I have something really special for you today! I interviewed a yogi, Mindfulness practitioner, teacher, MA in Clinical Psychology candidate at Columbia University and my own best gal pal, Miya Matsui @mountain__magic!
The idea for this interview stemmed from my own curiosity about what a Mindfulness practitioner’s practice looks like, and my desire to get her tips on how to upgrade your existing practice, or why you should start one at all.
If you’re like me and already practice yoga and meditate sometimes, but you are ready to go deeper, this is a great place to start! She drops a LOT of knowledge here, so this is also great for you if you feel like you can use some more mindfulness in your life. Read on to learn about what it is, its benefits, and how you can start to practice it.
Interview with Miya Matsui on Mindfulness
Q: What does mindfulness mean to you?
A: Ok, so here’s the craziest thing: we experience every moment of our lives through our mind, but how are we caring for this most precious resource? Cultivating mindfulness has been the gateway to learn (or unlearn) my inner reality, my purpose, and how to be happy—truly happy and free. It’s been a path of self-transformation through self-observation. As a result of this practice, I have never felt more at home with myself.
Before practicing mindfulness meditation, I felt perpetually stuck—this deep sense of longing for a better, more purposeful version of myself. And for me, it wasn’t just a desire for self-growth; there was an undercurrent of a lack of self-worth. That somehow, I was never good enough. I wasn’t smart enough, skinny enough, or successful enough. I wanted to be valued and sought approval from others to feel at peace with myself. After some consistency in my practice, it became clear that I had an incessant self-critic and spoke to myself in ways I would never speak to others. At the time, I had no idea that by meditating, I would be able to peel away the layers and come in contact with my True Self. It’s a work in progress of course, but I no longer feel at constant war with myself. Psychologists have coined this state of perpetual longing or un-satisfactoriness as the hedonic treadmill, and this is the Second Noble Truth that Buddha taught after he became the Awakened One.
The beautiful thing is, mindfulness is a skill that anyone can pick up and develop to live life
to the fullest. In today’s terms: it’s a simple tool to upgrade your brain’s operating system. Meditation has been around for thousands of years; fortunately, in the last few decades, neuroscience is catching up to explain the benefits of this ancient wisdom tradition. As the celebrated mindfulness teacher Tara Brach puts it: Meditation is evolution strategy to bring out our full potential. Just as we need physical exercise to maximize our body’s health, we need to train mentally.
Q: What does your practice look like? Do you use any tools for your practice?
A: Currently, my practice consists of a formal meditation sitting of 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning. Since nature loves rhythms, I think there are some benefits to dedicating a quiet space and specific time of day for your practice. In addition to a formal sitting, I spend 10-20 minutes each day writing a mindful or gratitude journal. Because meditation is contemplative by nature, keeping a log of daily discoveries is a remarkable enhancement to the practice.
Q: How can a total beginner start a practice?
A: The last thing we want is another item to add to our To Do list! So how can we make meditation more accessible for beginners? My father is a Dentist and he explains it this way: to ease our way into flossing, simply break up the task into smaller tasks. As such, start by flossing only your two front teeth. I think the same rule can apply to meditation. As a total beginner, I think it’s helpful to experiment with a short 5-minute meditation. Since having a structure builds momentum, commit to a mindfulness challenge of 10-15 days to help you observe any notable differences. Also, guided meditations are essential! There are some free resources and guided meditations on Tara Brach’s site or apps like Headspace and Insight Timer.
Q: Can mindfulness be pleasurable?
A: Absolutely! Mindfulness is a state of being; as we learn to be more present in our body, mind, and spirit, it can certainly enhance our pleasures in life. These days, I often catch myself smiling for no reason 🙂 We learn to appreciate the simplest things in life—whether it’s the breeze in your hair or a walk in the rain. However, where it can begin to create problems in our lives, is where we are attached to our pleasures or sensory experiences. Our attachment to pleasures like food, substances, or even relationships can lead to dependency or addiction. It’s the attachment to these pleasurable states that can lead to suffering.
Q: What made you decide to become a mindfulness teacher?
