I'm here today with mindfulness expert Ali Katz. Ali is the bestselling author of the Hot Mess to Mindful Mom series. She has just released a third self-help book in the series entitled One Minute to Zen: Go From Hot Mess to Mindful Mom in One Minute or Less. As a coach, author, media contributor to ABC News, Fox News, CBS, and others, and speaker, Ali helps parents with mindful parenting, self-care, and more. She currently lives with her husband and two sons.
How are you?
Ali Katz: I'm good. How are you? You'll laugh. I'm hiding in my car to do this interview. I'm very cozy in here with tea. There's work at our house. My dogs are going crazy. I'm like, “Let's just go hide in the car.”
Zibby: You're not the first person I've interviewed who’s been in their car, just to make you feel better.
Ali: That is so funny.
Zibby: I'm really happy to be interviewing you about One Minute to Zen: Go From Hot Mess to Mindful Mom in One Minute or Less because I could really use that as a mom of four.
Ali: Oh, wow. How old are your kids?
Zibby: My kids range from almost four to eleven.
Ali: Oh, my god, such fun ages. You're busy then. I'm one of four. I grew up with three sisters.
Zibby: That's great. You have two sons, right?
Ali: I have two kids, yeah.
Zibby: How old are they?
Ali: They are eleven and thirteen.
Zibby: We all really need this advice.
Ali: I practice all the tools myself. I'm not excluded from needing them.
Zibby: Ali, I feel like I'm not a mindful enough mom. I'm usually in a hurry. I pay attention and I take moments to feel grateful, but I don't ever meditate or do any of the mindfulness techniques that I know are out there. I've heard it all before. Really sell me on why I should meditate. What's in it for me?
Ali: Oh, my goodness. I know you don't want me to take up our entire time answering one question, but there is so much to share here. I will say one thing. Meditation is about consistency. If you meditate every once in a while, you're going to feel really good when you do it. If you want long-term effects of meditation, seeing physical things like helping to regulate your sleep patterns and your digestive pattern, helping lower your blood pressure, helping lower cholesterol, helping with PMS and menopause, and so, so many things -- you basically can Google anything and meditation, and a study will come up about health. It’s incredible. Of course the stress-relieving benefits, feeling more responsive and less reactive, feeling more compassionate towards yourself and others, feeling more confident, more connected to your intuition, more connected to the world around you, so, so many benefits, it helps to really, really be consistent. That’s where the benefits come from.
I say that you need two types of meditation: preventative and prescriptive. Preventive is like taking a daily vitamin. You take a daily vitamin to keep you at an even keel, feeling good every day. That's what a daily seated practice is, for five minutes, ten minutes, twenty, whatever feels good to you. I always start people off with really small amounts of time so that they can be consistent and feel like it seamlessly fits in their life. My students start with anywhere from five to eight minutes to get going. Then we also need prescriptive responses during the day. We really need both.
If you have taken your vitamin in the morning but you get a headache later in the day, you're going to want a Tylenol. You're going to want something to help you right now. That's what one-minute meditations do throughout the day is helping you come back to center in the midst of stress or overwhelm or any kind of anxiety or things like that. That's why I wrote this book. People need these tools to use throughout their day too. Just having a daily seated practice doesn't mean your entire day goes smoothly. We still need tools to use in the moment when we’re faced with stress or overwhelm and those types of feelings. That’s as condensed as I can make it.
Zibby: I like it. Your book with one-minute meditations, can that really accomplish all of those things that you just laid out there in one minute?
Ali: In one minute you can do things for your body like settle down your nervous system. It takes three nice, long, deep breaths to begin to settle down your nervous system. In a one-minute meditation you're definitely getting that. You can calm yourself. You can come back to center. You can respond to a situation that feels in a positive way for you. Instead of just reacting and screaming or yelling and feeling terrible afterward, you can take a minute to breathe, to come back to center and move forward in a way that feels good. Am I going to tell you that you might change your -- well, you would change your blood pressure in the moment because you'd be calming down. What would I use as an example? Something like regulating your sleep pattern, you may need the longer, daily meditation that's been scientifically proven for that. You are definitely going to help yourself in the moment to feel calmer, to feel more centered, to bring more balance into that moment, and to move forward in a way that feels good. You will feel less frustrated, less overwhelmed, less anxious, less stressed in that moment. It does really help. It really, really does.
Zibby: You're starting to convince me here. I have one minute now since I'm on this podcast with you. Can we spend sixty seconds doing one of the one-minute meditations from your book right now?
Ali: Absolutely. I'm going to set a timer. We’re going to be totally legit here.
