Next week sees the launch of a new 6-week meditation course in the heart of London’s West End. Led by renowned meditation teacher Karuna Priya, who is also the resident Chaplain to Imperial College, Karuna spent 15 years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand and Sri Lanka before moving to London.
London Living’s editor Katharine today catches up with him to find out more about why this course is perfect for anyone wanting to learn or deepen mindfulness meditation from a traditional way, how to establish a regular practice at home and just why it is so important for Londoners to learn to take some time out for themselves in this wonderful but bustling city.
6 week meditation course
London West End, Oxford Street – 3 mins walk from Selfridges
5th March, Tuesdays, 5:30-6:30
Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat to us at London Living. So exciting to hear that you have a 6-week meditation course starting next Wednesday. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
You are welcome. Thank you for inviting us to your blog. Very excited to share our 6-week meditation course and how it can help manage stress, find calm and be more resilient to obstacles. Life is stressful. We all have work, bills to pay and family to take care of. On top of that, staying fit and healthy is a daily chore. Living in a big city like London can be very exciting, yet it can be relentless and stressful. We have many choices and distractions these days too. In the midst of the noise, we can feel lonely at times. We support individuals and organisations with their health and wellbeing through meditation coaching and a 6-week meditation course.
Our philosophy is not just looking after the body by taking regular walks, gym sessions and fitness classes, but also really learning to calm the monkey mind – the dialogues between our head. We need to look after our mind well by being non-judgemental and kind to our mind. Just like we look after our body by eating healthy, sleeping well, dental hygiene, etc, we need to do the same with our mind.
Some of the things we say to ourselves, we would never say that to our loved ones. We can befriend our mind. Our 6-week mindfulness meditation course is like a mind gym, a structured week by week programme to learn how to pay attention to things important to you right now and living your life fully. We gradually train people to get to know themselves, their strengths, limitations, likes and dislikes. It helps with managing stress, increasing focus and enhancing performance. You may know this: how we think and behave has direct impact on our work, motivation, relationships and happiness. Research shows that 48% of our waking life is spent daydreaming, thinking about all sorts of things that did not happen or may not happen. If you think about it carefully, life only happens in the present moment – right here and now – as you are reading, hearing and seeing, but we are hardly present with our body, environment, family and friends, at work or for that matter for ourselves.
Our body may be here, but the mind is a thousand miles away.
At this 6-week meditation course, the participants will learn different tools to be aware of the present moment, so they can be fully there for themselves and others around them. They do not have to be thinking or getting anxious about their presentation whilst having a meal with a partner and whilst at work fully focused with task on hand. Rather than living in the past or future worries, they will be equipped to release them and be in the moment where life is actually happening.
Is this your first course in the heart of the West End? We imagine the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street couldn’t be any further from the tranquil space we have heard envelopes the meditation sessions that you run. Why was it important to you to have it so central?
We used to run our courses in Warren Street in West London a few years back, but we relocated to South Kensington. However, we realised there are so many people who work in and around Oxford Street. When there arose an opportunity, we took it. We believe that many people can benefit from a regular meditation practice, because it improves not just one’s physical, but also one’s emotional health. People usually tend to separate work with leisure, but I strongly believe it can be integrated in a daily life. Like going to the gym, we need meditation studios at every major street.
Especially if you are a busy Londoner, you have no choice. Stress is part of life and whether you are affected by it or winning in life, it is only a matter of time.
It’s crucial to go to a meditation studio for some “me time” at least once a week. Many of us have long hours of work, feel stressed, anxious, and exhausted. People are also spending more time on their smart phones or walking in speed as if they’re running a race. There’s just no time to stop.
Our new space is located just around the corner from Selfridges. It’s well hidden from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, overseeing the beautiful square and garden. The building itself has beautiful art features that activate your senses as you make your way to the room. It is a convenient place for anyone working or commuting there.
People tend to think you have to go up in the mountain or be in a quiet space, but mindfulness is really about discovering the tranquillity just where you are.
The West End, seen by most as the heart of London, is where most people work, live and spend a lot of time, and if we can contribute towards helping people to be more calm, healthy and happy, we’d feel our mission is successful.
Why do you think meditating is such a powerful practice, particularly for busy Londoners such as ourselves?
Many of us have lost touch with ourselves and our environment in which we live in. We are always running after the next goal. Meditating helps us tap into our inner resources for learning, growing and healing.
“Happiness is a journey, not a destination” – the Buddha
Many of us associate happiness with something in the future. When we achieve our goals we’re still not happy, so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Meditation teaches us to be happy now; it allows us to give space to be in touch with our body where we live and to take care of ourselves. This behaviour will naturally reflect on others around us at home and at work.
Meditation is powerful, because we can integrate this practice into our daily routine. It’s not just about sitting with closed eyes for half an hour a day, but rather making it part of your life.
Take a moment or two to pause during your meeting, presentation and asking yourself “am I really here connecting with people in the room or somewhere else?” It takes 2 seconds to bring your mind back to the moment. As you’re eating, walking and sitting, you can be aware.
