Founding Editor, Experience Life Magazine; Revolutionaryact.com
Pilar Gerasimo is a nationally recognized healthy-living expert and the founding editor of Experience Life, a progressive health magazine that reaches more than 3 million people. She is also the author of an award-winning chapbook, “Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed Up World,” and the creative force behind “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy,” a five-star-rated mobile app that’s had more than 145,000 downloads to date.
Pilar served briefly as Executive Editor of Healthy Living editor at the Huffington Post, and is now working on a book about The Art of Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World. She lives on an organic family farm in Wisconsin.
My personal practice is…….
Morning minutes: On waking, while coffee is brewing but before I’ve looked at any screens or turned on any electronic devices, I take a minimum of five minutes to light a beeswax candle and do something quiet and lovely for myself. I may do yoga, meditate, play guitar, pull a wisdom card, journal, read a passage in an inspiring book, or just breathe and look out the window. If it’s warm enough and the weather is nice, I take my morning minutes outside. At the end of the practice, I take three deep breaths while focusing on my intention and vision for the day. Then I blow out the candle and move into action.
How did you discover your practice?
I was inspired by my sister Andrea’s morning practice. She’s a yoga teacher, and her daily practice commitment is just to unroll her yoga mat and take three deep breaths each day. She had originally committed to doing 30 minutes of yoga a day, but found that was more than she could reliably do given her schedule and other commitments. So rather that keep trying and failing out of the gate, she adapted her minimum commitment to just taking those three deep breaths on the mat. Once she’s done that, she’ll do as much yoga as she has desire and time for. It might be 10 minutes; it might be 30 minutes; some days it’s an hour.
I initially tried adopting that same practice for myself and discovered by trial and error that while doing yoga was nice some days, it wasn’t always the thing I was most longing to invest myself in. Some days I felt drawn to play guitar, other days to read, other days to meditate. So I gave myself permission to do whatever my desire called for — as long as I did something for five minutes each morning. The really essential and transformative thing for me was simply taking a few moments for ANY quiet, meditative activity and keeping the minimum commitment minimal enough that I was never tempted to skip it.
Why do you practice?
Doing morning minutes is a positive discipline (what Michael Beckwith calls a “blissipline”) — a conscious choice that reminds me my whole day is going to be a series of choices. It gives me a transition time, an opportunity to move gently from my sleep-and-dream state into waking. My practice allows me to start my day on my own terms, and to cultivate a sense of intention and calm, which tends to make my entire day go better. I also tend to get great ideas during my practice time (I jot them down on sticky notes so I don’t lose them or have them buzzing around in my brain).
I look forward to my morning minutes as a day-starting ritual, and I love that is a pleasure-oriented practice. I work a lot, and I tend to have a very demanding, busy, bossy inner taskmaster that’s hyper-focused on what it thinks I “have to do” or “should do.” So one more duty-bound assignment was the last thing I needed in my life. I’ve found this gentler, more permissive approach functions as something of an antidote to my taskmaster tendencies, and it reminds me that my entire life is a reflection of my daily behaviors, my daily mindset. I can choose to be gentle, to slow down, to be present, to enjoy — my daily practice anchors that knowledge into my nervous system somehow, and makes it easier to call up that same consciousness when I might otherwise have difficulty doing so.
How frequently and for how long do you practice?
My commitment is to do a minimum of five minutes, but I often extend it to 10 or 20 minutes. Some weekend mornings, it turns into an hour or more.
What’s something that gets in the way of your practice and how to you move through it?
Travel is challenging for me, because I’m often off my normal schedule, out of my normal mindset, and in a space that’s not my own. Plus, l don’t have all my usual gear (wisdom cards, yoga mat, guitar). So I just improvise as best I can. I usually have my travel candle with me, and I can always do a simple seated meditation or yoga series. If I’m super pressed for time or space, I just do my sister’s “three deep breaths” practice, set my intentions and call it good.
What supports you in staying committed to your practice?
I always enjoy doing my morning minutes, so the commitment comes easy. The practice is simple and flexible enough that it doesn’t ever seem onerous or like a “should.” And my days go so much better when I do it. Whenever I’m tempted to skip it, I think about what Zen teacher Cheri Huber says: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I’ve realized that wherever I skimp on my own health and happiness just to “get more done,” I cheat myself and everybody around me out of the best I have to offer. I don’t want to do that. So I stick with this practice and it reminds me to hold that priority in the rest of my life, too. On the rare days I do skip it, I experience no benefit — except that I’m inevitably reminded I am better off doing it than not.
What role does your practice play in your work?
and when I bring that version of myself to my work, everything and everyone around me benefits. I am easier to be around, I have better ideas, a clearer mind, a more open heart. Once I’m finished with my practice, I greet my work with more optimism, enthusiasm, gratitude and creativity. And when I do get stressed out or freaked out during the workday, I can always revisit the state of mind I had during my morning minutes that same day, and re-cultivate that consciousness. I’m never more than 24 hours away from the practice itself, and I know the mindset is available to me in every moment — as long as I’m willing to choose it (and my breath) over whatever fear-based stress I’m experiencing at the moment.
Describe someone you know whose practice inspires you.
My sister Andrea, of course.
A practice I’d like to explore is….
I like my friend Brian Johnson’s practice of doing a hour of meditation plus an hour of exercise each morning. It’s ambitious for where I’m at right now, but someday, perhaps!
Anything else you’d like to share about practice.
A while back, I wrote a Huffington Post blog — part of my “Revolutionary Acts” series — called “Reclaim Your Mornings.” It offers all sorts of ways and reasons to embrace a morning practice in whatever way feels good and doable to you. But it’s larger point is that most people start their days in a panic, and that choosing to start your day differently really amounts to life-changing, reality-defining choice.
I think there’s real value in the notion of a modest daily ritual, and in making it doable enough that you can get into the rhythm of it without having to deal with a lot of resistance. Make it so simple and appealing there’s no reason to ever say no to it. You can always do more. But if you commit to something too big or time consuming at the start, you’ll just end up practicing how NOT to do it.
I’d rather start see folks start with something as small and simple as “three deep breaths” and grow that into something bigger as they start experiencing the payoffs for themselves. When you start noticing the reasons you say “you don’t have time” even for three deep breaths, you realize that they all sound pretty crazy. And those are probably the same excuses or justifications you’re giving for not being able to change your life in other positive ways.
I think that’s where the real power lies.