This sounds basic, but actually most people are quite bad at it — listening! We tend to listen to another person’s problems/concerns and then filter through our own lense by relating it to something in our own life. It’s much better to just listen, make someone feel heard and then tell them that you understand, only offering advice if you really feel you need to — that isn’t related to your own life. This makes people feel listened to and often this is all they need.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And SerenityEmotion During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Niraj Naik.
Niraj Naik is the founder of SOMA Breath. A used-to-be community pharmacist turned entrepreneur, Niraj has combined his passions for breathwork, meditation, yoga, holistic health and DJ’ing to create something completely unique. With his SOMA breathwork programme, Niraj is helping people across the world to heal and transform, inside and out.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
During my twenties and after graduating from University with a degree in Pharmacy, I worked as a pharmacist for 7 years in the UK, serving the community in which I had grown up. It was busy and stressful. I became chronically anxious, stressed and felt very little job satisfaction because my patients didn’t seem to be getting any better.
This state of chronic anxiety and stress eventually caused me to develop ulcerative colitis. My illness became so severe that I was forced to quit work and was housebound for a whole year. The doctors offered me an experimental drug or major surgery. I didn’t want to go down either of these routes and healed myself naturally using natural methods, including pranayama. Within just a few months of revamping my diet and lifestyle and practicing pranayama techniques for a certain amount of time every day, my illness completely went away.
This changed my whole perception of what an illness actually is and how to cure them. I now believe, through having experienced it myself, that most physical illnesses have their root cause somewhere in the mind.
I desperately wanted to bring people around the world the same kind of deep, lasting healing for mind, body and spirit that I experienced myself. Thus I put together SOMA Breath — a complete, holistic system of diet and lifestyle advice and pranayama techniques, accompanied by uplifting and inspiring soundtracks, many of which I created myself as a result of one of my other passions — music production.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Right now myself and my entire SOMA team are quarantined on the same island — Koh Phangan in Thailand. This island has a special place in my heart as SOMA was born here and we have done countless SOMA ceremonies, retreats and workshops on the island. We are all here at the same time for much longer than planned. We are using all of the extra time together whilst everything is closed to pour all of our efforts into spreading SOMA further and wider at this important time for humanity. It feels great to have the whole SOMA family in one place. Despite everything that is going on in the world at the moment, SOMA is growing faster than ever as more and more people around the world are finding the space and time to pour into ‘holistic’, ‘mindful’ or ‘spiritual’ practices — whatever you want to call them.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Firstly I would suggest keeping teams small — no larger than they need to be to get the work done. There are less than 10 people currently working for the core SOMA team. Small teams tend to carry a ‘family’ sort of vibe whereby everyone is friends and colleagues know each other well.
This leads me onto the next point: this kind of ‘family’ atmosphere is great at keeping people motivated, efficient, productive and loyal. We all know each other personally and absolutely, 100% choose to socialise together outside of work time. We are much more than just co-workers, we are friends and chosen family, too.
Thirdly, I would suggest making hiring decisions based on core values rather than simply qualifications and what is written on somebody’s CV. Many skills can be learned, self-taught and improved upon but personality, beliefs and concepts about the world are much more solidified, and ideally you want to hire people who share basic values. This will ensure that your company grows in the right direction and stays aligned with your goals. I always hire people based on who they are as a person rather than their credentials. The one time I didn’t hire in this way, it backfired and the relationship didn’t last very long — it wasn’t very good for the company.
Finally, have regular meetings and communications. Meetings should be short, sharp and efficient. Everyone should be given the chance to have their voice and share their ideas. If appropriate, their views should be implemented or at least given some real, careful consideration. When it comes to delegating tasks, at SOMA, people are always encouraged to do what they love to do rather than forced to do tasks they do not enjoy. This means that my team always enjoys their work and stays motivated. Passion breeds hard work and results!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Yes. I read the 4 hour working week by Tim Ferris in 2012. It really opened my eyes to the possibility and feasibility of a completely new business model whereby I could create a functioning, profitable business around my passion and become location independent.This book started me on my journey towards creating SOMA Breath and changed the course of my life forever.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
It’s a complex term to reduce to a simple definition. Mindfulness does require a fair amount of knowledge about how the mind works, but if I have to summarise, I would say that to be mindful means being able to:
- Become consciously aware of your thoughts rather than losing yourself in them
- Identify where those thoughts are coming from
- Notice in which ways our thoughts trigger desirable or undesirable emotions
- Therefore be able to distinguish between rational and irrational thinking. If we are able to distinguish between these two, this is the first step towards stopping irrational thinking. It’s difficult! But with practice and time, it can be done.