You can let go of past or future worries now because you are creating your future now.
What is the relationship between mindfulness and meditation?
There are different types of meditation, such as breathing, candle gazing, visualisation, etc.). However, “mindfulness” is the type that was first introduced by the Buddha about 2600 years ago where you bring your full attention to an object. The object may be the feet, back, breath, sensations, postures, walking, lying down, etc) to psychological states such as stress, anxiety, sadness, calmness, happiness, etc). Once you reach certain familiarity with more practice, then you investigate whether they are truly there or traffic-like experiences that are constantly changing. Recently, this style of meditation has been used by scientists and researchers to treat pain, stress, anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness meditation is about being in the present moment where your life is happening. It’s not about going somewhere, doing something or achieving something. Rather being in this moment, unfolding and discovering the peace and stillness that already exist in every moment. We just have to be open to experiencing it.
“People say walking on water is a miracle, but to me walking peacefully on earth is the real miracle” – Thich Nhat Hanh
What we call mindfulness today has changed a lot in today’s varied use. There are all kinds of mindfulness these days, but not everything is the right mindfulness. The right mindfulness is always accompanied by ethics and compassion.
Some people are sceptical about meditation and it’s benefits. What would you say to such sceptics?
Some scepticism is good! Of course, this practice is still relatively new in this side of the world, but now we can say that it is a scientifically proven technique. Thousands of research papers have come out to support the benefit of practising mindfulness meditation. Latest research on neuroplasticity on mindfulness meditation has shown the changes in your neural pathway of your brain and also the physical structure of our brain just in 6-8 weeks of practice. So it’s really good news that you can change your habits, and thinking patterns to have a more positive outlook in your life. So it’s really good news that you can change your habits, and thinking patterns to have a more positive outlook in your life. Not only have that, but it is shown to improve sleep, the immune system, and better blood pressure control. You’re just more aware of yourself and have ability to regular your emotions better.
Practising meditation can help you be more kind and when you’re kind to yourself you can’t help but be kind to others around you. It’s a universal quality that everybody seeks for and therefore you’ll be more attractive.
On a serious note though, it will make you a better human being, partner, husband, wife and manager. Therefore, it is okay to be sceptic in the beginning. Healthy doubt is good. If you don’t give a chance, you won’t know.
Give meditation a chance.
Karuna and his wife, Nitima
So many people seem to struggle when they attempt to meditate. What are your top tips for those unable to attend the course, but keen to start trying to put some time aside at home?
Yes, it can be difficult trying to meditate on your own. There are many meditation apps these days. Ensure that you get the one that you can connect with, e.g. the guidance, voice of the teacher, etc. Make sure that you are consistent and persistent with your practice. The best is to join a regular weekly group. You meet people from different walks of life who may be going through the same as you. Your mind may not be peace and quiet initially, but that’s just the process. You’ve got to be patient and dedicate time everyday and stick to it. The biggest tip I can give you is: “have no expectation and learn to accept your mind as it is, not how it should be.”
We know that before coming to London you were a Buddhist monk. We could talk to you all day about that! Could you tell the readers a little bit about how you ended up on that journey?
When I was eight years old, I fell sick with malaria and slipped into coma for a week. Doctors gave up trying to save me and no–one expected me to survive – so when I suddenly woke up and got better, my family said it was a miracle.
It is the tradition for most boys to be monk at least once in their life for period of time, mostly lasting a week to a month. But I lasted 15 years. My studies and travels took me to many exotic places such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, training in deep meditations and learning scriptures.
In 2009, I got a scholarship to a Masters Degree in Buddhist Studies at SOAS, University of London and since then I have been living and working here.
Yes, we could talk about all day about the details. Therefore, I am writing an autobiography with the working title of “Welcome to London, Mr Monk”. I am hoping it gets published by this Christmas.
Your transition from spending 15 years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand and Sri Lanka, to now living and working in London must have been a real journey in itself. How did you manage it? Do you have any good tips for our readers for staying calm and of neutral mind in such a bustling city?
I felt like I was reborn once I landed in London. It was totally different experience than my monk days in Asia. Life was a lot simpler and you lived in the present moment constantly.
It took couple of years or even more to settle in the life of a city. But then I met Nitima, my wife, few months after I arrived. She was aware that I was a monk all my life and she knew it is going to be hard work to be in a relationship with me. It was hard work for both us, because we felt like we came from different planets.
Nitima grew up and educated in London, so she was a city girl and knew her way around. So that worked quite well for me to gradually get to know the ways around. For example, I had no idea I needed a job as I finished my full time studies. I had no idea how quickly my grants will come to an end. I had no idea I needed to sort out my work visa, etc.
It was particularly hard for Nitima, because she was doing most of the front line works of paying the bills etc. So I realised that I need to adapt quickly, otherwise I won’t survive in this place, especially to be in a relationship and living together.
