Ben Turshen’s Got Some Holiday Meditation Tips for You
Meditating can be hard. But its benefits are incredible. Just ask Ben Turshen about both. The first time he tried mindfulness meditation, it gave him an anxiety attack. Luckily, he persevered and found Vedic Meditation, the right style for him. After this meditation practice helped lift him up from the depths of depression, he modified Vedic Meditation to create a simple system he calls Access Meditation, which Turshen now teaches to his own students. Intrigued, we recently visited Turshen at his meditation studio to learn about his practice and to get some tips on how meditation can help alleviate holiday stress and exhaustion.
When we met the other day, you said that you teach Access Meditation, which is an offshoot of the Vedic Meditation you were trained in. Can you explain a bit about what those both mean and what the differences are?
Vedic Meditation comes from an ancient tradition in India called the Shankaracharya tradition. It’s a “householder” technique of meditation, meaning it was designed for people who are integrated and engaged in worldly life, with jobs, families, and social lives, as opposed to monastic types, who renounce a householder lifestyle.
My Access Meditation program was partly inspired by the very user friendly methodology that used in Vedic Meditation. It’s similar, but different in some very important ways.
Like Vedic Meditation, Access Stillness is form of automatic self-transcending meditation, where the meditator sits comfortably with their back supported and eyes closed and silently experiences a particular sound, a mantra, that settles mind and puts the body into a deep state of rest automatically and spontaneously without any effort, focus, or concentration.
But Access Meditation is an entirely separate practice, without the historical and cultural ties that are part of Vedic Meditation and constrain the way Vedic Meditation is taught. Because of this, Access Meditation can be taught in multiple formats including in-person personal instruction, live online video instruction, and a standalone recorded online video course, which I’ve got coming in early 2019. This makes the Access Meditation program extremely accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Additionally, Vedic Meditation is a mental technique, a “top-down” methodology. The Access Meditation program includes both a breathing technique—a “bottom-up” methodology—called Access Calm and a mental technique —a “top-down” methodology—called Access Stillness.
And how did you come to find Vedic Meditation? How did you start and what made you stick with it?
A decade ago, I was an out-of-shape, overweight junior attorney at a large international law firm. I had been battling anxiety, depression, and insomnia my entire life and during this time my struggle had reached a pinnacle. I was on multiple different medications and in therapy a few times a week. I drank too much, too often. Although I was getting by, I was miserable. I knew I needed to do something to try to get my life on track.
I had previously tried meditation during my first year of law school, but nearly had an anxiety attack during the session. I later came to find out this was a form of mindfulness meditation. At the time, I was so naive, I thought all meditation was the same. I decided it wasn’t for me. It took four years for me to revisit the idea of learning to meditate. I tried a few different types of meditation, but nothing made a difference, although fortunately none of those other experiences gave me anxiety.
Then I discovered Vedic Meditation and it changed everything. Almost immediately, within three days, I was falling asleep easily and sleeping soundly without Ambien or alcohol. I stopped having anxiety attacks. I felt good and happy. And started doing the things that once seemed impossible like exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and speaking in front of audiences. I got more done in less time at work and all of my relationships improved tremendously.
My personal transformation inspired me to become a meditation teacher so I could help people improve their lives through meditation.
What’s the first thing someone who wants to get into meditation should know?
Not all meditation is the same!
There are so many different types, each with their own specific design, methodology, and practice. Because of this, each form of meditation produces its own experience with its own corresponding sets of benefits and results.
I encourage people to do a little research and try a few different types of meditation to find the practice that they both enjoy and derive the greatest benefit from practicing. The best form of meditation is the one that you want to practice every day.
What’s the hardest part of meditation for you?
It’s a struggle I share with most of my students… making the time to meditate. We’re all busy, there’s always something else to do, but there’s nothing better to do. For me, I can’t look back on the last decade of my life and say “I would’ve had a better day if I skipped my meditation,” but I can always say, “I had a better day because I meditated”. After I meditate, I feel calm and relaxed, rested and energized, clear and present, happy and creative. My experience of life is that much better operating in that state.
What’s the easiest?
Actually meditating! Once you get in the chair to do it, the hard work is over. It’s the easiest part of the day. The methodology we use in both Vedic Meditation and Access Meditation is effortless. The less you do the better so you get the most out of it by doing the least.
Are hard and easy even useful ways to talk about meditation? I ask because so many people put meditation off because they say it seems hard.
I think they’re useful. The ease or difficulty really depends on the type of meditation. What I teach is very easy and enjoyable. Most other forms of meditation require a much greater mental demand. They involve focusing or concentrating, paying attention to thoughts or body sensations, or invoking some memory or imagination. This keeps both the mind and body relatively active and can feel difficult and not very relaxing.
This story is for our holiday issue and the holidays can be a stressful time. Do you have any meditation-inspired tips for people trying to stay calm during this season?
As joyful as the holiday season can be, it can also be very challenging. We are faced with high levels of demands and expectations as the days continue to grow shorter and colder, our schedules fill up with holiday parties, even trips to visit family, or a vacation somewhere warm to escape the cold of winter. The choice is often to “power through” and we end up missing a very special time of year being stressed.
It can also be a very lonely and sad time for people who can’t travel to be with people they love, or may not have those people in their lives.
Self-care and connection are important always, but particularly during this time of year. I know a lot of people who stop taking care of themselves and wait until the new year to get their acts together. I encourage everyone to not wait until January 1 to start taking good care of themselves. Prioritize getting enough sleep, eating high quality foods, moving your body, and of course, meditation!
If you’re fortunate enough to spend time with the people you love, really be in the room with them. Engage. Take interest. It’s an all too common occurrence to see a family sitting in the living room together and everyone is on their phones. Life is unfortunately very fragile and we can never get these moments back. It’s important to cherish the time you have to really connect with the important people in your world.
Social media can be a great way to connect, but it can also bring about feelings of envy and jealousy if it causes us to unproductively compare ourselves to others. We have a choice in the content we consume, so it might be a good time to take a break or limit what you’re checking out.
And if you’re feeling sad and lonely, it can be good to connect with people in a way you may not normally. Perhaps be of service to those in need. Helping other people is one of the most gratifying experiences.
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