Make a conscious decision to move your body every day. In the practice of mindfulness, it’s called mindful exercise. Stress occurs in different parts of our bodies, so another way to reduce the stress is to move. The benefits of exercise affect our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anita Barbero.
Anita Barbero, Health Coach, founder and owner of Renew Your Health LLC, and Wellness Coordinator at ESPN, is a seasoned health fitness practitioner, certified yoga leader /meditation/mindfulness teacher who cares about the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of individuals who participate in her inspirational “Life is a Gift” workshops and retreats. Ms. Barbero understands that emotional and spiritual wellbeing are inextricably linked to over-all healthy wellbeing. Subsequently her teachings also include the use of mindfulness strategies, which give participants opportunities to explore and embrace their strengths and difficulties, and in doing so, experience emotional and spiritual growth.
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?
Iwas fortunate to have parents that modeled good health. Both were natural athletes, very active in running and outdoor sports. They encouraged my siblings and me to be involved, and active. At age five, I started dancing, which I continued well into my teens. I then added track, and long distance running with my Dad. In my thirties when I owned my fitness business, I gravitated to yoga, and shortly after, I started with meditation. Because of the benefits I experienced, I wanted to pass what I learned to my private clients, as well as to those I taught in group exercise settings. These experiences prepared me for my life today. In 2010, I decided to step into the corporate world at ESPN, as their Wellness Coordinator. We invited Dan Harris, ABC News Anchor who had a panic attack while on air, to speak on his book “10% Happier” and introduce employees to the concept of Mindfulness. ESPN embraced the concept, curiosity was peaked, and engagement happened for all involved. Consequently, we had executive support to implement mindfulness as both a business tool, and a way to help employees manage their stress, by offering meditation, and educational sessions on stress management practices.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Yes, I was giving a health presentation to a group of ESPN employees called The Corporate Athlete. This presentation contains helpful tools, such as mindfulness techniques on how to manage stress, and increase focus while at work. One of the attendees was an Executive Producer of Monday Night Football (MNF). Immediately following the workshop, he contacted ESPN Wellness to ask if we would be part of a pilot group that would offer mindfulness and other health options to the MNF remote employees. Another wellness employee and I had the privilege of going to every MNF game that season. The Saturday before each game we would set up yoga and meditation classes in the hotels, and personal workout routines in their work trailers, all with the objective of helping them manage stress, and create healthier habits while working long, intense hours on site.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
If you are leader of an organization, strive to create a space for expression, creativity and innovation by being willing to develop relationships with your team. Be a good listener. Get to know your team members; their strengths, what they are good at, and what brings them enjoyment. I can speak from my experience. Mindfulness is a practice that cultivates awareness and ultimately compassion. When people feel heard, they feel empowered to give the very best of themselves, which leads to a healthy, compassionate, and productive work environment.
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?
Yes, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. For several years, both of my parents were each diagnosed with a dementing illness. They were deteriorating, and in the midst of this, I had knee replacement surgery. Two days after the surgery, my parents experienced a major crisis. I felt powerless. The summer before, I read Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, because it is an excellent book on Mindfulness. I made my way back to the book at that time, because I knew I needed to accept, and be at peace with what was going on with my parents. Tara Brach gives effective tools and guidance on how to accept difficult situations that challenge us in our life. For me, this crisis, and the hard recovery from knee surgery was a pretty radical acceptance of my situation.
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?
It is the state of being fully present, not allowing your mind to be distracted from what you are experiencing in the moment. The origin of Mindfulness is in the Buddhist tradition, which has been successfully integrated into multiple therapeutic practices. For example, Professor of Medicine, John Kabat-Zinn, M.D., created and successfully integrated mindfulness practices into the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. I was fortunate to be able to participate in his inspiring program entitled Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), offered by The Copper Beech Institute, whichis used in more than 30 countries throughout the world. These specific programs are designed to help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness. When you are practicing mindfulness, you intentionally train your mind to focus on the now, there are no other thoughts distracting you. It is not difficult, you can begin by simply focusing on your breath, and move on to more mindfulness techniques.
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?
When practicing mindfulness meditation there is a specific guided meditation called a body scan. In this meditation, you become more aware of what is physically going on in your body because you are connected in such a way that you recognize signs that something is wrong. As a result, you respond to the tension in a certain area by making a conscious effort to relax. The tension is then released. Other benefits include the physiological responses; research shows that the regular practice of mindful exercises lowers blood pressure, and boosts the immune system. Mentally, you train your mind to be more focused on what is happening now. It is the removal of negative thoughts and the stories we create in our minds, which when removed, results in a mental clarity. Some studies suggest that after an eight-week course of practicing mindfulness, the brain’s “fight or flight” response appears to shrink. This primal response is associated with fear and other emotions involved in the body’s response to stress. Mindfulness meditation may change the way you emotionally respond to a situation. As an example, rather than having a negative reaction, you think first before you respond. There is an acronym in mindfulness; Stop what you’re doing, take a few deep breaths, observe your experience just as it is, andproceed with something that will support you in the moment. For instance, if a situation is becoming heated, using this acronym will help you to respond differently. It is my opinion and personal experience; these are all good reasons to investigate the practice of mindfulness.
