London - Last summer I bumped into an old colleague. We hadn’t seen each other for years and it transpired that in the previous 18 months, her mother had died of cancer, her father had moved in with her and she had been made redundant.
Yet she seemed remarkably calm. How on earth was she coping? After joking about the healing power of gin, she admitted her secret: she had learned how to meditate.
We have all read about the healing powers of meditation. Medical research has found that it can reduce the risk of everything from heart disease to strokes, depression and insomnia but this was the first time I had seen its benefits up close.
Soon I was meditating twice a day, too, even learning to fit it into train journeys to work or sneaking a few quiet minutes in a bathroom cubicle at the office.
Before I bumped into my colleague I was running on empty. By day I was stressed by silly things that made me snap at people. By night I would try to unwind with too many hours of television and too many glasses of wine before lying awake in bed stewing over all my worries.
I was run-down, got every cold going and at my very lowest points was prescribed antidepressants. My friend recommended Transcendental Meditation, which is different from other forms of meditation.
Instead of focusing on your breathing, you are given a Sanskrit word, known as a mantra, that you repeat in your head. The idea is that the repetition of the sound calms your mind.
The practice was made famous by The Beatles, who became devotees after meeting its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the Sixties. Since then everyone from Clint Eastwood to William Hague and Nick Clegg has become a fan.
Latest research from Oxford University s Department of Psychiatry has shown that meditation brings about neurological changes. After a few months of meditation, the parts of the brain with a tendency to worry are switched off.
Clinical trials have proved that as a standalone treatment it can prevent relapse of depression and is effective alongside medication.
But I was most interested in its effects in counteracting stress. And I can say that learning to meditate has changed my life.
At my first lesson I was given my mantra, which you don’t share with anyone, and told to close my eyes and repeat it again and again in my head. Straight away I was hooked. There’s something about the sound vibration of the mantra going over and over in your mind that lulls you into a kind of trance. The repetition of the sound is like a lullaby. You go into your own world and yet you are still aware of your surroundings. You’re neither awake, nor asleep, nor dreaming just beautifully relaxed. It’s like a warm bath for your brain.
After that first lesson, I felt calm and focused and that night I enjoyed a longer, deeper sleep than I ve had since I was a child. And I ve been sleeping well ever since.
The more I meditate, the less I seem to be bothered by things. Situations that would once have sent me into a tailspin no longer have the same effect. My heart doesn t race in the way it once did; I have become more calm and rational; my concentration at work has also improved.
I think this is primarily because I am better rested and less stressed, but scans have shown that meditation actually increases the size of your hippocampus the part of the brain associated with memory and learning. I also feel healthier. I have had only one cold in the past seven months. And then there are the less tangible changes, the ones to your personality and relationships.
Friends have commented on the fact that I seem more relaxed. I certainly feel more content, less inclined to snap or overreact.
So is this a miracle? Am I now the perfect person? Hardly. Like most of the good things in life, it takes work. Like going to the gym or eating well, you have to keep doing it even on days when you tell yourself you are too busy.
I meditate for 20 minutes morning and night. After breakfast, and then at 4pm and on days when that’s not possible, on the train or in a taxi. Every little helps. It doesn t matter whether I close my eyes for two minutes or 20, when I open them I feel better.
I have yet to experience the socalled bliss that devotees talk about but I’m just so happy that I’ve found a tool that helps me perform well in the day and sleep better at night.
I wish I’d been taught this at school - it’s the best life skill I’ve ever learnt. But it’s not cheap.
When I turned up for the first open evening at my local TM centre (they re all over the country), I was told that fees were charged according to income. I would have to pay £490.
But I did it and it was the best money I’ve ever spent. - Daily Mail