Enjoy this interview with Sura and Kirstina Mand-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley.
Kristina: What do you mean by the term effortless meditation? Because it is a little bit unexpected, meditation is supposed to be effortless. So I would like to say also, could you maybe compare it to another kind of meditation, maybe not effortless?
I would say that, when I first started learning how to meditate, it was very much grounded in the traditions of meditation, which is quite a bit of mental effort and starting there in the mind. With effortless meditation, it’s an energy based meditation approach. We go into the heart, and the body, and also energy. It’s about finding this other gateway through relaxation, and allowing yourself to experience flow energy. You’re able to really harness various aspects of meditation, so that you can begin to experience true flow, and your everyday life synchronicity. The art of effortless flow.
It’s a simple three step process. It starts with relaxation. That’s the first step. And the second step is heart listening, then the third step is intention setting.
In the book, I share my story of going to India and Asia. I left corporate America, in New York City, where I was working on Wall Street, and I was at the height of my career as Vice President of institutional sales, and I was at rock bottom in my personal life. And that’s when I discovered meditation. I started with Zen meditation. That includes counting your breaths backward, from 10 to one over and over again. I transformed through this practice. I decided that I was going to leave New York and my corporate work to go to Asia. I devoted full time study to go to India.
When I went to India to practice, I wanted to learn yogic meditation, and I ended up finding a teacher. I studied Sanskrit, practice, the Yoga Sutras, Ashtanga Yoga. What happened is that my health and my hormones became incredibly imbalanced. I stopped having my period, I lost a lot of weight, I looked more masculine than feminine. I was taking it so seriously, because I was learning by the book, the eight limbs. I was practicing so rigorously, the diet, the breathing exercises, that it threw my health out of whack.
When I reflected on it, I was able to get my health back when I did a 10 day cleanse in Thailand. I fasted for 10 days, it reset my menstrual cycle and everything went back to normal. But I came back to the United States, and I started reflecting, why did everything just go awry? Why did I stop looking like myself? Being like myself?
I was contemplating this, and I realized, yoga was created 5000 years ago, by a man for other men. Women weren’t allowed to practice yoga. Many of the traditions of meditation have all been founded and shared from a masculine perspective, or by men and across all spiritualities and faiths. It’s more male consciousness based, right? You have Buddha, yoga, Christianity, Judaism, Islam. It’s all very one-sided and I felt what was missing for me.
Meditation was the feminine energies. It was the creative, this permission to be soft or sensual. Permission to be in my sexual energy. A lot of the traditions are about controlling and transcending. Transcending the mind, the emotions, the body, the sexual energy. And so with the feminine way, it’s about going into them, feeling them, experiencing it, not trying to restrict or suppress your experience.
Kristina: When people go into practice, it’s an effort for us to actually start practicing properly. How did you even come to that conclusion? Because it’s almost sacrilegious, if I can use that kind of language. Where did you find that? How did this shift happen? How did you even have the courage to say that about something which is 5000 years old?
It stayed as a secret within me for years. I just realized it for myself. But I didn’t come out and really say that. I went back to Los Angeles after I travelled throughout Asia, and I studied for a couple years, and there I was asked to teach meditation. I really had no idea how to teach meditation. And even as I was teaching meditation, I thought to myself, I still don’t get it. I can share it, I can guide it. But I’m missing something.
And so I decided, after a couple of years of teaching, that I was going to leave LA. I went into a retreat on a small remote island in British Columbia. It’s a place called Salt Spring Island, about 10,000 people. And it was there that I wanted to be in retreat, in nature and solitude. I found a little cottage on a lake without electricity, or heat. It was very rustic, no internet, no phone, nothing like that. And that’s where I started to learn meditation.
When I was sitting and practicing, I could feel how rigid I was. I was so disciplined and so tense, everything for me was very serious and stern. I thought, I need to relax and let this go, I really just need to cry. For a while, I didn’t have that permission. When I was at a yoga ashram, in India, it was go, go go, every hour of your day was planned. You were with a huge group of people, it wasn’t appropriate to cry your eyes out and have this huge emotional release. That often comes up, the healing that you go through, when you go deep into spiritual practice. I didn’t feel safe enough to have that kind of release.
It was in nature, in solitude, that I realized how much I had suppressed my own feminine energy. I didn’t feel safe in that part of my being that was gentle and soft, sensual, allowing and nurturing. These are the qualities that I really needed to raise the vibration of my practice and go to a whole new level of meditation. That’s how I noticed when you really have the inner flow, and you begin tapping into that place that the outer world begins to match your inner world, that you start to see synchronicity and manifestation happen effortlessly. Thought becomes form and you’re intuiting and things are coming together. Much better than you could have ever imagined or planned.
