As Will Williams points out during our interview, for many people meditation seems incongruous with busy city life; it’s for, ‘old fellas sat on mountain tops’, not for someone working 9-5 in central London. Williams and his team at Will Williams Meditation are out to change that perception. Using the Vedic technique (which involves gently repeating a mantra in your head for 20 minutes), they aim to make meditation accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Their latest creation is Shavasana Disco, a concept that looks to create a unique auditory experience by combining music, meditation and place.
The series, which will feature group meditations followed by album playbacks, launches next month at Olympic Studios with David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs (and bonus playback of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars because no amount of David Bowie is too much David Bowie). The event takes place on what would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday, so it is bound to be a special occasion and a fitting introduction to an idea that is set to refresh our listening experience. We spoke to Williams about the inspiration behind Shavasana Disco and his own journey from music industry professional to meditation teacher.
Your website says the idea for Shavasana Disco came to you on a dawn drive to Brighton; can you tell me a bit more about where the concept came from?
We’d woken up on a Saturday morning and completed our usual meditation practice. It was an absolute belter of a day; amazing weather with hardly anyone on the roads. Both of us are big Radiohead fans, so we decided to put on OK Computer for the drive and it just sounded immense. Our meditation had really opened up our senses and it just felt like the music was washing over us. We were hearing things on the record that we’d never even picked up on before. Right then, we figured, we need to get a gang of people together and do this on a regular basis.
Why did you choose David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs to launch the series?
It all fell into place really, everyone at Will Williams HQ is massively into Bowie and we were all deeply saddened by his passing at the beginning of the year. We were actually running a small scale Shavasana Disco in Soho and one of the gang said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could listen to this record in the actual studio it was originally cut to tape?’ Almost immediately, we got in touch with Olympic studios and decided to launch with a celebration of Bowie’s 70th Birthday to kick off the new series of events. The majority of Diamond Dogs was recorded in the room in which the first event will be taking place at Olympic.
What’s the significance of hosting the event at Olympic Studios? Do you think albums are intrinsically linked to the place they were recorded?
The greatest records of our time are inseparable from the studios they were recorded in. They would have sounded totally different if they were cut to tape in any other room. There are obviously many factors to the way a record sounds – the engineer, producer, the musicianship etc. – but the room itself is what provides the atmosphere of a record. There’s definitely an energy in great recording studios. Some people would say there’s, ‘something in the walls’ and others might simply claim that once a great album has been recorded in a certain studio, the bar’s been set and everyone that follows plays out of their skins to create something of equal merit!
I read that the aim of the event is to ‘refresh the listening experience’, in what sort of ways do you think meditation can heighten our experience of listening to an album?
We know that meditation takes the mind and body to a profound state of rest. Once you’ve relaxed your central nervous system, your senses will be heightened ready to absorb every single aspect of the record. We also want to get back to original album culture where an album is played from start to finish. The artist laboured over that album and the track-listing for months, possibly years. We see that it's only fair to listen to it as it was originally intended. If you compare a great album to a piece of art for example: listening to one song from a classic album and then flicking over to another random track is like going to an art gallery but only looking at 10% of each piece of art on the walls.
What do you hope people take away from the event?
If people are familiar with the albums, I hope they make a new connection, hear something that they haven’t picked up on before and fall in love with it all over again. For anyone not so familiar with the albums we’ve chosen, I’d expect them to have one of the best listening experiences of their lives and be inspired to go away and avoid hitting ‘shuffle’ from now on!
What are your future plans for Shavasana Disco? Are there any albums you’re particularly keen to host an event around?
Firstly we've the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band in June – this is going to be a particularly special evening at The Jazz Café in Camden. We have a live band playing a live interpretation of the album in full, from start to finish! Tickets are £10 – already available on www.shavasanadisco.com. Stay tuned for an exciting announcement for our next Shavasana Disco celebrating a rock ‘n' roll icon in the spring…
What about your own experience; how did you personally discover meditation and begin teaching?
I came to meditation because I was suffering from acute insomnia. I had tried absolutely everything to get some decent sleep and nothing touched the sides. During a chance meeting, a friend of a friend was telling me about meditation, I gave it a shot and within a few weeks I was getting the most wonderful, deep sleep that I’d been missing for years. After about a year or so, I decided that I wanted to leave my job in the music industry and travel as much as I could. I had decided I would go and meet all the great masters of the vedic technique (as well as many others!).
Will Williams Meditation specialises in Vedic meditation, can you tell me a bit about this and why you chose to focus on it?
After meeting most of the great masters and learning as many techniques as possible, I found that Vedic had the most profound affects. It’s also a very simple technique that absolutely anyone can learn and practice anywhere. I don’t want to go and live on a mountain top, I want to live in London and have a great experience of life. I realised that the Vedic practice would connect with the most amount of people living modern lives and that’s why we teach it!
A lot of your meditation sessions and events centre on group meditation rather than individual, why do you think this is so beneficial?
Group meditation is a wonderful experience. Each of us gives off an energy, whether we realise it or not! If you come at this from another angle: Imagine a day at work where you’ve had a run in with your boss, it’s made you angry. Often you carry that anger back into your team and you might direct some of that anger at someone else you work with. You may even carry that home and your loved ones at home could feel the brunt of your anger, annoyance or frustration. Imagine the opposite of that; a group of people coming together for a 20 minute meditation gets everyone into a nice clear, calm and relaxed state of mind. It’s a potent experience and the positive vibe work wonders!
You’ve hosted other events – like The Gathering – is it important to you to make meditation more accessible by merging it with music and other art forms?
Absolutely! When people first think of meditation, often they imagine old fellas dressed in robes and sat on mountain tops!! We’re passionate about showing people how accessible this technique is to everyone. It is super easy to enjoy the practice in amongst a hectic London life. When you start meditating, all of your senses start opening up so music and other art forms will be all the more fascinating and you’ll see or hear new levels that you may not have noticed previously.
You used to work in the music industry, which is particularly high-paced, do you think meditation and mindfulness – and self-care in general – is particularly important for people in that industry?
To be honest, not just anyone in the music industry but anyone working in the 21st century world! The music industry is indeed fast paced, but so are many other jobs. We’re also constantly connected with our phones, lap tops, tablets etc – all of which are extremely stimulating. Our nervous systems have to deal with considerably more stresses then we did even just 50 years ago. The world we’ve created for ourselves to live in is exciting but the technology we’re using has evolved far quicker than we humans are capable of! It’s a sad, but very real fact, that 1 in 4 people now suffer with mental health issues (particularly rife in the music industry) – we need techniques like meditation to re-tune and calm our nervous systems after all of this constant stimulation.
Finally, do you have any advice for people who are new to meditation and are maybe finding it difficult to persevere?
- From my own personal experience there are a few really simple things to stick with a meditation practice.
Get up a little earlier in the morning to do your 1st practice of the day. This might seem like a drag at first but within 2-3 days you’ll be looking forward to it. When you meditate, you reach a state of relaxation 33% deeper than the deepest point of sleep – you more than make up for the slightly earlier start with your meditation!
- Meditate anywhere! Commuting is an ace time to meditate – if you have a journey to work on a bus, tube or train, put that time to good use and meditate. For most people it is as good as dead time anyway.
- A little less time on social media! On average in the UK, each individual is spending 40 minutes a day on social media!! Why not swap that out for 2 x 20 minute meditation sessions!?
Will Williams launches meditation and music event Shavasana Disco with a David Bowie special on 8th January 2017 (what would have been his 70th birthday). The event is free with 50 pairs of tickets to be announced before Christmas, apply here: www.shavasanadisco.com
Words by Gemma Barnes