WORDS BY MADELEINE DORE AND DEONE ZANOTTO | First published in Spotlight: The Arts Wellbeing Collective Magazine, Edition 2
Many, by now, have heard about the benefits of meditation – from improving sleep and curing ailments, to being more present and enhancing relationships.
But even if repeatedly reminded of the virtues or observe these life-changing anecdotes, meditating can remain an elusive habit.
Performer and meditation coach Deone Zanotto first encountered the practice almost two decades ago when a colleague was able to navigate grief and loss.
‘The leading man’s mother passed away during an opening weekend and he stayed on to perform before flying home. He was so present, so open, so calm and I remember thinking, ‘How is he doing this?’ Later we caught up and he told me there is only one answer to that question: meditation.’
Deone was curious, but perhaps relatedly, there was a gap between observing the benefits and diving into the practice for herself.
‘When I had the time, I didn’t have the money and when I had the money, I didn’t have the time.’
Sometimes the meditation habit finds you
A few years later, Deone found herself in New York City after winning the green card lottery and was almost immediately cast in a Broadway show.
‘It was a prestigious role, but it also came with a lot of stress and anxiety – I didn’t think I could do it, and knew I needed something to help me.’
Deone was experiencing restless sleep, had psoriasis from stress, and recalls being very indecisive during this period of her life.
Serendipitously, she knew of a Vedic meditation teacher coming to New York City, giving Deone the push she needed to finally learn the technique, which includes using a mantra and meditating for twenty-minutes twice a day.
Suddenly her life looked completely different. She began sleeping through the night, and handled the pressures of her new job with ease, grace and joy. ‘It was like someone had taken off blinkers off and I could see clearly; the fog had lifted,’ she said.
Now, decades later, Deone feels like she doesn’t have the time not to meditate. ‘It is very rare for me to miss meditation because I’m much more patient and make decisions quicker. I can juggle more activities more elegantly, and the day runs smoothly when I’m meditating.’
In addition to her work as a performer, Zanotto has founded Performance Energy Meditations as a way to make the practice more accessible to fit into everyday life.
With more flexibility, the programs can be tailored to parents, students and even children.
But any approach to carving out time for yourself requires commitment, adds Deone. ‘It’s a discipline, but once you see and feel the benefits, if you skip meditation, you start to realise you are not running at your optimum.’
While the time commitment can seem daunting, Deone believes there is always a moment we can seize. ‘We find time to scroll Instagram for a lot longer than 20 minutes, so it’s about being disciplined and scheduling it into your calendar to make it work.’
The science behind the ‘magic’
Meditation can appear like a magic-bullet – a simple cure-all and way to ‘uplevel’ yourself by sitting still twice a day.
Despite the rapid changes she observes in herself and clients, it’s not as mysterious as it sounds, said Deone – it’s more of a science.
Meditation activates the relaxation response, which helps the body to rest and digest, she explained.
‘We all experience stress responses during the day and our lifetime, which cause reactions in the body – the digestive system floods with acid, the immune system might shut down, cortisol and adrenalin levels increase – and make it all the more important to rest to help your body do its job properly.’
Unlike mobile apps that might focus on mindfulness and navigating stress in the now, transcendence meditation in particular offers healing rest, explains Deone. ‘It’s like plugging yourself into a power socket for 20 minutes – you get the benefits of a nap without the sleep hangover.’
Levelling up your performance
While everyone is dealing with different forms of stress in their lives and could benefit from meditation, Deone has found it incredibly useful for her career as a performer.
‘As joyful as it is, performing on stage can be stressful. Meditation helps with nerves, memory recall and retention,’ she added.
Most importantly, it improves your approach to life. ‘I always start by saying, ‘Let’s make life better and performing better will come part and parcel.”
To specifically help performing arts workers, Deone created a series of guided meditations for various stages of the production process.
‘The guided meditations are a tool to help with things we don’t necessarily get taught – like winding down after a show, or how to step out of a role that requires a lot of emotional connection.’
While it can be difficult to fit in meditation between rehearsals or during projects, the important thing is to keep trying.
‘It will never be perfect and it’s not supposed to be. But we do it daily to reset, recharge and up-level our performance in life,’ concluded Deone.
Deone’s tips for starting a meditation practice
Don’t try to stop your thoughts – they are involuntary, so relax in knowing that thoughts are an important part of your meditation practice.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – twenty minutes twice daily is optimal, but 15 is better than 10, and 10 minutes is better than none!
Be flexible with when and where you meditate – a rehearsal room, a parked car, a waiting room or even an arts centre foyer.
Be kind to yourself – a meditation practice is exactly that, a practice.