Every year, I share a little about Mindful in May, a month-long online meditation program that can dramatically improve your state of your mind and your life, while also transforming the lives of others living in poverty.
This year, I was grateful to connect with Mindful in May founder Elise Bialylew to learn more about the program; how mindfulness can help with depression, anxiety, and chronic stress; and how you can you can get a free taste of the already dramatically discounted program from April 8th through 12th.
Here’s what Elise had to say…
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to launch Mindful in May?
I was always deeply curious about the human condition and the ingredients that are required to live a thriving life. At medical school, I remember being completely blown away as I held a human brain in my hands and wondered how a one kilogram mass could house a lifetime of memories, thoughts, and desires.
Studying medicine, although at times was so difficult, gave me a deep appreciation for the miracle of the body and the preciousness of life.
As I moved deeper into my career I discovered that while psychiatry helped save people’s lives, it often left the flourishing part of the equation to other professionals. I also realized that this was the part of the journey I was most passionate about. I wanted to support people in thriving, not just surviving.
It was during my own search for greater clarity, meaning, and a way to manage the stress of my everyday life in the wards, that I truly committed to meditation.
When I started learning mindfulness I had no idea how deeply it would transform my life.
One morning, I was sitting in meditation when a phrase appeared in my mind, flashing like a neon light: “Mindful in May.” The phrase grew into an idea to create an online global mindfulness fundraising campaign each year during May, where people could be taught about mindfulness by the world’s best experts and dedicate the month to making a positive difference in the world, by raising funds for global poverty—specifically bringing clean, safe drinking water to those in need.
This was the beginning of a new path that would answer the call of my longing to make a positive difference in a more far-reaching way than prescribing medication and facilitating small group meetings. It was an idea that integrated three of my passions: mindfulness, social impact, and community.
For me, mindfulness meditation has been life changing. It’s taught me so much about how to manage stressful situations and equipped me to manage my emotions more skilfully, both in my personal and professional relationships. Of course it’s still a work in progress—there’s never an end to learning and growing but so far it’s transformed my life and career path for the better.
The fact that we now understand that the way we use our minds can literally change our brains and our genetic expression, is an exciting finding that has re-inspired me along my career path and led me to create Mindful in May.
In the developed world most of us have our material and survival needs met, but it’s our minds that cause so much of our suffering. The World Health Organisation states that depression is now the second leading cause of global burden of disease.
In the developing world it’s something as basic as clean water that creates so much suffering.
Mindful in May addresses both of these global issues by offering people a way to learn how to train their attention, develop their awareness, and become masters rather than slaves of their minds, while helping to raise funds to build clean water wells in the developing world.
2. Who is this program ideally suited for?
The program offers daily content and support including an online interactive community where participants can get their questions answered and connect with other likeminded people from around the world.
Each year complete beginners and more experienced meditators can join the one month program and, no matter their experience, find it hugely valuable. There’s something for everyone in here and most people who do it once, come back again and again each year to deepen their knowledge and practice.
3. How many people have participated since you launched, and what kind of feedback have they shared about their experience?
We’ve had thousands of people from over forty countries participate, and each year we hear of the profound benefits people experience.
Although I was hearing thousands of anecdotes each year about how the program was transforming people’s lives, I wanted science to support this finding. So we completed a pilot research study a few years ago that was published in the Mindfulness Journal which suggested that ten minutes of meditation a day over the one month program, was enough to bring tangible benefits.
Specifically, research revealed that participants experienced greater presence and focus, reduced stress, reduced negative emotions, and more positive emotions and overall described a greater sense of flourishing in life.
As well as these benefits, the research suggested that the more you practice meditation the more mindful you get, and the more mindful you get the more you experience positive emotions.
4. So many of us today struggle with depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. How can mindfulness help us better cope with these challenges and life’s daily struggles?
Each year more than 1,000 studies come out exploring the benefits of mindfulness in different domains. There is very solid research around the benefits of mindfulness in the realm of mental health.
A group of psychologists in England (Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal) conducted a study of patients who had suffered multiple episodes of depression. Incredibly, they found that mindfulness practice was at least as effective in preventing depressive relapse as maintenance antidepressants—without any of the side effects. A later study building on this discovery found that mindfulness practice could nearly halve the risk of depressive relapse.
Another groundbreaking study revealed that regular mindfulness meditation increased amounts of the enzyme Telomerase, which protects DNA from age and stress-related damage, suggesting that meditation can protect our cells from age-related damage that comes with stress.
Although genetics undeniably has an influence on our mental health, the new science offers a more empowering perspective, where we can, to some extent, become sculptors of our own brains by practicing mindfulness.
5. What, have you found, are the other key benefits of practicing mindfulness?
Mindfulness offers us a way to see more clearly and be more aware of what’s happening within us and around us in the world. With this greater self-awareness and present moment attention we become better at:
- Being aware of our emotions and responding to them rather than reacting
- Having better access to what we really want in our lives and then taking action to make that happen
- Recognizing thoughts and letting them go rather than getting stuck in obsessive planning or worrying
- Managing our stress
- Being in relationships with others with less conflict
- Communicating more effectively as we are more aware of why we are feeling what we are feeling
- Staying focussed at work and being less prone to multitasking
- Falling asleep at night as we have a tool to settle the mind
- Making decisions that are aligned with what we truly value
6. What do you think are the biggest obstacles to starting and maintaining a meditation practice, and how can Mindful in May help people do just that?
