Why Meditation Makes You Awesome at Life

The following was originally published in Enough-ism: This Minimalist Wants More and the Enough-ism Podcast.

“Swiss international light. Likes to make magic happen.”

So reads the Instagram bio of Anne V. Muhlethaler, a former fashion executive and Christian Louboutin alumni turned brand consultant and meditation teacher.

One interesting fact perhaps summarizes Anne’s greater impact on the fashion industry: Burlesque dancer, fashion icon, and Louboutin aficionado (she has a pair of the infamous red-bottomed shoes named after her) Dita Von Teese — follows Anne on Instagram.

Dita’s Instagram bio — like Anne’s — perhaps implies thriving amidst a juxtapositioned crossroads of sorts. And, in two words, no less:

“Glamour-Evangelist”

As Dita — also a meditation advocateonce said:

“I am a ‘glamour evangelist’ and yes, I may take it a bit too far sometimes but sometimes you just need to be willing to try new things.”

Indeed, a willingness to try new things perhaps means embodying different facets of ourselves concurrently. Facets that may perhaps seem like harsh polar opposites upon first glance, but ones that actually complement each other beautifully once you have a better understanding of how and why they intersect.

On that note, Yugen Bond, host of the Enough-ism Podcast and author of Enough-ism: This Minimalist Wants More, sat down with Anne to explore how Anne’s helping others make the valuable business-mindfulness connection. Anne also talks about something that will hopefully serve a lot of listeners and readers: How to meditate — but not just to get better at meditation, but to get better at life!

Q&A Interview with Anne V. Muhlethaler

Yugen: Anne, you’re a fashion executive turned meditation teacher living at the crossroads of business and mindfulness. How has this experience helped you grow and better serve the meditation community?

Anne: That’s a good question. I’m just at the start of my journey as a meditation teacher. I graduated last January from a mindfulness and meditation teacher training program — it’s a two-year professional training program for teaching awareness and compassion-based practices with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach.

The community I’m now serving is mostly a business community that wants to get into meditation and mindfulness. Thankfully, because I spent around 20 years working in and around retail, public relations, wholesale, and then getting into areas like digital and global communications, I have significant expertise or experience in both managing teams and in communications.

I like to see the good, the bad, and the ugly — the stuff that works and the stuff that doesn’t work. It’s an interesting exploration for me to actually bring those two sides of my life that look like they should be far apart together, and find common ground.

Yugen: Yes. And, many people — for example, maybe those with an entrepreneurial mindset might think, “Meditation? mindfulness? That’s way beyond the scope of what we do.”

Tell me more about your work at the crossroads and what many business-minded people are perhaps generally looking for when they want to expand their mindfulness experience and skillset?

Anne: Sure. So, I will go to a corporation or company and explain the general benefits meditation and mindfulness can have on people. If that seems of interest to them, I offer a six- to eight-week course to do an introduction to meditation and mindfulness. I make the curriculum something we can build upon on a weekly basis. This gives everyone a chance to have a taste of various available practices.

One large misconception for people who are outside of meditation and mindfulness is that there’s only one kind of meditation. But that’s not the case. Not everybody is suited to the same thing; what works for me may not work at all for someone else.

And as I started to teach, I noticed, for example, that restlessness could be very prominent in some people who are a lot more active. There were a couple of students of mine, for example, who were athletes. We found it was much better for them to actually spend the hour and a half of our course standing for most of it. Standing meditation works as well as seated meditation!

So, I work with people interested in experiencing a panel of practices so they can tap into what suits them over time. And then hopefully, they’ll either come back to me or follow their instinct, try out other teachers, and further deepen their practice.

Yugen: It sounds like you’re kind of the springboard for people’s mindfulness journeys. Even deciding to be sitting versus standing — that’s a very simple shift, for instance, but one that’s maybe enough to help people get into the right mindset.

Speaking of mindset, let’s talk about what meditation means to you. I know your philosophy from listening to your podcast, Out of the Clouds, is that the concept of “meditation” should actually be considered plural — “meditations”. Tell me more about that.

Anne: Sure. So, I got into meditation completely randomly — twice. The first time, my friend who used to work with Natalie Massenet, the founder of Net-a-Porter, and a very admired executive in the luxury and fashion business who I’d worked with for a long time, recommended I read a book called Creative Visualization. My friend often credits this book in interviews, saying it supported her journey. So I thought if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me, and I bought it.

