Ana Lilia: How To Develop Mindfulness During Stressful Or Uncertain Times
When the pandemic first started, I witnessed my community feeling afraid, anxious, overwhelmed, and panicked. The first thing that helped calm them and feel a little safer amongst all of this uncertainty was connecting with their breath. I would guide them to notice what their breath is doing: Are you holding your breath? Is your breath really shallow? Is it fast? Is it panicked? Your breath will tell you your emotional state. When you change your breathing pattern into long, deep inhales using your diaphragm, it allows your body to start to calm down and relax.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ana Lilia.
Ana Lilia is a certified breathwork teacher and healer leading thousands of people to intimately connect with their breath as a pathway for transformation. Ana channels her intuition and seamlessly blends active breathwork, intuitive guidance, and curated music to create personalized and healing journeys. She creates safe, supportive, and loving spaces for participants to connect with deep parts of themselves, access their intuition, and unleash creativity.
Ana walks clients through a two-step pranayama breathing technique that moves blocked energy and emotions through the body, leaving them feeling clear, relaxed, and empowered. Her transformative work includes one-on-one coaching, private sessions, manifestation workshops, and virtual events to support clients in using their breath as a tool to help them calm their body and mind.
Ana specializes in managing anxiety with her exclusive 7 day Breathwork for Anxiety program where she offers a combination of guided breathwork meditations, visualization exercises, and intentional journaling. She also leads a weekly “Community Gathering” to help individuals manage the unique stress, fears, and overwhelm amidst the global pandemic. An international experience, people from across the world including Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, El Salvador, New Zealand, and more join Ana every Saturday to mitigate feelings of isolation and loss.
Ana regularly facilitates breathwork experiences within corporations and on behalf of leading brands, including Hyundai, American Heart Association, WeWork, Paige Denim, Murphy O’Brien and Sapient Razorfish. She has led sessions at WeAllGrow Latina, the country’s largest conference for Latina creators and entrepreneurs, and at wellness retreats in Los Angeles and Peru. Her work has been featured on NBC Nightly News with Lestor Holt, BravoTV, Los Angeles Times, Harper’s Bazaar and more.
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?
What got me into being a breathwork coach was feeling completely overwhelmed and dissatisfied with my life. I was depressed — I felt stuck, unfulfilled, and like I wasn’t in control of my life. At the time, I was working as an actor and I was tired of constantly feeling rejected. The very first time I experienced breathwork was an intense experience. I felt so connected with my body. Yet I was also shocked by how my body was moving involuntarily, and my hands had cramped up like lobster claws. Through this experience, I became aware of why I was unhappy. But I also felt, for the first time in a long time, hopeful that I can change my life and that things will get better. I couldn’t believe that I was experiencing all of this by manipulating my breath. It was such a simple practice, yet so powerful and effective. I wanted to experience more of this, so I continued to practice breathwork for myself as a way to manage stress, anxiety, and my depression. After about six months of practicing consistently and seeing more positive changes in my life, I decided to learn how to become a breathwork coach. Four years later, I have a thriving breathwork practice where I teach people how to breathe to help them live an empowered life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the things I love about being a breathwork coach is that it has introduced me to a diverse group of people. I work with clients ranging from teenagers struggling with anxiety, to a 95-year-old woman who joins my Community Gathering classes on a weekly basis, to overworked, stressed-out moms, celebrities, and top executives. It’s amazing to see how people in different stages of their lives and from different backgrounds are, at the core, very similar. They have the same struggles and traumas. They also have the courage to go inward in order to change their lives. They are ready to heal and live a more empowered life, and they do that by doing breathwork.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Fostering compassion in your workspace is an essential aspect of a productive work environment. When I work with your employees, they tend to tell me that they feel underappreciated, overworked, and stressed out. They don’t feel supported. This creates resentment, frustration, and, ultimately, no desire to do their best work. When I work with company owners, managers and leaders, they, too, are overwhelmed and stressed out because they tend to have a lot on their plate. When I facilitate breathwork for companies and everybody breathes together, it brings the team closer. It creates compassion and empathy for one another. The hierarchy goes away, and they are able to see that they have so much in common with their manager, boss, or colleague. Compassion and empathy help people feel seen, heard, and validated. They not only strengthen teams but also contribute to work productivity. People get reenergized and excited about what they are working on. Simply asking, “How can I support you?” will go a long way.
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?
I’m currently reading Breath by James Nestor. It’s a fascinating story that illustrates how important breathing is for our wellbeing. Breathing doesn’t only help calm our bodies and nervous system. It impacts so much more of our lives, including the size of our mouths, how well we sleep at night, and our energy levels. We tend to take our breath for granted or even neglect it. This book reminds us of the importance of our breath and how you can heal it by learning how to breathe correctly (Hint: it’s by using your nose).
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?
Being mindful means being present with, connected to, and aware of your body, mind and spirit. It’s acknowledging how you feel in the moment. It’s also being considerate and compassionate. Being mindful is an act of love, and I’m so excited that more people are curious to learn more about what it means to be mindful and experience that state of being. It will help make the world a better place.
