While it’s evident that physical fitness is on our minds (you are reading aSweatLife after all), mental fitness tends to take a backseat. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve tried different meditation and it never really stuck. I wanted it to, I just found it difficult to clear the chatter in my mind; but I was never willing to give up on it. Enter breathe bar. I was really excited to sit down with founder/CEO Sylvia Maldonado at Breathe Bar’s pre-launch event on March 20. I wanted to hear her story and find out how meditation changed her life.
aSweatLife: Tell me a little about yourself and what brought you to start breathe bar?
Sylvia Maldonado: I was a child of a family business (located just across the street on Randolph) and went into TV production. While I was in New York my doctor told me I needed to manage my stress better. I said “No no no no, I take care of myself. I’m really healthy, I work out, I eat right.” However, she insisted I try mediation to help with stress levels. So I figured it couldn’t hurt. I was skeptical because I’d tried it years before, and the thoughts just kept going. But I decided to give it a try again. I went to a meditation class in NY and it was a transformative experience. I could feel my heart rate go down, I was relaxed and happier. They talked about the principles of mindfulness – being present and taking a breath and taking space. They also talked about being responsive instead of reactive. These mantras really spoke to me so I started doing it and developed a daily practice. But when I moved to Chicago, I had a really hard time finding a community of meditators – one that wasn’t affiliated with a certain dogma. I found myself really missing that aspect so I decided I’m just going to do it! That’s how breathe bar was born.
aSL: Personally, what are some of the benefits you’ve experienced from meditation?
SM: Better focus, better sleep, happier, better wellbeing. I don’t consider myself a worrier per se, I feel like I’m a pretty even-keeled person. That being said I did have “what if this,” “what if that” … career angst and relationship angst, I have a really big family and lots of siblings and lots of dynamics going on. I feel like it just made me so much more even keeled and zen and relaxed. I still get stressed, I still get angry, I still feel all these emotions but instead of making me be in a bad mood, I spring back from things much quicker. It’s that level of equanimity, which I feel is very important.
aSL: How does guided meditation enhance the meditating experience?
SM: If people want to try it on their own, they definitely should. Whether it’s a book, a podcast or an app – they should try it. Personally for me, when I’m in a community or in a group or meeting someone somewhere to do something I’m much more likely to do it. With guided meditation and having a teacher really kind of guide you through the process, especially as a beginner, I feel like it really supports your practice. And the beauty of meditation, you don’t need special clothes or props – you just show up and you just be and it’s amazing.
aSL: What is mindfulness and why is it important to meditate?
SM: When we talk about the umbrella of meditation, there’s one part of it that’s mindfulness. Mindfulness expresses the principles of being present, equanimity (accepting things for what they are) and non-judgement. I feel those principles are just great for life. Being non-judgmental with yourself and others. Equanimity, just accepting things – because so many times in life we’re attached to the outcome and if it doesn’t work out a certain way, were disappointed. If you’re not attached to the outcome, you release yourself from all those expectations. You really free yourself and make yourself so much happier because you’re not tied to A = B, it’s more like ‘I can’t control A and I can’t control B’. Once you can control your mind, it makes you a much happier person.
aSL: What advice/words of wisdom would you have for those who have tried mediation before and weren’t successful (aka … me)?
SM: Start small. A lot of people have this image with meditation where it has to be in a really quiet space and has to be for thirty minutes to an hour. The thing is, meditation is life and life isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it gets messy. If you take five minutes in your day to meditate, even if you mind is racing, it’s going to get easier and you’re going to get into a routine. It’s just committing to that practice. It’s just starting small and not thinking I’m doing it wrong. There is no right way. Its having that intention and not judging your practice.
After I sat down with Sylvia, Latrice Annette Drain led a group of us through a guided meditation. In an open room, seated on a pillow with a cozy blanket – I was ready to try this. Remembering what Sylvia told me, I didn’t try to judge my practice, I tried to stay present and mindful. Although I wouldn’t say I succeeded 100%, it was definitely an eye opening experience for me.
Breathe bar opens on March 31st. If you have any interest in meditation, this spot is definitely worth checking out.