A: Haha. I’m still a mindfulness practitioner on training wheels! My inspiration comes from my family. Firstly, my mother: she has embodied a mindful state of being as long as I can remember. Her teachings of love, compassion, and wakefulness are deeply rooted in the Buddhist tradition. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense as to why I’ve always been drawn to ancient wisdom traditions like yoga and meditation. Secondly, my husband: he is a professional worry-er! We started practicing together in hopes of learning how to calm his monkey mind. At the time, I had no idea I would benefit from this practice as much as I have.
Q: Does going to yoga classes make you a mindful person?
A: YES! Although, the yoga that we’ve come to know today—asana (or postures)—is only one aspect of yogic philosophy. Yoga is a powerful, spiritual practice with a meditative component if studied in its original form. There’s nothing wrong with hot yoga or a good workout, but the real power of yoga is its effects off the mat. Yoga allows us to develop the moment-to- moment awareness of our mind and body on the mat, which promotes mindfulness off the mat. We learn to be at home with our bodies again and calm the fluctuations of the mind. Yoga and other forms of mindfulness practices like Qigong can improve one’s ability to concentrate. I was drawn to mindfulness meditation because it allowed me to develop the contemplative aspect. Our feelings and thoughts can also be given the same gracious and loving awareness that we’ve given to the breath and body.
Q: If someone wants to become more mindful and tried meditating before but didn’t like it,
what would you suggest them to do?
A: How could you not like peace and stillness in our frantic world?! Haha. There could be a plethora of reasons as to why someone may not enjoy meditation, but I think the most typical form of resistance comes from the fact that it’s too challenging or not worth the time. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) at UMass, says that “meditation is the hardest work in the world for human beings.” So as a meditation practitioner, I think it’s helpful to practice with a beginner’s mind. Like learning how to drive a car, don’t expect to hit the highway the first time around! Also, when something appears to be challenging, our devilish inner-critic can pressure us to call it quits. We often get caught up in judging ourselves, or even judging our judging selves, so cultivating self-compassion is another important ingredient to enjoy the steep learning curve.
Q: How has your practice changed your life? What are some differences between your life
before and after you began your practice? Are they stark or subtle?
A: Practicing mindfulness has impacted my life in extraordinary ways, especially in the last year. In slowing down and remaining dedicated to the practice, there were a series of events that facilitated an “unlearning” of my habitual and often subconscious thought patterns and limiting beliefs. To unlearn something, however, we must first recognize what resides within us, and the relationship we have developed with ourselves and our past. By returning to the present and cultivating self- compassion, it allowed me to move beyond the beliefs that shaped me, influenced my actions, and defined me over a lifetime. When we learn to greet our “stories” with a bow, offer them thanks and let them go, we empower ourselves to choose who we become. A fundamental paradigm shift allows room for new possibilities and to reconnect with our True Self for the benefit of others and our community. By cultivating mindfulness, I discovered an abundance of love, freedom, and happiness that was available within.
Some people think meditation is self-indulgent or even selfish. But only when we have learned to hold ourselves with kindness, we can love and care for others in a vital and healing way.
Q: Did you meet any challenges along the way of building your mindfulness/meditation
practice? If yes, what were some of the challenges you overcame?
A: Sorry to disappoint, but the challenges are ongoing! You might find it comforting to know,
that even the Fourteenth Dalai Lama himself says that he needs to practice setting an intention each morning.
Even though I am positive and optimistic by nature, my mindfulness practices revealed that deep down I am extremely self-critical. My willingness to accept my whole self is still a significant challenge today. But by learning to lean into my emotions (including my fears) and not avoid or run away from them, I notice that I am more accepting of the present and my whole self instead of striving for perfection or happiness.
I just heard that on average, Americans spend at least 7 hours a day in front of a screen, which includes computers, phones, and other devices. In this era of Google, social media and amazon prime, how do you think that an ancient tradition of meditation applies to society today? In what ways can today’s people benefit from mindfulness and meditation? This is such a fantastic and timely question. For some, I know mindfulness meditation sounds too woo-woo or seems unfitting for our fast-paced technologically advanced society. But in fact, all this time spent on our devices to connect with others have created a sense of disconnect with our selves, where we don’t feel at home in our bodies, our minds, and other sensory experiences. We’ve become lost or perpetually stuck. Mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, and Qigong are the path back to feeling more connected with our own Truth.
Q: This interview has been absolutely AMAZING! Any last thoughts?
A: Can you relate to the image below? If so, let’s pick up a practice together! Thank you Sey, for offering this platform and sharing your authentic self with the world!