10 questions with meditation guru Michael Miller
How was your 2015? Mine was pretty atrocious—stress-wise, at least. I moved apartments; my crazy-overdue book brought me to cracking-under-pressure tears on the regular; I dumped a cheating boyfriend; I was broke all of the time on account of the overdue book situation. It was a lot. By year’s end, I couldn’t shut up the negative talk in my brain.
So when my friend Julie—Senior Beauty and Fitness Editor of ELLE.com—sent along an invite to experience the new Be Here, Be Now program at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, I was so there. Meditation is something that I’ve been taught in rehab after rehab (I’m an addict) over the years; I never stuck with it, though, once I got home. Now I needed it more than ever. That’s how I wanted to start the new year.
I was so grateful to be there—or, at least, I kept remembering to be in between inevitable bouts of returning to licking my own wounds. The gratitude moments occurred thanks to Be Here, Be Now, which (gently) encourages guests to pause every day to turn their phones off and sit quietly in beautiful, designated places around the resort for a few minutes of mindfulness and peace. The brains behind this whole thing (in partnership with the resort) is Michael Miller, director of New York Meditation Center and London Meditation Centre. He is awesome. More on him in a second.
You don’t register for Be Here, Be Now; it’s just there for you if you want it. Guests are presented in a brochure with a map of where to go, and what to focus on. I tried them all—from the hidden nook off a nature path to a particularly zen spot in the beach. As I followed the program’s suggestions of sensory awareness and connecting with the environment—the ocean smell, the chirping birds in the jungle foliage overhead—I found stillness, relaxation, and, yes, gratitude for everything around me.
What did I think about? As little as possible—that’s the point! I focused on breathing in and out through my nose. Inhale. Exhale. I saw these two words spelled out in my mind—in cursive script, in neon, in block letters. Weird, but it worked for me. Inhale. Exhale. Did thoughts of my dumb-ass ex, my deadline, my obliques, and my unpaid ConEd bill break my ‘focus’? Sure. So did a colleague’s cell phone when it started ringing, three feet away from where I sat cross-legged. I acknowledged these distractions, and then I let them go. Inhale. Exhale.
I was lucky to have experienced this truly unique and lovely program, and to have spent time with the wonderful Michael Miller. I loved talking to him so much that I wanted to continue the conversation to share with ELLE.com readers. Read on!
Hi amazing Michael! Let’s get right to it. So I don’t think the typical ELLE.com reader—or editor, for that matter—is anti-meditation or anything. I think she is all, “If I’m going to set aside 20 minutes twice a day to get down on the floor and change my life, I’d prefer to be doing PopPilates videos on YouTube!” They want results! Do you know the type of woman I’m talking about?
Yes. A woman who is driven, who is exactly who should be meditating. There is science behind this. And with meditation the changes happen quickly. It’s not like you have to do this for months before you notice a shift. Everyone we teach sees change in the first few days.
Fitness ‘movements’ like SoulCycle are all “45 minutes to take your journey. Change your body. Find your SOUL.” Yoga promises the same thing: better body, plus peace of mind. Why should we sit still? We all know that meditating gives people peace of mind, but can meditating make you better-looking? Like, can you meditate to sexy?
Ooooh, I love this. Yes, of course you can. How sexy is stressed? Being worked-up and strung-out is bad for you. Stress ages you quickly, you put on weight, you don’t sleep well, your skin is bad. When you’re stress-free, the body is less acidic. That’s good because acid corrodes.
I am being very shallow with all of this talk about looks. Let’s move on to wealth and celebrities: can meditating make me rich and powerful? I mean, Howard Stern and Oprah and Jerry Seinfeld all do it.
Again, are you on-your-game when you’re stressed and distracted? Meditation makes you more aware and helps you think clearly. So you see opportunities and make good decisions. You know when to step up and be pushy and when to shut up and listen.
How does meditation help people with addictions? I’m not just talking drugs and booze—I mean to junk food, to cigarettes, to bad boyfriends.
Addiction is a spiritual search for greater happiness. But where are you searching? If you’re searching “out there” then you’re destined to fail. It doesn’t matter what it is. Food, alcohol, relationships, money, fame, real estate… None of these things have brought long-term happiness to anyone. True fulfillment lies inside and meditation gets us there every time.
And what about people who say, “I love my life, everything’s great”—who already can afford trips to fab resorts like the St. Regis Bahia Beach? What would they get out of taking the time to meditate on vacation or elsewhere?
First, I don’t buy that just because you have money to go somewhere beautiful that means you’re happy. One of the reasons I was inspired to create this program is because I want people to actually enjoy their vacation. How often do you hear people say “It took me five days just to relax” (and they spent the whole time looking at their phone). Even when life is good, it can always get better. Any other idea is a failure of imagination.
You worked with the St. Regis Bahia Beach to find beautiful, special places where people can go to meditate. But hypothetically, could one meditate on a chaise lounge, poolside at that hotel or any other? How about in a Jacuzzi? Or I got the best facial at the Remède Spa at the St. Regis; the aesthetician did amazing extractions and blasted oxygen into my pores. It was the best. Anyway, could I have been meditating while she did all that?
Sure, you can meditate anywhere. The St Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico has great locations to have really rich experiences. And you’re not limited to those spots—we want you to try it in other places. And to take it home with you. So yes, do it anywhere but don’t multitask. If you’re going to meditate then just meditate. Could you meditate while getting a bikini wax? Yes. Is it recommended? No. The whole point is to stop and be.
Everyone on the trip in Puerto Rico seemed concerned that they weren’t “doing it right”—meditating. Other people claim that they “just can’t do it.” What’s the correct way to “do it”?
Anyone can meditate. If you can think, you can meditate. The biggest myth is “I can’t meditate because my mind won’t stop.” Everyone can learn to settle down and bliss out.
You’re not a fan of people learning to meditate via, like, YouTube—correct?
I’m a fan of people learning to meditate well. Usually that means personal instruction. You wouldn’t learn to swim from a YouTube video. Go take swim lessons from a professional. An app like Insight Timer will give you a little taster of lots of teachers, but ultimately you want to learn for real.
Besides taking a trip to the fab St. Regis, how can ELLE.com readers start meditating? Like, “ONE WEEK MEDITATION CHALLENGE!”—what would that look like?
For one week, pick a time in the morning. Turn off your phone, sit down in a comfy chair and close your eyes. Don’t set a timer. Don’t try to stop thinking. Don’t try to relax. Don’t try to get into a zone. Don’t try to do anything. After about five minutes, slowly open your eyes. If you had lots of thoughts, that’s fine. You’ll be a great meditator. If it was really hard—you checked your watch nine times, you felt anxious, you were incredibly bored—then you really need to learn. Stillness reveals what’s inside. If you do this for five minutes every morning for seven days, you’ll start to feel a little different. And you’ll be aware of what’s going on underneath your activity, and be inspired to make it better.