Zibby: Which one is this from your book if I'm reading along?
Ali: We’re going to do the straw breath. It’s towards the end. What you're going to do is you're going to take a nice inhale through your nose, then you're going to exhale like you're breathing out of a straw. You're going to purse your lips and exhale like you're breathing out through a straw. Nice, deep inhale. Exhaling like you're breathing out through a straw as slowly as you can, but round lips like the air has to move through that thin, little straw until you've got all the air out. Then when you're finished, inhale again through your nose, nice and deep. Exhale through that straw. One more time. Exhale through that straw. That's a minute.
Ali: Does your body feel calmer?
Zibby: Yeah. [laughs]
Ali: That's just one minute. Imagine feeling like the kids are screaming. You're running late. You're really overwhelmed. Imagine taking one minute to do three straw breaths like that. Then you're calmer and you can move forward in a way that feels good. “What do I need to do? Let me do that,” instead of being in a blind panic. It can really, really help.
Zibby: I'm going to try to catch myself needing one of those moments and have my husband video me doing these straw breaths in front of the kids and see how this works.
Ali: When your kids see you do it, first of all, you're modeling for them. We want them to handle overwhelm and frustration and all the feelings that they feel in more productive ways too. They will be watching you. You can say to them, “You know what? I don't want to yell. I want to calm my body down so I can think about what I want to say to you.” That changed the way I gave consequences. My hot mess phase, my kids would do something and I would just scream out, “No TV for three days,” which mostly tortured me and had nothing to do with what they did.
Zibby: I literally did that this morning. I literally said to my son, “No TV for a week if you don't do it.” [laughs]
Ali: Then afterward you're like, “Oh, my god. I can't even take a shower. Why did I say this? Now I'm stuck with it.” What I started doing is when I needed to give a consequence saying, “Mommy needs to think for a minute. I'm going to breathe and calm myself down so I'm not feeling so angry. I'm going to think about what I want to do moving forward.” Then I would give a consequence, because I was calm and I could think about it, that actually made sense for what they did instead of just not watching TV. It helps a lot in those moments. It really does. The more they see you do it, the more they start to do it on their own.
I remember the first time my son was really upset about something. I didn't say anything. He just started taking some nice, long, deep breaths. The reason why is because he’s seen me do it like five hundred times. This is crazy. We left a really heated basketball game last week. My son was all riled up. He gets in the car. I don't say a word. He unzips his backpack, takes out an essential oil roller, starts rolling it on his wrists -- he's thirteen years old -- and then takes a deep breath and is like a new person. They do pick up on these things. I didn't tell him to do it. I didn't even know he had that in his backpack. They do pay attention.
Zibby: How did you get into doing this?
Ali: How did I get into meditation?
Zibby: I'm sorry. I wasn’t very clear. How did you get into helping other people meditate and try to take back their lives and be more mindful? How did you get into the writing of it? First, how did you get into the teaching of it?
Ali: About seven years ago, maybe a little more than seven years ago, I started meditating myself. After about six weeks of meditating every day, I noticed that this swell of anxiety that lives in my chest twenty-four seven -- I'm sure there's people listening that can relate to this feeling of a breath there. I was walking my dog. All of a sudden I stopped short and I was like, “Wait. That feeling is gone. Where did it go? This is amazing.” It felt so freeing. The only difference is that I've been meditating. Maybe it’s doing something. I’ll keep going.
Then I started noticing more changes in my life. I started feeling more confident, and more patient with my kids, and more compassionate toward myself, and less judgmental of other people. Then I used it to help me relearn how to fall asleep at night. Once that happened I was like, “Meditation is the best thing that ever happened to me. I have to teach other people how to do it.” I'm a total sharer. Whether I love a lip gloss or a book or meditation, I want to tell the whole world about it. I did a year-long program to get certified to be a meditation teacher, which also gave me a career and became my whole passion and along with being a parent I feel like is the reason that I was really put here, to make these tools accessible and relatable. I started teaching. It was so on a whim.
This is going to sound so crazy. I had this burning sensation for two days over a weekend to write an article about meditation. I had never done anything like that before. I know the universe is now pushing me into it. I tucked my kids in and on Sunday night I sat down at my computer. In twenty minutes I had written this article. I called it “Everyday Spiritual.” I wrote the couple things I did every day that made me really feel amazing. I didn't edit it. I didn't think about it. I don't know what made me send it in to MindBodyGreen, but I did. The article did amazing. Two days later I wake up to this email. “Congratulations. Your article’s published.” I was like, “Wow. That was easy.” It did great. I think people want more of this. I think I'm going to write a book. That is literally how I started writing my first book was just, “I think people want this.” It turns out they really, really did. Now, there's three books.
