Our first video interview! Hope you enjoy!
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Minki: Hey Miriam! Welcome to Money Bites!
Miriam: Hi Minki. Thank you for having me.
Minki: Awesome. Should we start off with a short intro of yourself?
Miriam: Absolutely. My name is Miriam and I'm the founder and chief mindfulness officer at Brain Spa, which is all about creative approaches to mindfulness and meditation. We're really passionate about helping people connect with a practice that is all about unleashing your full potential. So that can be done through helping to reduce stress, improve performance. But also just be able to live a life that's in line with your values, by helping to remove some of the hurdles that come with that.
Minki: Interesting. For some people, myself included, when we think about mindfulness, it evokes a lot of different images. Could we start off with what mindfulness is?
Miriam: Absolutely. When I was first starting to introduce people to mindfulness, I actually realized that I myself don't have a good definition for the word. So I took some time to really unpack it.
I came across a definition that's just phenomenal. It's by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who's known as the grandfather of meditation in the United States. He, with a group of people, have really been at the forefront of bringing the practice to this continent. And he says that,
Mindfulness is moment to moment awareness of the present, without judgment.
I really love that. What I love about it is that it describes a state of mind.
So another way of thinking about mindfulness is that it's a state of mind in which you are fully present. You're not being pulled into the future, you're not being pulled into the past, you're aware of what is.
And then, I love the non judgment piece, because what do we do when we're observing something? This is true for everybody. We have this kind of voice in the back of our head saying, "I like it VS I don't like it." "This is great VS this is terrible," etc. So the non-judgement piece, helps us recognize that and say, "okay. That's fine. But I'm going to put it aside so I can just be in the moment," and I don't need that extra layer of "do I like it VS do I not like it?"
Minki: We think being in the present is so easy but when we actually try to do, there are all these sort of thoughts and emotions that come into your mind. So let's start out there. What does being present mean?
Miriam: Such a rich question! I feel like we're lucky because we can all experience being in the present moment and sometimes we can catch ourselves almost off-guard and be like, "oh! I was really in the moment!" And as soon as we have that thought, of course we pull ourselves somewhere else.
But you know, it's been really warm these past couple of days in New York, in Brooklyn where I am. I caught myself the other day just feeling the Sun and the warmth on my skin. I was just taking that in and I was like, "oh - this is it! This is what it feels like to be in the present moment."
The gateway to the present moment, the way that you know that you're in the present moment, is if you're observing information around you. Whether it's objects, people, or places, or even your thoughts. And you're able to notice that they're happening now versus that they happened in the past or they will happen in the future.
So what typically happens though is that as soon as something, a piece of information, comes to us, ex. even like I was describing the sun on my skin, I was noticing it exactly as it was happening, but immediately my mind went to "oh, you know I think it's hot. What is the rest of the summer going to be like? Do I have air-conditioning?" And blah blah blah blah blah. So that is so typical.
As we're coming across information, we tell ourselves stories about that information. Those stories come from either our past experiences or things that we've learned. You mentioned the emotional piece which is really important. Oftentimes even before a thought comes up, an emotion will come in first. Then we bring in a story to explain whatever that emotion was.
Minki: O.K. So is mindfulness then, just to clarify, no thought? You're just supposed to feel the sun? And have no thought at that point?
Miriam: No. And that's a huge misconception. Being mindful is not about completely turning off your brain and having zero thoughts.
So, I was mentioning about the information, you know whether it's the sun in the sky, or the people walking by you, or even the thoughts coming through your mind, like those things are happening in the moment. So you can become aware of them. That's what it means to be president. It's just becoming aware of what is happening for you.
So if a thought is happening, that's your reality. That is your present moment. Where it becomes outside of the realm of mindfulness is when that thought then loops into a story that brings your awareness and your attention somewhere completely different than where you're at.