Kristina: So I often hear people saying, how do I know that I’m actually meditating, that I’m actually at alpha level or whatever level? And how do I get rid of these thoughts and all of this, all this “I have to”. So I’ll first ask this question in that context, but then I want to go deeper with that.
When you deliver a child and you’re in pain, you’re supposed to relax, because that releases the pain, but you’re in pain, and you contract because that’s the natural reaction. So relaxing when you’re contracting is kind of counterintuitive, but it is what is needed. So with meditation, also, if you’re trying so hard, how do you do this letting go part because letting go seems like a simple concept. But it’s also so complicated. And so hard sometimes.
You hit the nail on the mark. With that, because when you’re in pain, that’s where you go, right? And we’re hardwired for that. That’s why it’s so difficult. Because we have a survival brain, and our survival brain goes into fear mode. When you meditate, you’re mostly concentrating in the prefrontal area of the brain. That’s where most of your attention and energy is, where all the thinking happens. That’s the beta brainwave state.
If you can learn how to rein it in, and come into your center, even the center of your brain, the center of your heart, you can start to really tune into your energy and the way that your energy is flowing through your body. We have this creative life force energy that we can tap into, through spiritual practice. It’s like a superhighway system that runs through us, all the channels and meridians of our energy body. And we can become aware of this.
It’s about where you place your attention and your awareness, but to also understand that we’re hardwired to be in past-future thinking. We are reversing a lot of what feels natural for our brain. You’re reversing that automatic process through meditation by consciously slowing down, and learning how to work with energy. So you’ll notice that when you feel chaotic, the energy feels scattered all over the place. When you start to meditate, the energy, the prana, begins to settle, and it begins to come into stillness.
It’s in this dynamic stillness that you begin to experience oneness, bliss, self-realization. And this is the purpose of meditation; to experience this bliss consciousness that we always have access to. And if you’re really there, you begin to feel this blissful energy flow moving through all parts of your being. Being happy for no reason. Feeling really energized and joyful for no reason, just bubbling up inside of you. You’re tapping into this infinite well of happy energy. That is our true nature. That’s how you know it’s the right thing because you start to feel really high for no reason. You feel it because you feel that oneness, you feel the connection. You feel like you are existence, you don’t feel that sense of separation.
Kristina: We all understand the value of meditation, and we understand that it’s good, but sometimes when life is just too busy, and you have back to back meetings and complicated days, you sometimes skip it, like sometimes you skip taking a shower. So I struggle with that. You understand that this is exactly when you need to meditate because you’re in a rush. But then, it feels like nothing is going to happen. So I’ll skip one day, and then this one day stretches into a week, and then sometimes into months. So how do you convince yourself or motivate yourself to actually be a little more diligent?
I think it’s when you start tapping into that nectar of meditation, that real benefit. Some people will skip it, because they find it so hard to enter the zone. So maybe they don’t have the benefit of how much energy they’ve actually put into their practice. But once they start to, they begin to experience the benefit. I would say those are the results of meditation flow. If you’ve missed meditation, the way things are flowing, your life changes. It has a different quality of flow or vibration. I think once you start to notice how it goes off kilter, you start to feel off balance or out of center. That’s a strong point of motivation. But I think it’s when you experience that less, you feel more motivated to stay consistent with your practice.
Remember, 5000 years ago, women weren’t allowed to practice yoga, because their job was to be the caretaker of the household, and to take care of children. You’re not really in a position to be spending your time just in solitude. And even in yoga in ancient times, it wasn’t until you retired from family life that you were allowed to practice eight limbs yoga. You had to have completed your household family duties first. What Sura Flow is about is making meditation modern for our lifestyles today, because we live really differently today than we did 5000 years ago.
If you’re a mom, your lifestyle is even more different. You don’t have that luxury of 30 minutes in the morning. Sometimes you’ve got little kids that you’ve got to attend to. And so what you need to do is be really tuned into energy. And learn those energetic tools of grounding and centering.
I also teach another spinoff from Sura Flow that’s called telepathic parenting or energetic parenting. It’s based on the fact that your children reflect your energy and vice versa. Your children are tapped into your nervous system. So if your nervous system for any reason is unregulated, it can send them into dysregulation as well. It’s like harmonizing the energy. When you’re in a grounded and centered place, you start to notice the flow differently, with your kids and the way things are communicated. The way that they listen, the way they respond, the way that they learn. And we are most receptive to learning when our brain is relaxed.
That’s why we start with relaxation, because you’re working with receptivity and listening. I feel that meditation is so much more than just watching your mind. Much like the mindfulness movement, where it’s just watching your thoughts. It’s actually listening to something deeper than your thoughts, which is your inner guidance. When you get tapped into your inner guidance, you could say your intuition, your higher self, your God’s self, that’s when you really begin to tap into a powerful resource. That’s your manifesting potential, when you’re able to intuit just based on that. That’s where women (yes, women and men, which is so interesting, because men authored most of spirituality and religion), we’re so different biologically and neurologically.
