When you are feeling lonely, anxious, fearful, or uncertain about our current health crisis, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Yes, we are now being told to distance ourselves from others to avoid the spread of COVID-19, yet there are ways that we can still stay connected to each other despite our isolation.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Fields Brown.
Donna F. Brown is an author, musician, certified yoga teacher and yoga therapist, and former RN with over 35 years of nursing experience. She is also an avid runner, hiker, cross country skier, and mountain climber.
She has recently published a book about her life, ‘Finding Medusa — The Making of an Unlikely Rock Star.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Interestingly enough, I’ve changed careers several times before finally reconnecting with the things I am most passionate about. After working an unsatisfying career as a nurse for over 35 years, I took a workshop at a Yoga Retreat in Colorado called Shoshoni. This led me to take a yoga teacher training course there. After receiving my teacher and yoga therapy certifications, I taught classes in work environments, athletic clubs, and recreation centers. I eventually owned my own yoga studio for a few years. I have taught classes at churches and senior centers, and have worked with clients with chronic health problems, individually, in my home.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are many interesting stories, yet a recent one comes to mind. Another career I established while still living in Colorado was becoming a professional pantomime. One of the schools where I studied for 6 years was near Columbus, Ohio. It offered me the incredible opportunity of studying with the late world famous French mime, Marcel Marceau. I had the great fortune of studying with him for three summers (1993–1995), and became proficient at my art. This enabled me to start my own entertainment company. Throughout my entertainment career, I have performed as a solo entertainer for adults and children at libraries, schools, street festivals, and numerous other venues. I enjoyed the interaction and rapport with my audiences. I was amazed at the power of mime to convey ideas, thoughts, and feelings to my audiences that were immediately understood without speaking a word. After a recent library performance, a gentleman approached me and introduced himself as a psychologist and ventriloquist. He invited me to do another performance at a party he had during pre-pandemic times. Unbeknownst to us at the time, this fortuitous meeting led to an eventual collaboration on an idea he had. This was to reach out through videos to elderly residents of nursing homes, isolated from friends and family. This gave me the chance to perform with another entertainer and, best of all, the opportunity to reach out with my heart rather than hands, to touch the hearts of those who are the most isolated during these current stressful and uncertain times.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
First and foremost, a good leader walks the walk and talks the talk. In other words, if leaders expect to be respected and followed, they should set good examples for their followers. Leaders should also be available to their employees instead of hiding in their offices, and appreciative of the work their employees do for the company. If employees have a good working relationship with their employers, it will increase worker morale and productivity, and create a harmonious work environment as well as a successful company.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are many books that really impacted me! If I had to choose one, it would be a book that recently returned to me through an interesting circumstance. Enduring a traumatic and abusive childhood led to my having severe asthma. I spent a good part of my childhood having incapacitating coughing spells that left me choking and gasping for breath, resulting in numerous doctor and ER visits. I suffered through weekly allergy shots and testing, nebulizer treatments, and dependence on inhalers and medications that offered only temporary relief. These asthma “attacks” lasted long into my adult years. One day while searching a local bookstore for remedies, a book called, “How To Become A Former Asthmatic” by actor Paul Sorvino, grabbed my attention. The yogic breathing techniques he presented in the book that changed his life, also changed mine! After perhaps a few weeks of daily practicing these powerful breathing exercises, I noticed my coughing spells decreasing and eventually disappearing! I have since been symptom free and have resumed running, hiking, biking and of course, teaching yoga!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
The word AWARENESS comes to mind. Mindful is equivalent to becoming more aware of how you impact other people. Be aware of your actions, your thoughts and deeds, and just as importantly, how you live in the present moment.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
In our current technology-driven society, we seem to run on “automatic,” or in other words, without giving much thought to how our actions, thoughts, and deeds affect ourselves and the world around us. We run around like hamsters on a treadmill and wonder why we are so stressed out! Becoming more mindful offers the following benefits:
PHYSICAL — Prior to the c-virus pandemic, we were at least capable of physical contact with each other. Now with our current isolation situation, we crave that physical contact. This isolation has its positive effects in that it has forced us to take better care of ourselves by eating healthier foods, taking immune supporting supplements (i.e. B & C vitamins, Echinacea), getting more rest, and pursuing activities, either outdoors or indoors, that we didn’t have time to do when working. Mindfulness also helps reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve our digestion.
MENTAL / EMOTIONAL — Our isolation has forced us to become more aware and more accepting of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and to live more in the present moment.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
In my life, I have discovered that yoga is an invaluable resource and tool to help combat my own feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, anxiety, and fearfulness. The following steps will highlight ways I recommend to better cope with your own stress and become more mindful and serene:
- DAILY YOGA PRACTICE — I have steadily practiced yoga since 2002 when receiving my yoga teacher certification. I don’t always do a full hour long practice, yet incorporate yoga poses into my daily routine. After running, I do certain poses like runner’s lunge, and balance poses such as Dancer or Tree, and when I have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, restorative poses such as Child’s pose or Corpse pose helps relax me and improves my sleep.
