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Headspace featured in The Evening Standard 14/04/10

Posted on:13/04/2010 18:00:00

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Read the Evening Standard article in which Andy speaks to Liz Hoggard about the benefits of 10 minutes of meditation.

Liz Hoggard feels the benefit of 10 minutes’ meditation, while overleaf we present a guide to clearing your brain

"Imagine you're sitting blindfolded on a motorway," meditation guru Andy Puddicombe instructs me.

"The road represents the mind — built to carry thoughts and feelings. The nice-looking cars are the pleasant thoughts which distract us, the horrible-looking cars are the thoughts we jump into the road to try and stop."

A former Buddhist monk who has a regular slot on Chris Evans's Radio 2 breakfast show, is working with Jamie Oliver and counts Cabinet ministers, footballers, actors and Russian oligarchs among his clients, Puddicombe says people want to control the traffic of their mind. "They try to create this little bubble where they can have thoughts but no unpleasant feelings. Unfortunately the flow of thought is autonomous: you don't make it happen and you can't stop it."

As someone who lives on a hamster wheel of anxiety (do they like me, will this relationship last, why did I wear this skirt?), I had hoped Puddicombe — who used to meditate for up to 18 hours a day — would tell me that it's possible to suppress that paranoia. But no, meditation "is about becoming comfortable with the mind, no matter how it is behaving."

The good news is that through simple relaxation techniques we can step off the treadmill. "If you understand that thoughts just come and go, there's less of a struggle."

Puddicombe, 37, wants everyone to experience meditation as a free tool for stress relief and he has set up the secular, not-for-profit organisation, Headspace, with ex-marketing supremo Rich Pierson (who started out as a client). The aim is to demystify meditation through group-training events, podcasts and MP3 downloads.

Time-pressed Londoners will appreciate his latest initiative, Take Ten — 10 minutes of meditation for 10 days. The beauty is it is both inexpensive and portable. You don't need to chant or lie down; you can meditate on the Tube — it's a good way to beat commuter stress.

Many of Puddicombe's private clients come to him through GP referral, and it can be used to help with anything from depression and cardiovascular disease to eating disorders and addictions.

At his Kensington clinic, I sit on a comfortable chair, back straight, feet flat on the floor, eyes closed and he asks me to take five deep breaths; then to focus on each part of my body in turn. I'm then to return to thinking about breathing, before allowing my mind free rein. To begin with, I'm thinking of various things at once — a tricky friendship, when to go to the airport and — oh, heavens (I'm a shabby creature) — sex.

Try not to get involved with judging your thoughts, Andy advises. The point is to simply be aware of the feelings — to acknowledge they have been occupying a lot of mind space. "You are not looking to block these thoughts out, you're providing a framework for them to arise and fall away wi thout be coming so involved with them."

When I open my eyes after 10 minutes, I feel as if I've had the best cat nap. I try it alone at home (he recommends setting a timer) later and it's harder to focus at first — but after five minutes, the day's stresses melt away.

Growing up in Bristol, Puddicombe started meditation at 11. "Mum is a psychotherapist and I used to go with her to a weekly class."

He found it incredibly helpful but at the age of 16 discovered girls, beer and nights out. He went to university and worked as a personal trainer. Then he experienced a series of tragedies. His stepsister, 20, was killed riding her bike and his ex-girlfriend died during heart surgery. Then after a Christmas party, Puddicombe was standing feet away from a group of friends when they were mown down by a drunk driver, who killed two of them. "He missed me and just ploughed right into the middle of the group. There were bodies flying everywhere... almost like something out of a movie ... it was horrific.

"It had a major impact on my life. It made me question what I was doing, and why. It forced me to look at the fragility of life. But most of all, it gave me an insight into how difficult and painful life can be sometimes, and how we all need a way of coping with this stuff, no matter how big or small."

A year later he quit university to become a monk. "I became increasingly unsatisfied. No matter how much beer I drank, how many women I slept with, or what my grades were — nothing hit the spot." He headed off to northern India and spent 10 years living in monasteries in Nepal, India, Tibet and Russia. "People have a rather romantic view of monastic life. The idea of a month away from all the hassles in life sounds appealing. But then what? The one and only thing you have to look at is yourself."

Puddicombe was ordained as a Buddhist monk at a monastery in Russia and started teaching in Moscow. Oil firm BP asked him to work with staff. "Not everyone was comfortable with the 'bald-headed guy in a skirt thing'. I couldn't help thinking that there must be a more accessible way."

He returned to London — he lives in Islington with his girlfriend — as a lay-person and became involved in the move to incorporate meditation into mainstream healthcare. "I became registered as a clinical meditation consultant with the UK Healthcare Commission."

For Puddicombe, meditation is about being aware in the moment. Rather than letting the mind wander off worrying, why not notice what it feels like to actually drink a cup of tea? Being given 10 minutes to do nothing every day is unique, he boasts. "There really is nothing quite like it."


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