Biologically, men have 30 times as much testosterone. And women, we create life, our bodies have the ability to do that. Just based on the fact that men have way more testosterone, more physical strength, you could even say aggressive or strong energy, they’re more apt to burn off this physical energy before they can feel surrendered and relaxed. Women were forced to slow down, because of our hormonal cycles. Our bodies move with nature. We have to slow down when we’re on our menstrual cycle, we have to slow down when we get pregnant. The ways we move our bodies are so different.
What I started noticing when I was teaching women and men, is that women gravitated towards certain kinds of meditative practices. And men gravitated towards other kinds of practices. Men liked focus, meditation concentration, something akin to where they could outperform in sports. Women love visualization and healing. So in the Sura Flow approach, it’s visualization healing manifestation, which is set through intention. They’re all just one skill you’re developing. You can combine energy healing with meditation as well.
When you combine energy healing, you also have these amazing hands that generate energy here at the center of your palms. You place your hands on your heart or anywhere on your body, and you can start to generate that heat and get in touch with that divine intelligence, the life force energy, and move that energy in your body. When you start moving that energy, and releasing blocks, or past traumas or wounds, that’s where your practice can really start to build. You can also start to build the spiritual power, which you could call health, or vibration, as well as just our ability to heal ourselves and come into balance.
Kristina: You were talking a little earlier about how children mirror their mother’s energy to some degree. And I remember I used to joke when people said, “Oh, you have such good children”. I heard this idea that we get the children with which we can deal or cope. So I was always joking that maybe I’m just so lousy that I need to have good children. But now after what you said, I believe this is my achievement. I’m happy that my children are so good.
But here’s the question: Do we need to teach children to meditate? How do you initiate children into that, because a lot of parents, especially for smaller kids, would like their kids to learn this early on.
Teaching kids is very different than teaching adults. Kids are already there, they’re close to the source, they are their soul until five years old or so. And the way you share meditation with children is through playfulness, through imagination, by inviting them into that space of connection and calm and stillness. Oftentimes that’s through visualization of nature or animals, in something that’s fun and engaging for them. They’re not going to just sit there rigid in a lotus pose, counting their breaths over and over again. A child doesn’t necessarily need to be in that space. Their energy can be wild and chaotic.
But they can also be invited into this space of calm and stillness. For them, it’s really playful. It’s about the imagination, and allowing them to open up that part of their brain and be creative. I don’t think that we should force children to learn how to meditate. But if you combine it, for example, with movement, something like dance, or yoga, using fun animal movements and sounds, then they get all the jitters out of their body, and you can gently invite them into that calm, relaxed space.
Another thing that I teach for families or for children is healing touch. So I think a really wonderful way for parents to share meditation with their kids is just by engaging their senses. Engaging scent and smell, through aromatherapy, or sound healing, they love to have their senses stimulated. And children generally love to be touched and held.
I think a great time to do that is at bedtime, before you go to sleep. Get a few drops of lavender oil or something similar, rub your palms together and say, “breathe into my hands three times, let’s count together”. You could say you’re breathing into a balloon. And then you’re breathing out, and you kind of use movement, because for them, it’s tactical. It’s the movement and the joy of being held and touched, even if you just caress their face a few times. Caress their eyebrows, and hold their head right behind the skull. That act is very nurturing for their nervous system, and helps to create bonding.
What you’re doing through that practice is that you’re calming and centering yourself. You’re offering that space, in a sense telepathically, to your child because you’re sharing in that space with them.
Clara: I thought about this meditation journey, as well, to just go to India to stay there for a couple months. And I think a lot of people have the same ideas and go much deeper. But also, at the same time, I realize when people come back from this spiritual journey, they return different. We will have some enlightenment and some new knowledge.
Do you feel like you are distanced from your family? Like, you come back to your home, and you’re surrounded by your family members and your friends, but they don’t follow up the same way? They are not going through the same spiritual path as you. So do you feel like you’re distant from them? How did you deal with that when you came back from India, England, Ireland?
It was hard. I think any time you go abroad and have a deep transformative experience, and then you come back to your homeland, that integration experience can be really challenging. It can be isolating, and it can be lonely, because you feel that you’ve changed, and nothing around you has really changed. You see things with new eyes.
For myself, I felt depressed when I came back, after having been to India and having this rich experience. I met so many people and went really deep. Then I came back to the United States, and it just felt so separate. The contrast was so dramatic. There’s a lot of consumerism, and it felt like we were all living very separate lives, disconnected. It takes time to integrate back into society.
