Isabella Convertini is a career and transformation coach, mindfulness teacher and expert in business strategy. Her personal and professional choices are inspired by a drive towards change, growth and self-awareness.
Born and raised in Italy, she has lived in England, Ireland, Singapore, France, Switzerland and she is now based in the United States, where she leads Strategic Partnerships for Google’s emerging advertising solutions. Isabella has built a successful career working for large multinationals and growth-phase companies, and as Advisor to startups and young entrepreneurs.
LWP: How long have you been practicing mindful meditation and how did you get into it? Did you practice other meditation techniques before or was this the first practice you learnt?
Isabella: Mindful meditation is the first kind of meditation I ever tried, about 8 years ago. It got me interested, and so I explored other techniques, from transcendental meditation (mantra-based), to Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (also known as “SKY meditation”, a special breathing technique). After much trying, and “failing” at establishing a steady daily practice, I finally got back to mindful meditation and it felt like coming back home. In hindsight, in my research I was probably looking for shortcuts to quiet the mind, “magic” techniques that will give me effortless access to peace of mind.
LWP: For those of us who may not be too familiar with mindful meditation, what are its basic principles and how is it practiced?
Isabella: Let’s start with defining what mindfulness is. I’ll share a definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction protocol (MBSR) and considered by many as the “father” of secular mindfulness. “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. And so, mindful mediation is the practice of bringing the attention on body, breath, sensations, or whatever arises in the field of awareness moment by moment, including sounds, thoughts, and emotions. You can practice sitting, standing, walking or even laying down.
Using the breath as anchor to the present moment is the most common way to practice: your breath is always there, available every moment as long as you are alive! Bringing attention to the breath with curiosity, feeling each inhale and exhale in the body, the expanding and contracting of belly and chest, the air passing through the nostrils. Every time the mind wanders off and you realize it, you simply acknowledge the thought “ha, that’s planning”, and let it go, bringing the attention back to the breath. You repeat this process, over and over again. There’s no way to “fail” at it, as this is not about “clearing the mind”, it’s about training the mind to be in the present, whatever that entails.
LWP: Sometimes mindfulness is criticised for disconnecting from the broader Buddhist context and becoming too corporatised. What is your take on this?
Isabella: Mindfulness has its roots in the ancient and rich philosophy of Buddhism and, as a teacher, it’s important to be aware of the origins of this practice – this is what gives depth to your teaching whether or not you explicitly refer to Buddhism. This said, I firmly believe that everyone should have access to the benefits of mindfulness, regardless of their religious beliefs, and having more mindful people around us benefits everyone and society overall. That’s why mindfulness is practiced in schools, hospitals, corporations and even in the military.
Clearly, the downside is a proliferation of apps, self-proclaimed gurus and companies with not-so-noble motives, trying to exploit people’s thirst for a more connected and meaningful life, or even worse, exploiting conditions of suffering and despair. It’s a fine line between making meditation accessible and oversimplifying it to the point that it’s just another product to buy in order to be happy.
LWP: What benefits have you personally experienced from your mindfulness practice?
Isabella: Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis keeps me grounded, allowing me to appreciate the good that happens to me, and to stay with the unpleasant that happens as well. To be clear, it doesn’t solve all of my problems, but certainly helps me put them in perspective. And there are even more tangible benefits outside of the formal meditation practice, by bringing presence to my listening, speaking, interactions with people and enjoying the simple things in life, like a walk or an ice-cream. Once you experience the taste of life lived with mindfulness, you immediately know what you are missing when you are in autopilot mode.
LWP: In a corporate context, in what kinds of situations can mindfulness be applied and how can it help the situation and the individual?
Isabella: In a corporate environment, mindfulness can help with focus, creativity, stress-reduction, relationships management and work-life balance. Mindfulness is also the foundation of emotional intelligence, which has been found to be the most important factor distinguishing good leaders from exceptional leaders.
Once again, benefits go beyond the individuals and positively affect a team’s atmosphere, and eventually a company’s culture if that quality of being present to your work, your colleagues, your customers, your employees is truly given center stage.
LWP: Tell us a little bit about the mindfulness meditation classes you conduct at Google – how often, how long and what are some of the benefits that Google has noted from such training?
Isabella: Google has a number of programs and resources for people interested in meditation and mindfulness, like meditation rooms, daily guided practices, and even a 3-day long course focused on emotional intelligence (Search Inside Yourself). I teach a 2-hour introduction to mindfulness class which is perfect for newbies as well as for whoever needs to rekindle their motivation to practice.
I also teach SIT, a Six-week Introductory Training to Mindfulness, where all the different aspects of mindfulness (mindfulness of body, breath, emotions, thoughts) are explored in-depth, and participants have the chance to try different types of meditation including body scans, eating meditation and walking meditation.
LWP: As an example, can you give our readers a short exercise that can help them find their inner calm through a hectic work day?
Isabella: One of my favourite exercises is called STOP, and it’s helpful in all of those moments when anxiety, worry or strong emotions are hijacking our mind or clouding our thinking:
S: stop, take a pause from what you are doing
T.: take a breath (…or 2, 3, 5)
O.: observe what’s going on, what you feel in your body, what reactions, thoughts, etc.
P: proceed. This might mean do nothing, continue doing what you were doing before, or do something different. However you decide to proceed, it will be a choice, rather than a reaction made in auto-pilot.