To celebrate World Meditation Day today, I sat down with ICF-certified Modern Health coach Patricia Sotomayor to talk about mindfulness and meditation. We discussed how mindfulness helps her clients reduce stress, improve control over their emotions, and make better decisions—and she shared some mindfulness tools you can implement in your own life today.
People sometimes use mindfulness and meditation interchangeably. Could you share the difference between the two?
I get this question a lot. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment—here and now—without judgment, which can positively impact a person's confidence and ability to regulate their emotions. Meditation is a formal way of practicing mindfulness that requires intentional practice and guidance over time. There are many informal practices of mindfulness beyond meditation that you can incorporate into day-to-day tasks to help you focus on the present instead of letting thoughts wander to the past or the future.
What are a few examples of those informal mindfulness practices?
Take, for example, washing your hands—which is something we should all be doing a lot of right now. You could wash your hands mindfully by completely focusing on the task, observing the smell of the soap, the temperature of the water, and the sensation on your hands. You could also apply this informal practice of mindfulness to other daily tasks like brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, cleaning, or going for a walk.
Why did mindfulness become important to you in your work with clients?
I use mindfulness and meditation with almost all of my clients no matter what they’re working on; they may be working toward a goal, dealing with a new team, managing isolation during the pandemic, experiencing burnout, or may have recently been laid off. I often work closely with senior leaders and decision makers on the stress and anxiety that comes with their roles. I have found mindfulness to be an incredibly useful tool to help them stay present in the current moment and make better decisions for their teams, their organizations, and their lives.
There are so many external things that you can’t control in life, especially right now. But there is an inner, safe space available inside yourself that you can control; that’s mindfulness. And it’s a resource for you that’s always in your pocket. You can always take a minute to focus on your breathing and realign, and when you connect with your breathing you’re in a better place to make decisions.
How do you introduce mindfulness during your sessions?
During our first coaching session, I’ll do a 5-minute breathing exercise with my client to help them become familiar with the physical sensation of just breathing in and out and nothing more. I’ll ask them how it makes them feel, and I then invite them to do it on their own when working through challenges in their day-to-day. I might also suggest some of the guided meditations in the Modern Health app if they would benefit from more formal structure.
It sounds like meditation is a great starting point to building a mindfulness habit. What are some challenges clients may face as they try to practice meditation?
Our minds are always racing, thinking about things in the past or worrying about the future, so the challenge is almost always connecting to our bodies in the moment. It’s interesting to notice the reactions my clients have when they try meditating for the first time. Some say, “Oh, I cannot do this!” because they have never actually closed their eyes and just focused on their breathing before, which makes it feel new, raw, and slightly uncomfortable. Others place high standards on themselves and set ambitious goals to meditate every day, only to find it is not as easy as they had imagined. I always suggest they practice with curiosity in the beginning—perhaps trying just a one-minute meditation and seeing the difference in how it makes them feel, and we can work from there. Joy and awareness is the starting goal.
Can you share examples of how mindfulness has helped your clients, especially with pandemic stress?
Right now, we are experiencing really challenging times where we may feel we don’t have any control over what’s going on around us. But remember that there is a place inside yourself where you can go to feel better, calmer, and more connected.
One of my clients was incredibly concerned about not being able to be near a family member who was having surgery during the pandemic. By starting out with some deep breathing exercises, we were able to have a much calmer discussion about what is and isn’t within their control. It allowed them to shift from feeling completely helpless to having the space to think more clearly about what it is they can do.
Another client found themselves reacting angrily during a work meeting. We used meditation and breathing exercises to reflect on how they could have handled the situation differently. This helped them reshape their reactions and plan for similar situations in the future.
Finally, I’ll add that for those who currently feel isolated, doing group guided meditations—even virtually, with others who are not in the same place as you—can boost your feelings of connectedness. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for those who could benefit from feeling more connection with others during this time.
Sanil Pillai is an ICF-certified coach and the coaching lead at Modern Health.