From Kolkata to Edinburgh, teacher Kanishk encourages everyone to give meditation a try.
Most Scots will have anticipated the recent lockdown extension announcement into mid-February and possibly again into March. With COVID-19 figures still skyrocketing, the decision to extend restrictions for at least a month longer seems necessary for the protection of our physical health. But how about Scots’ mental health? Edinburgh-based meditation teacher, Kanishk Saraogi, believes that mindfulness and meditation might just do the trick to help ‘lockdownees’ soldier through another indefinite period of confinement.
Previously perceived perhaps as more of a hobby for yoga enthusiasts and spirituality devotees, meditation and mindfulness practice has been hailed as a powerful weapon to improve mental health during the difficult pandemic circumstances. All the way from his home in Kolkata, India, I am discussing meditation with teacher Kanishk Saraogi, who is eager to recommend meditation to anyone feeling anxious or depressed – or simply curious: “People usually think that meditation is about concentration and focus or keeping their mind empty. That gives meditation a bad rep and discourages people from trying it out.” Saraogi underlines that meditation is not about concentration, but quite the opposite: “not focusing on anything, even if you are having countless thoughts appear in your mind. You let every thought come and go.”
Until recently, the 22-year-old was holding meditation classes at Medowlark Yoga, Calm on Canning street, Beetroot Wellness Centre and a favourite of Edinburgh’s chai tea-enthusiasts, the Himalaya Café. “Meditation has really helped my students a lot with self-awareness,” he says. One of Saraogi’s students, Jesse, would drive up from England to attend classes every single day for a period of 15 or 20 days. According to Saraogi, Jesse noticed that, with meditation, his ego was letting go of its grip on his mind. He was slowly getting closer to himself, feeling more compassionate and cultivating more self-love. “A lot of my students will walk in feeling very stressed, anxious and walk out feeling peaceful, destressed and present in the moment. They’ll often say things like ‘my mind feels finally empty right now’ after class,” Saraogi adds.
Of course, it all sounds wonderful in theory but how does it work in practise? I posed the question to Saraogi to which he replies: “When meditating, one becomes a more aware, conscious person. Whenever we are conscious, we are happy. No one purposely consciously thinks of negative things or is anxious, angry. The moment you cultivate consciousness you can shift your awareness from negative thoughts to positive ones.” The University of Stirling graduate moves on to explain the numerous benefits of meditation practise: “it improves concentration and focus, productivity and awareness. With a sharper focus you get distracted less. So with lesser amount of energy and time you get more work done because all your awareness is channelled into one task.”
In addition, a physical benefit of meditation practicies include a healthy body, according to the teacher. Meditative breathing increases oxygen and extracts excess carbon dioxide. “This in turn boosts the ability of our organs to heal because the blood is more oxygenated,” he clarifies. And coming back to mental health benefits, meditation helps people regain control of their emotions. Saraogi assured me that with time, students will be “more emotionally stable, peaceful. Not too happy or too sad. With practise, you’ll eventually be more grounded in every emotion and won’t get carried away in either direction. Science has also proven that continuous meditation practise generates compassion.”
Due to lockdown, face-to-face teaching has ceased but that is not necessarily an obstacle to beginning your journey to mindfulness. In addition, to the numerous apps and podcasts such as Calm and Headspace, some teachers are holding classes online. “Of course, they are not the same experience, but it is definitely better than nothing. You’re still taking the time to sit with your eyes closed, do the breathwork, chanting and relaxation which are so good for both the mind and body,” Saraogi exclaims. There is also no reason for you to break the bank as some teachers, like Saraogi, tend to keep their teaching donations-based: “only pay what you can. I am trying to keep the classes very accessible and affordable for everyone so that anyone that wants to can join.”
Finally, I ask Saraogi for his tips on how to keep up with the practice and not get demotivated after starting. The key is to have zero expectations: “When you have zero expectations then you can’t be disappointed. Just keep up with the practice, everything takes time. When you pick up a guitar you can’t expect yourself to immediately play amazing tunes. It takes practice and patience. Meditation can do wonderful things for you. Just give it some time, patience and dedication.” In a nutshell, Saraogi’s message to anyone apprehensive but keen to give meditation a go seems to be “just keep going and you’ll be rewarded.”