Portrait of my friend Elena Zahariev, meditation teacher

Today, I wanted you to discover: Elena Zahariev. She’s been trained by Massachussetts University Center For Mindfulness and is a mindfulness and MBSR instructor. She helps people to discover, practice and deepen their knowledge in mindfulness through 8-week-sessions and various workshops (I invite you to check her website). I personally met her 2 years ago in a difficult moment of my life (shitty relationship, shitty job, shitty everything) and subscribed to the MBSR training that she was offering for the first time. Slowly and without even realizing it myself, everything shifted in me. I saw my life differently, my relationships differently, and I discovered that I could also live differently. Mindfulness meditations have definitely changed my life for that and I’m forever grateful for what it had brought to me. In case you’re practicing (or not!), discover the interview of this beautiful human being and meditation lover.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness meditation is a simple practice accessible to everyone. It consists in cultivating presence. I like to call it  ‘attentive presence’ because it’s about cultivating a welcoming and curious presence for everything that emerges in the now: physical sensations, emotions, sounds and thoughts.

It’s possible to cultivate an attentive presence by meditating regularly and by being present in day-to-days activities.

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Where does it come from?

It’s a lay approach formed by a mix of Eastern traditional meditations and Western modern sciences (conventional medicine, neurosciences, psychology). Since 30 years, mindfulness meditation has been developing in different fields in our society (health, business, education, justice…) thanks to Doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn of Massachusetts Medicine University. With his team, they created in 1979 an 8-week-stress-reduction program called MBSR, ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’. Ever since, the MBSR program has been targeted for scientific studies for its results on mind and body.

 

What are the benefits?

People who meditate regularly said that it has improved their lifestyle with a better adaptation to stress, a more stable emotional balance, inner calm, more joy and ability to enjoy happy moments, ability to focus more and do creative and mindful-driven choices. Mindfulness meditation is helping us to go out of the autopilot mode and to live more fully.

Scientific studies show really concrete results on health. For example, they noticed a decrease of stress-hormones called cortisol, a better immunity, a regulation of blood pressure, improvement of chronic pains, decreased amount of depressive relapses…and so on. Meditating regularly even modifies the structure of our brain by developing what neuroscientists called neuroplasticity. In short, when you take time to do nothing and just be present, there are actually a lot of things happening!

How did meditation change your life?

At some point in my life, I felt trapped. In appearance, I had everything I’ve ever wished for: comfortable finances, great job, a flat, a great loving relationship, friends…but I struggled to find meaning in my life. I was under stress and was suffering from different chronic pains since few years already. I was also too much in control for everything and felt too agitated to enjoy the good moments.

That’s when I grew an interest for meditation. Meditation helped me with the work I was already doing with the therapy and yoga. Without even realizing it, everything had slowly changed in my life. With a regular practice, my chronic pain and stress were reduced. I naturally changed my professional path for something that I wanted to do since a long time. My relationships were harmonious. Trust and joy had developed in me.

We never know what meditation is going to change in you or even in your life but what I see, from my experience and the ones who practice it regularly, is that meditation change the way we live our lives. It’s not always spectacular changes, like quitting your job, because first of all, it’s about inner changes.

Meditation week

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What are your advices for someone who wants to start this practice?

Learn mindfulness can be done by anyone. It’s about training this natural ability that we have to focus. It’s not easy at the beginning and this is why a lot of people find it useful to learn with a facilitator. Anyone can subscribe to workshops or the MBSR for example. With 8 weekly sessions and one day of practice, it allows you to really integrate the practice into the daily life and do it by yourself after feeling more confident. You can also find a lot of mobile apps and guided meditations that can help you to keep up with the at-home practice.

What are your advices for someone who wants to start this practice?

Learn mindfulness can be done by anyone. It’s about training this natural ability that we have to to be present. It’s not easy at the beginning and this is why a lot of people find it useful to learn with a teacher.

 

What are your advices to integrate meditation into the daily life?

To integrate it, you need intention and a regular practice. When you start learning an instrument, it’s not easy at the beginning. But the more you practice, the more you develop this ability to be present and benefit from it. That’s why it’s useful to save some time for you daily to meditate, by fixing a meeting with yourself. It’s about taking time to stop and feel the sensations in your body, observe your breathing and listen to the sounds around you…with the intention to integrate this careful presence and especially each time you are aware that your awareness is gone.

 

Is it a lifestyle?

Meditation is a new way to approach life. A regular practice has an impact in your daily life way beyond the times when you meditate ‘formally’. We become more present to what we’re living, feeling and doing. By switching from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ , things appear more clearly and we can see them differently, with more freedom and wisdom. We often believe that by meditating, we got to cut ourselves from the outside world. But in reality, meditation cultivates our ability to act efficiently and mindfully in our lives.

 

What are the biggest challenges of meditation?

In today’s era, where everything goes fast and obligations and distractions are taking more space in our lives, it’s quite harsh to stop and to not do anything! This is the biggest challenge: say ‘stop’. Because it’s from this place that we can change everything.

Meditation also invites us to listen to our sensations, including the discomforting ones, by ‘being with’ instead of avoiding them, as we usually do. It has the amazing power to change our relationship to discomfort but it needs a great dose of curiosity and courage.

 

If you’d like to ask a question to Elena, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Have a great day! xx

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