Prince Harry is said to meditate every day – along with 40 million people using the app Headspace – and 91 million people searching for the term on Google. Here’s how meditation can help with everything from stress, to your job. Article by Shireen Jilla published in QC on January 15, 2019.
What are the first thoughts that flash into your mind when I say Prince Harry? Uber-fit, super laid-back Prince, freshly married to Meghan Markle, who broke the internet with her pregnancy announcement. Apparently not. Harry fessed up to meditating every day. To boot, in a cafe confessional with a 69-year-old monk Kelsang Sonam. The Sun loomed it large on its front page, over-shadowing May’s bid to force a second vote on her Brexit deal.
Confused? You are not the only one. What daily reason could Harry possibly have to sit still with his eyes closed? Mindfulness has gone global. There are 91 million Google references to it. But surely it is just the latest craze of the neurotic and/or vegan? Not our Harry…
But if tabloid truth be believed, he has joined a growing global elite, who are determined to mentally rise above the bottomless craving for money, power, fame, food and sex. Social, political and environmental dissatisfaction spiked with the dictatorship of 24/7 technology and the ubiquity of desk-bound work has created a toxic cocktail, leaving many disconnected from their body and, even more so, their mind.
whose net worth
is $6.8 billion,
spent his birthday
on a ten-day
retreat in Myanmar”
Top-notch operators are pro-actively using meditation as a mental attention training tool to inject themselves with extra strength, resilience, calm and focus, enabling them to operate at optimum and stay on peak performance.
Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley was initially skeptical. ‘Sitting with your eyes closed, is it really going to help? But being in the moment, especially going into competitions, allows you to focus on what you can do right now to be the best you can be.’
Footballer Fabian Delph found mindfulness a massive help in his England team comeback. ‘I’m a very traditional English guy who believes in giving absolutely everything. I’m there to fight and pick up second balls. Now it [football] is all about calm and [being] collected on the ball.’
David Pickering, who captained Wales and was director of the last Rugby World Cup, agrees that composure and focus are now at the core of modern sportsmanship. ‘Everybody is looking for that extra 1%. It has become increasingly important to stay cool under pressure especially as the external surroundings are so intense. Players’ heightened levels of concentration are just mindfulness.’
Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey opted out of the San Fran scene for his latest birthday. Dorsey, whose net worth is $6.8 billion, spent the date on a ten-day silent meditation retreat in Myanmar: getting up at 4am and meditating until 9 at night. He explained, ‘A healthier lifestyle ultimately makes me more creative and allows me to think more cohesively.’ ABC News presenter Dan Harris is another keen adopter. ‘Mindfulness stops you being yanked around by your mind,’ he poetically puts it.
The Headspace meditation app was founded in 2010 by Bristol boy Andy Puddicombe, now Venice Beach resident, and entrepreneur Richard Pierson. It has had over 40 million downloads. What is happening?
Soho-based coach, specialising in Mindfulness for Men, James Rafael, explains, ‘The practice of mindfulness gives men a strategic advantage. It is about raising your game, and sharpening your edge. I work with many men, who think nothing of spending hours in the gym to improve their physique and physical performance. Training your mental ability to stay focused and decisive in the heat of the work environment, and increase your strength and resilience is no different.’ Rafael adds: ’The typically masculine values of strength, resilience, cool-headedness and the ability to lead, are in fact the outcomes of a regular meditation practice. On top, the practice cultivates emotional intelligence, the cornerstone of successful personal and professional relationships. At the risk of sounding trite; mindfulness makes you more of a man.’
Sounds great. But how have the no-nonsense likes of Prince Harry, not to mention over 185 MPs and peers, got into it? Simple. Neuroscience – particularly neuroplasticity: the brain’s ongoing ability to create new neural pathways – has finally caught up with what they knew back in Buddha’s day.
Stanford University’s Dr Fred Luskin found that we have over 60,000 thoughts a day, of which 90% are repetitive. We are either lurching into the future, or leaning in the past. Yet after a mindfulness programme, Harvard Business Review found that meditators were 28% less stressed with 20% better sleep (listen up dad-to-be) and to cap it all: $3,000 more productive a year. This is due to greater clarity, decisiveness and focus.
Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, Sara Lazar used magnetic resonance images of the brain structure, to show meditation increases the grey matter in the hippocampus (learning and memory), insula (empathy) and prefrontal cortex (reasoning, planning etc), while decreasing the firing off of our stress traffic lights: the amygdala.
By practising meditation we play an active role in changing our brains for the better, no different from honing our biceps in the gym. Just like we can defeat our default paunch, we can conquer our default distraction, habits and knee-jerk reactions, shoring up our concentration, focus, strength and resilience. As Patron of English Rugby, Prince Harry knows the prize only too well.
Shireen Jilla is founder of the West London Mindfulness Centre – westlondonmindfulnesscentre.co.uk