For example, I left my corporate work and that traditional path and went to have this free-spirited spiritual journey. And then I came back, and I thought, what do I do for work? How do I come back to society? I don’t want to do what I used to do. What do I do? How do I support myself? How do I make a living?
There’s also learning how to walk in both worlds. The real world, the spiritual world. That’s the hero’s journey, coming back with your treasure and learning how to be part of society and serve your community. It took a long time, probably over 10 years. I was teaching the whole time here and there. But I was in retreat for a long time. Those were years that I was in solitude retreat on my own, on and off, maybe about seven, eight years that I was doing that. Then I started teaching meditation online, or through the telephone, because it allowed me to still be off the grid. I could be somewhere traveling, but still connect with people. I just trusted that I didn’t know if I would have the money to sustain myself and retreat.
I have the saying, when God guides God provides, and I thought that if I could get this far without a certain amount of income, maybe it’ll take me all the way, or maybe I’ll go back to zero. And I can do that, because I’ve been there. I’ve been to zero and I know how to go from zero. I thought that, if worse comes to worst, I’ll go back into corporate.
But I really, really wanted to study. And that’s what being in retreat allowed me to do. It was such a major gift, experiencing that. I would say take time and be compassionate with yourself when you go away, and when you come back. I did feel changed. You go through changes along your path.
Another thing I want to share was that when I went to India, and I came back, I was still confused about myself. I was a new kind of self. But I wasn’t yet my real self. There were parts of myself that I lost when I went to India, and I had to reclaim those parts. An example of this is my voice. When I went to India, and I studied in Asia, it was all about being quiet and silencing yourself and not talking too much. I was in silent retreats. If you had an opinion, it was your ego, you could never stand strong in anything. I learned how to close down my throat chakra, when I was doing a lot of these rigorous spiritual practices.
I came back and I wanted to be in expression, not in repression, but expression. And that’s what I had to work back through. That’s what I felt about some of these traditions: they don’t really serve women today, modern women or people that want to cultivate more of their feminine energy. Instead of that restriction, or transcendence and control, or repression or suppression, allowing the feminine ways, the expression, letting it happen. We live in a very patriarchal society, a society that’s go, go, go, do, do, do. We’re programmed to be in that part of our energy. But to be in this very Yin, quiet, receptive part of our being; we don’t have a lot of permission in our society today to be in that place. It’s seen as unproductive, as lazy. I needed years of that to unwind a lot of things. That was very helpful.
Maria: I’m on my spiritual journey, and I have a repertoire of different methods of meditation. And I’m always doing different kinds of meditation. Like in the morning, I do space formation. And then during the day, I have some meditations from Kristina that I do. In the evening, I do something to calm down. Is it, in your point of view, okay to have that kind of huge repertoire of meditation techniques? Or would it be better to be stable and to do more the same kind of meditation throughout the day?
It’s interesting you say that, because traditionally, we’re taught to stick to one meditation technique, in order to go deeper. For example, if you were to learn an instrument, you need to learn one instrument or one language first, then you can basically become adapted. The rest of the instruments are languages. But I think it’s a free for all. Today, I have noticed that when you ask people what they practice, a lot of times it’s just a free flow meditation. No one sticks to one technique over and over again, and they end up actually creating their own practice. That’s something I feel strongly about, helping people create a practice that resonates with them, and brings them joy, because that’s what’s going to inspire you to meditate every day.
For some people that’s changed, it’s doing different things. Some people are really creative, and they want to have a wide range of experiences. We do teach to stick to a few techniques in the beginning, so that you can learn the effect that they create. For example, if you have an affirmation, there are three basic meditation approaches.
Also you’ve got concentration, which you could call focus meditation. That’s where you’re really giving the mind something to do. It’s very active, you’re concentrating, focusing. Then there is awareness meditation, which is an open monitoring. There’s no applied technique. It’s just allowing everything to come up as emotions, thoughts, feelings.
The third basic kind of meditation is visualization, using your imagination to relax or heal, or to imagine something that you’d like to create.
Those are the three basic types of meditation, and it helps to know what those create for you. For example, a lot of people love affirmations, which goes under concentration. That creates an imprint in your consciousness and helps you to receive, for example, positive beliefs. Such as “I am love”. It helps to know what the practices are, and sometimes if you feel all over the place, then you can ground it back down again, just work with a few techniques. But if it works for you, and you’re happy, then go for it.
I think in some of the traditional practices, there’s a guru. There’s an external teacher telling you what you should be doing. With this, it’s more about allowing yourself to be internally guided, and really feeling it for yourself, what feels right for you. So if you’re happy, and it’s working for you, that’s what matters most.
To learn more about Sura Flow, pick up the book here on Amazon. We’d love to hear your thoughts about it!