What in ancient times was called yoga might actually be yoga! You don’t have to be a post-World War II hippie with long hair and bell bottoms to relish the benefits of this ancient form of physical and mental health. But to understand its immense power you don’t need to go to Amritsar or the Great Pacific Climate Experiment in the 1970s. You don’t even need to be named Barbey. Here in the UK, contemplative retreats have been flourishing on a shoestring, inspired by the mind-expanding sutras of the trance-inducing Bhagavad Gita and designed to provide restorative programming.
Traditionally, yoga is described as a physical exercise that combines movement with mind-training, while meditation is about hearing the Spirit and opening the mind. Contrary to popular belief, yoga and meditation are distinct modes of practice and you can’t combine one with the other. Because as a holistic activity it aims to turn you inside out, you don’t practice alone (or ever). Instead, meditators mostly go to multiple groups and are incorporated into regular cultural programs, lecture groups and spiritual retreats. It is called, simply, “meditation.”
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Medicinal elements of meditation have been known for thousands of years. This practise is about deep attention. In the first place, meditation is required to access consciousness. We typically perceive life as opposed to experience, in which case consciousness is out of reach. But experience is the raw food that nourishes consciousness and meditation actually cultivates awareness.
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In the second place, meditation is required to assess the state of your being and reality at a larger level. Again, consciousness is controlled by the mind. It is not real unless it is perceived as such. Knowing consciousness allows us to filter, channel and mould that consciousness through our experiences. This not only makes us more attuned to personal experience but also to experiences of others. In the third place, meditation is required to engage and integrate with the cosmic energy field and to then access its environment to exchange or surrender to the higher purpose of being.
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The Great Fibre Retreats, at Pheasant Hall, the Ashram of the Cadman Brothers, the UK’s most successful Buddhist-led contemplative training centre, was founded in 2008 by Lesley Peachey, a former flight attendant, who believed that materialism was doing irreparable damage to our society. She also thought that a spirit of resistance and change was desperately needed. Once a month guests spend four to six days in total silence at Pheasant Hall, at vast campsites in the unspoilt Peak District. There is often talk of transcendental love, self-expression and spiritual suffering. Participants are encouraged to walk all day, not just for exercise but to better understand the actual nature of experience.
Why this ancient practice has found such success here is not entirely clear. Certainly, self-experience, by extension contemplation, seems to play a central role. The fact that, in a largely manic world of televisual, commercialised meditation, we are able to devote our time and resources to this half-hour retreat is also significant. The retreat is often held at an auspicious time of the year when attendees are exceptionally enthusiastic and receptive, and the availability of the highly specialised and adept cadman instructors can rarely be matched. But much of this has to do with the nature of the space itself, with its care for the green aspect of the Peak District in particular and its programme of social programmes, educational workshops and unclassifiable activities, including beer and curry nights.
Even if you’re not particular keen on religion, meditation is a form of meditation. You don’t have to go to India to reap its benefits.
This article was originally published on Travel & Leisure.