A closer look at Simran and Mindfulness

This post addresses a question that comes up frequently and also came up at the recent Khalsa family retreat that I attended.

‘How do Simran and mindfulness differ?’

Simran, meditation, anything that involves turning inward is such a personal experience. So I am only talking from my own experience and understandings of what it means to do Simran, and what it means to practice mindfulness. I am definitely not an expert in either.

My understanding is that mindfulness is an approach that helps us to gather our attention and gives us a choice about where we direct that attention. Through bringing our attention back to the breath or the body or a mantra, again and again, we are training our mind to be able to filter out unwanted thoughts/ sensations. But the key thing about mindfulness is that it is practiced without a goal, i.e of improving, changing or fixing something. It is about fully accepting what is. Practitioners find this acceptance reduces suffering because you are no longer resisting anything.

My understanding is that doing Simran is embedded in a theory about the universe, our part in it, The Creator and our purpose. So the practice of Simran is purposeful and has an end goal, which my understanding is to purify the mind so that we can experience the sound (Naam) and image of Vaheguru (Parkash), And merge with Vaheguru while we are living and merge with Him eternally after death.
So my understanding is that doing Simran may be similar in terms of the process of bringing one’s attention to a kind of single-mindedness (which automatically reduces suffering) but is different in that the process of Simran builds a relationship between the reciter and Vaheguru, with the end goal being to merge with Him.

I appreciate that this is a very simplistic look at both mindfulness and Simran. I would love to hear your own thoughts/understandings. Please comment or send me a message if you have anything to add/share.


There is such a buzz around meditation at the moment. People are experiencing real tangible benefits to their emotional health from devoting even a small amount of time (say 10mins) to meditation each day.

One popular form of meditation is known as mindfulness. This was popularised by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a man who spent time learning meditation from Buddhist teachers. He is said to have ‘taken Buddhism out’ of the practice to allow people who are not religious to experience its benefits.

What is it?
Mindfulness meditation means paying attention on purpose to the present moment. It aims to help gather scattered attention by focusing one’s attention on the breath, the body, or a mantra. This helps us to become aware of how the mind is drawn away from the present moment and encourages us to gently bring our attention back to the here and now. Being unable to take shift our attention from difficult thoughts and feelings is said to be the cause of suffering.

The benefits
Studies show benefits for stress, anxiety, sleep, focus, and even immune system functioning. Also- the brains of those who meditate daily change over time. The parts of the brain responsible for fight/flight (amygdala) show less activity and those areas responsible for higher-order brain functions like concentration and decision making show more activity.

Where do you start?
So..if your sold, you can start meditating straight away. There are some great Apps such as HEADSPACE which has a 10-day free trial, the mindfulness app, and CALM has a 1 day free app. There are lots of YouTube videos explaining mindfulness in more depth but I’ve found that the more you can actually DO, the more you will learn about the benefits. Would love to hear about your experiences.

Look out for part 2 of this article where I will be sharing my thoughts on how mindfulness relates to the Sikh practice of Simran (This question comes up a lot in the Sikh community).

Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness

Asking for help can make us feel vulnerable, needy and insecure, but let’s take a look at what it takes to ask for help:

  • Self-awareness- you need to know there a problem in order to do something about it.
  • Trust- trust in others and belief in the power of relationships- a very healthy psychological trait
  • Bravery- willingness to be vulnerable, to sit with and talk through emotional distress.

Seeking help be it through talking to a close friend/family member, finding self -help resources online, or seeking professional help takes a great deal of strength and can be life-changing.

A quick overview of tips for coping with low mood

Here are some helpful hints for coping with low mood that my clients have consistently found helpful:
+ Gratitude journal. Write down at least 3 things you are grateful for each night
+ Do something different: write out a list of things you can do to break out of a low mood cycle. Something to take you out of your head. Jumping on the bed, singing out loud in the shower, going for a jog. The more different to the norm, the better.
+ Recognise when it’s all getting too much and take yourself out of the situation for a short while (and communicate this to the kids). I’m really struggling right now and need some time to do Simran/deep breathing/meditation + Keep on telling yourself ‘this too shall pass’ when it all feels too much. Have some mantras/affirmations on post-it’s around the house + Connect connect connect. Spend time with people who uplift you/make you laugh
+ Check the balance between stressors and releasers in your life (google the stress bucket)
+ Do not buy into negative thoughts: do not take too much notice of your thoughts. When we’re down we ruminate over how terrible we are, how it’s all hopeless etc. But thoughts are just thoughts, they are not truths!!! If you can recognise them for what they are (just passing mental events) they lose their power
+ Meditation. Find out about mindfulness. There are some great apps out there. Calm, Stop Breathe Think, Headspace, the Mindfulness App.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me for links to self-help material online, book recommendations, or to arrange a free consultation.