So in the example that I was giving, I was describing the story of how I was in the moment, feeling the sun, enjoying it, and noticing thoughts around, "oh, this is this is a really nice experience." And then my brain kind of fast-tracked into the future and said, "what is it going to be like in the future?" The future is not obviously the present. That we're super clear about. Then I started kind of having these feelings of nervousness around, "is it going to be a really hot summer? Is my air conditioning going to make it through the summer?" Those kinds of questions. That was pulling me out of my present moment experience and projecting me into the future where I was feeling all of these emotions and thoughts that were not even about my actual experience. So that is outside of the bounds of mindfulness.
Where I can come back into the bounds of mindfulness is to say, "oh, I'm having these thoughts. And these thoughts are carrying me into the future. I don't need to play that game. I don't need to follow that loop. I can still make the choice to be here now."
Minki: So it's not necessarily that, "today's awesome. Sun is fabulous. I'd like to get ice cream." Then thinking, "oh, I shouldn't be thinking I should get ice cream," but more just recognizing, "oh, ice cream. Okay. Come back."
Miriam: That is such a great example. Yes.
Minki: Interesting. So, at WINii, and during our programs, we also like to incorporate a lot of mindfulness into how we relate to money. I think money is actually a really great medium for us to practice mindfulness because although a lot of people sort of associate money with guilt, stress, and anxiety, and whatnot, it's just so permeated through all of our interactions that each moment gives us a chance to practice being mindful and being present. So with that concept in mind, I'd love to seek your advice on, if we are trying to incorporate a more mindful relationship with our money...
Let's start off with the negative. Get the bad part over first.
If there's anxiety inducing or stress inducing emotions associated with money, is there a way to acknowledge but come back?
Miriam: What you just outlined there there is so important because it really is about acknowledging and coming back. What allows you to come back into that present moment is not pushing away, or running away from, or kind of even coming onboard then exaggerating even further whatever emotion, in this case negative emotion, is starting to take over, the key to coming back is to become aware of it and say, "oh, I see you. I see you - the feeling that I'm not so excited about. I can acknowledge you. I can be present for the fact that I'm experiencing you right now." And I can choose to step on the other side of it. I can step out of, let's say, a feeling of shame around the decisions that I'm about to make.
So this ice cream example - "I really shouldn't eat ice cream. And on the top of it, I said that I wasn't going to be spending any money today. This is a challenge that I set for myself and here I am again, about to...." Mindfulness teaches us that you have all of the power to make your decisions and take actions in the present moment. That's where your power lies so it's really, really important for us to continue to practice coming back to that place where we have our full ability for choice making and actions.
The way to get back there, I'll say it once again because it's so important, is to stop. First stop whatever process and emotion that's pulling you out of it. No - stop. Create a pause. Become aware. It can be really helpful to just label that emotion, "I'm feeling some guilt. I'm feeling some shame." O.K. Can I take a breath and just acknowledge that? O.K. Now let me practice coming back to the present moment and continuing with a choice that I feel really good about.
So in a way there's simplicity to the process but it's really transformative in terms of the impact that it can have.
Minki: I find that so helpful because the point where we sometimes lose our members to some of these emotions is when, two examples sort of pop into my mind. One is, when they've been so good and so diligent, and they have that one slip in spending. It's sort of, "why bother?"
And the second part is, they start on the journey, it's sort of midway, and they get this crushing feeling, "it's never going to end. The debt is still there, and it's so big. My student loans, it's going to follow me and until I pass my retirement..." These sort of emotions.
In both scenarios, we see that it's definitely a journey that takes a long time and sometimes you do need to take the emotion out of it because it's not helping you at that point. You still have to take one step at a time. But that emotion is making you stagnant. Is there a way for us to recognize, "This is an emotion. This is a thought. This is not what I'm really feeling."
