Meditation is a Way of Being: An Interview with Priya Iyer


We sat down with WITHIN teacher Priya Iyer to find out how she got started meditating, and what it means to her now. Here’s what she shared with us.

How did you get started with meditation?

I grew up outside of Kansas City, Kansas at a time where there weren’t many Indian immigrant families in the area. My mom would take us to a Bhagavad Gita class that a family friend generously led in her basement, as a way to stay connected to our culture. That’s where I first learned to meditate.

What led you to begin teaching meditation?

Meditating has had a huge, positive impact on the way I interact with the world and myself. I want to share this practice with other people! I also feel a sense of pride that an ancient practice that came from the Indus Valley is being spread far and wide.

The original practice has so many dimensions to it, and what we call mindfulness meditation in most settings is just one dimension. I want to help students explore understanding all of these other dimensions. 

What advice would you give someone who’s just getting started with meditation?

I think we're conditioned to believe that most everything we do is right or wrong, and we tend to worry when we're learning that we're doing things wrong. So, I'd share this advice that a teacher I deeply respect gave me: "If you're not harming yourself or anyone else, you're doing it right."

You’ve been on a number of meditation retreats. Which experience sticks with you the most?

It was my first retreat, a 10-day retreat in Hyderabad in the S.N. Goenka style of Vipassana. I went during the time I was working as a public health scientist to address women's health issues in India's slums.

I was so restless, and so unfamiliar with the patterns of my mind, that by day 3, I couldn't stay silent anymore. I felt like I wanted to jump out of my own skin.

I talked to my roommate, and learned that she had a fascinating life story. We snuck out to the kitchen at night and ate cookies and talked more!

During the several hours a day I was silent, I also learned to feel connected to myself and other people. One day, I couldn't carry a heavy bucket of water on my hips from the well to the shower area. A woman who was accustomed to carrying water in this way helped me, without my asking. We never exchanged words, but I liked the power of the interconnection I felt.

Overall, I learned two big things:

  1. To stop trying to fit my meditation practice into a tiny, little box. I was forcing myself into a mold of what I thought I was supposed to do on retreat, which led me to getting so frustrated that I broke my commitment to myself to be silent.

  2. That meditation is a part of my way of being. It isn't an activity that I do, and then walk away from.  

What do you love about teaching at WITHIN?

Sangha, or community, is one of the fundamental aspects of a meditation practice, and yet it's so often overlooked when we're on the go, and trying to optimize for efficiency. I love that we intentionally offer time for students to share their thoughts and discuss at the end of each class.

What’s your favorite way to incorporate mindfulness into your day?

I at least try to meditate for a few minutes in the morning, because I feel most clear-headed at this time. This helps me remember during more hectic moments during the day how I can come back to, and appreciate, the present moment.

What are your favorite places to practice meditation in the San Francisco Bay Area?

East Bay Meditation Center - and places where it's loud so I can remind myself of the importance of being rooted in a chaotic world!

Priya is passionate about sharing what’s she learned with people from all backgrounds. She teaches regularly at WITHIN. Join her for a class this week!