So, my entry point into mindfulness and meditation was through the author of this book, Shakti Gawain, and its visualizations and simple meditations. I picked up the book here and there and played with it and I thought, “That was fun,” and didn’t think much more of it.

Then later on, when I was on holiday in Thailand, I stumbled into a group meditation class. I had no idea what the meditation we were doing was, but I learned it was called Loving-Kindness meditation, or Metta meditation. At the end of this class, the teacher said, “Imagine how powerful it would be if someone were to do this every day.” And I thought to myself, “Challenge accepted!” For six months every day, I did 20 to 30 minutes of loving-kindness meditation.

Yugen: Wow. Every day for six months!

Anne: Yes. I cannot tell you why or how, but I guess sometimes your brain just plays tricks on you. I guess I felt there was something to it.

Last December, I went back to this same wellness center in Thailand and I attended another meditation on loving-kindness. The teacher didn’t know I’d already started my journey in meditation and that I was becoming a teacher. At the end of this class, he told our group of about 50 people that a woman had just returned back to this center after about four or five years because this practice had changed her life. I thought he was talking about me. But it wasn’t me at all! So that really tells you that loving-kindness is a very transformational practice!

Meditation promotes a lot of self-awareness and self-inquiry. The better we know ourselves, the easier it is to relate to others. and the better our relationships, communication, and our lives. One of the best things I’ve ever heard anyone say is, “You don’t meditate to get good at meditation. You meditate to get good at life.”

Yugen: I love that. In a way, you’re trying to figure out what kind of meditation style works the best with your personality and where you are in your life to best present yourself to the world.

Anne: Yeah. And it’s finding something that meets your needs. But as we know, as human beings, we do evolve. In my own practice since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve tried to follow my instinct and see what I needed. I focused a lot initially on mindfulness of breath. Breath is an entry point into our nervous system that, depending on how deep or shallow we are and where we breathe from, gives us a sense of how we feel and what state we’re in. So, I decided to kind of check in on myself on a very basic, primary level on a daily basis and just cover that and make sure I knew my baseline.

The beauty of doing this is then when something upsets you or upsets your balance, you’re much more likely to be aware of it and to mindfully respond to it, rather than being reactive.

Then later on, in the summer, I just suddenly felt that I needed yoga Nidra. I just needed to be lying down for all my meditations. I even bought a weighted blanket. A great gift I gave myself, I have to say!

And I did a lot of guided yoga Nidra for about a month. And since September, I’m back to loving-kindness every day, but generally with an introduction of mindfulness of breath or body first for 10 minutes or so.

We do have an instinct about how to lead our lives. So if we get a panel of four or five practices that are easy to tap into, then we get to choose what works, depending on what’s going on around us.

Yugen: Yes. Thank you for sharing all of that. And. You mentioned breathwork and how important it is to breathe — something we do all the time. I’m sure there are times — at least for me! — when maybe you’re meditating and focusing on your breath and you realize, “Oh, I’m not breathing right.”

Do you find that with breathwork, when you really get into that flow, it all becomes very instinctual? Especially doing it every single day, the more you kind of work that muscle, the more you’re able to tap into that instinctual side, where it’s more innate versus something that you need, like, a spreadsheet and a checklist for, to make sure you’re doing it correctly?

Anne: Absolutely. I interviewed the yoga teacher who led my teacher training last year. (I became certified, in Anusara yoga in 2019.) She put us through quite a lot of pranayama practice, and indeed I have to tell you, I didn’t do that much pranayama before, or even after I finished my teacher training. And I’ve integrated it into my practice every day since last April.

I’m just at the tip of understanding what goes on with breathwork. What I can share with you for sure, is that there are two or three practices that I love, like for example — alternate nostril breathing — which I’ve known for a few years. It can either energize you or calm you down. It really deeply enhances your sense of grounding, calm, and focus. I almost want to say it’s a hack: five minutes of breathing will make you super sharp before you start your day.