The key is not to attach too much to our thoughts and to realize that we are NOT just the sum of our thoughts.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
- Being firm in your beliefs and not being regularly emotionally triggered by things taking place in the world around you — eg. in the media or things that other people say about you or to you
- Being able to get on with many different kinds of people. You might call this being socially adaptable. Meanwhile also being able to use your discernment to make better choices for yourself when it comes to business and personal relationships — which ones to foster and invest in and which ones to cut
- Making better choices for yourself that are right for you and YOUR life, business, family, etc. Having clarity around your thoughts and recognizing where certain thoughts come from helps with this.
- Being less prone to stress and anxiety! Having a cool, calm demeanour as your baseline and being able to navigate your way back to this during challenging times.
- One of the number one killers in the world is stress due to the fact that it is the root of so many diseases. It really wreaks havoc on the body and all of our internal systems. Therefore being less susceptible to things like illnesses and chronic pain, having a stronger immune system and generally being a healthier human being is the main physical benefit of being mindful
- If we go a bit more granular, having a low resting heart rate and a slow breathing rate are benefits of being mindful as these are physical indicators that our stress levels are low.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Practice an extended exhalation pranayama technique from the yogic tradition. Eg. breathing in for a count of 2 and out for a count of 4. This will calm anxious thoughts through activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with states of rest and relaxation. This technique features highly in my SOMA Breath programme and was integral to my own healing process from chronic stress.
- Learn a meditation technique. When we reduce our thoughts to a single point of focus — as is the aim with meditation — we quieten the mind. Stress and anxiety will fall away and we will feel more calm and content, despite the fact that nothing in our physical environment has changed.
- Turn off the television and be mindful of social media consumption. It is good to stay informed on current affairs, but watching the news over and over again during times like these will just heighten any feelings of fear that we are already feeling. We can all see that social media is going crazy with conspiracy theories and far out predictions of what is going to happen to the human race next. It’s good practice to not get too caught up in these and stay in the present moment.
- Physical exercise! Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin — happy chemicals — to the brain. It’s not only good for keeping us physically healthy but also mentally healthy and robust.
- Eating healthily. Look at ayurveda if you really want to learn about what kind of diet is the best for your specific body type. Avoid stimulants like tea and coffee if you are prone to anxiety as these will just heighten it.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- This sounds basic, but actually most people are quite bad at it — listening! We tend to listen to another person’s problems/concerns and then filter through our own lense by relating it to something in our own life. It’s much better to just listen, make someone feel heard and then tell them that you understand, only offering advice if you really feel you need to — that isn’t related to your own life. This makes people feel listened to and often this is all they need.
- Practicing boundaries when it comes to sharing boundaries about the current situation humanity is facing. Instead of dumping unsolicited theories or news articles on people through Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp, etc., ask them first if they would mind you sharing. Meanwhile protect your own boundaries. If someone is sharing information or content that is making you feel bad — kindly ask them not to do so and if they keep doing it anyway, just block them! The content we consume creates our internal environment so being mindful in this way is SO important.
- Leading by example. Maintain your own state of calm and serenity and be a positive influence on others. Panic and anxiety are often domino effects and you can, therefore, play your role in stopping this effect. This is especially important if you are a person of relative authority — eg. a parent, manager, etc.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Regular pranayama practice. The breath really is the key to managing stress levels and maintaining a positive and calm demeanor. I’d suggest looking at the SOMA website. We have free meditation you can try and also lots of videos on YouTube.You will find the practices uplifting, inspiring, and energizing — just what the world needs at this time!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“If you want to be successful at something, just model others who have already been successful at it.”
I am constantly modeling the working and teaching methods of many of the teachers, mentors, and trainers that I once had, such as my teacher Swami Ambikananda from Traditional Yoga UK, who taught me the pranayama techniques that were so crucial to my healing process. Now I train and create SOMA breath instructors who model my success and they become successful themselves in their own creative and unique ways.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m already doing it with SOMA! At the time of writing, we have over 500 instructors worldwide and 100 thousand subscribers to our channels. Thousands of people from all over the world have completed our 21 Day Awakening Journey, including leading health experts, influencers, and CEOs of huge global companies. Despite the challenging economic climate we are growing. More and more people around the world are doing SOMA breathwork techniques every day — transforming mentally, physically, and emotionally!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!