Nearly 2 million YouTube views on her TEDx talk. A burgeoning health career. Gorgeous both inside and out...Thinking about her is already bringing a smile to my face.
I'm introducing Mamata Venkat today--her TEDx Talk on Heartfulness Meditation and what it's done for her has accumulated nearly 2 million views on YouTube, and she is a proponent of meditation as a way to release stress and chill the heck out. At 25, Mamata has made her voice heard and it is extraordinary to hear a young woman with wisdom that sounds like it's come from someone much older...then again, she'd probably be the first one to tell you that at heart, she's a loving, sweet grandmotherly doll of a human.
I'm so honored to feature her on the blog today. If you're interested in Mamata or Heartfulness Meditation, you can follow her at @hakuna.mamata or watch her TEDx video. She'll also be at the release of the book, The Heartfulness Way, a Q&A with the co-author of the book and complete with musical performances by some epic classical Indian music players on June 3rd, 2018 from 3-6 PM at the Hindu Temple Community Center Auditorium at 143-09 Holly Avenue, Flushing, NY 11355.
What brought you to meditation? And specifically, what speaks to you about Heartfulness meditation versus other types?
Heartfulness meditation has been a part of my life since before I was born. My dad started practicing Heartfulness when he was sixteen, and my mom started practicing shortly after they got married. I didn’t start meditating until I was seventeen (and I’ll be honest, I rebelled against it for quite a while), but growing up surrounded by it, I saw how much having a consistent, daily meditation practice that focused specifically on the heart benefitted both of my parents. They were always more thoughtful, more intentional, and they carried a sense of peace that specifically comes from daily self-centering. However, I didn’t truly understand its benefits until I began to practice it myself.
Heartfulness Meditation is a heart-based meditation practice that encourages meditation upon the heart as a source of introspection and self-development. This system of meditation was founded in India in the 1800s as a method of balancing both the material and meditative wings of a practitioner's life, and has transcended the years to become the modern approach to heart-based meditation that it is now.
There are two reasons why this practice encourages meditation upon the heart: 1) On a physical level, the heart is the organ that pumps purified blood to the rest of the body; it’s what keeps you alive. 2) On a more essential level, our hearts serve as an inherent source of inspiration that often remains untapped because we underestimate its potential.
Think about any decision that you’ve made in your life, whether it be choosing to go to a specific university, taking or turning down a job, making the decision to end a relationship: when that decision was the wrong decision, you felt it in your gut, whether it be with a squirm in your stomach or an uncomfortable feeling. However, when you make a decision that is the absolute correct choice for yourself, you feel absolute stillness within. Both of those reactions are reactions of the heart.
One of the purposes of Heartfulness Meditation is to dive deep into that inherent, internal energy of the heart, connect with it, ground it, and gradually cultivate it into a positive energy that can be used for both internal and external development through a daily meditation practice.
So the reason I was drawn to and stuck with Heartfulness is simple: all of the answers that I had been searching for were within me: I just needed to be brave enough to dive inwards.
The concept of meditation can be daunting to some who are just starting out. What are some of the ways you recommend people get started?
Just like exercise, mastering a sport, getting the hang of a difficult math technique, or learning how to cook, meditation takes time and practice. The only way to really get the hang of meditation is by doing it consistently.
Whenever I am doing introductory Heartfulness sessions, I always encourage people to do three things:
Start small. Start with five minutes of meditation. Get comfortable with those five minutes, and when you feel comfortable with those five minutes, add on an additional five minutes, then another five, until you build up to the recommended thirty minutes of meditation.
Keep a diary. Note down how you feel both before and after you meditate. Be consistent with tracking how your meditations go every day. This is a really great way to follow along with the progress of your meditation practice.
Don’t give up! Here’s the truth: meditation IS hard. I have been meditating for nearly eight years, and there are still some weeks that I either don’t feel like doing my practice, or I will sit down to meditate, and a million unyielding thoughts will pop into my head, and I’ll just want to call it quits. We are trained to believe that we are only doing something if we are constantly thinking/moving/acting/being. But we don’t always have to moving in order to achieve! There is just as much power, if not more power, in silence. In the moments when you feel like giving up on meditation, keep at it. In the moments that you don’t want to meditate, meditate anyway. The more and more you practice, the more you continue to grow that personal power.
