The migraines had become so incessant and head-splitting, that Jillian Lavender’s client—a London-based lawyer—couldn’t sleep or keep up with his high-pressure job. Medication wasn’t working, so his doctor suggested he find some way to reduce his stress levels that didn’t come in pill form. That’s how one evening after work he ended up at Lavender’s office, still in his three-piece suit, with a throbbing head. “He was working on huge deals, with all of that mental tension,” she says. “He said to me, ‘I’m desperate, and I cannot function. I’ll do anything.’” Lavender’s prescription was simple: 20 minutes of Vedic meditation every day. She schooled him on the methodology via a few in-person sessions, and within six weeks, she says, his regular migraines had gone; he could also prevent one if he felt it looming. “He would drive to his office, sit in the car park, scooch down, and meditate.”
Lavender, a UK-based New Zealander, has carved out a distinctive niche as the meditation guru to the 1 percent; the no-nonsense former CEO of a publishing firm, she oozes an affect that’s more personal trainer than patchouli and has been building that clientele carefully since starting the London Meditation Centre in 2008. “I teach a lot of billionaires, and some of them are relatively young, although they might look a little bit older because they’ve been pushing things pretty hard,” she says. “They’ve been chasing fulfillment, and been very successful in achieving a kind of mainstream success. But then they realize they’re not happy and there’s something missing. They’ve worked out, quite early in life, that happiness via acquisition isn’t actually delivering.”
So, they turn to Lavender. Her focus is Vedic meditation, one of the oldest forms of contemplative practice, similar to the method known as transcendental. Its commitment is disarmingly simple: for 20 minutes, twice a day, acolytes repeat a Sanskrit mantra—essentially, a word or phrase over and over again—to help calm their minds. Some studies have shown chemical changes in the brain as a result of such practices, whether raised serotonin levels or reduced lactic acid, which is associated with anxiety.
She dismisses the app-based meditation trend as gimmicky and says that in-person training is essential—yet Lavender herself has just written a book, Why Meditate? Because It Works. Her focus, though, is on private and group courses. One private client flew her down to the South of France so she could run training in person at their residence, and she’s just finished a weeklong course with a high-powered female executive whom she met each morning at 7; the cost is usually around $6,000.
Still, Lavender relishes the interaction in groups. These sessions meet for two hours each day for four days, and she’s deliberately created a sliding scale of means-tested pricing, between $500 and $2,500 per person. “I can have a hedge fund guy who is earning a lot, and a nurse who’s working shifts—as I did last week,” she says; diversity in class, of course, prevents any alpha male competitiveness. The mixture of genders contributes too—around 70 percent of her students are female. The biggest challenge among elite students, she’s noticed, is often unlearning the very skills that helped them achieve their status. “Success in meditation doesn’t come through effort—Vedic meditation is not a process commensurate with effort. Often, the biggest challenge is letting go of control.” londonmeditationcentre.com