I have been practicing mindfulness and meditation for over eight years. It was a slow transition after I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) when I was 24 years old. At the time, I left my career in 24-hour television at CNN and returned home to New Orleans to recover. Up until that point, I had lived with the debilitating disease undiagnosed for most of my life.
Let me tell you, living mindfully is a work in progress. It will always be. It doesn’t happen overnight. Creating and cultivating healthy habits takes time, commitment, and a lot of compassion for yourself. You must have rigor, but you must not be hard on yourself.
I began teaching meditation nearly three years ago. I have worked with students, artists, professionals, entrepreneurs and parents who are all looking for a reprieve from the overwhelming day-to-day life that we operate in.
The one thing I tell my students again and again is that mindfulness is a muscle. It must be developed, worked, and flexed. It’s a skill like any other. But it’s a skill that is always available to you.
I have distilled the seven steps that I have gradually incorporated into my day that have helped me lead healthier, happier, and more productive days. They have made an outstanding impact on my health and life, and I hope you’ll find them useful. If you start, and then fall off, remember that you can always get back to it at any time. Be patient and be kind to yourself. Go forth.
1. Turn your phone on do not disturb mode at 9 p.m.
My mindfulness ritual for each day really begins the night before. On most days, I turn my phone on Do Not Disturb mode beginning around 9 p.m. I have found that if I continue to text, email, message, DM, etc. after this hour that my brain stays engaged and active for at least an hour later, making it more difficult to fall asleep. In the event that the VIP’s in my life need to reach me after this hour, I have my phone programmed to receive their calls. However I know that our schedules vary, with many of us working night shifts and early mornings, and caring for children, elderly parents and loved ones. (I often worked night shifts at CNN — I know working nights are rough!) Know that you can adjust this rule to adapt to your work schedule and lifestyle. Make it work for you.
2. Create a sleep haven for optimal sleep.
You know that feeling when you wake up after a night of bad sleep, and you feel really crappy? That’s inflammation at work in your body. Scientific studies have shown that getting less than six hours of uninterrupted sleep causes an increased production of CRP (C-reactive protein) in the body, which is an indicator of increased inflammation. We need to do everything we can to minimize the inflammation in the body, and proper sleep is key to doing so.
When I am winding down for bed, I urn the lights down low, cool the temperature and power up my essential oils. Sleep is an important part of managing health (obviously), but it’s critical to managing chronic illnesses. I am a big believer in getting eight hours of sleep. I understand that some people require less hours of sleep to function. In order for me to operate optimally, I need eight hours — sometimes nine hours.
3. Start with five minutes of meditation in the morning.
Many of my students and retreat attendees struggle with starting a meditation practice and not sticking with it. If you can relate, do not be discouraged by this. I have found one of the most helpful tools in cultivating a successful meditation practice has been attaching my meditation to my morning routine, rather than trying to fit it into my day.
What does that look like? It means every morning, I wake up, wash my face and brush my teeth, make my bed and meditate. I added my meditation to my already existing morning routine, and this worked wonders. I don’t have a fancy, dedicated meditation room either (although I hope to one day!). I meditate on the floor at the foot of my bed. Heck, I don’t even have a headboard! Not important. What’s important is that you try.
Now, almost nothing deters me from my morning meditation. Even when things get a little extra hectic in the morning, I do a one-minute meditation at the very least. That means I close my eyes and inhale and exhale deeply for one minute. Even one minute matters! I recommend starting with one minute in the morning, trying that for seven days and building up to three minutes, then five minutes, then 10 minutes. The optimal time for meditation is 20 minutes. Do not be discouraged by this. Start where you are and keep building. You will see an incredible difference in how you feel throughout the day. I highly recommend meditating before you look at your phone. At the very least, try to avoid looking at your phone as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.
4. No social media before noon.
I think social media is simultaneously one of the best and worst things that has happened to us as a society as a whole, but particularly for leading a mindful life. The ability it has to connect us is powerful. Its ability to disconnect us, detrimental.
I have found that checking social media in the morning brings a certain anxiety to my day, and contributes to less productivity. Two years ago I started a rule of looking at social media only after lunch. On good days, I follow the rule. On other days, I don’t, and I almost always regret it. I invite you to give it a try for seven days and take note of how you feel.
5. No laptops at lunch.
Take a real lunch break. Every time I think I am going to be more productive and try to eat my lunch while I look at my laptop, I either end up with a wad of sauce on my laptop or an oddly written email. It’s counterproductive. Also, it could be because I’m a terrible multi-tasker. But I do know I always feel better and am more productive when I eat my lunch away from my laptop. If you can’t afford a full hour lunch, at the very least, take 20 minutes to eat your meal. Eat, read, chat, (check social media?) but don’t work and eat.
6. Take three to four breaks with movement during the work day.
Take three to four regular 10-minute breaks throughout the day. I clearly remember the days of “breaking news” when I was an international assignment editor at CNN and I would sit for hours on end hunched over the screen, not getting up even for a bathroom break.
We all suffer from that dreaded afternoon lull. Circadian rhythm tells us that there’s a reason for that. Rather than reach for that second, third or fourth cup of coffee, I offer two alternatives here. If you have the luxury of working from your own space, or if you work for a company that embraces rest in the workplace, take a 20-minute nap. If not, get up and go for a walk.
Almost every day, whether I am working from the office, or home, or remotely, I take a brisk 10–15 minute walk between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. I always feel energized and refreshed after. It gives me a little boost to get through the rest of my day. If you go for coffee (I like iced coffee!), skip the cream sugar or have tea instead. I love a chai in the afternoon!
7. No phones during dinner.
I believe that meals are one of our most sacred times of day and offer a brief respite from an otherwise overwhelming, exhaustive, distracted day. I do not keep my phone nearby during dinner. Sometimes I put it on silent. I think it’s respectful to the people I am sharing a meal with, and I think it’s disrespectful to the person who has created my meal. (’cause I don’t cook!) When a person prepares a meal, it is an act of love. I understand that things arise, especially for business owners, medical professionals, parents (jobs that require our attention around-the-clock) and I respect their responsibilities. If you have the freedom and the flexibility, I invite you to honor meals when you can without the burden of your phones. It tastes better that way!