Zibby: That's amazing. You actually wrote, in this book at least, that the same week you signed the contract -- I think it was referring to this book -- that you were diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis. You wrote, “For years I have been incorporating one-minute meditations into my day, but I needed them in a whole new way with this revelation. That's when it hit me. It turned out I was writing this book as much for me as for you.” Was that for this third book or was that for the first book?
Ali: That was this, the third book. It was so scary. I was having all these symptoms. I was in a lot of pain. It hit me. I had these tools to help me. It was such a reminder that -- I, of course, use them -- but in these moments, “Ali, you have something to help you. You don't have to freak out.” I started using one-minute meditations all the time, every time I got nervous about what was going to happen or I was really not feeling well. They helped me so much. It was an incredible reminder and an empowering reminder to me that I had these tools at my disposal. Everything I teach and share with others, I also do. As a teacher, you're never done. As a person, you're never done. It’s not like I know about these concepts and I teach them, so I don't have to worry about practicing them myself. I am practicing them all the time and teaching them all the time. As a mom, as a person, I'm practicing them all the time. It was very empowering.
Zibby: Did you find that the writing itself was in any way helpful? I always finding writing about things that I'm coping with or struggling with to be personally really helpful. Did you find writing these books, the act of the writing, as helpful as that combined with the meditation?
Ali: Absolutely. I love sharing. I find it a wonderful way to connect. When I get people that write me that have read my books and say how much they helped and the parts that really resonated with them, it is such an incredible way to connect. I will say the first two books I wrote literally fell out of me, a smooth process. This third book, I hit writer’s block in the middle. That was nothing I'd ever experienced before. It ends up that it brought a whole breakthrough around it. Then of course the book totally flowed after that. This third one was a very different process for me. It was much harder actually.
Zibby: Sometimes just working through the writer’s block, you get better stuff, maybe.
Ali: I gave myself a break. Literally in the middle of the book, “I'm taking two months off.” Then I had a day that was my “Oh, crap” date on the calendar, like if you don't start back today you're not going to finish. I had to get going. Once I got going again, it was great. This book, it’s funny because to be honest, I didn't want to necessarily write a third book. It’s such a big endeavor. My books are something that makes me the most proud in my whole life. I can't even believe I did it. I love them so much. I'm so proud of them.
My soul could not rest until I wrote this book. I wanted to be done after two. There was something in me that was like, “No. You have to write this.” I'm so glad I did because I know this book is going to help change lives. Everybody has one minute. You can use these tools, but also you can experience how good it feels to use them. Then, just maybe you want to see what two minutes feels like or three minutes. It can also be a little gateway into the world of meditation that people feel really comfortable with because everybody is like, “I can do anything for a minute,” as opposed to starting out with ten minutes, which feels more overwhelming.
Zibby: That sounds great. To change topics for a second, you wrote a blog post about your commitment to taking weekends off on social media, #WeekendsOff. Can you tell me more about this digital detox and how it can help?
Ali: This has been life-changing for me. We all know that social media can be completely addicting. I am no exception to that. This is how I connect with people. If I want anyone to find my books and read my books, I have to be out there. I was finding that on the weekends that I want it to really be family time. I was in moments with my kids thinking, “Would this be a good post?” I was like, “What are you doing, Ali? This is not how you want to be living your life.” I wasn’t feeling as present, as mindful as I could. Something needs to change.
I started with an hour off on the weekends. Then it turned into an afternoon. Then it turned into a day. Then I realized I loved the day so much. I was feeling so relaxed. I was playing more with the kids and if I had extra time, taking my dogs on another walk or maybe just reading and relaxing instead of scrolling on my phone. I was like, “This feels so good. I want the whole weekend.” That's how I got to the weekends off. I do actually have, on my website, a digital detox program. I call it Digital Detox for the Modern Mom. It talks people through how to make very small, incremental changes to put your phone away for little bits of time so that it can really have a huge, huge impact on your life. You can feel a lot more present.
Zibby: Here’s my question. If you take pictures on your weekends that you think would be a good post, can you just post them on Monday when the detox is over?
Ali: Yes. Absolutely. I would like to be clear, it’s not that I don't touch my phone during the weekend. I do text. I’ll check email. I don't go on social media. I don't post anything. I don't want to make people think I'm not literally on my phone ever, but not social media.
Zibby: What's your favorite social media channel? What's your handle?
Ali: Instagram for sure. It’s @HotMessToMindfulMom.
Zibby: Love it. I like Instagram the best too.
Ali: It feels the most positive and fun. I love, love Instagram.
