Tune in and zone out: Download Nao’s new mindfulness podcast
The British singer turned to meditation to help cure her chronic fatigue – now she’s swapping ‘wonky funk’ for wellbeing
Wednesday 6 July 2022 By Precious Adesina
If you’ve ever heard Nao speak, the news that BBC Sounds approached her to present a podcast on mindfulness won’t surprise you. The soft tone of the singer-songwriter and record producer, whose offstage name is Neo Jessica Joshua, mirrors her distinctive yet soothing singing voice. In fact, talking to her could well lull you to sleep – that is, if she wasn’t such a compelling person.
But the reason behind the 34-year-old being the BBC’s host of choice goes further than her dulcet tones. Last year, she revealed how meditation had transformed the quality of her existence over the past four years after she developed chronic fatigue, a disorder that leaves people feeling perpetually exhausted. ‘I thought, I 100% have to do this because I know how much of an impact it has had on my life,’ she says over the phone from Los Angeles, where she is currently recording new music.
Nao first noticed her chronic fatigue symptoms during the release of her Grammy-nominated second album, Saturn, in 2018. ‘You have eight hours of sleep, but you feel like you’ve only had two,’ she says. Ordinary activities, such as a trip to her local shop three minutes away from her home in east London, left her bed-bound for hours. ‘You can’t do the things you used to do every day.’
But last year, Nao met someone who had recovered from chronic fatigue and co-opted techniques that had worked for them. ‘They put me onto a programme with lots of different tools, but a big part of it was meditation,’ she says. Nao notes that she saw a difference after two months and felt considerably better after three, which was remarkable for her after several years of investing substantial amounts of money and time into finding a solution. ‘It was all about rewiring your nervous system to go back to a place of homeostasis or normality.’
But Nao points out that people don’t need to have the reasons she did to incorporate meditation into their lives. The Music & Meditation Podcast, released in full on the BBC Sounds website, combines music by up-and-coming classical musicians, short guided meditations and discussions on mindfulness centred around a particular theme in 30-minute episodes. Nao says a friend recently messaged her that one episode helped them deal with rejection. ‘She had been seeing a guy who she really liked, but he didn’t feel the same way,’ says Nao. ‘She was like, ”I went straight to the episode on heartbreak and can’t tell you how much that helped me”.’
According to Philip Raperport, the podcast’s producer and commissioner, 2022 was the ideal time to release a show on mindfulness, as people search for meaningful ways to find balance in their lives. ‘Mindfulness apps are getting millions of downloads,’ he explains, adding that this is a by-product of the pandemic. ‘Adults, particularly young [ones], are feeling more pressured and overwhelmed than ever before by the stresses and strains of daily life.’
Music can also play a crucial part in improving people’s wellbeing, which is why BBC Sounds ensured it was integral to the podcast. ‘We felt that classical – unlike other music with distracting lyrics or beats – could really enhance the meditation experience by offering a depth of space for listeners to sit with their thoughts and feelings, and find a greater sense of calm and inner strength,’ says Raperport.
Originally, Nao was sceptical about the focus on classical music. She was concerned that it could make the show unrelatable – a point exacerbated by the fact that mediation is often perceived as hippy-dippy or exclusive. ‘I and my immediate audience don’t listen to classical music,’ she says. But, working on the show changed her perspective. ‘I learnt how beautiful, calming, relaxing and simple classical music is,’ she adds. ‘Each musician offered something incredibly unique.’
Young musicians created the pieces for the show to complement specific meditations in the podcast. Composer Kristina Arakelyan, whose work can be found in the first episode about dealing with the pressures of social media, says, ‘The most important aspect in writing music is to express emotions and communicate with my audience.’ She also had to keep the words of the meditation in mind. ‘I imagined a landscape with a slow sunrise and created a musical response to this idea.’
For Nao, music helps her get into the right mood. ‘I find I enter a state of meditation quicker,’ she says. ‘Music is beautiful and calming – if it’s the right type – but it also immediately blocks out the whole world. You can’t hear the cars outside or someone flushing the toilet.’