Ntathu Allen is a meditation teacher and former probation officer whose students are typically career women, mothers and children who are seeking more inner peace. She was originally introduced to meditation and breathing exercises through bereavement counselling, and it subsequently became a bigger part of her day-to-day life. She is a trained yoga teacher and meditation teacher, and is the author of a book about meditation for beginners. Clay Hamilton interviewed Ntathu in summer 2019.
o o o
Briefly describe yourself as a meditation teacher.
I enjoy teaching beginners and tend to work with women who are busy mums and juggling a demanding career. I tend to teach breath-based meditations as a way to encourage learners to become aware of their breath and to learn how they can easily use their breath to calm and strengthen their mind. I also teach yoga and currently incorporate meditation as part of the yoga lesson. Long term, my dream is to specialise in teaching young people, especially young people at risk of re-offending or serving a prison sentence how to meditate.
How did you first learn to meditate and why/how did you become a meditation teacher?
My first introduction to meditation as part of my bereavement counselling sessions. In the late 1990s, I went through a series of personal losses, which left me feeling numb and unable to sleep and function. At that time, I worked as a Probation Officer. I was struggling to manage my work and care for my three daughters. My manager suggested I go for counselling. The counsellor suggested I practise breathing exercises to help me get to sleep. This suggestion led to me exploring other breath-based practices and yoga.
I started to go to weekly yoga classes, and my yoga teacher always included a guided meditation as part of the lesson, plus she leads a monthly guided meditation circle, which I also attended. I gained such relief from my weekly yoga and meditation practice that I decided to learn more and train as a teacher. In 2003 I trained as a Yoga Teacher, which included meditation, and I also have an accreditation from the British School of Meditation .
What types of meditations have you studied or practised, and what method do you mainly use or teach now?
I practice a variety of meditation practices as part of my daily morning routine – breathing, loving-kindness, mantras, walking meditation, visualisation and mandalas. I use the app Insight Timer to guide my practice and tend to use their timer to record the length of my meditations, or to practice with one of their guided meditations. I also do the Oprah and Depak guided meditation challenges, and like to listen to Joe Dispenza and other YouTube guided meditations. I mainly teach breath-based meditations and hold a daily FB live guided meditation.
What do most students struggle with or get wrong?
I wrote a blog post about this! The seven mistakes are:
- Busy mind.
- You are comparing your experience with others.
- Lack of awareness and focus during the day.
- Crazy busy schedule.
- Build-up of stress and fatigue in the body.
- Lack of practice.
What important aspect of meditation do you find yourself teaching over and over again? Is there a phrase or message or quote you repeat to students again and again?
The importance of being gentle with yourself and not to beat yourself up when you miss a day. The importance of focusing on your breath as you go through your day. “One breath at a time.”
Is there anything different about teaching children and adults? Are children more receptive, or find it more difficult to be still? Have you learned anything about teaching children specifically that would be useful for other teachers or parents?
Teaching children is fun. They are more receptive and open and happy to have “Quiet Time”. In my experience, children appreciate the games and activities I use to encourage them to “breathe away their cares and listen to the sounds around them.” With children I like to design a class around a theme, e.g. Kindness, Happiness and invite them to explore what this means to them and how it makes them feel. Children are very creative and meditation practices, for example, colouring mandalas or yoga games engage their natural sense of creativity and playfulness.
Children are more in the moment and spontaneous in their thoughts, however from an early age they pick up messages from carers that can lock them into gender roles and take on behaviours to “please the adults” around them. I feel teaching meditation to children helps me keep my practice alive and mindful of the responsibilite us adults have in clearing out our limiting beliefs so we provide a safe container/environment for children to thrive and flourish.
For parents who want to encourage their children to be still and quiet or unwind for bedtime, I teach a meditation technique called Bumble Bee Breath. Another that releases frustration and the build-up of anxiety and stress is called The Lion Roar. Both are described here.
What do you think about meditation retreats (what form, how long, any advice)? What if someone can’t afford the financial or time commitment of a retreat, do you have any recommendations for them?
I think meditation retreats are brilliant and a great way for you to immerse yourself in practice, without distractions from family, work or life. The length depends on individual situations, for a busy mum with young children, a 30 minute Lunchtime Meditation Practice in a local centre, may be all that she can fit in! Retreats can last from one day to 6 weeks; it all depends on the individual circumstances, money, time, personal health and wellness requirements. If someone can’t afford to go on a retreat, that’s ok. Every meditation practised is the equivalent of “going on a retreat”. You come back to yourself at every sitting. To make the practice more meaningful, light a candle, place special images of loved ones or spiritual teachers, burn incense/aroma diffuser, open the window, anything you can do to make the space feel safe, warm and sacred, you could even wear your favourite clothes or have an outfit which you use specifically for your practice.
What misconceptions about meditation do you hear in the media or popular culture?
It’s hard, takes too long, only for hippies and weirdos, not for people like me, will attract the devil, is anti-Christian, is like taking drugs, is better than taking drugs, makes you super-spiritual, I can’t sit still, don’t know where to start. It’s complicated.
What advice do you give people who struggle to maintain a consistent practice?
I always say to be gentle with yourself and practise loving-kindness towards yourself. It is easy to beat yourself up and forget that it takes time, energy and patience to build a sustainable practice. I like to remind students that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The art of meditation is that it is a practice and every time you remember to practice and follow-through you are building the habit and identity of someone who meditates.
I also encourage students to look at their daily routine, what habits and behaviours they do automatically, and to think about using those standard everyday habits as a cue to meditate. For example, if you always put the kettle on and wait for your toast to toast, use those actions as an opportunity to become conscious of your breath and take five breaths.
Joining a meditation class or group helps you to stay accountable and practice with the group, which works for some people.
What meditation books have you read and admired, re-read, or do you recommend to others (they can be directly or indirectly related to meditation)?
My fav meditation book and go-to resource is “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is such a simple yet profound book and always helps to reset my mood.
What books/courses/resources do you have available? What makes them special, and how can they benefit a reader?
You can find it here: http://geni.us/meditationforbeginners
How can readers get in contact with you or find out more?
o o o
[This interview is an extract. You can read Ntathu’s full interview, plus 29 more interviews, in the book How Do You Meditate? Interviews with 30 Meditation Teachers. Available from Amazon.]