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.
- Pausing to be in the present moment. At the beginning of each day, make a conscious choice to pause, and be present, by taking intentional breaths, and then set a positive affirmation. It takes practice in order for us to be in the moment, because we are so used to the clutter of many competing thoughts. Research shows that a consistent daily practice of 3 minutes of deep slow breathing, and other mindful meditation practices can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, increase alertness, and even reduce symptoms of PTSD. I was grateful for the mindfulness practice I cultivated when my parents were in crisis, because I did not become overwhelmed, or overly anxious. I was able to respond to the situation with more love and compassion.
- Immerse yourself in nature. Make a decision to go outdoors daily where you can connect with nature. In mindfulness, you allow yourself to feel what is happening, to be present to the sensation in that very moment. Walking, feeling the warm sun on your body, or looking at a crystal-clear lake, all bring pleasure. Ecophysiology, which explores the relationship between humans and the natural world have studies that show spending time in nature can reduce stress, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. But again, it is a conscious choice to stop first, take that intentional breath, and notice what is before you in that moment. When we practice this on a regular basis we will find a bit of serenity in our lives.
- Exercise. Make a conscious decision to move your body every day. In the practice of mindfulness, it’s called mindful exercise. Stress occurs in different parts of our bodies, so another way to reduce the stress is to move. The benefits of exercise affect our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. It has a dramatic impact because when we intentionally move, endorphins are released from the brain, sending positive messages that increase overall wellbeing. I had a 100-year-old client whose life mantra was “move what you can until you die” And she did just that. She was a great inspiration to me.
- Do something you love every day. If you love to dance, dance. If you love music, listen to your favorite tunes. If you love to paint, paint. You get the idea. In my experience, I find that most people don’t even know they have a particular gift, because they have buried those talents for so long. However, if you identify your talents, and tap into them on a regular basis, some things could change in a very positive and uplifting way. In my own life, yoga and gardening have done just that for me. This is one of the messages I hope to leave with my clients. During this pandemic, it’s a perfect time to search within yourself and dig up what has been buried.
- Connect with yourself and with others. In the practice of mindfulness and meditation, it is essential to connect with yourself. First, by establishing some type of grounding practice, for me it is meditation. There are many types of meditation so one has to find what suits them. In my personal practice, I love to just sit, and be still, to feel the silence, and feel my body as I connect to my whole self in those moments. When I started meditation 21 years ago, five minutes was difficult. However, the reason I kept returning to the practice was because of the subtle, inner changes I felt each time I completed the exercise. Over time it naturally increased to 30 plus minutes, which is what I do today. Once we connect to ourselves in a very deep and personal way, we can then step into the world to connect with others in a more genuine, fully present way.
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?
- I am not a therapist, but I am a mother and wife. I can’t make everyone’s anxiety disappear, that is not realistic. However, I am pragmatic, and also grounded in mindfulness training, so I can help my family and friends get through this difficult time by using some of those practices. One suggestion during this difficult time is to have a daily check in conversation with those you love. Every morning my husband and I make it a point to have a conversation about our routine for the day, our needs, and expected accomplishments. This gives us both the support we need to get on with the day. We recognize this is a new normal. We have to create new routines that establish a sense of security and certainty in these uncertain times.
- For those who are alone, we can show love and support by offering simple gestures of kindness. Drive by the person’s house, wave, beep the horn, show our face at the window. These are small gestures, but at this time, these gestures offer the love, support, and care the lonely need in that moment. We are intentionally caring for each other in a new and profound kind of way. This is a new normal I hope will remain after this pandemic.
- Being aware of everyone’s space, and the importance of allowing, and creating that space, for yourself and for those you live with is essential to keeping harmony and balance in the home. Diana Raab, Ph.D., discusses the importance of having a special space just for ourselves. In my yoga, and meditation practices, it is called our sacred space. In this difficult time of absolute togetherness, all of the time, the concept of creating that essential space for ourselves and each other is particularly vital.
- Prayer is another means of support because it is universal. Personally, when I feel powerless, I pray. It is part of tapping into our spiritual wellbeing which is innate within each of us. Every tradition and culture uses prayer to spread peace, and love for the greater good of all.