You’ve met a ton of people through Heartfulness meditation and I’m sure many stories have been shared about how meditation changed lives. What are some of the changes you have seen in your own life or in the lives of others from adopting a meditation routine?
There are so many ways that Heartfulness Meditation has changed my life. During the weeks in which I am consistently committed to my practice, I feel like I am my optimal self: I have a strong routine down, I sleep peacefully, I am more alert and sharp, and I am both efficient and accurate in the work that I do in all areas of my life. My emotions are more regulated: I lead with the more positive traits associated with the heart: kindness, empathy, thoughtfulness, humility, love. My communication with my friends and family are softer and more genuine, and I am less quick to anger.
In comparison to the days I don’t meditate or my meditation feels weaker, overall, I just FEEL better. I feel like I have a better handle on my day, on my life, on any obstacle that my day or my life might throw at me. I feel more in control because I have let go of a need to be in control. I am able to tackle everything in my life with a more heartful intention, guaranteeing that the results of my actions will be all the more positive.
On a more vulnerable note, as someone who deals with anxiety, meditation has been the best “medication” that I have been able to apply in order to gradually mitigate my anxious moods; it is my go-to tool at work or in life when I am feeling overwhelmed or I am overthinking. For much of my life, I had created this unattainable misconception in my mind that, in order to be successful and happy, I needed to be defined by external circumstances: being a straight-A student, making a lot of money, fitting in, seeming like I had it together. I was constantly disappointed in myself because I never felt like I lived up to the ridiculous standards that I had set for myself.
Over the last few years (and especially in the last year), as I’ve deepened my meditation practice, I finally started letting go of those ridiculous standards, and I have come to learn that true success and happiness comes from learning to be content with yourself.
What Heartfulness Meditation has done for me is allowed me to find that sense of peace within myself; layer by layer, I am slowly lifting the heavy, negative weight that I have laid upon my heart. Gradually, I am becoming both more normalized and at peace with the essence of myself.
What are some of the challenges you face when talking about, practicing, or teaching meditation?
A challenge that I’ve noticed with myself and with others is that they feel like they are failing at the practice if they have too many thoughts during a session. A common misconception about meditation is that it is a practice intended to rid your mind of thoughts. Our minds are machines that are trained to think, so preventing thoughts is impossible. Creating an internal sense of peace in spite of thoughts, however, IS possible. So as you’re meditating, if you feel thoughts coming up, just gently acknowledge them, then push them away. Pay no mind to them and keep moving forward. Easier said than done but, again, #practice.
Another challenge is creating the willpower to meditate. It is always easier to avoid creating positive habits in order to stay up until 3AM watching Netflix on a work night (guilty!), or to skip a day of meditation because ‘there is always tomorrow, I can get to it tomorrow’ (guilty again!).
The key to quashing the willpower problem is to ! It is completely okay to do this! Take interest in your growth, your self-development, your strengths, your weaknesses, your goals. Take interest in your meditation practice because, by the transitive property (I think it’s the transitive property? Math was never really my strong subject), you’re taking interest in yourself. Create that willpower through self-love and self-dedication. Do the work heartfully and intentionally, and watch yourself reap the benefits.
What do you hope to bring to the world through Heartfulness?
There is a lot of hate and animosity in the world right now, and a lot of it is bred from differences in opinions and perspectives, and an inability to create camaraderie amongst one another. For the most part, it can be okay that we all see the world through different lenses. But how can we coexist in spite of these differences? Here’s the thing: We’re all human. We all get mad, angry, jealous, bitter, frustrated, and feel negative. We all cry. We all love. We all dance, laugh, joke, eat, sleep, and breathe. And most of us are striving for the same thing: we want to find happiness. We often have more in common with one another than we realize. Sometimes, it just feels easier not to see it. I’m guilty of feeling/acting this way every single day. You know how during the safety tutorial on an airplane, the flight attendant always says to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else put on theirs? I think that’s what Heartfulness Meditation is all about: being able to allow yourself to breathe first so that you can have the ability to help others to breathe, as well.