Miriam: I agree with you that in both scenarios it's actually, at the core, very similar. The emotion of almost feeling overwhelmed. Creating a divergence from a goal. And that's why I think it's so wonderful what you're doing in terms of helping people connect with the values that they most believe in. "What is is the goal that I'm working towards? Or, what are the values that I want to hold on to here that's going to help guide me?" And these are certainly long-term things. There's nobody saying that these are not journeys that take many, many, many, many steps. But with the accumulation of each step, you're getting somewhere. So it's really so wonderful to come at it with that framework. The next thing is to then set the emotional expectation to say, "I will be challenged along this journey." You can almost think of it as an adventure. There will be things that will come up and kind of try to distract me here or pick me off track there.
I have an example with food which I think is hilarious. Every time that I decide not to eat chocolate for a week...
Miriam: I know, why would I do that? I don't even know. But just for a personal challenge.
Every time I decide no chocolate for a week, everybody offers me chocolate. It's the most hilarious thing ever. I was like, "okay. Well, now I know to expect that." It's a funny thing rather than this overwhelming thing. But here's where mindfulness comes back in. When we're practicing mindfulness regularly, we're so much more equipped to be able to have distractions become things that can move through us rather than block us or become sucks in us. When we're practicing - so we're working towards a state of mindfulness, being in the moment, without judgment - we can notice when an emotion rises, see it for what it is, and not be afraid of it, or not be intimidated by it.
I would actually suggest that instead of throwing that emotion away or saying "I don't have time for you right now," the way that I think about it is that I bring it closer to me actually.I say, "oh, I'm feeling overwhelmed. Wow, that's a really hard emotion to carry. That's a lot. I'm dealing with a lot. What would I do if this emotion was a child?" Seriously, these are some of the tricks to help to tap into a sense (now this is another piece which is compassion), of just being gentle with yourself. Because that's what enables the acceptance.
If we unpack what acceptance is, and I mentioned before you need to accept to be able to move through something you absolutely need to accept, acceptance requires a little bit of a softness. It requires a little bit of a sense of understanding. And again, it's really fun to think about it as a child, because if a child makes a mistake, we're not like, "ah! You made that mistake again! Here's this bad emotion again. What are you doing?" Rather, you're like "okay. I understand you're learning here. You're practicing." And in practicing, it doesn't mean that every single time you're going to get it right. But What's really important is that you're practicing.
That's where I feel it's really important for people to make the connection that you're suggesting, between mindfulness and money. We know for a given fact that in our relationship with money, that we're going to come across different types of challenges. And a lot of them are going to start as emotional ones. So if we can become aware of them, and hold them close, that allows us to accept them, and move on.
Minki: That's really helpful. Just be a bit more kind to yourself.
Minki: That's really helpful. Thank you...
Miriam: And it's amazing! Study after study shows that... we know two ways of helping to change behavior. One is kind of more like holding a stick above our own heads. We believe that that's the most effective way to get ourselves down a path - is being really hard [on ourselves].
But study after study shows that in fact being gentle and compassionate... That doesn't mean every single time letting yourself slip and being like, "oh, oops! Okay. Well I guess I'm just going to be kind with myself and let that one go." [No.] It's genuinely working towards a value and when you trip, when you have a misstep, being able to create that space to bring yourself back onto that journey. The research tells us that that's more effective and more sustainable in the long run.
Minki: So this is not just bubbly feel good but it's actually more impactful.
Miriam: Exactly. Yes. It's so wonderful that there's been this great connection between mindfulness, meditation, neuroscience, and social psychology. So a lot of the practices that we kind of intuitively know and that also have been validated by traditions that have millennia behind them, are also now being validated in the lab. So these practices help affect changes at the level of wiring of our brain. It helps affect changes in our nervous systems as well. All of this help us to live a better life.
Minki: So in living a better life, you mentioned two tips that we can bring with us in terms of actually practicing mindfulness. Let's not just stop at the theory, let's actually try it out. One was sort of a quick start that we could try. How would that work?
Miriam: Yeah. So, upfront you can remind yourself that you're really committed to a particular goal, a particular value, or a new habit when it comes to your relationship with your money. So as you're going out in the world and you get into maybe a pattern or habit that's not so helpful.
