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Want to practice mindfulness amid a pandemic? Here’s where to start

We are all in uncharted – and stressful – territory at the moment. To help provide a starting point to tap into deeper resilience and patience, practicing yogi and LinkedIn ad executive Mike Romoff offers some guidance, wisdom and ‘wonderful’ playlists.

Spirituality has become an increasingly important aspect of my life for the past decade. I’m a certified yoga instructor and have led a number of classes and guided meditation sessions at both ad industry events and the LinkedIn offices where I work.

Raised northern New Jersey reform Jewish, these days I could reasonably be called a Jew-boo (Jewish Buddhist). Mostly, I think of myself as a practicing yogi – working to better understand the principles of devotion, self-discipline and energetic support for others and making them central to my daily life.

But, if I can make an admission, these days my daily mindfulness practice – along with the daily routines of pretty much everyone for everything – has been completely disrupted. And by disrupted, I mean evaporated. With my hot yoga studio, and all studios, shut down – my aspirational home yoga practice has remained aspirational no matter how many apps I download. My early morning meditations, some of the sweetest and most nourishing times in my day, have become sporadic enough to be rounded down to zero.

And yet – if I’m honest – in “these uncertain times” I am performing the actions and values of yoga and mindfulness with a consistency and intensity that I’ve never experienced before. How?

’Mindfulness’ is increasingly thought of in the way we think about medication – something to seek out as a remedy to a condition. (“I’m feeling stressed – how much meditation do I need to help? Is five minutes enough?”) But there is a reason yoga and meditation are called a ’practice’; they prepare you for the ups and downs that life has in store, to build resilience and patience, to increase your reserves so that you can tap them when the world becomes a challenge.

The purpose of these mindfulness practices is to put our mental and physical selves into a strong enough state where we can make a compassionate change in the world, especially when life becomes difficult. Whether you are a yogi or not – whatever your self-care practice (running, art, travel, friendships, eating, massage, drinking, dancing, binge watching, etc.) has been helping prepare you for this moment. It’s time to put the practice into motion. But how?

Start with yourself

As a great Zen master once said: “Give yourself a f*king break already…” Things are hard right now - recognize that fact and don’t assume it’s difficult for everyone else but you miraculously will be unaffected and remain perfect. Celebrate the things that you are able to accomplish and let the rest roll off your back. Be gentle with yourself and don’t accept nitpicking criticism and insults from your inner voice that you would never stand for from an outer voice. Said another way: “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete,” per Jack Kornfield’s Buddha's Little Instruction Book. Find the things that bring you some sanity, lean in, and don’t apologize for what they are (for me and my wife it is Family Feud after the kids fall asleep. I said, don’t judge).

Help others to help yourself

As the intensity of 2020 continues to increase, I find working and helping others on a one-to-one basis is making me feel like I am able to make a real difference in the world.

Starting small is totally okay. How can you help others in your company via formal mentorship, informal advice or just emotional support and listening? Can you be more open hearted to the random inbound requests and keep an open mind that there may be one or two meaningful interactions hiding in plain sight? You may not be able to change the world all at once, but everyone is capable of helping one person at a time.

I would also add that allowing yourself to be helped by others is equally impactful. Not only are you getting support you may need – but you are allowing someone the feeling that they are helping others by letting them help you. Don’t be ashamed to receive the love – you deserve it too.

Help the world

Now is the time to use your authentic voice to speak out about issues you are passionate about. That starts with understanding what is truly authentic to you and to commit. This was the year for me that I overcame some trepidations about being vocal about my thoughts about mindfulness and spirituality in more public settings – whether speaking, writing, or social media.

We no longer have the selfish luxury of holding back in the name of our own psychological safety. The uncertainty in the air is unsettling, but it is also a sign that there is tremendous change that is happening to our culture and society. And in this time of change we owe ourselves the courage to overcome whatever hesitations and reservations that have previously held us back and be vocal advocates for the change we want to see.

My personal message is one of universal compassion - of understanding that all beings are connected and that truly understanding yourself as the other is the antidote for most of what we are confronting and have always confronted as a society. I have lived this message in small settings and now am committed to bringing it to bigger and bigger forums.

Provide some release, delight and diversion

This all sounds really serious, and it is, but part of being good to yourself and to others is to find healthy distraction and to decompress. I love music of all kinds and as the quarantine began I posted an album each day on LinkedIn for a couple months to form a running Wonderful WFH playlist (and a Wonderful Weekend playlist too). It gave me some daily structure, some purpose, and allowed me in a small way to bring some delight to at least a few people day by day.

So, give yourself a break. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Help people individually and collectively. Speak your truth – loudly and authentically. And maybe put your phone down for just a bit, listen to some music, and relax.

Mike Romoff is vice-president, global agency and channel sales, LinkedIn

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