It was Matt Spangler's freshman year of college and he found himself torn. The 2003 La Cañada High School graduate had enrolled at Cal State Fullerton, but was simultaneously pursing an acting career. It meant long commutes across Southern California to get from classes to auditions and back.
He decided to leave school in order to focus on work, but the decision weighed on him. Spangler had a panic attack, and struggled to manage self-imposed pressure to make a success of his acting. So when a friend invited him to attend an event featuring Thom Knoles, the most celebrated vedic meditation teacher outside of India, he agreed.
"I was having a tough time, so I was open to it," Spangler said. "I didn't have any friends or family at the time who meditated, so it was relatively new to me but I felt open minded about it."
After seven years of practice and study, a trip to India and three months of intensive training in Flagstaff, Ariz. with Knoles, Spangler himself is now a vedic meditation teacher. Last year he founded the Vedic Meditation House, run out of his home in Glendale, where he leads about 50 students through introductory and group meditations.
The practice, which originated in ancient India, includes meditating twice a day for 20 minutes, typically before breakfast and then again sometime between lunch and dinner. The practitioner sits in a comfortable position and silently chants a mantra, a meaningless word. The idea, Spangler said, is to deeply rest the body and expand the conscious mind.
The technique has been passed down in its purity from teacher to student for thousands of years, Spangler said, meaning nothing has been distorted or modified. And it is meant for individuals with busy lives, he added.
"The analogy I like to use is we are drawing the bow string back at the beginning of the day in order to shoot into an activity the way we want to," Spangler said. "When we meditate you are receiving incredible rest, you are gaining energy, creativity, intelligence. It is like a mega refresher."
Dan Shanker has been practicing vedic meditation with Spangler, who he met in high school, since June 2009. As his college graduation approached he found himself anxious about school and his job prospects in a difficult economy.
"Within about a month of meditating the anxiety was largely gone," Shanker said.
Meditation is often misconstrued as something practiced by fringe hippies and space cadets, Shanker said.
"I totally get that reaction from a lot of people, a lot of people immediately get turned off," Shanker said. "There is nothing new-age about it, it is old-age. We are channeling the oldest knowledge there is."
Making vedic meditation a part of daily life has changed his life, Spangler said. He said he feels naturally happier and healthier, he gets sick less, he has improved balance and athletic performance. And his stress levels have been reduced significantly.
"I really turned into a different person as I kept practicing over time," Spangler said. "It really exceeded whatever I thought it was going to be in the beginning."