- MEDITATE — During these and other stressful times, I have found that meditation helps to clear my mind of scattered thoughts, helps my mind to focus and develop more awareness and acceptance of being in the present moment. Meditation helps to remind me to DO LESS AND BE MORE! One meditation I do incorporates utilizing the breath to relieve tension. It is called Tension Release. With each inhale, I bring to mind a situation that is especially stressful, then momentarily hold my breath before exhaling all that tension and releasing it through my fingertips away from my body.
- PRACTICE CALMING BREATHING TECHNIQUES — In our fast-paced and currently panic-stricken society, we race around hardly noticing that we are breathing! We breathe shallowly and rapidly, barely aerating the upper lobes of our lungs, creating more stress and tension because our lungs aren’t getting fully oxygenated. Slowing down and deepening the breath has very calming and soothing effects on our bodies and minds. One technique I highly recommend is called Pursed Lip Breathing. This exercise has helped in my own asthma situation, and has been just as effective when I taught this to adults and children with asthma. The exercise is as follows: Inhale through your nose, then purse your lips tightly like you are blowing up a balloon and slowly, yet forcefully exhale through your mouth. As you exhale, notice the breath takes on a windy blowing sound. The slower you exhale the more effective this exercise becomes.
- REACH OUT TO OTHERS — When you are feeling lonely, anxious, fearful, or uncertain about our current health crisis, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Yes, we are now being told to distance ourselves from others to avoid the spread of COVID-19, yet there are ways that we can still stay connected to each other despite our isolation. Creating a video of yourself doing something you enjoy to educate or entertain is one way of reaching out to others. As a musician and pantomime, I recently collaborated with another entertainer, a ventriloquist, and we created funny and entertaining videos to send to elderly residents of nursing homes who are isolated from friends and family. We created these videos to help keep them entertained and occupied so they don’t focus on their isolation and memory loss. Helping others helps you to refocus away from your own feelings of isolation, and it gives you a sense of purpose and camaraderie.
- GET OUTSIDE — As an avid runner, hiker, and lover of anything outdoors, I find myself spending a lot of time outside. Take a walk outside with your dog! He will love the exercise and love you even more, if that’s humanly possible. Visit a National Park, or just a park in your neighborhood. I recently hiked with a friend in a National Park here in Arizona where I currently live, and though the parking lot was closed, we were still able to find street parking and hike on a trail. Although some National Parks are currently closed, at least get out somewhere to take a walk along a river, stream, or in the mountains. Connecting with Mother Nature is nurturing and revitalizing for your mind, body, and spirit! I feel the most alive, mindful, and serene when hiking and climbing mountains!
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain? “
In the short period of time that this virus situation became a pandemic, I found myself, especially as a teacher and medical resource person, suddenly engaged in trying to find ways to reach out to others in my community. In some instances, I came up with ideas, and more often than not, the ideas came from others that reached out to me. Here are some ways I offered support to those around me:
- Get involved — I continue to offer classes in my community. I live in a small rural community of predominately elderly people. Prior to the pandemic, I taught two classes per week, a regular mat class for those who are able to move freely, and a chair yoga class for those who have limited mobility. Although I had to cancel the chair class due to low attendance, I continue to teach the mat class to four people once a week, keeping mats at “social distance six feet apart, and maintaining sanitary guidelines. As I enjoy teaching, this class is as much for the mindfulness and serenity of my students as it is for my own.
- Keep communicating — Videos are an effective form of communication when social contact is limited. One video I did was of me teaching chair yoga poses once again for the elderly population.
- Outreach — Reaching out to others can come in many forms. I have recently read about people walking around neighborhoods to either bring food to older neighbors, or waving to neighbors outside their windows. My husband and I have also taken walks around the community to check on folks who have limited mobility. You never know who you’ll meet in the process who might be walking around to check on you!
- Stay connected — Emails are good ways to keep in contact with friends and family, and phone calls are even better. They’re the next best thing to being there. I recently sent an email to check in on my chair yoga students to see how they were doing, and they wrote back with messages of gratitude and appreciation.
- Stay informed — Knowledge is power! Watching the news keeps us abreast of current situations, yet on the other hand, can spread panic and add to our stress. By all means, watch the news, yet know when to turn it off. This also means being considerate of our neighbors by not hoarding! As a nation of consumers, we panic and buy groceries in huge amounts. This limits the supply for others. It’s similar to the old analogy of glass half full vs. half empty.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
The best resources I know of are in books on meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well-known scientist, writer, and meditation teacher, wrote several books on mindfulness (i.e. Mindfulness For Beginners, Full Catastrophe Living). Eckhart Tolle also wrote some thought-provoking books on living in the present moment (i.e. The Power Of Now, A New Earth)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote reminds me that everything that I experienced in my life has led to who I am today. This really speaks to me about inner strength and courage in the face of adversity. When I thought I wouldn’t be able to do something in my life, I always managed to overcome any obstacles in my way. This quote also encourages us to live in the present moment. Be mindful and accept yourself and things as they are in that moment.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Paying it forward! Do one good deed daily for a neighbor of yours and expect nothing in return. When you do a good deed for someone, that person is more likely to do another good deed for someone else. This process spreads throughout the universe and its effects are immediate and infinite.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
My Facebook author page, Write On Donna, is the best way for readers to follow me.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you for this opportunity to share my insights!