Finding support and connection is crucial to our mental health. When we laugh and talk with others we release all of those feel good hormones, which reduce anxiety and depression and feelings of loneliness. As everyone continues to say, we are all in this together and you can find comfort in whoever you meet that we are all having a shared experience now.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Levy.
Jenny Levy is a New York City based Health Coach and Yoga Teacher. Prior to moving to New York a year ago, Jenny lived in Tel Aviv for nearly 6 years where she taught yoga and worked at nonprofits serving at-risk youth and promoting women’s reproductive health rights. Her vision is to empower women and children through holistic health and yoga philosophy and practice, in order to remove daily anxieties and stress and improve their self-image and motivation to grow and develop.
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 diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was 11 years old, which is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your colon and small intestines. That is when my experimentation with food began, mostly out of necessity. I explored whether I could tolerate dairy or beans, raw veggies and cold cuts. Eventually, through proper medication and some adaptations to my diet I was able to get my disease under control. This was about the same time my mom introduced me to meditation. As stress causes inflammation in the body and Crohn’s Disease leads to inflammation in colon and intestines, she knew this was an important part of my healing. That first introduction to meditation along with having a super hippy Uncle who was into transcendental meditation, instilled the notion of holistic healing early for me. That said, it wasn’t until college with the growth of YouTube and blogs and the popularity of yoga that health and yoga became a defining factor of my life. I drank green smoothies every morning, ate mostly vegetarian food, practiced yoga three times a week and continuously researched anti-inflammatory diets. When I moved to Israel in 2014 I was already practicing yoga for several years and I decided to pursue my 200 hour teacher training. I became more involved in the yoga and health community in Israel and while I had been thinking about it for a long time I only began my certification at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a Health Coach in 2019 when I moved to New York City.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Since starting my career in yoga and wellness I have had a lot of amazing opportunities. One of the opportunities that has been the most special to me was teaching yoga to at-risk children at a nonprofit in Tel Aviv. These kids absolutely loved yoga and were excited every week to show me the different poses they had been practicing in between classes. They ranged in age from 5 to 9 years old. At the end of each yoga class we would lie in meditation for a few minutes. One of the 5 year olds who was a particularly rambunctious child, loved the meditation so much he didn’t want to leave it! His teachers were so amazed by this and the impact that yoga had on all of their students.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I have worked in two different countries in several different structures. I think it is important to be laid back and social in your workplace. While we all come to work to be productive and get our work done, we also are motivated by the people who surround us on a daily basis. Often the people that you work with have shared interests and passions and I believe the ability to relate and bond with your coworkers makes us more creative and productive and improves collaboration. I also am not one for strict 9–5 schedules. While for some people this works great, for others like myself, this block of time is too confining and isn’t when we are most productive. So I would say the main ways to create a fantastic work culture is through flexibility and co-worker bonding opportunities.
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 so many books that made an impact on me and podcasts. It’s hard to say where it all started but I really love Jessica Murnane’s podcast called the “One Part Podcast”. She always has interesting guests from the wellness world including Sahara Rose who wrote a great book called “Ayurveda for Dummies” and Emily Fletcher the founder of Ziva meditation and author of “Stress Less, Accomplish More”, a book on meditation. Sahara Rose did the same health coaching program that I am doing and I think that, in addition to speaking to several other people who graduated from IIN gave me the push I needed to enroll. I also loved learning about and trying different Ayurveda recipes. Emily Fletcher’s book was actually super motivational for me in starting a consistent meditation practice. While I knew the benefits prior to reading her book, her step by step method felt especially doable.
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?
At its simplest the state of being mindful is a state of greater awareness. To be mindful is to do all of your normal daily activities like eating, cooking, washing the dishes with close attention.
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?
We go through our days primarily caught up in our thoughts. We are constantly thinking about all of the tasks we have to accomplish or whatever worry is coming up in our mind at the moment and we don’t even notice that these thoughts are racing through our heads half of the time. In fact, a lot of times when we become aware of thought we had, we have already had it several times before. The point of mindfulness is to ground us in the present moment and in our bodies and to look at our thoughts as an observer instead of delving deep inside of them. This has amazing benefits including lowered stress and anxiety levels, improved sleep, and weight loss. On an emotional level, mindfulness leads us to be able to handle big emotions better by feeling these emotions and being aware that we are moving through these feelings without judgment but simple observation. Scientists even say that a consistent mindfulness practice can even change the amount of gray matter in your brain!
