"Who are you?" Sriman Japadas questions. I'm seated on the floor, meeting Japadas for the first time, and he has already thrown an existentialist curve ball at me. The yoga master and founder of the Singapore School of Meditation & Yoga is about to lead us in a group meditation session and he holds court with the cadence of a pastor tending to his flock. Unlike many things in life, you don't have to pay to attend Japadas' meditation sessions. It's a service Japadas offers alongside the studio's suite of yoga classes to provide yogis (and curious newcomers to the world of meditation) with a more holistic approach to their yoga practice. After all, meditation and breathwork are integral elements of yoga, and simply lying savasana (corpse pose) at the end of a yoga session barely scrapes the surface of what meditation truly is. Below, Japadas shares more about his own relationship with meditation and demystifies some of the misconceptions the practice has been wrongfully saddled with.
When did you begin your meditation practice and how has it evolved since?
I grew up in an ashram (a spiritual or yoga community) in the Philippines. I spent most of my teenage years there, deeply entrenched in the yoga way of life and spirituality. I have carried that discipline with me to this day. Meditation is no longer just a simple ritual that I must do before getting started on my day's work; it is now at the very core of my existence as it covers nearly all facets of my life as a husband, father, teacher, and entrepreneur.
Tell us more about your current practice.
When I am not facilitating a group meditation class at SSMY, I prefer to meditate alone. I usually spend an hour or more each morning for my meditation and yoga practice. In my daily meditation, I seek to embrace silence, cultivate stillness, and surrender myself completely to the practice.
Mantra meditation — where a Hindu phrase is repeated with the intent to focus the mind — is a form of meditation offered at SSMY. How would you advise students who are not entirely comfortable with the religious connotations of practice?
I realise that a lot of people are intimidated by 'meditation' because it is often associated with religion. Truth is, it does not always have a religious element. Yes, some people incorporate it in their devotional practices and the pursuit of spiritual awakening, while others view it more as a form of therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system. It is a mental and physical practice that cultivates our mindfulness and allows us to get to know our true self in a more profound light. Diligent meditative practice brings us to a place of peace and harmony. This, in turn, positively impacts our relationship with other people, animals and even nature.
What are your thoughts on digital meditation apps such as Headspace?
I'm very traditional in my approach so my personal preference would be to not use any form of digital aids. But I understand that we now live in a highly-digitalised world where there's an app for nearly everything. So, if people are comfortable using apps in their meditation, then it's their own choice to make. But if there is an opportunity to join a community or a group meditation, I would encourage you to give it a try. And hopefully, this will encourage you to go deeper in your practice at a later stage.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest misconception about meditation?
The biggest misconception about meditation is that it is a religious activity or a sectarian practice. It is not. With meditation, you don't need to subscribe to a specific religion in order to practice it, because meditation is simply a journey taking us to a place of silence and introspection to allow us to connect with our thoughts and self better — and this ultimately enriches our lives.
Why did you decide to go with a vegetarian diet? Does it inform and enhance aspects of your practice?
I gave up meat when I realised that my diet was based on violence. That animals have to be killed in order for me to eat. When we kill any animal for our food, then we not only eat the animal flesh but we also its emotions and energy. When an animal is dying, it is observed to be in extreme panic and fearful state. These heightened emotions of fear, panic and anger are released in the animal body which in turn, are absorbed by our body. Knowing this made me very conscious about what I eat. Does it enhance my meditation practice? Yes, I believe it does.
Any advice for those looking to embark on a meditation practice?
My advice is very simple: Meditation heals and nourishes the human body, mind and the soul. This has been proven by countless studies, including scientific ones. By practicing meditation, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But bear in mind that the full benefits of meditation can only be enjoyed if you commit to your practice and make it an integral part of your life.