I hope that, through the practice of Heartfulness Meditation, I can continue to cultivate and apply the positive traits of the heart within myself first: kindness, compassion, empathy, happiness, warmth, joy, light, and love. And as I strengthen those positive traits within myself, I hope that I can share the wealth with others by example. I strongly believe that in order to create sustainable peace around the world, we must first start by creating peace within ourselves. And for anyone who gives Heartfulness Meditation a try, I hope they feel compelled to do exactly the same.
Three weird facts about you that the public doesn't know...go!
I have read the Harry Potter series 49 times each. I wish I were joking. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Harry Potter. When I was five-years-old, my favorite aunt gifted me with a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I was immediately hooked. I always felt a bit left of center growing up, and the Harry Potter books and characters provided me with a sense of friendship, camaraderie, and relatability. As I grew up, Harry grew up along with me, and the books provided me with a sanctuary within which I could escape during the rough teenage/high school years. To this day, whenever I’m having a bad day and I need a pick-me-up, a Harry Potter book is one of my favorite go-tos. Side note: you’re looking at a proud Hufflepuff here. J Another side note, I highly recommend listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which is a phenomenal, thoughtful, and intentional podcast that views each chapter in the series through the lens of a sacred text.
I love country music. My mom and I started listening to it together when I was three months (!) old, and for some crazy reason, I was hooked. If I weren’t in public health, I’d want to work as a record head for a country music label that focused specifically on female artists. I know that country music tends to be hit or miss for most music listeners, especially since most of the songs on the radio sound fairly identical these days (#sickofbrocountry). But if you are looking for some strong female country artists to fall in love with, I highly recommend: Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, Cam, Lauren Alaina, Mickey Guyton, Ashley Monroe, Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Carly Pearce, and of course, my musical hero, Carrie Underwood.
I love, love, LOVE being Indian. I was almost always the only Indian kid in a predominantly white community growing up, so from a young age, I would do anything I could in order to assert my culture. When I was in the fourth grade, I sang, “God Bless the Child” by Shania Twain at my school’s talent show wearing a bright yellow churidaar, and in the fifth grade, I danced to, “Say Shava Shava”. When I was in high school, I ended up moving to a town where there were more Indian kids, and to celebrate Diwali, all of us went to school dressed up in Indian clothing. Now, I’m finally starting to learn how to cook Indian food, so it’s always fun to share whatever I make at home with my coworkers and friends. My Indian heritage is an integral part of who I am, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been born into a culture with so much light, color, joy, and FUN.
It's five years from now, and you've achieved your dream. What does your vision look like?
Oof. Thirty-year-old Mamata. I still look like I’m fifteen, so I wonder how old I’ll look when I’m thirty ha.
Honestly, I have a thousand and one ideas of what I’d like to see for Future Mamata. I would love to have my Master’s in Public Health with a focus on Maternal and Child Health and Human Rights. I’d love to be in a managerial position with an organization that emphasizes the empowerment of women and children’s health and human rights, with room to climb the ladder. Within that, I’d like to be able to do a mix of the field work and the behind-the-scenes, operational work that I’m doing now.
I’ll have finally buckled down and have written the book that I’ve always wanted to write, and it will have been published, with offers for additional books coming in. I’d love to still be living in New York City, in an apartment close to Central Park so that I can watch the leaves change in the fall. My job and life will allow me to travel to different countries and allow me to experience the world, but will also be flexible enough to allow me to visit my family and friends often.
My meditation practice will be in a place in which it is consistent, but also evolving and growing as I continue to dive deeper into my inner self. Maybe I’m married, maybe I’m not. Maybe I have kids or am pregnant, maybe I’m not. For the things that I have some control over, I am committed to putting in the optimal effort to create a good life for myself. For the areas I’m not in control of, I’m just along for the ride. I strongly believe that everything will work out the way it is intended to, but that it’s important to put in the best effort possible.
