It used to be the case that to think of meditation would be to conjure images of man-bun-sporting hipsters and religious folks, chanting words that weighed heavy with resonance while clutching crystals in a palm. The image isn’t just a stereotype, it’s also one that has come to be shattered in recent years. No longer is meditation confined to the hippie-yogis alone, now it’s hit the mainstream and everyone from the world’s top athletes to CEOs and creatives alike are hopping on the bandwagon of this lifestyle practice.
If the events of the global pandemic have taught us anything in lockdown, it’s that health is far more encompassing than just the gains we achieve in the gym. Despite years of being relegated to the periphery, mental health is now receiving the recognition it deserves as more of us look to make it a priority in our lives. In light of this, more of us are looking to meditation and the benefits it can provide. If anyone knows this, it’s Luke McLeod. Considered by many to be Australia’s favourite mindfulness coach, McLeod founded Soul Alive, a live stream meditation platform that also has an on-demand option for those looking to schedule classes into their work routines.
The benefits of meditation can’t be disputed. A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged, while a study carried out at Yale University found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network, otherwise known as the area of the brain responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. Even when the mind does start to wander, those who meditate are better at snapping back out of it.
Through Soul Alive, McLeod offers live guided classes throughout the week with a structure that’s designed to make it easier for people to stick with meditation all from the comfort of their own home. It’s worth celebrating, because for many just starting out, navigating meditation can be tricky. From the wandering thoughts that have us feeling like we’ve failed a session to cultivating a daily practice, having the tools to support you in your meditation journey are crucial and thankfully, it’s what McLeod wants to provide for all. We spoke to McLeod about how he got into meditation, the misconceptions that continue to surround the practice, and how those starting out can look to make meditation a staple in their health and wellness routine.
Men’s Health: How did you first discover and get into meditation? Was it something you were initially drawn to or did you have to work hard to carve out that time for it?
Luke McLeod: I actually initially got into meditation to help me with work. I was in my mid-twenties at the time and was looking to find ‘the edge’ on how to be more productive, confident and focused. What I found with a lot of the successful people I researched about (whether it was in business, sport and creative fields) was that a lot of them meditated. Which at the time I found really odd because I thought meditation was for hippies and religious folk.
I found it did help me with my focus and I wasn’t procrastinating as much so I didn’t find it that hard to stick with it because it was working and I enjoyed it.
How do you incorporate meditation into your daily life and what benefits have you seen as a result?
I now incorporate meditation throughout my whole day. I’ll usually do around 10-20 minutes of it in the morning just by myself down at the beach and then because it’s my job, I’ll often be teaching it most days, whether that’s with a client or a class on Soul Alive. The biggest benefit that I’ve experienced from meditation is my development of self-awareness. Developing this quality has by far had the most positive impact on my life. It’s enabled me to experience life to the fullest without getting carried away in it. Being able to appreciate and grow from pain and suffering without letting it consume me. Really enjoy happiness without the fear of losing it. Understanding people’s motivations and behaviour without getting upset or frustrated by it. Listening and acting more on my intuition. Self-awareness is by far the biggest benefit of meditation.
What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions that surround meditation?
Well, the first one is that it’s certainly not just for people who live in Byron Bay and have a pet goat. Anyone that’s looking to try something to enhance their life should give meditation a go. Then there’s the whole concept of how meditation switches-off the mind. If anything, it actually switches ON the mind. It’s just when it’s ON, it naturally feels quite quiet. Lastly, a lot of people think that when you notice the mind wandering off during meditation, that you’re doing it wrong. This isn’t the case at all. In fact each time you catch yourself wandering off, that’s a moment of self-awareness and something to be celebrated, not criticised.
For those just starting out and getting into meditation, what tips would you give them in terms of cultivating a daily practice?
The big one would be to find the joy in it. You’re not going to stick with it if you see it just as a means to an end. For me, I can’t wait to meditate! It’s like my favourite meal. The more of it, the better. Find a style that you enjoy. That’s why we blend a lot of different types in a practice at Soul Alive. So it hits all the notes for different types of people.
Increasingly there’s been a growing shift towards practices like mindfulness and meditation, from athletes to businessmen alike. Why do you think meditation is such an integral part of wellness and holistic health?
Well it’s certainly not something new. It’s been around for thousands and thousands of years. It’s just that modern western society has been interested in other things over the last couple of hundred years. But now we’re starting to say ‘is that it?’ As in, in terms of material success etc, which is leading a lot of us to explore the deeper parts of ourselves and meditation is the vehicle for this.
What inspired you to create Soul Alive? Can you tell us about the meditation platform and its live-stream options?
Soul Alive was created because I felt there was a gap in what was being offered in the meditation space. On one hand, you had these apps which, although are great, I felt were lacking in support, guidance and community. All of which are really essential when learning meditation. Then on the other hand, you would have to go to a studio or retreat of some type, which will give you the support and guidance but can be fairly inconvenient and costly. Soul Alive is the meeting point of these two. We consider ourselves a virtual meditation studio. We offer live-streamed classes with meditation teachers, including myself, to give you the guidance and support you need, yet it’s online so it’s really convenient and affordable.
To find out more about Soul Alive and its virtual meditation and mindfulness studio, visit the official website here.