I’ve found over the years of teaching that there are many misconceptions about what meditation is, and this means people come to the practice with expectations that set them up for failure. One of the biggest misconceptions is that meditation is about stopping your thoughts.
Meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts but rather recognizing and becoming more aware of thoughts so that you are less caught in the impact they can have on you. Although as you practice for longer periods the mind certainly does settle, you can never stop the mind from thinking.
Just like the heart beats, the lungs breathe, and the eyes see, the mind thinks. So when you sit to meditate and notice the constant stream of thoughts, you realize that this is part of meditation, and so it becomes less of a challenge as you stop battling with your own mind.
There are other challenges to meditating whether that’s boredom, sleepiness, or restlessness, and these are all predictable obstacles that have been described for thousands of years in the ancient texts. Thankfully, meditators from centuries before us have faced these challenges and have come up with ways of working with these challenges, which support you to go deeper into the practice and experience the benefits that lie beyond these obstacles.
I created Mindful in May with all of these obstacles in mind, and each week I offer direct ways of working through these challenges. I think this really helps people finally get beyond barriers they’ve previously experienced and they start to experience the deep benefits of the practice.
One of the other big challenges for all of us is finding the time, prioritizing meditation, and making it a habit. We cover this challenge as well, and I feature guests who are experts in habit formation and behavior change. So it’s not just a meditation course that people are getting, it’s really an integrative program that helps people learn the tool of meditation but also learn how to create lasting positive change in their lives.
7. As part of the program, you feature interviews with more than a dozen mindfulness experts. Looking at the lineup, I’m sure these were all powerful, inspiring conversations! But can you share a couple key insights from these interviews—ideas that you think have the potential to change participants’ lives?
Critically acclaimed author and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Dan Siegel, offers fascinating new research on the benefits of mindfulness and its ability to slow the ageing process, reduce inflammation, and lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.
He delves into interesting discoveries around mind wandering, explaining that, …”it’s not that unhappiness leads to mind wandering, but, it appears … not being present is making you unhappy. Even if your mind is wandering toward fun things—I’m going to go on a trip to Hawaii or I’m going to go to a fun ski trip, or whatever—that actually isn’t the issue. Somehow being in the present moment and literally having presence is associated with happiness and well-being.”
Mark Epstein, an NYC Bestselling author and psychiatrist, discusses what anger, restlessness, and worry can teach us about ourselves, and why “letting go” does not necessarily mean letting go of thoughts and emotions. He says, “Letting go does not mean releasing the thing that’s bothering you, trying to get rid of it only makes it stronger. Letting go has more to do with patience than it does with release.”
8. I know you offer a free five-day mindfulness challenge to offer a taste of Mindful in May. What does that challenge entail, and how can interested parties sign up?
I know how powerful the Mindful in May program is, but I also know that there are so many offerings online it can be hard for people to discern whether programs are really going to deliver what they promise. So, that’s why I offer a free program, to give people a chance to get a taste and discover the incredibly valuable learning and tools inside.
The FREE 5 Days To Mindfulness program runs from April 8th-12th, and when you register you get:
- Daily emails for five days with mindfulness teaching and guided meditations
- Access to a fascinating video teaching with world leading Stanford mindfulness expert and professor of psychology Kelly McGonical—you’ll learn practical tools that will transform your stress and life for the better!
- Guided meditations that will help you find greater focus and calm (and take less than ten minutes!)
- Support from a like minded online community where you’ll be held accountable to stay on track during your five-day training.
- Experience the power of meditating in community with people around the world through a LIVE online guided meditation with Elise to help you access greater calm and relaxation in the busyness of your life
9. If people enjoy the free challenge, how can they get involved in the month-long campaign?
To register for the one month Mindful in May program they need to simply register here.
When they register they’ll get:
- Guided meditations from the world’s best meditation teachers including meditations for relaxation, improved focus, better sleep, greater emotional balance, managing difficult emotions like anxiety and anger and more.
- Sixteen+ exclusive video interviews with mindfulness experts, and neuroscientists including Daniel Siegel, James Baraz, Mark Epstein, and many more…
- Daily emails to make meditation a habit
- Access to the online community to help them stay accountable, connected and regularly meditating
This world-class meditation program is normally $300, but for the month of May, we drop the price to just $49. This gives you a chance to donate some of the difference to the cause. So it’s a win, win—a clear mind for you and clean water for others.
You can make an optional donation and or create a fundraising page and get sponsored to meditate for ten minutes a day throughout May.
Every $50 you raise will transform the life of one person through giving them the gift of clean safe drinking water.
In case you missed the many links throughout this post, you can join the free 5-day challenge here, or get signed up for the full month-long Mindful in May program here. I hope you find the program helpful, friends!