- It is obvious, exercise decreases some of our anxiety. But this pandemic has changed everything. By simply being aware of what is within our reach, and noticing what needs our support and attention in the moment may make a big difference to one person. I have a neighbor who needs a hip replacement. Because of the pandemic it was canceled. Since we can no longer walk, we now enjoy sitting in her driveway, keeping social distance, enjoying a wonderful catch up conversation. It is the small acts of kindness especially now, that I believe will all help to reduce a bit of anxiety in another person’s life.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
- For serenity, guided meditations provide what is necessary to release some of the stress and worry. For many years, both at ESPN, and with my private clients, I have been leading sessions in guided meditation. The feedback from the participants has been positive, because most verbalize that they feel less stressed after a meditation session, and more focused when they return to their work. Some say it’s like pushing a ‘re-set’ button. There are guided meditations easily accessible on our phones and tablets, some are Apps offering free introductory 30-day trials, Calm, Happify, and Journey Meditation, to name a few. You Tube also has plenty of guided meditation offerings. A great resource and one dear to my heart is The Copper Beech Institute, located in West Hartford, Connecticut. They are a non-profit educational organization offering numerous online meditations and educational resources. Now is the time to investigate all available options. They are plentiful, and if used regularly, can help us to create more peace and serenity in our lives.
- Since mindfulness is paying attention purposely to what our needs are in the moment, a piece of this is paying attention to our social wellbeing by staying connected to others or to activities that give us enjoyment. For instance, Trivia games are being set up online, and local libraries are offering numerous free online workshops. I have an Aunt who loves Opera so she listens to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio every Saturday, or visits their streaming service. Another friend’s aging Mom loves to visit museums so she arranges virtual museum tours for her Mom. Some individuals benefit from being involved in a faith community. If there is a need for that type of connection, there are numerous local churches offering services either livestream or through social media. All you need to do is call your local church community to find out how to get connected to them. One of my favorites is Lourdes Shrine in Litchfield Connecticut.
- Your Personal, Spiritual Resources, Pray More, Worry Less. I return to prayer because it is universal. When we feel powerless, prayer is what we can do for our spiritual wellbeing. When I integrate prayer into my life through yoga and meditation sessions, my heart is open and love is present, which can be a comfort to ourselves and to others.
- Get involved. I am a person who likes to actively provide assistance, and help to those who are in need. Because of this pandemic, I called my local Town Hall to find out what volunteer services were available. They have tasks such as grocery shopping and dropping off food at designated locations. That is just one example of the way we can help out. One of my life long philosophies, is, one person can make a difference, it doesn’t have to be big, small acts of kindness add up. In mindfulness, this is called compassionate action.
- Nature. it is our natural resource, available 24/7. Getting outdoors daily is an important ingredient for everyday serenity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Peace Is Every Step,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. I love positive quotes and affirmations. The simpler the better, so I can remember, and repeat them often, until they are ingrained and I can actually live them. Thich Nhat Hanh, is a Buddhist Monk from Vietnam. Because of his numerous writings, he became my first mindful teacher. I had the humble pleasure of being in his presence for one day at The Blue Cliff Monastery in Sullivan County NY. Peace Is Every Step, the first book I read on mindfulness, teaches the practice of walking meditation. When I walk, I breathe “peace is every step” and when you do it so often, it becomes just that, peace over time. I am so grateful for this practice.
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. 🙂
I believe movements start small. They start when we reach out to neighbors first, then to our neighborhoods, and then our communities. It is a movement where we are not only kind but we are actually aware of who in our own communities need assistance. My life philosophy and message in my wellness offerings has always been that life is a gift, that it should be lived to help others. A lifelong dream finally came to fruition in 2018 when I formed a nonprofit organization called The Gift Corporation. Our mission and purpose is to help support a local community member or family in need to sustain or maintain a quality of life; for instance, if a person is in need of a comfort or service dog, that is a need The Gift Corporation would provide. I hope to see our non-profit grow, touching one person or family at a time. It is with this in mind that I envision people reaching out in their own communities with the intention of helping one person at a time, and making a positive difference in their life. In mindfulness, it’s called compassionate action; Mother Teresa calls it Faith in Action. No matter what it is called, when love, compassion, and kindness are present, good things happen and all of humanity is blessed and life will then become the gift it was meant to be. IMAGINE.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Please check out my websitewww.anitabarbero.com
You can find me on LinkedIn at:https://www.linkedin.com/in/anita-barbero-0b5448b/;
On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RenewYourHealth/
Or follow me on Instagram for mindfulness tips, tricks, and quotes: @renew_your_health
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!