Why chilling out is the new cool

by Sal Morgan, Sydney Morning Herald, December 8, 2004

Hollywood celebrities are doing it, and swear by its results. But meditation makes everyone feel better, writes Sal Morgan.

Sydney, Australia -- A decade ago it was boozing and sex. Then came drugs and bingeing. Later, dieting and hard-core gym workouts. Lately though, Hollywood stars have been slowing down and waxing lyrical in interviews about stopping to smell the roses. Clearly a bit of calm is needed to cope with a celebrity pace of life.

Initially, yoga was the answer to celebrity wellness. Christy Turlington and Madonna were the first to strike a pose, followed by Gwyneth Paltrow, Sting, Ricky Martin and Meg Ryan.

Now Tinseltown is talking a different tune. "Om" is being chanted in private studios, from mountain tops and on movie sets.

"It's like entering this blissful feeling of nothingness," said Heather Graham, who meditates twice a day. Halle Berry began practising while filming Gothika "to get rid of nightmares" and Goldie Hawn got her daughter Kate Hudson addicted to the stress-relieving practice.

"There is no question that meditation has recently become more popular," said Thom Knoles, a Hollywood meditation guru who was based in Sydney for more than 30 years, and lists Graham, film director David Lynch and Australian actress Natalie Mendoza "a very enthused student" among his clients. "Kate Fischer is a great supporter and is planning to train under me to become an instructor in the New Year," he said.

Lynch says meditation is about fostering bliss, creativity and intelligence: "Garbage goes out, gold comes in. Everything becomes easier. And you start understanding more."

Even ad guru Siimon Reynolds told S he got his greatest ideas in a 30-minute meditation he took in his office each day.

Regular meditation, say the experts, will reverse ageing, increase energy and improve your health, with a number of different styles and techniques available to help achieve inner peace by calming the mind.

Transcendental Meditation is one of the most popular forms due to its accessibility and measurability. "It's an effortless technique and it can be practised by anybody, anywhere," said Knoles. "You don't have to change into weird clothes, you don't have to denounce your parents, you don't have to eat strange food or anything. You learn a technique and you do it twice a day for 20 minutes."

Buddhism is similar in its philosophy of spiritual enlightenment and encourages students to learn more about the theory behind the practice. "We teach a series of meditations based on virtues that will benefit you and others," said Lisa Merrill from the Khandakapala Buddhist Centre in Los Angeles. Richard Gere is a strong supporter of Buddhism and has designed a space in his private garden to practise daily. He makes regular trips to Tibet to "relax, meditate and release", booking into a basic room with limited water supply, shared bathroom and no TV, air-conditioning or newspapers.

Closer to home, the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre has weekend workshops and month-long retreats that provide an escape from the city pace. The centre also teaches ways to incorporate meditation into your lifestyle once you leave.

"We use a systematic training method of attention to develop wisdom and purity of the mind," said Tara MacLachlan, adding that alternative therapies had become more acceptable. "Meditation can be integrated into anyone's life. It's no longer confined to the minority."

Sounds like it's worth making time for.

* Experience deep levels of rest and eliminate stress and fatigue.

* Increase energy and vitality.

* Experience clarity of mind and increased creativity.

* Feel rejuvenated.

* Improve your health naturally.

* Reduce anxiety.

* Expand your awareness.

* Experience your full mental potential.

* Increase self-confidence.

* Improve ability to concentrate.

* Reverse ageing.

* Tim Brown is a Sydney-based meditation teacher recommended by Hollywood guru Thom Knoles. 80 Paddington Street, Paddington. Phone 9327 7825.

* The Mahasiddha Buddhist Centre offers chanted meditations, study classes and day courses, with weekly sessions in Paddington, Bondi Beach, Glebe, Manly, Chatswood, Cronulla and Miranda. 85 Old South Head Road, Bondi Junction. Phone 9387 7717 or see http://www.meditateinsydney.org.

* The Buddhist Library and Meditation Centre has a wealth of information and teachings of Buddhism techniques, with regular talks and courses. 90 Church Street, Camperdown. Phone 9519 6054 or see http://www.buddhistlibrary.org.au.

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