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.
I have been talking a lot with my fellow yogis and wellness practitioners about this topic. We all agree, that while this is a time of great uncertainty it has also been a time of great spiritual growth as well. We are growing as communities and individuals to find ways to connect and methods to cope with the increasing stress and loneliness that comes with the unknown. As a yoga teacher and health coach there are a few methods that I already have in my daily life and I recommend everyone add into theirs now more than ever.
- Movement- Whether it be a walk outside, a Zoom or online yoga class, a dance session in your living room, or chasing around your kids, it is crucial to get up and move. Movement boosts serotonin and improves overall mood. Just because we aren’t able to go to the gym or walk during our daily commute doesn’t mean we can’t schedule these things into our day.
- Create a schedule- We humans thrive off of schedules and particularly now, in a time where we are stuck at home and work and home life inevitably blend together, it is important to schedule our day out. Think of certain hours as work hours, schedule at home exercise classes with friends or family members, schedule your meditation practice and relaxation time. Having a set schedule helps us compartmentalize and reduces feelings of overwhelm. It also allows us to feel productive and accomplish what we want in a day or week.
- Develop a meditation and mindfulness practice- I highly encourage you to read Emily Fletcher’s book, “Stress Less, Accomplish More” if you have not already. This is my favorite meditation style, but there are so many options out there. You can download a meditation app on your phone, do a live guided meditation on Zoom, or just sit in silence and focus on a mantra for 15 minutes a day. I recommend doing this first thing in the morning when you wake up to set the tone for your day. This is also helpful before your schedule gets busy and you run out of time in your day. I begin each meditation practice with a mindfulness exercise, focusing on my senses. How the couch feels beneath me, the sounds I hear, and the taste in my mouth. I continue to sit in silence for 13 minutes and then I spend 2–3 minutes thinking of what I am grateful for.
- Gratitude- In dark times it is often difficult to see the light. I encourage all of my clients to keep a daily gratitude journal and write down three things they are grateful for every night. Friends, family, a roof over their head a good meal etc. Sometimes it is hard to find three things we are grateful for, but shifting our mentality to look for them begins to create the positive benefits of a daily gratitude practice.
- Connect- Yes it is a time of social distancing, but it is still crucial to connect in whatever way we can. Online hangouts, sitting in the park, bike rides etc. I began joining more community groups like women’s circles and a group for women who are pregnant during this time. Finding support and connection is crucial to our mental health. When we laugh and talk with others we release all of those feel good hormones, which reduce anxiety and depression and feelings of loneliness. As everyone continues to say, we are all in this together and you can find comfort in whoever you meet that we are all having a shared experience now.
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’m not sure there are five steps you can take, but really one major step which is listen to your friends and loved ones who need your support. They might need a virtual shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to about how they are feeling in the moment. It is important to reassure them that yes, this isn’t a normal time and it is okay to be feeling the way that they are feeling. If someone is exhibiting serious signs of anxiety or depression I would encourage them to find a therapist or professional in the field. It can also be helpful to gather recommendations and do some research to help support your friend or loved one find a therapist.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
There are a lot of amazing resources out there, including books and blogs as well as health and wellness podcasts. I would encourage you to start out with one thing whether it be practicing yoga, a gratitude journal or a meditation practice and see where that leads you. For those who are looking to dive deeper or need that extra support they can work with a certified health coach or wellness practitioner one-on-one or in a group setting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I absolutely love this quote by Nora Roberts, “If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” This quote is relevant to everyone in their life at some point in time, whether it be in their personal life or their career. Personally, I have had this quote hanging over my desk for the last 4 years because it pushes me to do what is uncomfortable. To succeed and progress in life and in our careers we need to sometimes put ourselves in these uncomfortable situations because honestly, the worst-case scenario is that someone says no, but if we don’t ask we’ll never know.
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 would want a movement of learning, where people are taught to listen to one another, form community, and help and share with others. I know it sounds pretty hippy, but I would want this to be a place where people from all political, ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds could come and learn from each other and listen to one another’s experiences. A movement like this would reduce hate and division in the world and I believe it would make the world a healthier and happier place where people would feel more connected to themselves and others.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can visit my website at www.lev-well.com or follow me on Instagram @lev.well.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!