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My first encounter with meditation was in my mid-twenties when I was studying karate. Although I had already achieved my Black Belt, I knew instinctively that my training had only just begun. My karate coach was excellent, but I wanted to go deeper. I had heard about Mervyn Etienne and his unorthodox training methods, and I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure if I was at a high enough level, but luckily Mervyn saw something in me and took me on. He and his wife Laura invested time training me – and I loved every minute. I often look back on those times as the ‘Golden Years.’ The training was physically tough and involved vertical hill runs, lifting seriously heavy weights, and being stretched in directions that I didn’t think my body was built for! But it was the mental development that was so unique. Mervyn taught me how to meditate, and also introduced me to visualisation, Neurofeedback, NLP and self healing. 25 years ago, these methods were unusual to say the least. While other Karateka were practicing their punches before competitions, I was visualising winning. Mervyn and Laura were like family, and I really believe that their support has helped me to become the person I am today. Life throws you curveballs, but the more tools you have, the easier that obstacles and problems are to deal with. Laura Etienne is still my go-to for problem-solving, and she is still the only person I know, who can actually make me roll around the floor with laughter – a rare thing these days! I interviewed Laura to find out more about the benefits of regular meditation.
Like me, Laura was introduced to meditation by her ex-husband, Mervyn, when they were both practicing karate. ‘Mervyn was representing Great Britain internationally, and I was competing nationally,’ explains Laura. In 1999, Laura took a course in meditation with Anna Wise, one of the world’s most influential practitioners of instrument-assisted meditation. I had attended one of Anna’s workshops in Holland with Laura and Mervyn on brainwave monitoring and guided imagery for healing. Wise pioneered a unique technique that combined brainwave real-time biofeedback with guided meditation, a method that she taught to thousands of students in the United States, Europe and Asia during her lifetime. ‘I had an amazing experience with Anna and ended up going to California to train with her. I worked through Anna’s guided meditations, and assisted her on workshops,’ says Laura. She was invited to the Esalen Institute in California with Anna, and it was there that she met a group of Buddhist monks who inspired her to explore Buddhism. Using tools such as meditation, the goal of Buddhism is to achieve a state of unconditional happiness known as enlightenment.
Meditation has been around for centuries and is renowned for its therapeutic benefits and ability to allow meditators to access states of higher consciousness. Some of the earliest references to meditation are in the Hindu scriptures, with other forms of meditation developing in the 5th and 6th centuries in Taoist China, and Buddhist India. Put simply, meditation is a means of transforming the mind by encouraging and developing concentration, clarity and emotional positivity. ‘ Meditation is not daydreaming or fantasy,’ explains Laura. ‘It is an effective method for ‘stilling’ the mind.’
It’s been scientifically proven that people who meditate regularly experience less stress and anxiety, have better sleep and reduced blood pressure, but meditation is not just for treating physical and emotional issues. ‘Meditation is an effective method for developing spirituality, allowing us to access different states of consciousness,’ reveals Laura. And according to Laura, it can also help to reduce our egos and increase compassion, as well as giving us insight into our internal world. ‘When this is open and exposed, it gives us the opportunity to work with our ‘demons’,’ explains Laura. ‘ This takes bravery but confronting our issues, and working with them to develop into better people, not only benefits our own well-being, it benefits those around us too. As our mind learns to ‘still’, meditation allows us to observe the mind, and to experience our true nature, which can be obscured by our thoughts, desires and attachments. Through this, we find inner peace – and even bliss.’ Meditation can also help help to give us more focus and direction in life. ‘Meditation requires discipline and focus and this will spill into our everyday life,’ explains Laura. Whether you apply it to success in sport or in business, the mental state is the same. ‘I believe that if you have two people with the same abilities but one has developed focus, attention and calm through meditation, then they will outperform those without this mental training.’
While there are many physical and emotional symptoms that can be improved by meditation, people who experience high levels of anxiety, depression, PTSD and other issues can find it challenging. The alternative? ‘Guided imagery can be an excellent tool for addressing these issues,’ recommends Laura. ‘However, with some cases of extreme PTSD and anxiety disorders, finding someone who you trust as a facilitator and who can help you work through the imagery or any memories that may arise is advisable.’ One of the major factors that can be a block to meditation is fear. ‘ A facilitator can help encourage a fearful person through the process.’ Or, if you don’t want to use a facilitator, Laura suggests writing down your experience after meditation. ‘ This can be useful in making the experience concrete. Like a dream, the experience can dissolve away. Writing it down helps with remembering, and allows for analysis,’ she says. Using a positive affirmation before your practice can also help. ‘ Something like ‘I am safe’ or ‘it is safe for me to go inwards and meditate’ can he helpful.’ Meditation, in combination with Neurofeedback, is also a very effective way of treating these disorders.
Many people find that meditation helps to manage physical discomfort and to encourage acceptance. ‘ It also helps calm the mind and the nervous system,’ says Laura. ‘When we hare under a lot of stress, our nervous system becomes aroused. If we can’t calm this down, we may be more prone to stress-related illnesses and anxiety. Meditation reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and as this activity is reduced, the parasympathetic nervous system can begin to calm the body down.’
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‘This is a complex question,’ explains Laura. ‘The ego is connected to our attachments, desires, cravings and emotions and one of the problems of focusing on meditation for its health benefits and ignoring the spiritual aspects is the risk of strengthening the ego and actually becoming more attached to the self. This may make some people more selfish or self-obsessed. Obviously, this won’t be conducive to a happy, peaceful life and it can can cause damage to others.’ The spiritual aspects of meditation are not related to religion or faith in something external. ‘ An atheist can be spiritual, and this spirit helps with keeping our egos tame. It is more about interconnectedness and the ability to see how our actions and intentions can not only harm us, but others too. Spirit is about how we interact with others, our compassion and understanding that everyone is different. We all have our own suffering. It is also the ability to have compassion for ourselves and acceptance. The ability to look at ourselves fearlessly, giving us the strength to be honest about our own defects, problems and pain and to work to improve ourselves. An over-attached ego will make us defensive, it can feed anger directed not just at others but inwardly to ourselves, this is damaging. Enter meditation with love and openness.’
I believe meditation has been a blessing in my life, whether I am happy, sad, anxious or overwhelmed, meditation has been a constant companion and a tool I have been using consistently for over 20 years. Sometimes, I think I would never have survived without it!
If you are interested in trying a meditation lesson with Laura, you can contact her here.