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 you’re mindful, you’re able to respond, rather than react, to situations. There’s so much power in that. It allows you to be in control of your emotions and, potentially, the situation. There are also fewer misunderstandings because you’re in the present moment. Our body is constantly trying to communicate with us. It’s telling us how we’re feeling and what it needs to be healthier. Being mindful also helps us to feel mentally clear, more confident, and to show up more authentically. And lastly, being mindful emotionally validates your feelings. You are aware that every emotion is important and has a place, and that there are safe ways to express and communicate them.
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 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 during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- When the pandemic first started, I witnessed my community feeling afraid, anxious, overwhelmed, and panicked. The first thing that helped calm them and feel a little safer amongst all of this uncertainty was connecting with their breath. I would guide them to notice what their breath is doing: Are you holding your breath? Is your breath really shallow? Is it fast? Is it panicked? Your breath will tell you your emotional state. When you change your breathing pattern into long, deep inhales using your diaphragm, it allows your body to start to calm down and relax.
- Spend time out in nature, especially without your mobile device. To help you get out of your head and into the present moment, notice the sounds and smells around you. Mother Nature is healing and relaxing, and immediately helps to calm and relax your body and mind.
- I also love gardening, and it seems like the pandemic has created a rise in “plant parents.” It’s become quite the trend. I’ve been gardening since before people started naming their plants. However, I’m glad that people have caught onto how meditative and therapeutic gardening is. Physically touching the soil is very grounding, and pulling weeds is a great way to release stress.
- Taking baths is a popular mindfulness practice in many cultures. It invites you to slow down and be still. I use Epsom salt and essential oils in my bath. I create a relaxing environment by turning off the lights, lighting a candle and playing calming music. This helps my body to release physical tension and stress.
- Lastly, I suggest you notice what you’re eating. Many of my clients have shared with me that they are comfort-eating. They are using food to soothe the anxiety. I also noticed that I was eating more junk food than I normally do and drinking more at the beginning of the pandemic. I was waking up feeling tired and groggy. A few months ago, I decided to “clean up” my diet. I’ve been eating a Paleo diet since then, and noticed an immediate improvement in my energy levels and felt both stronger and healthier.
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?
- Reaching out to your friends and loved ones, whether it’s via text or phone call, is so important. It reminds them that they’re not alone and that someone loves them. Instead of asking someone, “How are you?”, I would encourage you to phrase the question, “How are you holding up? How can I support you?” This type of “holding space” for someone can be incredibly healing and supportive. It creates a safe container for someone to feel heard, that they matter, and someone cares about them.
- This might be a little controversial, but sending a card in the mail is another great way to show someone support. Sure, it might take a month to arrive, but the unexpected message will brighten up their day.
- Another thing that you can do for someone is drop off food, especially if you’re someone who loves cooking. If you know that your neighbor, friend, or family member is overwhelmed with the pandemic and all the added responsibilities due to the changes in our society, dropping off a plate of food or their favorite dish can be a huge help. They will be so grateful to receive this gesture of love from you.
- During the pandemic, I’ve been hosting weekly support groups. They’re a time where we show up and talk about how we’re feeling. They have been a helpful tool for people to ease their anxiety and help them not feel alone. Since this is a time where it feels unsafe to meet people in-person, we’ve been meeting virtually and have actually created new friendships in the process. Hosting a monthly virtual meet-up would be an easy way to check in on and connect with your loved ones.
- Lastly, I absolutely love music, and it’s something that I use to release endorphins and feel happy about life. I really enjoy making playlists, and it’s actually a big part of my breathwork program. I use music as a tool to guide people on a journey. Make a “mix tape” of your favorite happy songs and share it with your friends and family.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
If you’re interested in learning how to be more mindful, join my virtual Community Gathering workshop. It’s a free breathwork class I host on Saturdays. If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed out, I highly encourage you to attend to learn how to change the way you feel by using your breath. There are also a lot of other free resources online, from meditation apps to Youtube, where you can find a modality that resonates with you. Mother Nature is the best way to feel calm. My favorite place to go is the beach. I love feeling the warm sand under my feet, hearing the waves crashing, and feeling the breeze. It’s so relaxing and immediately helps my body release all of its tension.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I love this quote from Angelina Saunders: “Every breath can take you closer to the real you.” This encapsulates the work that I do with people. When you connect with your breath, it invites you to learn what is causing you stress at the core: What’s really going on? What are you struggling with? What can you change to feel more supported, calmer, and satisfied? When you connect with your breath, you quiet the noise all around and inside of you, so then you can listen to your inner guidance. You start to have huge breakthroughs about yourself, and also realize that there are a lot of things you can do for yourself to change your life.
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. :-)
If there’s anything that I could do to help bring more positivity into the world, it would be to guide people to help connect them with their breath. I would facilitate the largest breathwork class ever. At the peak of the pandemic, I would have 500 people show up to my Community Gathering class to breathe. These are powerful gatherings of release and healing. By the end of the 45-minute gathering, everyone feels so much lighter, hopeful, and supported.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!