We are thrilled to be able to bring you an interview with Ryan Nell, founder of Levitate. Ryan opened Levitate in Peckham last year after struggling to find a drop-in meditation studio in London. Ryan talks to us about his journey and his passion for teaching meditation.
Thanks so much for talking to us! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a meditation teacher.
In a sense I’m an unlikely meditator, and so my decision to retrain as a meditation teacher certainly turned some heads amongst my mates. After studying Chinese at uni, and living for a couple of years in Beijing and Taipei in my early twenties, I ended up having a career in advertising here in London. I spent over 12 years managing ad campaigns, marketing everything from Swiss chocolate in Britain, to better nutrition education in Bangladesh. Advertising has a very rock and roll reputation, and it can be so fun, but less reported is the sheer amount of stress that everyone is under with the constant deadlines, tricky clients, and cancelled weekends.
People find different coping mechanisms for stress, some healthy, some less so. I must have tried them all. Along the way I had various escape attempts including an MA in documentary photography, travelling the length of Latin America, and even launching JustGiving Crowdfunding during a stint in social enterprise. So I came to meditation after trying just about everything else, and happily for me, we really clicked.
That’s an amazing journey from the ad world to meditation. What made you decide to set up Levitate?
Meditation and mindfulness was life-changing for me, both as a way of learning how to live with discomfort instead of running from it, and a way to live more comfortably and compassionately in my own skin. First though, I had to overcome my resistance to the new-age spiritual overtones, the cliched imagery, and religious dogma, which can be so off putting to so many people. For me it was the science, the actual experience, and the proven benefits which were most compelling, and which kept me coming back.
During my search, I felt there should be a modern, scientific, jargon-free and accessible studio in London where anyone can drop-in and learn how to meditate with a community of like-minded people. It didn’t seem to exist over here (though Unplug in LA, where I trained as a teacher, was a huge inspiration), so Levitate was my solution to that. We launched in January 2018, with classes officially starting that August at Yogarise in Peckham. We also now offer classes at Yoke in Dalston, and private consultations around the capital, as well as going to people’s workplaces to teach mindfulness and stress-relief techniques to stressed employees. It is still early days, but it is going really great and I am loving doing something that I find so meaningful.
Having a drop in option is great for someone interested in trying it out without committing to a course. What are your top tips for a beginner looking to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into everyday life?
Start small. Start slow. My teacher Davidji always says it is a marathon not a sprint. Begin with taking a mindful breath a day… that’s all you need. Then add a minute, and build up slowly to a more consistent practice. Consistency is everything, but don’t use that as an excuse not to practice. If you fall off the horse you can always pick back up where you left off. Meditation is simple but it is not easy at all, so it is better to start with a teacher or studio you like, and feel free to “shop around” until you find one who resonates with you. My goal at Levitate is not to turn out a future generation of Olympic meditators, but instead to teach people how to live more skillfully in the real world today; so ultimately if you are paying attention to your surroundings, to your feelings, your physical sensations, and your thoughts, then you are living mindfully, the world is a happier place, and I can sleep easy at night.
Our search for self-care is exactly that, trying to find ways to live more skillfully in the real world. What does everyday self-care look like for you?
I try to get enough sleep — 8 hours a night. That’s my number one tip (and one I have to remind myself of every so often)! I like to meditate twice a day, it keeps me on the level, but I don’t beat myself up if I skip a couple when real life gets in the way. I cycle everywhere, I try to eat relatively healthily, and I swim at the glorious Victorian bath house in Camberwell several times a week. I love to make time to laugh and chat with family and friends, to give space for deep and meaningfuls, but more than anything I try to ensure that I have some time to myself each day for a book and a bath, or a glass of wine and a great TV show.
Those sound like fantastic ways to de-stress. What brought you to South East London and what do you love most about it?
When I moved to London in 2005, I moved into a shared house just off East Street and the Old Kent Road, where I lived with my brother and a revolving cast of housemates for the next 10 years! I grew to love the markets, the community, Burgess Park, the Elephant bowling alley, the creativity of Peckham and the friendliness of Camberwell. I love everything about the area and can’t imagine living anywhere else. So when I had saved enough to get a foot on the ladder, I moved to Camberwell/Peckham (the border is drawn down the middle of my road) where I’ve been calling home ever since.
A great choice of location! Finally, how can people get in touch with you to learn more?
We do community classes in Peckham every Tuesday lunchtime 12:30–1:30pm, which are donate-what-you-like so a good (and cheap!) way of finding out if we are a good fit, and we also offer a variety of discounts for first time and regular customers to help you get the habit established.
Get in touch and book a class on our website at www.levitate.london (we’re also on MindBody, ClassPass and Go Sweat)!
Follow us on Instagram: levitatelondon
Tweet us at levitatelondon
Like us on Facebook: levitatelondon
Or you can go old school and drop us a line at 020 3026 1038
Peace, Ryan x
Thanks so much Ryan. See you soon at one of the drop in sessions!