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Mindful breaks are 'sanity-saving' lifelines

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Shonda Moralis
Shonda Moralis - (Photo / )

Shonda Moralis discovered mindfulness-based therapy after some years as a psychotherapist.

It resonated with her. 

“I enrolled in classes, began daily meditation and using mindfulness in therapy, and trained as a mindfulness teacher at Lehigh Valley Health Network,” she said. “I love connecting with and mentoring other women, watching them work hard, get out of their own way, and succeed in ways they’ve never dreamed possible.”

Moralis is in private practice in upper Macungie Township. She’s written a book on mindfulness and busy moms and has another book coming out this fall. After reading LVB’s first Women in Leadership newsletter last month, Moralis reached out to me.

She has an interesting story. Here’s part of it:

LVB: Tell me a little bit about your background? How did you start your practice and how did it evolve into where you are today?

Moralis: The initial route to my career was a circuitous one, as I was unsure what I wanted to pursue after college. Instead of jumping directly into graduate school I intentionally chose a position that intrigued me, despite the sub-standard wage. This entailed moving back in with my folks so I could counsel at a Women’s Center. I fell in love with counseling, earned a Master’s in Social Work, and after a few years of agency work, joined a private practice, eventually venturing out on my own.

Let's define some terms:

Mindfulness is the opposite of running on automatic pilot, which is how we tend to operate most of the time. Research shows our minds wander 47 percent of the time! In contrast, mindfulness is being aware of what is happening in the moment with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. When we are aware of our thoughts, emotions, and behavioral patterns, we are able to choose how we respond in situations rather than reacting out of habit, choose where we place our attention, and what to prioritize. Mindfulness also enables us to better notice and savor the beautiful moments, instead of distractedly missing them.

Meditation is carving out time to practice the skill of mindfulness. We do this by choosing a point of focus (for example, the inhale and exhale of the breath), noticing when our mind wanders off (which it does many times), and repeatedly returning our attention back to the home base of the breath. That’s it. Meditation is not clearing our mind of thoughts, but familiarizing ourselves with the continuous (and often amusing) nature of them. Research shows regular meditation actually changes the shape and function of our brains. It literally is exercise for our minds, strengthening the mindfulness muscle of focus, awareness, and calm.

Mindful Breaks are opportunities and reminders throughout the day to bring attention to what is happening as it is happening instead of operating on autopilot. We can take a mindful break any time — when drinking coffee, while commuting to work, in the midst of a challenging conversation, or while waiting for a meeting to begin.

Source: Shonda Moralis

LVB: You wrote a book about mindfulness and busy moms. What was the inspiration behind that book? When did you realize that you had that first book in you? How did that come about?

Moralis: I have two kids, now seven and 17. I began faithfully meditating 30 minutes daily when my daughter was three. Pregnant with my son years later, I knew there would soon be no time for lengthy meditations. By creating 5-minute practices, I was able to infuse my life with mindfulness in simple, quick, flexible ways. The mindful breaks were also sanity-saving lifelines when postpartum depression made an unexpected appearance.

At the same time, while working in therapy with other moms, I recognized the universal need to feel more connected, calm, and happy — and how challenging this can be in the midst of motherhood. I began writing related blog posts and, before long, realized I had the makings of a book. “Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms” was published in early 2017. It has been so gratifying and inspiring to receive readers’ messages about the calm and well-being they have created in their lives through mindfulness.

LVB: Why does meditation work? And, since we are so busy, how does it work for those convinced that we don't have time for meditation?

Moralis: Running on a perpetual hamster wheel of busyness, we live in a low-level state of fight-or-flight, our body’s reaction to perceived danger. Intellectually, we know that the existence of a never-ending to-do list, running five minutes late to an appointment, or an overall sense of time-scarcity are not life-threatening, yet fight-or-flight does not distinguish between perceived danger (the to-do list) and actual danger. In response to these stressors, our bodies pump out adrenaline and cortisol, which, over time, leads to inflammation, disease, exhaustion, and burnout — the pressure and pace eventually unsustainable.

Meditation interrupts the hamster wheel and fight-or-flight reaction by simply stopping, taking a step back, and reminding ourselves of the big picture — a radical, wholly unfamiliar act for many. When we create space in our day for a bit of quiet, we also open up the capacity for innovation, creativity, efficiency, and increased sense of ease, enabling us to maintain energy longer.

We can all carve out five minutes somewhere in our day to meditate. If, initially, five feels too long, one minute is fine. The essential piece is to create a daily sustainable habit. With just a few minutes of meditation and short mindful breaks sprinkled throughout the day, our lives automatically become positively infused with more awareness, calm, and connection.

LVB: You mention that mindfulness is good for a business' bottom line? How so?

Moralis: Research indicates mindfulness practice leads to a decrease in employee sick time and reported stress levels; an increase in overall sense of wellbeing, creativity, innovation, and collaboration; and a more positive work environment with happier, more engaged employees. Mindfulness not only reduces stress, but also trains the capacity of mind not often receiving attention and, for all of these reasons, has been referred to as a “super power.” Google, Harvard, Lululemon, General Mills, Eileen Fisher, Goldman Sachs, and Dow Chemicals all have employee mindfulness programs. With a clear trickle-down effect, it is good for employees, their families, and organizations as a whole.

LVB: You are releasing another book this fall. Tell us a little about that new work.

Moralis: “Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness to Ditch the Stress without Losing Your Edge” teaches high-achieving women how to create calm, gain confidence and assertiveness, and build intentional success through 50 short mindful breaks, stories from my own life, and interviews with other empowered women. I am so proud and grateful to put this out into the world because I believe that when we women feel strong, healthy, and empowered, we are capable of incredible accomplishments, both on the home front and out in the world at large.

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