I did not even know that I had to rent or buy a place, because all my life I lived in communal monasteries. Once Nitima said: “we need to start saving up, so we can afford a house!” I innocently said: “But we have so many houses. We have your parents, we have our landlord houses, and we have our friend’s houses.” And Nitima was like, “But they are not our house”. So with great difficulty I came to learn that I need to speed up mindfully if I were to get things done, so I did. It was like a rebirth for me, learning all over it.
Yet I tried to maintain my mindfulness and meditation practise. We kept going back to Nepal to fresh our Buddhist practice, meeting our teachers. We would go to meditation retreats.
I saw the need – more than ever – to apply what I have been studying all these years, the practice of patience, determination, kindness and compassion. I held that for people around you
My top tips for readers are to have more kindness and compassion for themselves and others. My teachers often emphasised: “It is more important to be kind than to be right.” This is because we cannot always maintain our figure, status, relationships, and wealth. At some point in life, things will change and pass. It is the nature to change. We cannot fight what is inevitable. What matters most is how well we lived well, how we served and what we are leaving behind.
Keep that always in your mind.
What are your personal favourite chill-out spots in London?
I love Hyde Park, it is very close to where I work. Whenever the sun is out, I love to take a walk there.
Museums are great spots in London. I particularly like Tate Modern, because it puts up new exhibitions quite regularly. It is very inspiring.
I like to take a long walk from Borough Market along the bank to Westminster Bridge. The view is great with lots of arts and music displays.
I like watching football and cricket in stadiums. When I first came to London, my landlord took me to the Charlton FC stadium – I thoroughly enjoyed that, as it was something I wanted to do as a little/ young monk. It was like a dream come true.
So interesting to see that you are also the Interfaith Chaplain to Imperial College London & Royal College of Arts. Could you tell us a bit more about what that involves?
I started as a volunteer in the beginning just after my degree, leading a weekly meditation for sessions for students and staff to the colleges.
Then as I grew to know the community more, I was offered a job by the Chaplaincy to the Colleges to be formally generic Chaplain and Buddhist Faith-Advisor. I continue this till today.
This means providing pastoral as well as spiritual support to the college community. My work varies from day to day, from running meditation sessions to offering one to one confidential support to students or staff in crisis.
I work within a Multi-Faith team and help run the centre day to day. We host many student societies who have their activities at our premises. We provide a safe space for students to explore conversation about projects and issues in your work, studies or research. Sometimes it can be for support, and sometimes coaching for personal development.
Great to see a big corporate company like Cushman & Wakefield, partnering to help run a course such as this. Do you think this is a sign that more companies are starting to catch on to how important and powerful meditation is as a tool for daily life?
Absolutely – more and more companies are becoming aware of the importance of having healthy mind along side with healthy body. This is a good sign, as we believe healthy and happy workforce contributes to the success of a company. We work closely with both employers and employees to support performance and resilience at work.
Our integration of well-being programmes works to encourage employers to attract and retain the best people and employees to build successful and healthy lives both in the office and at home.
- 69 % of employees take time off work due to stress at work
- 41% of employees reported being stressed while working
- 137 m working days lost to sickness absences in the UK in 2016
- 69% of clients attribute stress at work to burn outs
- 47% of the time our mind is wandering rather than in the present moment
How we feel, our emotions and mood have direct impact on our way of being and our performance. Wandering mind is not a happy mind and our mind is wandering almost 50% of the time. Happy employers would look forward to living and working, they are more appreciative.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about? Example – one of your upcoming retreats?
Going to a residential retreat is a wonderful way to reset, recharge and re-energise one’s body and mind.We have retreat coming up in the mountains of Pyrenees in South of France for 5 days and 7 days, titled “Sound of Silence” – Thursday 20th June – Wednesday 26th June. This retreat is open to all and can be attended by anyone willing to exploring their own spirituality. Switch off for few days from the hustle and bustle of daily life and treat yourself to a safe and comfortable environment surrounded by the French Pyrenees Mountains within a traditional Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre. Allow yourself to be supported by nature and fresh air. Listen to the powerful sound of silence under the open sky.Mindfulness meditation is a simple and self-empowering way for you to improve your health, resolve relationship conflicts and enable yourself to discard limiting beliefs that are holding you back. Accompanied by gentle Yoga classes, you will begin to feel a renewed sense of energy in your physical body.
- 6 nights’ accommodation, possibility to leave after 4 nights
- 1 guided mindfulness meditation session per day
- 1 self-development workshop per day
- 60 mins yoga session per day
- 1 Buddhist philosophical teaching per day
- One-to-one coaching sessions
- Morning and evening traditional Buddhist chanting (optional)
- Breakfast, lunch & dinner
- Extra activities (hiking, exploring a traditional French village…)
The retreat has various activities throughout the day, the most popular philosophical talk where you have an opportunity to reflect and discuss topics about your mind and body. It also involves daily practice and a creative workshop, time and space to explore yourself and beautiful surrounding areas. It’s located right on the Pyrenees, so the only sound you will hear is the sound of silence and we will guide you how you can do that. https://akanista.com/the-sound-of-silence-retreat/
For more information please logon onto https://akanista.com/mindfulness-in-the-west-end