(In her own words)
People tell me at work that when they see me they remember to pause and take a breath. They take a moment to get out of their head, their worries, their anxiety. Others ask me how I can keep a sense of calm and focus when the pressure is on. I tell them I practice mindful meditation. For 15 minutes every morning I sit by the same window and practice being still, in my body, in the present moment by paying attention to my breath. Studies indicate that mindfulness may enhance emotional and physical resilience, improve cognitive functioning, and increase our connection to others. I am in my early 50’s and feeling the best I have ever felt in my life. Feeling happier, healthier, physically stronger, and with energy to live with purpose and make a difference in the world. A few years ago, that was not the case. I felt burned out, got sick frequently, woke up on weekdays cursing at the world, feeling exhausted. I was perceived as “doing well” at work, I served on non-profit board to make a difference, I kept an active social life because I loved arts and culture and enjoyed it with friends. I felt life was on track, and I believed burnout was just part of the journey. Who has time to sleep? In October 2014, I had my wake up call. I ended up in the emergency room due to non-stop heart palpitations. When asked: are you under a lot of stress? I answered: “no more than usual.” So why would my body act differently? I learned that stress builds up. After being monitored for a month, the cardiologist concluded that what I felt was real, and not yet life threatening. The cause of my condition was stress and sleep deprivation. I should manage both to avoid the symptoms. I did not know how. He told me that if the symptoms bothered me, I could choose to take medication or try meditation. The second option surprised me! I had been curious about meditation, and knew of a program called “21 day meditation integration”. I choose meditation. I downloaded the program the very next day and got started. The program had great tips everyday, including where to do it, when, and how, and it led us from a 5-minute meditation to 20 minutes over 21 days. After three weeks, I finished the program and continued cycling through the guided meditations. I stuck with a morning practice following the tip RPM (rise, pee and meditate). I was working hard on not being so sleep deprived during the week ensuring I got at least 6 hours. My husband could not believe it! “What have you done with Alessandra? You are waking up earlier to do nothing?” he asked. After 2 months the daily heart palpitations stopped! I had lived with them for 5 months! After a few more months I noticed other benefits: improved focus, improved awareness of the needs of my body (made a priority to eat, to sleep, to exercise), improved response to pressures including the ability to have a few microseconds more to respond versus react. I was no longer driving home from work completely lost in thought on rumination and to do lists, I was no longer forgetting to pick up my husband on the way home when we carpooled. I had lived so much of my life in my head. I have missed so much because of worrying, being unable to shut up the nasty roommate in my head, and waking up to 3 a.m. meetings with myself to review the endless list of things I had yet to do. I am now able to let go of that and do my best work because I am present. By connecting with my breath and my body for 15 minutes every morning, I am now able to connect much more vibrantly with myself and the world.
I have a passion for promoting mindful self-awareness as a vital aspect of being your best. That is the mission of 3M Inspire, a Special Interest Group I am part of which began as an employee grassroots initiative at 3M, where I work. Founded by 3 employees in 2015, the group has grown to a membership of over 1200 employees around the world. I have had a personal mindful meditation practice for 4 years and I am interested in the science of mindfulness and its benefits.
Resources: Book 10% Happier by Dan Harris Thrive by Arianna Huffington. Other meditation apps I used: Headspace and Insight Timer. Article: 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness and Meditation
Photographed at the MCA art installation by Ernesto Neto (Brazilian, b. 1964) Water Falls from My Breast to the Sky
*** Please follow along on instagram as well and learn more about Alessandra. This year for my birthday, I am embarking on a weekly photo essay project highlighting 52 Phenomenal Women. This is week 13 of 52. Participants in this project will be supporting the efforts of Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. We are all stronger together and it is my sincere hope that we will be inspired by each other’s stories. Now is the time to celebrate as well as encourage one another. Tell your story!***