We ask meditation teacher Cheen Chong Tan of Como Shambhala to share more about the benefits of meditation and his approaches

What should a first-timer know before getting started on meditation? 

Keep an open mind. Acknowledge any pre-conceived ideas or bias you may have about meditation. For example, “I follow religion X, meditation is from religion Y hence incompatible” or “I heard that meditation can help me empty my mind”.

Instead, consider your own motivation and curiosity for exploring this ancient approach, which has been practised by cultures all over.

I teach mindfulness meditation techniques, which train the brain to pay attention to the present moment as it is. By observing reality, we can make better decisions based on the context, based on the truth.

What is the most common misconception about meditation that you wish to debunk? 

I often get asked, “Is meditation is religious?” That was my initial reaction too when persuaded to learn to meditate. While meditation has roots in contemplative traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism, my lessons are secular.

As a computer engineer by training, I preferred to understand what was going on in my “computer”. With improved technology and research methods, we are able to objectively observe and measure our brain activities and behaviours. I share these science and research outcomes during classes.

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What are the benefits of meditation?

Balance. Studies around the world and anecdotal feedback from my own classes consistently point to reduced stress, improved memory, better focus, less emotional reactivity, and satisfying relationships. At the workplace, reports show improvement in various dimensions such as productivity, innovation, communication, and even working with difficult colleagues.

How did meditation change your life? 

My life direction changed after I attended a 10-day meditation retreat. Prior efforts to learn from books and YouTube videos did not have any effect. However, right after the first retreat, my decade-long suffering from food allergies, which manifested as arthritis, disappeared. Further investigations led me to learn about our overworked nervous system and how meditation re-balances it.

Have you influenced friends and family to try meditation? How did they react to it? 

My family was the first group I wanted to share what I had discovered. I thought to myself, “If only I had learnt this simple technique in school”. My wife took to it effortlessly, but my young kids were crawling on the floor, bored and impatient. That motivated me to be a mindfulness meditation teacher, learning methods of enabling children with this life skill. I’m happy that my young adult children continue to tap on this accessible skill when they seek relief.

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How long have you practised meditation? 

I got started in 2013, and taught my first class in 2014. Along the way, I got teacher certifications by the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness, US-based Mindful Schools, and UK-based Mindfulness in Schools Project.

How often do you meditate in a day?  

At least once a day, and many short practices during the day. Unlike traditional meditation schools, I encourage busy city folks to pause often throughout the day. Whether short or long breaks, the deliberate pause gives our nervous system a chance to rest and reset.

Where and when can meditation be done? 

Anywhere, anytime. Besides full-on training, I encourage my students to consider micro meditation and mini-meditation. This approach gives flexibility and freedom to incorporate meditation into their busy lives. Whether it is taking one deep breath on purpose in between video calls, or meditating for the duration of your taxi commute, you are still benefitting from allowing your body and mind to “take five”.

See also: How to Cultivate Mindful Moments to Improve Your Well-Being

Your best tips for beginners?

1. Find a teacher you will be comfortable with. Learn the basic techniques, and get your questions answered. Then practise diligently.

2. Aim for short moments of awareness. These momentary “oases” remind you of what is going on right now. These moments will extend with training.

3. No equipment is required. Don’t fuss about a certain type of seat, candles in the room, special music, etc. All the equipment that you need is in your head.

4. Minimise disruptions. Find a place and time you won’t be disturbed. Like learning to sail a boat, it is easier to practise in the calm waters of a lagoon than out in the choppy seas.

5. Distractions and thoughts are normal. It is impossible to empty the mind, just like it is impossible not to breathe. Notice them and return back to your mind training.

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