The Sikh philosophy on the purpose of our lives, the mind, and mental health

Sikhism and the purpose of our life

The Game of Life as described in Gurbani is the journey that the soul takes from being blessed with a human life all the way up until the ant sama (end of the game) where the soul returns back to Vaheguru, where it is decided whether the soul is to enter back into the game (into joona), i.e into birth and death, or whether it will merge back into its Creator forevermore.

When we are in our mother’s womb, our soul is connected to Vaheguru, and it is at this time that the game of life and its rules are explained. Vaheguru tells us that we are going to be sent into the world to play the game for a short time (an amount that is allocated from the beginning and does not increase or decrease even an iota) Our end mission is to find Him in the midst of Maya, whilst living a householder’s life, to find Him while we are living, so that at the end of our life we can return to Him and merge into him forever.

When we are born we enter into Maya (even our body is maya “eh sareer sabh mool hai maya”) and we are disconnected from Vaheguru. We forget the things we were told by Vaheguru, and we become attached to the world. First our mother’s milk, then slowly other things take our attention toys, siblings etc.and as we grow older, work, acquiring riches, relationships etc. (Pehla pyaar laaga than dudh, Ang 137). All the while we forget about our Father, who is giving us each breath (Aape Karta Kar Kar Vekhe Dendaa Saas Giraaha Hai, Ang 1055, and we forget what our purpose was for coming into this world.

With Vaheguru’s Grace we are fortunate to be given reminders of our purpose through meeting a Pooran Guru (SGGSji) who teaches us about the Game and helps us to find our way back, and to have the opportunity to sing His praises and do Vichaar of Him in the Saadh Sangat.

The Game of Life is very simple, yet very hard to implement (“Jan nanak eh khel khatan hai”, Ang 219), and many people believe that it cannot be in their kismat to win the game. Guruji, however, says that the very fact that we have been given a human life means that we have already received a great blessing and that this is our chance to meet him (“eho teri bareeya”).

Sikh practices

The path of Sikhi that has been given to us in the teachings of SGGSji has been described as “khaneyo thikhi valoh niki” (sharper than a sword edge and finer than a hair), and its subtle essence can sometimes elude us. In SGGSji Guruji talks again and again about how over lifetimes and lifetimes religious practices and rituals have taken humans away from the path of Truth. Guruji talks about practices that were common practice in India (and continue to be in all parts of the world), thought of as methods to attain religiosity or spirituality such as starving oneself, adopting religious postures, wearing religious robes etc. however do not lead to union with God.

Sometimes even within Sikhi, because the path of Truth is so subtle, we can lose our way and become engrossed in practices that don’t take us closer to the Truth. We can begin to become preoccupied with performing religious practices ritualistically, and forget why we were performing these in the first place. Guruji says that the highest karam is naam japna, reciting Vaheguru’s Name (sarab dharam meh srist dharam, har ko naam jap nirmal karam). This is the practice by which one progresses on the spiritual path, and ultimately union with Vaheguru is attained.

The Mind and Tregun

It is not easy to progress on the spiritual path and to obtain the peace that Gurbani talks of, without an understanding of the key players in this Game of Life. Vaheguru created Maya, which has three qualities that our minds get entrapped with and take us away from the path of Truth. Rajo gun, Tamo Gun and Sato Gun (“Rajo gun tamo gun sato gun keheeye eh teri sabh maaya” Ang 1123) are these three qualities.

Rajo Gun comprises of hopes, wishes, desires, anxieties, worries.

Tamo Gun– Anger, greed, lust, attachment, pride, slander, jealousy

Sato Gun– compassion, contentment, humility, tolerance, moral control (this is a quality of Maya too as you cannot get to Vaheguru with these alone, without the practice of Naam Simran, however the more the mind enters into this quality of Maya as opposed to the others, the closer it’s getting to the path of Truth)

The way in which these qualities exert their effect is through our thoughts. In our day to day lives, our mind is often bombarded with thoughts from each of these qualities- Hatred, Jealousy, Anxiety etc. The Punj chor (as instructed by Vaheguru as part of the game) give us these thoughts and thereby keep us entrapped in Maya. We have been given a tool in this game to help us to avoid becoming entrapped in Maya. The tool is the Gurmantar Vaheguru “Vaheguru Gurmantar Hai Jap Haumai Khoee”. We use this in order to avoid our mind getting entrapped in thoughts, and to take our attention inside our body, which is where Naam is hidden (Dehi Andar Naam Nivassi, Ang 1025) . As we are able to overcome these thoughts, we are able to cross over the world ocean (“vichaar maare tare taare ult joon naa aveyee”, by killing the thoughts, you are able to cross over and won’t come back in birth and death, Ang 687)

As more and more of our breaths are spent reciting Vaheguru’s Name with full attention and without being taken away into thoughts, the closer we get to attaining Naam. As our mind/attention is able to separate from thoughts, it can begin the internal journey toward Vaheguru, the journey of peace in this life and thereafter.