As for loving-kindness, or any of the other practices, for example, I think all of these meditation practices that derive from Buddhist lineages all offer intimacy with ourselves. If you spend time every morning — even five minutes — and make it become incremental over time, spending time with yourself, you just understand the contents of your mind better — even when it’s full of stuff and jumping everywhere. Loving-kindness has this beautiful aspect where the mantras we use essentially are wishes that help us relate to everyone else. It’s the common ground between all of us: our wish to be safe, to be healthy, to live with ease, and to feel loved and connected. So doing this on a regular basis deepens our sense of relationship or relationality to others. It just opens up a lot of human connections, or at least it has for me.

Yugen: Yes. And “meditation” could be a moment even where I just find a window wherever I am, and I just kind of look up at the sky and just kind of watch the clouds and just remind myself, “Oh my gosh, this email that I’m looking at, or this little piece of information that seems so trivial that is swirling around in my mind — it doesn’t mean much.” And I am connected to everything.

Your stories remind me — I went to this meditation class once where someone talked about the different levels of meditation that you can achieve. So, it’s kind of like your mind is a house. And you live on the ground floor where the furniture is on, the dirty laundry lives, where the cat sleeps, and where the dirty dishes are. And then when you start meditating, you eventually live on the first floor of your mind where the bedroom with a nice view is, and your library with your books are. And then when you start developing a practice, you’re on the second floor where you have some skylights and you can see up into the universe. And then from there, you live on your roof and you can look up at the shooting stars, and you kind of keep going and keep going. And the idea is that it never ends.

You used seven very powerful words at the beginning of our conversation. You said,” I’m at the start of my journey.” That’s interesting. Many people think meditation is something you can “achieve”. But it never ends. You’re always striving to expand your level of consciousness. Tell me about your ongoing journey and how you strive to help people and yourself continue on.

Anne: Well, there are a couple of things that come up when I listened to your question. The first one is in the teachings I’m absorbing and supposed to put out into the world for people. Part of the practice is non-striving, AKA meeting-the-moment and being with what is. It’s a continuous challenge for me. And I think for most people — particularly meditators and meditation teachers — sometimes, it’s important to pause and just say, “Okay. What’s going on? Where am I with this? What am I trying to do? Why is my heart beating so fast?” Then trying to meet that and reflect and continuously study people who know a lot more than I do, and absorb what works.

One of my first podcast guests on Out of the Clouds is one of my favorite people in the world: Diana Rilov — an amazing yoga teacher who lives in New York City. She said one of the best pieces of advice she received was when her teacher said to her, “Get the gold and run!” So basically, take the best out of every single teacher that you will come across, and run with it, and make it your own. So my journey is that: I am following my instinct, I am continuously learning. I just have to stop and calm down and stop signing up for more courses because there’s not enough time in the day! And, hopefully, this will help create my own blend that will correspond to my own heart. I hope people will enjoy what it is that I will put out there as a teacher.

As for your metaphor about the house. It’s a lovely one. I’ve never heard that one so well explained. Have you read Thích Nhất Hạnh before?

Yugen: I have, yes!

Anne: He’s an amazing teacher and writer. In his book, The Art of Communicating, I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but he basically says that it’s hard to meditate at first because it’s like coming home — only that you haven’t been home for a long time. So it’s a bit messy. Like, there are cobwebs and there’s dust everywhere, and it’s okay. It’s just you need to learn to come home.

That’s the bit that I enjoy the most. What I’ve discovered so far in my journey to meditation is it feels like I’m coming home.

❈ ❈ ❈

About the author: Yugen Bond, B.Msc., is a metaphysics writer and podcast host who once thought meditation was boring, had both too much and nothing to wear, and didn’t know how to slow down her thoughts. What a journey it’s been. Time to share it with the world, especially with you.

Can’t get enough of Enough-ism? Visit IAmEnoughism.com and follow @IAmEnoughism on social media. Business inquiries: enoughismpodcast@gmail.com.

Additional resources: Follow Marisa Peer and Thich Nhat Hanh on Medium. Check out the book Creative Visualization here on Amazon & The Art of Communicating here. (Not sponsored.)

For more information about Anne V Muhlethaler, check out her website (http://annevmuhlethaler.com/) and her podcast, Out of the Clouds:

This minimalist wants more. Enough-ism is about having enough, already. Featuring interviews and musings on meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. IAmEnoughism.com

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