Meditation has replaced yoga as the latest wellness fad, but many practitioners—and their teachers—need a crash course in how to do it right, one meditation expert professes.
In Light Watkins’ yet-untitled how-to manuscript to be published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, this fall, the longtime meditation teacher in Los Angeles admits that while there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the ancient practice, there’s a lot more to it than just showing up with a cushion, sitting down and closing your eyes.
“It’s like someone who wants to surf showing up at the beach with a surfboard and a wet suit,” said the Vedic Meditation teacher during a recent visit to New York City. “Like you gotta know what kind of surfboard you need, you gotta know what time of day is the water most conducive to you getting in it with a surf board, you gotta to know what to do if you have to pee in the middle of the whole thing, you gotta know how to catch a wave, you gotta know how to paddle, you gotta know where to sit on the board to maximize your experience.”
“I didn’t go live in a monastery for five years and [I’m not] celibate and all of that.”
The 6-foot-3 former model, who is 43 but looks 10 years younger, is magnetic, whether in a one-on-one conversation or as the host of the Shine (a bimonthly, bicoastal event he produces in Los Angeles and New York City and which The New York Times called a “happy hour without the booze”). He conveys a down-to-earth attitude that many in the rarified meditation world lack.
“What’s missing,” Watkins said, “is a fresh voice from someone who’s close enough to the millennials to relate to them but also experienced enough to have enough credibility so that people know that they’re not some kind of fly-by-night internet marketer whose just taking advantage of a marketing opportunity.
“Someone who’s like them, who’s not a monk,” he continues. “I didn’t go live in a monastery for five years and [I’m not] celibate and all of that. I like relationships and sports.” (And he curses!)
Watkins insists that his forthcoming book will be written for the “average Joe” despite his laundry list of high-profile clients who have taken his mantra-based meditation course (which costs the equivalent of one week’s worth of wages), including comedian Eric Andre, Australian Idol host Osher Günsberg and The Vampire Diaries actor Paul Wesley.
“Light’s unconventional approach to the topic is what we found so appealing,” wrote Marnie Cochran, an executive editor for Random House, in an email. “And that’s also what will distinguish the book in the market. His approach is nondenominational and will help beginners and veterans alike get more out of their meditation attempts/practice. He shows that there is no one right way to meditate and that one need not have a mantra or go on a retreat to reap the health and emotional benefits.”
That unconventional approach? Celebrating the mind.
“Most approaches encourage the practitioner to employ some degree of mental control—some rigid, some gentle, but control nonetheless—i.e. ‘let go of,’ ‘observe,’ ‘be the witness,’ ‘treat thoughts like clouds,’ etc.,” Watkins explained. “These are all instructions related to mental control. My approach—that I didn’t invent and inherited from my lineage of teachers—is to lean in to the mind and allow it do whatever it’s doing with no control, letting go, observing, or witnessing whatsoever.”
Consider Agapi Stassinopoulos—the sister of Arianna Huffington and author of Wake Up to the Joy of You: 52 Meditations and Practices for a Calmer, Happier Life—a fan. She said she believes Watkins will “demystify the art of meditation and bring it down to the everyday person by making them realize that meditation is a natural process of our being, just like breathing.”
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