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At 27,500 feet above sea level and only six hours away from Mount Everest’s formidable summit, Georgina Miranda was getting a familiar feeling. She suddenly had trouble breathing through her oxygen mask. Her heart rate increased. Hypoxia, or the potentially fatal deprivation of oxygen in the tissues, was setting in.
Two years earlier, in 2011, Miranda developed hypoxia on Mount Everest at almost the exact same altitude. Back then, she disappointingly had no choice but to turn around and descend. This time, she wasn’t going to let that happen.
The Los Angeles-based mountaineer push through the hypoxia and reached the summit, not by maneuvering her oxygen tank or by eating a super special power bar, but by practicing mindfulness.
By learning to get in touch with her breath, she had already been able to climb Mount Elbrus, Denali, Aconcagua, and almost every highest peak on each continent.
“I know that if I hadn't had my mindfulness practice, I wouldn’t have made it,” Miranda, 38, said. “I was able to reconnect with my breath, and able to get fully present in my body. It’s about reclaiming and controlling your breath — and really connecting with your true self.”
When she’s not busy mountaineering, Miranda is an executive coach with Liz Bentley Associates, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in understanding human behavior and helping people rise into their power. She also runs the business She Ventures, a global social enterprise accelerating gender equality and the wellbeing of women. Miranda focuses a lot of her work on teaching about mindfulness, calling it the "key to transforming performance and behaviors."
“Mindfulness has brought the biggest amount of transformation to my life personally, and it’s now something that I want to share with other people,” she said.
Interested in mindfulness but don’t know where to start? Here are some of important takeaways from Miranda:
1. It’s not what you think.
Mindfulness is all about pressing pause from gnawing thoughts about the past, the future, or anything anxiety provoking. But you can’t just switch off your brain.
“There’s a misconception that mindfulness is all about ‘Stop thinking! Stop thinking!’ You can’t do that,” said Miranda. “It's letting thoughts come and go without judging them.”
2.Women can use it to connect to their inner power.
Miranda said mindfulness has many applications for women specifically.
"Many women have expressed feeling guilt for taking time for self care, especially with busy schedules and families, often being left feeling depleted," she explained. “Mediation is a really powerful tool to connect to your inner power, your true essence and being, while allowing you to take a moment of pause and restoration. You need to take care of yourself ... You’re no use to anybody if you're running on fumes. If you want to be the best leader, to break through all the glass ceilings out there, if you want to connect to your highest potential, then mindfulness is a tool to do that and requires minimal time commitment.”
3. Be a more compassionate leader and co-worker.
Part of mindfulness is being less reactive, which will give you a better sense of calm in the workplace.
“You don’t have to react to your co-workers right away,” she said. “Take a few seconds, then respond. This small change has really affected people in my workshops.”
4. Science loves it.
Science has also backed up many of Miranda’s claims. For example, one study demonstrated that after eight weeks, people who meditated for 15 minutes a day had lowered their heart rates. Other studies have also shown that meditation might play a role in getting better sleep, and in lessening anxiety and depression symptoms.
5. You can do it anytime, anywhere, for as long as you want.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, according to Miranda, including yoga and meditation. Ideally, you can take about 20 minutes a day to sit silently, focusing your breath and attention on the present moment with full awareness.
That said, you can practice mindfulness on a train, on a walk, in a meeting, or anywhere (if you’re more advanced). “There’s so much power in being fully awake and present 100 percent in whatever you are involved in at that given moment. It's about the energy of giving full attention to what is happening within and around us. If you take just 30 seconds to reconnect with your breathe and focus on it,” she said. “Even just that small moment can actually shift everything mentally, physically, and energetically.
Here’s a free lesson in mindfulness for beginners from Miranda:
● Find a quiet space to sit (you can sit in a chair if you like) with a straight spine; let your arms rest comfortably beside you
● Close your eyes gently
● Start to focus on your breath
● Notice how your belly expands out as you breathe in and how it comes closer to your body as you breathe out
● Maybe place your hand on your stomach to connect better with your body and breath
● Breathe at your own rhythm
● If thoughts are still cluttering your mind, let them pass by with no judgement
● As best as you can focus on your breath and this beautiful moment
● Go through 5-10 breath cycles
● When you are ready, open your eyes