I’ve been learning the hard way this year that I can’t be perfect, and my hope is that thirty-year-old Mamata will have finally shaken off the ridiculous notion that she has to be that way. Overall, my hope and prayer is that Present Mamata makes decisions in the here and now that will allow Future Mamata to feel a sense of continuous happiness and confidence, in spite of the inevitably of growth and change. I would love to feel settled and content in some aspects of my life, but I am aware that life is one long journey of growth. But… it’s a journey that I’m happy to be on.
And now it's your turn to be the wise one! What is advice you would give someone who is getting their vision off the ground?
Growing up, my dad had one piece of advice that resonated so deeply with me: “Put your heart into everything you do, and it will be done with the right intention.” There are so many facets to a vision, some that are bright and sparkly, and others that feel a little more mundane. And for the items that tend to be more mundane, naturally, we have a tendency to approach them with less enthusiasm and effort.
From watching both of my parents over the years, and from hearing this piece of advice from my dad, I have come to recognize how important it is to put your heart into everything. When you do, everything is done with love; and when things are done with love, then they will inevitably be done well, because they will have been done with the right intention.
For me, sometimes even creating the motivation and willpower to do anything feels exhausting. But when I approach any scenario wholeheartedly, openheartedly, and as lovingly as possible, I know my efforts will be much stronger, and, more importantly, I know that my intention behind my actions will be much more positive. I’ve been trying to apply this advice to my lack of motivation to cook lol.
So my advice is my dad’s advice. Put your heart into everything you do, and watch your whole world change for the better.
Top three bucket list items:
1. Write at least two New York Times bestsellers.
2. GO TO HARRY POTTER WORLD!
3. Italy, Italy, Italy, Italy, Italy.
Five people you recommend people follow (side note: or that I reach out to for this series!) and why they've influenced you.
Annika Sharma – she’s a phenomenal writer, a phenomenal human, and even more phenomenal friend. Over the past year of knowing her, I’ve seen how beautiful, kind, relatable, and inspirational Annika is. She is a fierce and confident woman, and loyal, true friend. She has a way of making everyone she meets feel like she’s known them forever. FOLLOW HER. Cuz she’s rad. :) (Side note, y'all: I didn't pay her for this endorsement...it's all her. Teary Annika over here.)
Reese Witherspoon – Reese has always been phenomenal, but lately, she is just KILLING the game. She is incredibly successful in her own right, and it is clear that she leads with compassion and empathy. She is also so supportive of all of her female peers, whether they be actresses, singers, or businesswomen. It always seems like women are pegged against one another, or are trying to tear one another down. It’s refreshing to see a woman that has had the ability to create her own power on a very large scale use that power to empower others.
Maren Morris – Maren is one of my favorite new country singers. As a woman, breaking into the country music scene can be difficult. Not only has Maren done it with an enviable fierceness and great music, but she has also been incredibly supportive of all other women in country music, both the veterans and the up-and-comers. I love seeing her comments on other female artists’ Instagrams, or her mom-like posts when one of her female comrades puts on new music. Women should always be supporting other women, and in a genre where very few women are afforded a strong spotlight, it’s lovely to see Maren encourage camaraderie instead of competition.
Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: Okay. So I know this is not a person. But I said it above – this is a PHENOMENAL podcast. The content is strong, smart, engaging, intentional, thoughtful, and provides a whole new perspective on such a beloved series. And the hosts, Casper and Vanessa, are wonderful humans who bring so much light, love, and realness to the Harry Potter series. I highly recommend checking this podcast out.
Global Health Corps: Okay, also not a person, but my organization is amazing. We are a non-profit leadership development fellowship organization that puts young adults into the public health world for a thirteen-month fellowship, and watch as they help to make positive strides forward within broken public health systems utilizing the diversity of skills that they bring to the table. We work with a variety of partners both in the United States and in Africa, and our fellows are some of the most incredible individuals I have ever met. This space has been such a beautiful, challenging, empathetic, FUN space to grow and learn within, and I am so grateful to spend every day with the I get to work with. If you want to learn more about the incredible work our fellows are doing day in and day out, I highly encourage you to follow us on social media.