So one of them, for me, is I get on Amazon. Now I'm searching - I'm searching for things that I can get myself, and I'm searching for things I can get other people, which I think might be really nice. Then I start to notice. Minutes go by, minutes go by. I might have even filled up my shopping cart with a few items, maybe more.
The key is to stop.
Just pause for a moment. So that's step one. While you're noticing that you entered into a cycle, something where you almost feel compelled like an out-of-body experience, you feel like you're being driven by something else, take a moment to stop. That stop creates the pause where so many things can happen. So the next step after stopping is to bring yourself into the present moment.
I'll give you two suggestions on how to do that. One is actually simply to take a really nice long deep breath. We can do that right now. [deep inhale, then full exhale]
It doesn't take more than a couple of seconds and it's doing two things for you. It's helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system of your body, so that's the calm nervous system of your body, which is what allows you then to move beyond any part of you that's kind of going in a habitual pattern so that you can move into the more higher-order executive functioning parts of your brain. So that you can bring back your ability in the moment to make a decision rather than just kind of spin out. In taking a breath, we're being very intentional. The intention is to bring yourself back into the present moment. That present moment which is the place of your power and your decision-making ability. So you can also do some other gestures if that's helpful.
In the example I was giving, instead of having my hands on my keyboard, I might literally pick up my hands and place them on my lap. Or if I'm in a store standing, I might actually just feel my feet on the ground. So you're helping to gather your awareness from this external driving force of a pattern, just right back to the present moment, right back to your body.
And after that, taking one breath, two breath, you might even feel like taking four or five breaths. The key is really one deep breath.
Now you're in the present moment. You can at that point help to shift your mindset by asking yourself a question, or bringing to mind the value that's really important to yourself. I'll give you an example. I have another friend who was working towards an objective of going to school and so she asked herself, "is this most supportive on my path to my degree?" So, whatever is most important to you, whatever is your actual driving value in life, bring that up and say, "what would that do? What would my value do?"
Minki: Just to summarize,
1) you take one deep breath (or a few more if need be),
2) either touch or sense your bodily presence,
3) ask yourself your life value/question/mantra.
So this is sort of like a kickstarter. There is also a longer sequence that we could try?
Miriam: Yeah. So in the short sequence, I'm not so concerned about the outcome. The outcome might be, I might continue shopping and I'm going to press buy. That's okay because the practice of having raw awareness interrupted the process is changing your pattern. Even if the outcome doesn't show it immediately, you have done something for yourself that's very important and cumulatively, it will make a difference. So that's great for the short-term one.
But the one that can become part of your daily practice or even if you do it every couple of days if you want to start with something that feels more accessible, is when we're practicing mindfulness as a state of being or a state of mind so that when we get in moments where we're noticing, "oh, I'm not so mindful," we have a strength and capacity to notice in the first place. Because actually one of the biggest challenges is to just interrupt the process at all and that requires that stopping point. So I'd love for us to actually practice right now it's really beautiful, simple, mindfulness meditation. And we'll do... what do you say, should we do ten minutes?
Miriam: So 10 minutes is really great if 10 minutes feels good. You can start with just a few minutes, 3, 4, 5 minutes is fantastic too. Science tells us that anywhere from a minimum of 12 minutes to more like an average of 20 minutes really is how you start to rewire your brain in significant ways.
But let's do a 10 minute practice. It's mindfulness meditation focusing on our breaths.
[10 minute meditation practice]
- So just right in your chair, right where you are, you can feel yourself in your seats and place your feet on the floor.
- Notice the soles of your feet, in your shoes or not, just resting on the floor.
- Kind of let that feeling anchor itself in you, by reminding yourself that just by feeling your feet on the floor, you're coming into the present moment.
- Now take a deep breath to lengthen through the spine.
- And on your exhale, just settle back down so that you feel lift through your spine but no effort.
