Tristan Cox is a meditation teacher, yoga instructor, and founder of the Shanti Yoga School in Gokarna, India. Originally learning to meditate from a phone app, Tristan initially used yoga and meditation to improve wellness, reduce stress and calm the mind while working in corporate America. As his practice deepened he attended meditation and yoga retreats in Myanmar and the far-east. These retreats and experiences led to a change in mindset and reassessment of lifetime goals, and in 2017 Tristan founded the Shanti yoga school. He spends half of the year teaching yoga in India and half of the year travelling, learning and expanding his own practice. Clay Hamilton interviewed Tristan Cox in mid-2019.
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Briefly describe yourself as a meditation teacher.
I’m Tristan Cox and I train people to be yoga teachers. Meditation is a huge part of physical yoga. Some believe yoga asana, the physical postures, are preparation for the body to sit in meditation for hours. My yoga teaching school is at Om Beach near Gokarna, a beautiful town just south of Goa in India. The school is open six months out of the year, from October through March. During the rainy season I close the school to travel and learn new yoga and meditation techniques. I then incorporate them into my curriculum.
How did you first learn to meditate and why/how did you become a meditation teacher?
I first learned to meditate by using an app called Breathe for iPhone. It’s similar to Headspace, which is perhaps more well-known. I would meditate using the app first thing when I woke up. For the first few months I used guided meditations that lasted about 10 minutes. Slowly I started increasing the meditation time. Eventually, I switched off the guided meditations and was alone with my thoughts. Embarrassingly, I would meditate while laying down. I have since learned it’s better for the body and energetically to be seated in a comfortable cross-legged or on-the-ankles postures, with the spine straight.
What types of meditations have you studied or practised, and what method do you mainly use or teach now?
The app I used for guided meditations taught me many of the common ones we know today: loving-kindness, empathy, equanimity, body scan, etc. After a year of meditating daily I started traveling. I knew I wanted to find a meditation center to learn more. I found a great Vipassana center in Myanmar in a forest on a lake. It was very strict and intense. Part of me did not think I could make it the whole 10 days. But somehow I did. And it was a life-changing experience. I currently teach all of the styles mentioned above, as well as from the Vasistha school of pranayama, which basically has you following the breath from the nose to the lungs and stomach then back out the nose.
What is the greatest benefit you personally get from meditation?
The greatest benefit to me, personally, from meditation is the peace and connection. I feel like I’m part of something greater when I meditate. And I’m able to put myself in others’ shoes. This creates empathy. And from this, total peace.
What is your favourite meditation technique or form of practice?
My go-to technique is Vipassana. I focus on the rising and falling of the belly as I inhale and exhale. Nowadays my meditation is often incorporated into my yoga asana practice. I’ll spend time in-between poses relaxing in savasana, aka corpse pose. It is in this pose that I switch from “yoga mode” to “Vipassana meditation mode”. I stop focusing on my physical body. I tune in totally to the movement of my belly as a breath. Everything else falls away.
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 most important aspect of meditation I repeat over and over is that you are doing it correctly. However you’re doing it, it’s right. There’s so much self-doubt in our minds. Especially when meditating, because we are trying to turn it off but it takes practice. So a thought comes into your mind. Then you realize the thought is there. And you say to yourself “hey, this isn’t meditation. I’m not meditating. I’m a failure.” But that’s not failure at all. It’s actually the first step towards success. Because success in meditation is realizing you have a thought, then accepting it, moving on, and re-focusing on what it is you’re supposed to focus on. So without the alleged “failure” you can’t succeed.
Do you have a story about a student who has benefited from meditation, or a funny meditation story?
Anybody who has ever meditated in a tropical country (India, Thailand, Nepal, etc.) can count the number of times a gecko or his poo has landed on them during a session. Sigh.
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 am a huge fan of meditation retreats. I recommend committing to a 10-day Vipassana retreat in a great location with qualified teachers and an authentic lineage. The truly great retreats will be free or donation-based. Search for one in any Buddhist country. I recommend Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, and India.
What misconceptions about meditation do you hear in the media or popular culture?
Any time the media asks a “yes” or “no” question about meditation in the headline the answer is “no”. Or at best, it’s a “maybe”. Can meditation cure cancer? Can you lose weight through meditation? No. Maybe. Who cares?
What advice do you give people who struggle to maintain a consistent practice?
For those struggling to maintain a consistent practice: you might not be ready yet. Stop pushing. When you’re ready you’ll be ready. Nothing should be so forced. Be kind to yourself and give it time. It’ll happen if it’s meant to.
I do not “formally” meditate every day. Yes, I often do sit for what one might consider a classic meditation session. Maybe this happens just once a week. But I don’t schedule these sessions, I don’t keep track, and I don’t judge myself because of this. I try and live mindfully at all times. In a way, I try to meditate from the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I close them before bed.
What books/courses/resources do you have available? What makes them special and how can they benefit a reader?
I run yoga teacher trainings. Come to India to learn authentic, affordable yoga and practice meditation. You will not only learn how to meditate so you can experience the benefits for yourself, but also learn how to share this gift with others.
How can readers get in contact with you or find out more?
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[This interview is an extract. You can see Tristan’s full interview, plus 29 more interviews, in the book How Do You Meditate? Interviews with 30 Meditation Teachers. Available from Amazon. ].