When did you start meditating?
I began at around the age of 6, sitting quietly - sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for an hour. At that age I had no idea about meditation as a ‘formal practice’, I was simply curious about what was there when we closed our eyes; when we slept. I sensed that there was a difference between what I felt and what I saw when I opened my eyes. With my eyes closed I felt this deep sense of being, that I realised went beyond having a physical body.
Later, at the age of 18, I had a similar experience, but this time fully awake, going about my daily business. Whilst walking to Centraal Station in Amsterdam I had a really vivid experience. Looking out over the water, I lost myself and in that moment I felt an incredible sense of peace and oneness. I realised that I was so much more than 'Esther', this body, this personality, going through the ups and downs of life: I was the bridge, I was the water, I WAS life....I remember thinking if I can just remember that, my life will be a breeze!
I began regularly meditating when I started my yoga teacher training course, at 18. My first yoga teacher was actually my mother’s teacher. I was a bit too young to do the course but the teacher accepted me anyway and really took me under his wing. I got to spend private time with him, catching a lift with him to the centre where he taught us. During this time he taught me about being in the world as an 18 year old, how to best navigate that. Our chats at that time were so valuable, maybe even more important than the ones I received in the yoga teacher training.
My teacher and mentor, Taetske Kleijn was the person who helped me make sense of the experiences I had as a child and during my teenage years. During my late twenties, I did a three year training with Taetske, and ended up becoming her assistant for another three years. This changed everything for me. I realised that I lived in a dream, and that the experiences I had as a child and in my teenage years were the moments I was awake from the dream, experiencing reality. From that moment I knew not to believe that dream anymore and enjoyed identifying more with that stillness beyond, in which all of these changing phenomena come and go.
What benefits have you found from meditating?
During my meditation practice I remind myself beyond doubt that I am not my body, and I take time to connect consciously to the stillness that lies beyond it all. This way I don't get caught up so much in life's messiness...I’m also better able to concentrate, I’m calmer, I have more energy and my sleep has improved a lot. Overall, I think practising meditation makes me a nicer person to be around!
Is it ‘better’ to do guided or self-guided meditation?
I tend to alternate between the two. I appreciate it can be difficult for people new to meditation to sit still and focus for any length of time so guided practices that focus on the breath or body parts can be helpful to start with. Once you get used to sitting for longer periods of time and you become familiar with a certain ‘template’ (see below), you can try meditation on your own. We hardly have any time these days where we’re not influenced by another mind or distracted by external stimulus, so to experience this solitude is so beneficial for our mental wellbeing.
Meditate deeply in the body with Esther Ekhart
Build a template from which to start your own self-guided practice with this meditation which teaches you how to first 'settle' and then builds concentration by bringing awareness into the body.
How often should you meditate? How long for?
For me, it’s usually 45 minutes in the morning, but if you’ve never meditated before start with 5 minutes for the first week or so, (you can try my 5 minute meditation playlist here) and build gradually up to 10 minutes. From ten minutes you can then work up to 20 minutes. After a while, you’ll find your optimal length of time to sit. It all depends on your motivation; 20 minutes is enough to feel noticeably calmer throughout the day. The longer you sit, though, the more subtleties you’ll notice. More comes to the surface, you’re able to listen more deeply and have a stronger connection to awareness.
I meditate to be able to rest in the place I call home.
Why do you meditate?
I meditate to be able to rest in that place I call home; that place I was able to rest in as a child with my eyes closed, the place I experienced at different times as a teenager and through young adulthood. I meditate to remind myself to rest in awareness itself, beyond the conditions of the ego.
Why do you think everyone should meditate?
Quite simply, because regular meditation will make you a nicer, calmer, more compassionate, more loving human being - to yourself, your loved ones and the world as a whole.
*N.b. Though it’s safe for everyone to meditate, people with psychiatric problems shouldn’t be pushed to be alone with their mind for long periods of time without proper guidance. 5 minutes is plenty to begin with - shorts bursts of meeting yourself. Quite simply though, if it’s making you feel worse, seek professional guidance, or stop.