of life. That’s where meditation is a game-changer.”

Reduce stress and anxiety

Meditation cuts back your stress chemistry (like cortisol and adrenaline) and replaces it with natural bliss chemistry (like dopamine and serotonin).

Brings clarity and focus

Meditation develops full-brain functioning. Your prefrontal cortex is activated, alpha waves increase and the neurophysiology changes so you think clearly and make good decisions.

Better sleep and more energy overall

The very deep rest of meditation does two things: gives you lots of energy and calms your system so you can fall asleep (and stay asleep!)

Be healthier and younger

Stress weakens your immune system and speeds up ageing. Meditation reverses this: you get sick less often and you stay youthful.

Get along better with others

When you’re healthier, happier and thinking clearly, you’re nicer to be around. All your relationships get better.