We are firm believers in the power of meditation, as we have already expressed in this post. And who best to tell you more about this wonderful discipline than a meditation teacher himself? InstructorLive asked Dada Jyotirupanda what meditation and happiness mean to him and how they can be applied to anyone’s life.

Dada is a yogic monk from an ancient yoga tradition that has been revitalised for modern times, through the meditation society of Ananda Marga. His primary work is teaching meditation, plus working with various charities and writing. As a yoga and meditation teacher Dada has lived and travelled in nearly 40 countries. His popular book ‘Meditation: Searching for the Real You’ was published in 2009 by O Books and is available here and on all major bookselling websites.

Hi Dada, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us a bit more about Ananda Marga and your role in the organisation?

Ananda Marga is a global service organisation, or society. The obvious type of service is that we are extensively involved in service programmes, such as medical centres, disaster relief, schools (often for poorer communities) and the like. Also we teach meditation for finding inner peace, balance, harmony. This we always teach for free. I’m primarily a meditation teacher, and also do a lot of related (and perhaps unrelated) activities, dealing with personal growth.

How did you get into meditation and how easy was it for you to get the hang of it?

I got into meditation in university. I was seeking some solution to my own confusion about life, and also I wanted to understand my purpose in life. I felt meditation would help. I tried meditation on my own with no success. When I found a teacher, it became easy to get the hang of it and gradually I was able to get what I wanted from meditation.

How long did it take you personally to ‘get it?’

Ah, that’s a good question! Actually, I’d started my meditation life with a simple, popular technique (and expensive too). It kept me going for awhile, as it was relaxing and helped me to have less stress. After some time it became dry and I wanted something more meaningful. I met one Ananda Marga teacher (as I am now) who first taught me a very very simple meditation, before initiating me to the more formal practice. But even this very simple practice felt stronger, more vibrant, then the popular technique I’d been doing. So in one sense, I ‘got it’ very early. Gradually things started to ‘click’ into place, I started to see myself and the world as more of a whole life, rather than everything as fragmented, disjointed (which is how I’d always felt about life). And after some years of steady meditation I finally found a realisation or vision of what ‘it’ is all about.

Tell us about meditation. We bet you have seen many lives being transformed by it, including yours. What are the benefits of it and how many times a week would you recommend to practise it?

Yes, it helped to transform me wonderfully. Meditation involves focusing on a positive idea or image and learning to embrace that idea. However it’s not brainwashing, as the idea is about finding deeper meaning in life. It works to relieve stress or nervousness; it helps concentration and it helps us find inner peace and clarity. The best results come from regular, daily practice. Which doesn’t have to be a lot of time every day. Even 10 minutes a day would make a difference.

Has meditation changed the way you act, think and feel to a certain extent? How?

Yes, it has. I used to feel a lot of pressure to ‘perform’ or live up to what I thought others wanted me to be. And I was rarely happy or confident about ‘me’.  Meditation has helped me a lot to be clearer about what’s best for me and about how I can best interact with others. It has also nurtured in me a great deal of compassion, care and interest in other people and in the world. How did it do that? Partly by teaching me to trust myself and to feel safe in the world, in my interactions with others.

Many people find meditation daunting. What’s the best meditation technique you would recommend to beginners and what is your advice for them?

Best for someone to have a personal meeting to learn what would work best. In general we start with teaching a simple mantra, or meditation phrase, that is easy to repeat and remember. I find the main challenge for many people is to make the time (the time is there if you want it) and to be patient enough to let it work.

Would relaxing music help meditation and incense/candles etc?

I find that incense can be a distraction during meditation, as you may think more about the aroma, rather than the meditation. Relaxing music and candles can help the meditative state without distracting me.

How does one know when meditation is working? What does it feel like when you reach a meditative state?

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. When I took up meditation I learned that the best results are if you practice it twice a day. In my unorganised life that was a challenge. But I soon could do that. And I found for me, and I see for others, that one proof that it is working is simply if you do it twice a day. Many people don’t have the patience, motivation or self-discipline to do a regular practice. But a more personal reply: sometimes in meditation we feel a deep quietness or calmness, or perhaps an understanding of who we are, why we are here, something that doesn’t come from logic, but seems very real. That’s part of how we know it’s working. Also sometimes one feels a deep love,  perhaps for a person, or for life itself. Then you know it’s working. But these things are unpredictable. It sort of spoils the surprise if you know when it will happen.

