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 while fully awake. 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 felt an incredible sense of peace and oneness.
I realised that I was so much more than ‘Esther’, this body, this personality, going through life’s ups and downs. I was the bridge, I was the water, I WAS life….”If I can just remember this“, I thought, “my life will be a breeze!“
My regular meditation practice really began when I started my yoga teacher training course, at 18. My first yoga teacher was actually my mother’s teacher. I was a little young to do the course but the teacher accepted me anyway and 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. 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 training itself.
My teacher and mentor, Taetske Kleijn was the person who helped me make sense of the experiences I’d had. During my late twenties, I did a three year training with Taetske and then worked as her assistant for another 3 years.
This changed everything for me. I realised that I lived in a dream, and that the experiences I’d when I was younger were the moments I was experiencing reality. From that moment I 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. It can be difficult for people new to meditation to sit still and focus for any length of time. Therefore, 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 become familiar with a certain ‘template’ (see below), you can try meditating on your own.
We rarely have time these days when we’re not influenced by another mind or distracted by external stimulus. So to experience this solitude is so beneficial for our mental wellbeing.
Learn to meditate with Esther Ekhart
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.
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 – short bursts of meeting yourself. Quite simply though, if it’s making you feel worse, seek professional guidance, or stop.