There’s a new conversation starting in London about meditation right now. Here at Yogamatters, we were delighted to open our own conversation with Niraj Shah, who is bringing meditation to the mainstream.
As a British born Hindu, how did you come to yoga and meditation and how have you come to combine Eastern practices and Western mentalities?
Yoga was a small part of my childhood. I was around 4 years old the first time I did a sun salutation, then in adolescence, I forgot all about it. Yoga came back to play a role in my recovery from serious illness a few years ago and the habit stuck.
I myself am a product of both East and West. My immigrant parents wanted us to know our heritage, so my brother and I grew up immersed in the Hindu and Jain ways of life and our mother tongue Gujarati, but they also made sure we integrated into British society properly through a range of other activities. In hindsight, I don’t think we could have had a better upbringing to be equipped for life in 2017.
As a self-confessed capitalist entrepreneur, what differences have yoga and meditation made in your working life?
In that specific context, they’re like entrepreneurial secret weapons. They help me to rest, focus, produce and create at significantly greater levels than I did before they came into my life.
In February 2010, at the age of 30, you suffered a full-blown stroke. The part of the brain that
controlled balance had died and you lost the “knowledge” of how to walk. How did your life change from this point on and what role did yoga and meditation play in your recovery?
How my life changed from that point on is way too big a question to answer here. That’s a whole interview in itself! One shorter response is that I’ve been through a rollercoaster of some of the darkest thoughts available to any human through to today where I think I know who I am, what I want and why I do what I do. That really helps me shape my behaviour consciously and congruently. It feels like a good place to live.
Physical yoga – asana – was the only exercise I was allowed to do during my physical recovery, so I started practising 2-3 times a week. The formal process of sitting down to meditate came later. These habits have stuck because of the huge mental benefits I get from them.
You have a strong Instagram presence with 12.6k followers. How would you describe the vibe of your Instagram account and the secret of your success?
My Instagram presence is an extension of specific parts of me: what you see is part of what you’ll find when you meet me in the offline world. I treat Instagram as a creative outlet & platform for self expression.
If we’re measuring by size of following on the internet, I’m a baby and I consider size of following more as a useful marker than a “success” in itself. I’m much more interested in what I learn and who I get to connect with through the platform. Sometimes having a following helps with the latter.
If you’re asking why my account has grown the way it has, there are lots of potential reasons. The basics are having an eye for good photos, sticking to specific themes, using hashtags and taking a tangible interest in other accounts. Less common things include writing a lot of longer-form posts, having depth of life experiences to share and doing so from a place of truth with little regard for how it’s judged.
You founded The Present of Yoga in September 2016 to help demystify business for yogis. What led you to create this not for profit project and what role does it have in the global yoga community?
Self interest led me to create it. In May 2016, I had a distinct moment of clarity, that building my next business in yoga or meditation would be the most congruent thing I could do with my life. Two immediate problems – at that time, I knew just three people in the yoga and meditation worlds and nothing about the underlying industries. The Present of Yoga is the answer to the question “What can I create of value for yoga and meditation that will get me all of the knowledge and relationships that I’m looking for?”.
I’m fully aware that creating something that others find useful is why it’s worked. In terms of TPOY’s role, I think that’s a question for the yoga community itself to answer. The only metric we care about is whether what we produce helps demystify business for yogis.
Your latest project is MEDITATION: UNLOCKED. What can you tell us about that?
I still spend a significant portion of time with type A, uber career driven, non-yogi, non-spiritual types through my business ventures and social circles. It became clear that today many people have a real curiosity about meditation but there’s also a lot of scepticism. M:U is an experiment to see if we can open up these practices and ideas to new audiences.
There are plenty of meditation events out there already. What are you doing that has not been done before?
Many meditative practices already work, so we’re not reinventing the wheel: we’re rethinking the vehicle around the wheel so that these ideas and their benefits become more accessible to folks who sometimes struggle to reconcile the way meditation has traditionally been presented. By moving to an exploration of the robust science behind meditation, as well as placing these events in attractive, convenient venues, we’re starting a new conversation for London.
In the last year, you’ve spent time exploring Western world’s meditation offerings whilst deepening your own meditation experience. Can you share with us one insight you’ve gained from that experience?
I love that question! If there’s one insight, it’s that there are many paths to similar outcomes. I think that’s true for lots of things, it’s easy to get caught up in “what’s the best way” type thinking. I think what’s beneficial and productive is whatever credible method someone is actually going to do consistently and integrate into their life. That’s wildly different for different people.
Working professionals lead incredibly busy lives. Why should they make time for meditation?
I don’t think they should necessarily make time for meditation. Most folks are busy enough without placing more demands on their time. If life is working, why change anything? However, if people are feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, a little stressed or similar, then we have some very proven practices to share that will help them manage those things more effectively.
You’re working on a collaboration with the UK mental health charity Mind (who are also one of the
chosen projects in the Yogamatters’ High Five Initiative). Why did you feel that such a partnership was important for M:U?
It’s part of having a meaningful impact in the world through contribution and more importantly, using our growing voice to raise awareness. There’s also a practicality to the relationship as we’re going to attract some people who we are not equipped to help, but Mind potentially can. Finally, it’s not lost on me that this aspect of M:U is good for how it might be perceived.
To conclude, what would you say to Yogamatters’ customers and readers about the importance of meditation?
Meditative practices are tools and frameworks. Some of them are proven to help improve specific areas of our minds and lives. I would encourage anyone curious to dip into these ideas with openness and see if any of them can work for you.
Integrate what’s useful, discard the rest.
We hope that this interview about meditation with Niraj Shah has gone some way to demystifying meditation for you.
This is meditation with Niraj Shah –
No crystals, no mumbo jumbo.
Just space to breathe, practical tools for mind optimisation and the science behind them.
For information about events hosted by Meditation:Unlocked, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/medunlocked/events
And visit Niraj’s websites for more information: www.tpoyoga.com & www.medunlocked.com
Featured Image: Vanshi Shah