After resolving to live more fully and appreciate each moment, I realized I was long on intention and very short on ideas about the specific steps needed to make such a change. Happily, I had the good fortune to meet David Perls, who studied under Jon Kabat-Zinn, often referred to as the father of modern meditation. David teaches mindfulness at UCSF and works with clients like Whole Foods, Accenture and the US Air Force through his company, shinebright.

With David's guidance, each session has left me more calm, quieted and centered. He has also given me invaluable techniques to practice on my own while traveling. I am honored to introduce him to you today, and share some of his wisdom about mindfulness and meditation.

Q: Tell us a bit about the road that led you to meditation.

A: Like so many of us, my career has been a natural evolution of sorts. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in economics and psychology, I spent the first 20 years of my career in advertising, branding and design, working at companies like eBay and Charles Schwab. I saw what stress can do, both positively and negatively, to people and to organizations. It was from this vantage point that I identified the effective management of stress as an unmet need. This realization led me to start my own business in 2009.  Now I work directly with individuals and teams to provide them with the self-awareness, concentration and energy to deal with stress so as to achieve better collaboration, innovation and performance.  

I've had the good fortune of receiving my coaching training from the Coaches Training Institute and my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. and many other outstanding teachers at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 

Q: Meditation has been a daily practice in Asia for centuries, but is often overlooked in today’s fast-paced society. Can you tell us how you define modern meditation, and some of the benefits people may experience in practicing it?

A: In life, we don't have yesterday and we don't have tomorrow. All we have is the moment, the here and now. Meditation helps us open ourselves to this moment, the here and now. And in helping us to focus on the moment, meditation helps us to calm the mind, open the heart and act with compassion. 

One of the benefits of meditation is that it can help us live with greater presence moment to moment. It offers us the chance to be more mindful, more aware of how we live our lives, the choices we make and the actions we take, so that we can really be here for our life and not miss out on it. 

Meditation can also impact our biology. Science has now substantiated that meditation promotes structural changes in the brain. For example, there is exciting research at UCSF showing that meditation can slow cellular aging and change our genetic expression! Other research has shown meditation positively impacts those regions of the brain associated with our fight/flight response; attention and awareness; learning, memory and emotion regulation; and perspective taking, empathy and compassion. Meditation can help us manage pain, boost our immune response and, ultimately, enhance our overall health and wellbeing. 

Q: To perform a ritual is to pause time for a moment and find peace. What is one ritual you perform every single day?

A: My morning meditation. It sets the tone for the entire day. It helps me set the intention to be wakeful throughout the course of my day. 

Practicing this ritual requires daily discipline. There are many mornings that I would prefer to stay in a warm bed and there are days that I don't feel like practicing...but I do it!  It's the same daily discipline that an athlete needs to practice the fundamentals, train at the gym, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep. In the same way that an athlete trains, we are practicing attention training, rewiring the brain and strengthening the mind-body connection.

Q: TATCHA is based on wisdom passed down and honed through generations of women. What is some of the best advice you have received in your meditation and mindfulness studies?

A: One of the great teachings I received came from washing my hands in a 15th century water basin during a family trip to Japan when I was 16 years old. While in Kyoto, I was struck by the gorgeous temples, blossoming cherry trees and ornate Zen rock gardens.

However, what most captured my attention was a stone water basin tucked away near a beautiful teahouse. We would have missed it without our guide. He explained that we needed to crouch down to wash our hands in an act of reverence and humility, and that the words inscribed on the stone basin translated to: "One already has all one needs." Taking time to feel the flowing water from the bamboo pipe on my hands, to hear the calming sound of the running water and to allow these words to sink in, I felt connected to the ancient Buddhist teachings about the abundance that exists within one's soul.

These contemplative practices have the potential to take us in an entirely new direction. They help us slow down and recognize that there is much to be grateful for right here in this moment--our friends, family, clean water, organic food, fresh air, a healthy body, the list goes on. We already have everything within us to feel good and be free. Through these practices, we can learn to cultivate the good and choose wholesome states. This is about learning to take even better care of ourselves. It's about allowing your light to shine. Your inner beauty enhances your outer beauty.

Q: Every person hopes to begin anew with the new year, but a complete overhaul can be intimidating. What are some simple, everyday tips people can use to start becoming more mindful, create good habits and begin again?

A: Each moment is a choice point, an opportunity to respond instead of to react—an opportunity to begin again. So here are a few practices to help beginners mind and deepen mindfulness.

• Before getting out of bed in the morning and doing anything, allow yourself to feel three breaths moving in and out of your body. In this way, you are breaking the habit of jumping out of bed and racing to start your day. You are beginning the day in a new way.

• I also like to practice "Two Feet, One Breath" at various times throughout the course the day. This is a simple act of re-inhabiting my body and beginning again. Feeling my two feet on the ground and feeling my breath, whether I'm on a call, in a meeting or even entering a new room, is a great way to return to being fully in the moment, present, right here and right now.

• Before going to bed at night, pause again to take three breaths, but this time allow the out-breath to be a bit longer than the in-breath. Allow yourself to feel the three breaths moving in and out of your body. This calms down the nervous system and relaxes us before sleep. 

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published January 2015

Meditation, Living, Interviews
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