Zibby: Me too. It’s a weakness of mine. [laughs]
Ali: I hear ya. I do love it.
Zibby: What do you think about these meditation studios that are popping up everywhere? Have you heard about these?
Ali: Yes. I teach in one. They're amazing. They're getting more people to meditate. In my opinion, anything that gets more people to meditate is incredible. I think it’s absolutely amazing that there's more places that are encouraging people to spend a little bit of time quietly going within is wonderful, really wonderful.
Zibby: Let's say I spend an hour to go to a meditation studio or I do sixty of your one-minute meditations in a row or something. How is that different that taking myself to some sort of a psychologist or therapist or something where I'm actively tackling the issues versus putting my body on hold? What do you think? Is it meeting the same needs? Are those different needs? Does meditation replace it or compliment it?
Ali: I would definitely say compliment. I'm not a therapist. Even though I know there are incredible benefits of therapy -- I've done therapy before -- I don't feel really comfortable talking about the benefits of therapy. I can talk about meditation with confidence. The thing about meditation is there's a lot of movement in meditation, movement of the mind. Obviously, thoughts come into play. We learn how to change our relationship to those thoughts. Movement of the body is one way that stress can be relieved. Also, movement of emotion can happen. Our body is so smart, as our subconscious is so smart. It knows what it wants to get rid of and what it’s ready to release.
Things can be released in meditation that we don't even know what it is. It just happens because your body and your subconscious are ready to do that. I've had meditations that have turned into me crying on the floor, not often. I don't want people to think that's normal and that's what's going to happen all the time in their meditation. Once in a blue moon, definitely it was towards the beginning of my practice when I had a lot, a lot to release. You can release things in meditation that are no longer serving you. You don't even have to talk about them. It’s really amazing. Sometimes talking about it feels so daunting, not that there aren’t incredible benefits to that. Sometimes we’re able to just release, just release things. That can really be amazing too.
Zibby: I also want to make it clear for the listeners out there that in your book you have thirty-five different meditations that are each a minute. I actually wouldn't be able to do sixty unique ones. [laughs]
Ali: I wouldn't recommend that anyway.
Zibby: I was kidding. I was totally kidding. Just in case people are wondering, it’s not just a book about meditation. It’s a hands-on, you can open it up and pick just one page. You don't even have to feel like you're reading a whole book. Just one page can be really super helpful.
Ali: Absolutely. Even some of the other chapters about my mindful [indiscernible] experiment and my intuition journal -- there's lots of other personal stories that I share in there. Everything's done in bite-size chapters that you can just read one in carpool line or before bed if you're tired and you want a couple minutes.
Zibby: Perfect. If listeners take one or two pieces of advice away from this podcast, from you, what would you want them to be?
Ali: My biggest piece of advice is don't underestimate how much a small change of one minute can create in your life, not thinking that you have to revamp your entire life to make a change, but implementing these tiny, little things. One-minute meditation here or there at a traffic light, in the line at the grocery store, in the shower, whenever you can fit it in, will make an incredible impact on your life. You'll be surprised at how much better you feel from even a minute every once in a while.
Zibby: Do you have any advice to someone out there who’s tackling writing a book the way you did, even a book that might be flowing out of them the way yours did, at least for the first two?
Ali: There's no easy way. It’s about sitting your butt at your computer in your chair -- I felt like I could talk about it for the next ten years or I could just sit down and do it. Block the time off on your calendar. Make a plan. Just sit down and do it. Make an outline. Every time you sit down, you tackle one more piece of it. There really is no magic formula. It just takes effort. It’s an incredibly rewarding process. It’s one of the best things I've ever done. There is no magic formula. You just have to sit down.
Zibby: What is coming up next for you after this? It sounds like you don't necessarily want to write another book. Number four?
Ali: Not for a long time. Actually, after this third one I do feel really complete in terms of writing, but who knows what will happen. I'm putting out to the universe to bring me lots of opportunities that happen during school hours, lots of people that want to learn and do all the things that I do. I want to be home with my kids for a little while, honestly. I love doing what I do. I'm never going to stop. I've been doing a lot of travel to speak and a lot of workshops and things like that. I need time with my kids at home right now. That's been my latest revelation.
Zibby: I get it. I totally get that. Ali, thank you so much. I am definitely going to be trying more of these throughout the day.
Ali: I hope so.
Zibby: I really am. I'm going to keep trying to keep in touch with you and let you know what happens.
Ali: Please do. I love, love hearing when people have success stories. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out either.
Zibby: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Ali: Thank you.
Zibby: Thanks. Take care. Buh-bye.