Can you reach nirvana through meditation and can anyone achieve anything close to this feeling without being a yogi?

Nirvana (perfect peace and harmony) is available to anyone who puts the effort into getting there. We think of yogi’s as unusual people who live alone and meditate all the time. One can be successful in meditation, and reach deep realisations, regardless of your lifestyle. Some of the most enlightened people I’ve met have been family people with regular jobs. But they made meditation a central part of their lives.

Do you think that meditation and yoga complement each other? How so?

The real yoga is a practice that includes yogic exercises, meditation and other ‘accessories’. But in the common sense of ‘yoga’,  yes the exercises and meditation do complement each other. Yoga exercises can help make the body healthy and the mind a bit calmer, which enables better meditation. Putting them both together helps relieve a lot of stress in the body and mind. I put meditation first, but yoga exercises are a great addition to meditation.

What are your top tips to being happy and healthy in this increasingly stressful and demanding world?

Meditation, a good diet, exercise, whether yoga exercises, or almost any sort of sport and connecting with others, either to help them in some way, or for friendship.

What is a good simple relaxation technique?

A simple but good technique is ‘the corpse pose’. No, it has nothing to do with dying, but you simply lay on your back in a relaxed posture, on the floor or a solid surface. Close your eyes, let your breathing be calm and steady and perhaps observe your body, or just let your mind go. Do this for 2 or 3 minutes (unless a teacher tells you to do it longer) and you may well feel very relaxed.

Does nutrition have an impact on meditation too?

Yes. A good diet helps to bring health & vitality. This helps the mind & body to focus in meditation.

Tell us a bit more about your diet, do you only stick to vegan food? What are some of your favourite dishes/recipes?

Ah, it seems we each have our own diet. I don’t expect others to eat exactly what I do, though the general principles will benefit anyone. As well as being vegan, I have a classic yogic diet. Yoga sees that food affects both the body and the mind. So although some foods may be vegetarian, they may not be good for mental calmness or clarity. So in this diet we don’t eat onions, garlic or mushrooms, which may be accepted by other vegetarian diets. These foods will tend to make the mind either hyper-active or lethargic. That’s not beneficial for one who wants to think clearly and meditate.As for favourite dishes, it’s not so much what is cooked, but how it’s prepared. More chefs are realising that food tastes better if the cook is in a calm, cheerful state of mind and the kitchen is clean and organised. Yogi’s have known this for a long time.

You are also a writer, editor and all around business man! With all your commitments, how do you manage to stay in shape and conduct a healthy and balanced lifestyle?

Sometimes I wonder! Meditation is my bottom line. Also regular yoga exercises, a healthy, simple diet, other exercise, ‘early to bed, early to rise’ (but ‘early’ is different for everyone), and, very important: What I do means a lot to me.

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

Do the best you can.

What does happiness mean to you? Do you have a mantra/quote you live by?

There’s a lot of ways to look at or find happiness. Doing meaningful things is one way. And looking for a deep sense of happiness. Seeing the big and long-term picture. My personal meditation mantra is, yes, a base for my life.

Can you share some of your favourite quotes with us?

There’s loads of favourite quotes, some well known, some not so well known.

“In the living being there is a thirst for limitlessness.” – Shrii Shrii Anandamurti

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha

“It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable.” – Maya Angelou

“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.” –  W.J. Slim

“What is now proved was once only imagined.” – William Blake

“I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.” –  Tracy Chapman

Who and what inspires you?

My spiritual teacher is my main inspiration. I gain and learn a lot from many other people also. My goal is to help make this world a better place for everyone. Why? I’m inspired by people who have forward looking ideas and who can do something with their ideas.  I’m inspired by people who rise to challenges and give their best. And by people who have a deep commitment to make the world a better place.

What do you like to do to unwind in your spare time?

Answer: I do aikido training, a martial art involving both body and mind. I write a lot (not really spare time, but not my full time work either), attend public speaking groups, go to the cinema, plays, walking and reading (but not at the same time!) and other cultural programmes.