- Roll your shoulders back slightly, opening up across the chest.
- And then if it's comfortable to you, you can close your eyes or lower your gaze to a steady point.
- Start to tune in to your breath.
- Notice what it feels like to be here in the seated posture.
- Immediately as we tune in to breath, our mind might go in a million directions.
- So know that that's perfectly fine, is perfectly normal.
- In tuning into the breath, feel the air as it move in through your nose.
- Feel what it's like for the air to move through your body. Maybe noticing the rising and falling of your chest and belly.
- And let the breath be exactly as it is.
- We breathe 20,000 times a day without even thinking about it.
- So right now is about just bringing awareness to the breath, without needing to change or manipulate it.
- Let each breath be an opportunity to start again.
- Every inhale, a new beginning.
- And every exhale, release in letting go
- Notice where your mind is now.
- Perhaps a thought, sensation, or an emotion, has really captivated your mind's interest.
- Just acknowledge that. Let it be.
- Very gently steering your awareness back to your breath.
- Notice the rhythm of your breath.
- Observe the stillness of your body.
- Your breath is always here for you, right in the present moment.
- As we begin to conclude this practice, bring your awareness once again to the sensation of your breath.
- The rising and falling of your chest and belly.
- Becoming particularly aware of how even in the stillness of your body, there's movement of the breath.
- Let that movement become amplified by taking one really deep breath.
- And exhaling fully.
- At the very bottom of your exhale, as you return to normal breath, drop your chin to your chest, stretching out the back of your neck.
- Take a moment here to appreciate what you've just done for yourself.
- Appreciate how you feel.
- And when you're ready, in your own time, you can very slowly open your eyes.
- Maybe take some stretches, along your shoulders, lifting your arms up.
Minki: Oh wow...
Miriam: There you go. How do you feel?
There was a point when I became really interested in all the surrounding noises. Then thoughts popped into my head, and then also like the "good" Minki VS the "bad" Minki. Like, "I shouldn't be thinking this!" And then I remembered, even the thought of, "I shouldn't be thinking this," is judgmental. What you said at the very beginning.
At that point you mentioned, "come back to the sensation of the breath." And I think that's the small moment when I kind of got it. I need a lot more practice but I kind of got it. And it sort of dissipated all of my other thoughts.
Miriam: Wow. Very cool. That's exactly it. I'm so glad we noticed that. You know we were talking about the definition of mindfulness in the beginning. The definition of meditation is that it's the practice to help cultivate mindfulness. And that practice is not about turning off thoughts, it's not about sitting here and just feeling like I'm super peaceful. It's about noticing when thoughts, sensations, sounds, etc., arise, becoming aware of that and making the choice to return to the breath. Which is strengthening that muscle that when you then have to go practice this in your everyday life, making your decisions every day, that muscle is a little bit stronger so those decisions become a little bit more clear. A little bit more easy. Beautiful.
Minki: This is so helpful. I could do the kickstarter breath when I'm sort of in the pinch and in the moment. And then perhaps a longer version of it when I wake up, before I go to sleep, or maybe during my commute or something like that. This was super, super! An exceptional experience! Thank you Miriam!
As our parting thought, we always ask: so WINii means WIN + II. You WIN > We WIN > We WIN 2. What does winning in life mean to you?
Miriam: Winning it life for me means, walking around with a heart that's at peace, so that I can offer that to others as a starting point for their own transformations.
Minki: Amazing. And for some of our members who may be interested in taking a further step in that transformation, how can they reach you?
Miriam: So many ways. You can find me at Brain Spa. I'm also on twitter @miriam_leia. Ping me there, reach out to me through my website. I would absolutely love to hear from WINii members. I'm excited. I'm excited for how you're championing mindfulness and money, Minki. Keep it up! It's really great.
Minki: Awesome. Thank you. And of course, we will have all those links at the bottom of our blog page.
Minki: Fantastic. Thank you!
Miriam: Thank you so much! Take care. Bye!