Some other players in the game include Chitar Gupat and Dharamraj. Chitar Gupat are with our minds for the whole of our lives. They record where our breaths, precious jewels, also described as our wealth in Gurbani, is being spent (Chitar Gupt Sabh Likhde Lekha, Ang 393)i.e. In rajo gun, tamo gun, sato gun or Nirgun (the shop of Salvation, i.e. when we experience no thoughts whilst reciting gurmantar ). At the end of our life, this record is presented to Vaheguru and it is on the basis of this that our next destination is decided.

Sikhism and Mental health

When we are experiencing extreme sadness or extreme anxiety, this is a sign that our mind is being heavily bombarded by the punj chor, and that they are exerting a great deal of force in the Game. They are successfully keeping the mind in Tre-gun (as per their role in the Game as instructed by Vaheguru) and are winning the Game. A mind controlled by the punj experiences a lot of pain (Dukh) and is not in peace. For example, a mind that spends a lot of time in Rajo gun will experience anxiety, which at its most difficult can develop into an anxiety disorder, characterized by any/all of the following symptoms: excessive worry, panic attacks, difficulty with sleep, muscle tension etc.

However at any time, regardless of for how long or to what extent a person has struggled with difficult thoughts and feelings, the Gurmantar can be used as a tool to take the mind beyond the three qualities of Maya and we can attain peace in our minds. This does not happen instantly. Guruji talks about the path of Sikhi being “sehaj da marag”, a path that takes time and patience. As we do simran and begin to be able to bring our scattered attention/mind to a single point to focus on the sound of Vaheguru being recited, we begin to experience peace. This may start with the experience of peace for even the briefest moments. The moment that the mind is able to listen and focus on the sound it Vaheguru belong recited is the moment that the mind is not being overcome by thoughts. As the practice of this increases, these moments of peace occur more often and we begin to feel a sense of control over the mind. We learn that we have the ability, with Guru’s Grace to turn our attention away from difficult thoughts and feelings, and we are able to create an experience of peace within.

Western approaches to mental health

The practice of Simran, i.e. using the Gurmantar as a tool to bring the mind to a single point, is described in Western terms as a form of mantra mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a meditation practice that has taken the Western world by storm. It was popularised by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a man who spent time learning meditation from Buddhist teachers, and is now advocated as a first-line treatment for a range of mental health problems including depression and anxiety.  There is a growing body of evidence to support its effectiveness and there have been studies demonstrating neurological changes in areas of the brain involved in psychological-wellbeing in those who practice mindfulness.

As Sikhs, we are fortunate that this tool is inherently a central part of our spiritual practice. In order to maximize the effect of this tool, during the day time, while we go about our daily tasks/ work commitments, we can try and repeat the Gurmantar out loud or in our minds, trying as much as possible to maintain a focus on it (alongside work). “Haath Pao Kar Kaam Kar, Cheet Niranjan Naam, Ang 1357”, and then take as much time out as we can to do Naam Simran, where we maintain a sole focus on the Gurmantar, reciting with our tongue and listening to the sound, all the while ensuring that our mind keeps its full attention on the Gurmantar. The more we do this, the better the mind will get at ignoring the mental chatter/thoughts brought to the mind by the punj, and the more we will experience those moments of peace, and feel better equipped to deal with the challenges that life inevitably brings.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to write any comments below or to contact me via my contact form with your thoughts/questions.


On this journey called life, we all experience high points and low points; periods of joy, pleasure, and peace, as well as times of sadness, fear, unrest, and discontent. Sometimes we recognize these as the normal ebbs and flows of life, however at other times the pain, fear, sadness can overwhelm us to the point that they consume us, and we cannot see a way out, on our own.

It is at this point that we look outside of ourselves, as we are hardwired to do, for something or more often somebody, that can help us to get through this difficult time.
This is no easy feat, however. We live in a society whether there is stigma around seeking help. Many of us who seek help are worried about being judged, blamed or even shamed for their difficulties. In addition to this, we may struggle to want to place our trust in another person (a therapist), particularly if relationships with others have been problematic, and have caused some of the pain we have experienced. Finally, there is a strange kind of comfort in familiarity and sameness. Keeping hold of our difficulties may feel safer than the uncertainty of change, and a life without them. This is the case particularly if we have experienced difficulties for some time.

If you can relate to this, then I urge you to reach out to somebody who is trained and experienced in supporting people in distress. Somebody who will be able to provide a supportive, non-judgmental space to listen to you, to help you make sense of your difficulties, and to help you to find ways of coping with your difficulties.

There are a variety of psychological practitioners out there (counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists etc.) and they all work in slightly different ways.  I would advise you to get to know a little about the differences between these, and then to speak with your selected professional(s) in depth to get an understanding of the way they work and to get a sense of whether they would be the right fit for you.

I am a Clinical Psychologist and you can find out more about me in the pages that follow. You can get an idea of the way in which I work from my blog posts, and I am also active on a number of social media platforms. Feel free to look at some of my content below.



If you think I may be able to help you can call me on 07878942190, send me a message via the contact page or send me an email on darshankaurm@gmail.com. 

I wish you all the best in your search.

Dr Darshan Kaur