I don't know about you, but I find meditation really hard. Like, really hard. I know it can help with just about everything from sleep to happiness, so I try to silence my overactive mind, but I become so fixated on my struggle to break through into that state of "zen" that I end up feeling more stressed than when I started. I want to like it—believe me, I do—but right now meditation and I are seemingly incompatible.
On my hunt for tools and advice on how to meditate (without becoming a quivering wreck), I came across the work of Gyal Flex, an East London–based yoga and meditation class that breathes new life (and enjoyment) into these practices by utilizing one very simple tool: music. And we're not talking whale song or monk chanting, as these women meditate to hip-hop. Okay, this is way more on my wavelength.
Why do you think so many people find switching off and meditating so hard?
Wow, big question with a lot of reasons. I think people are juggling a lot of stuff at any given time. It feels like there's been a surge of people making things happen for themselves and that requires working extra hours, especially if you're holding down a day job too.
My head often feels like a laptop with at least 50 tabs open, and as I say that, I'm looking at my laptop and it has 12 internet tabs alone open and I kinda do need them all. I think technology is awesome when I think of what we can do now from 10 years ago, but switching off has been made harder for freelancers or anyone who needs to connect with their audience. Scrolling on IG isn't just to look at pretty pictures anymore. I personally have big moments of feeling guilty for switching off (or at least trying to) too.
Okay, so music can help, right?
I think music can help set a mood and an energy and it can also give you permission and freedom to just get down and leave some shit on the mat that's no longer serving you. In terms of people who come to my classes, the music is an unspoken shared thread. People know that everyone else in that room digs that same vibe, and for me, that's one less barrier to perhaps an unexpected crowd walking through my doors.
What is it about hip-hop music that you think works so well in the meditation and yoga realms?
Hip-hop and urban music have a beat that vibrates in my body. I feel a connection, and as I'm breathing the rhythm, it can really help my flow. I have this image of inhaling and then seeing my breath travel through my body on some sort of rhythm wave and it helps me move and get into the nooks of my body and then let go.
Sometimes it can be hard to meditate in silence. I've found my brain searching for ways to be still and every time I get lost and need to come back to my breath I feel like I'm starting all over again. Some days it's hard not to be pissed or annoyed with that feeling and fall into ranking your meditation as "good" or "bad." With music in the background, it's like a constant stream just following me for when I need it.
Do any other types of music work?
Well, arguably any music would work. I know of a very popular heavy metal yoga class. I can't say it's at the top of my list to attend, but maybe that's the thing—it sells out, so it's obviously attracting a group of people that can get down to that. But I think there's a fine line between music being distracting for some and wonderful for others.
So what advice would you give anyone trying to incorporate music into their practice?
My mood and my mind can depend on what music I listen to. I use a meditation app quite a lot when I want to be guided, but I'm being kinder to myself when I do it without the app now too.
I would suggest going with a simple piece of music—not too distracting and definitely not just your favourite banger or the song you broke up with your ex to because it's not that kinda party. At Gyal Flex, we tend to take out a lot of the hard sounds that you can hear in a lot of hip-hop (so it's not often a familiar track) or the instrumental of a Jill Scott track. Something that is soothing and just lifts you is perfect.
Find a comfortable seated position on the floor or chair and think about your bum and legs being a tripod so you can spread your weight evenly and let the ground/chair hold your weight. Find a long back and neck without being sat bolt upright. Using all your awesome energy on just trying to sit upright isn't gonna feel good. Start to breathe full, long inhales and exhales—a hand on the belly can help you connect more with what's going on. Just spend some time putting your attention all on the breath.
If you go off track, which I'm certain you probably will, and start thinking about your dinner later, the email you need to send, and asking why your neighbour is slamming doors when you're fricking meditating?! It's all good. Smile about it and keep it moving by going back to the breath. And if you get bored, that's okay too: There is really nothing wrong you can ever do. You are winning and bossing at life just being there.