Your guide to meditation and the float pod, with Niraj Shah

The founder of Meditation: Unlocked tells us his story

Copy of niraj at london design museum credit phillip suddick w1300

In previous features, we’ve looked at how floating fits in with other wellness practices, including yoga and buddhism, but we haven’t yet taken an in-depth look at how it can go hand-in-hand with meditation. Fortunately, we know someone who can help.

Niraj Shah is the founder of Meditation: Unlocked, London’s new meditation solution for the busy, corporate worker who thinks there’s no time for meditation in his or her schedule.

Much like Chris and Ed who founded Floatworks, Niraj had a ‘traditional’ career which he found wasn’t fulfilling him in ways he might have hoped. As such, he made moves to start his own business but then his health took a turn for the worse and life started heading in a very different direction.

“A couple of months into that process of starting my own business, out of nowhere at the age of 30 I had a full-blown stroke,” begins Niraj. “Luckily I’m here and talking to you and fully able. With a stroke anything can happen and luckily for me I have made a near-full recovery.

Yoga was the only thing I was allowed to do in my physical recovery, my doctors were quite strict on that. I eventually started my own business six years ago and yoga led to meditation, which I realised was having a profound impact on my effectiveness as an entrepreneur and person.

“Talking to my corporate business buddies, the interest in meditation was there, but they weren’t that enamoured with the options in front of them. Meditation: Unlocked really came about to put together a super-accessible solution for London’s professional and corporate people, presented in a way they want to consume.”

As Niraj explains, it’s a meditation solution for London’s corporate world, set in convenient places and at convenient times with “no crystals and no mumbo jumbo”. Niraj’s goal is to present meditation in a way that breaks the usual stigma, and fits around the lifestyle of a busy London professional.

“There is actually plenty of meditation in London,” Niral continues. “There’s a lot of it around and some of it’s really high quality, but the fact that it’s in for example a religious centre can put people off. Or it’s in yoga studios of varying degrees of quality and there’s the same issue where a lot of people don’t want to set foot in a yoga studio for a variety of reasons.”

Meditation: Unlocked is still a relatively new concept, having had its first trial run at the end of last year. With the new year upon us, places are filling up fast for the second run of sessions.

“We ran the first group from September through to November last year, and we started again in January. The second series will run through until April – Monday at Kings Cross and Tuesday in the City.

“The best analogy for what we do is that it’s the same as a boutique gym, but we’re centred around mental wellbeing rather than physical wellbeing. The idea is we place it in attractive, central locations at convenient times, and the commitment required is one session. That’s another issue with a lot of existing places; you have to sign up for a six-week course, or a four-day retreat – so we’ve taken that and simplified it into a £12, 50 minute commitment.“

Still not on board with the idea that mediation can be easy and accessible for everyone? Like a group exercise class, Meditation: Unlocked does the hard work for you.

“There’s a huge amount of misconception about meditation, and we go to great lengths to dispel those in the sessions. The other thing is that what we do is fully guided, which means your mind is constantly being instructed on where to focus or what to do. To go back to the gym analogy, it’s the same thing as having a group fitness session, rather than just freestyling it yourself for an hour.

“It’s also important the sessions are at a time that doesn’t take over the evening – it’s almost like a reset between the working day and whatever’s coming next, and the evening’s still there for the taking.”

“We have some regulars and that’s amazing to see. Quite often it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend that really didn’t want to try it in the first place but they got dragged along. They become our biggest fans! Fundamentally it comes down to this – after a session, most people feel good. And they quite often feel the benefits the next day as well. When that happens, people come back of their own accord.”

Well that certainly sounds familiar to us! So it’s no surprise then that Niraj and Floatworks’ paths have crossed, and we of course just had to get him into an i-sopod to see the effects for himself. Niraj has floated a few times now, but let’s take it back to his very first experience…

“The day before I first floated, I’d had a really heavy weights session, so I went there with quite a bit of muscle soreness, so as a result it was a real physical benefit.

“I was open-minded, but I was a little bit concerned about the claustrophobic aspect of it, but a few things put me at ease. Firstly the team are really well bought into the culture of the whole thing, and that really shows. I was put at ease from the first moment I got in there. In the end it was a really positive experience, I love that it’s a complete disconnection of all the senses, and on top of that, it has the physical benefits as well.”

In Niraj’s view, then, how does floating measure up to a regular meditation practice? Is one more beneficial than the other?

“I see a lot of similarities between meditation and floating,” Niraj concludes. “The main one being that they’re both ways to disconnect from an always-on, hyper-connected world, and then with floating there’s a great physical benefit as well. They’re both really good for the mind in different ways.”