When LA-based meditation expert Amanda Gilbert looks back at her childhood, she realizes mindfulness always played a large role in her life. Growing up in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, Gilbert loved being outside in nature and reading books. That’s where she first experienced being truly in the present moment.
At the end of high school at a non-traditional program in West Virginia, she learned to formally meditate through a cadre of incredible teachers (Native American Elders, local Appalachians and a prince, no less). Turning inward and following her breath helped Gilbert feel a sense of connection, peace and even familiarity. It was natural.
From there, she followed her heart as she always had, and studied holistic health and wellness in college. A period of intense trauma and growth brought daily meditation to the forefront as a tool for healing. Eventually she made her affinity for mindful practices her life’s work, learning Vedic meditation at The Chopra Center for Well Being, and mindful meditation later. Now, she helps her clients find a daily practice that’s able to support them like her practice supports her. Read on to learn more.
SBS: When did the actual shift toward a career in meditation happen?
Amanda Gilbert: I was pursing medical school, and while at The Chopra Center I met a team of researchers from UCSF. I was helping run the retreats there. I became a director of a lab run by Dr. Elissa Epel and Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (who won the Nobel Prize for physiology). In that research we focused on meditation and mindfulness. I also was starting to be exposed to a number of mindfulness teachers, and soon my practice turned into a mindfulness meditation practice around six years ago. That’s what I practice today.
So now, what’s unique in the meditation world is that I’m initiated in Vedic meditation, and I’ve also been formally trained in mindful meditation through UCLA. I teach mindfulness 98 percent of time, but if I’m one-on-one with a client who I see needs a mantra, I can do that, too.
SBS: What are the differences between the various branches of meditation?
AG: When it comes to traditional meditation practices, there is an overlap between mantra (Vedic) meditation, which comes from India and yoga, and mindfulness meditation. They both use an object of focus to bring your attention to the present moment. In the first, it’s a repeated word in your mind, and in the latter, it’s the breath.
But I find that people with really active minds can often benefit from a mantra meditation practice at first. Learning to follow the breath and be with sensations of the body is a little more dynamic and less straightforward. There’s a bigger learning curve there.
SBS: What’s your personal approach and offerings?
AG: I work one-on-one in meditation mentorship, I work with mindfulness in the workplace, teach workshops, as well as in LA. I also work with Unplug Meditation and The Den Meditation.
Because of my background, I have a practice that’s science-based. My teaching style references that information. I take a lot of outcomes from science about awareness.
I also have a big focus on daily practice and habit creation. That’s my main passion. I have a solid understanding of how to create daily routines and rituals, whether a client is a CEO or young bohemian entrepreneur. Those daily practices create a sense of center, solidity and greater self-awareness.
SBS: What are your tips for habit creation?
AG: Get in touch with your inner motivation and inner commitment. That’s the first area of work I’ll consider with clients. You need to know your what and why, inner inspiration and intention. Whatever is making you curious and open fuels the car. If you’re aware of why you want to meditate, that will support you in showing up. There’s research that supports the success of that type of intention setting.
SBS: What’s your unique approach to meditation?
AG: I’m practical and get into the client’s daily routine. I approach creating a meditation practice with a sense of fun, lighthearted vigilance. I try to figure out where we’re getting your five minutes in. We have to make it a priority and non-negotiable. If it doesn’t happen in the morning, perhaps that’s a chance to notice any feelings of, ‘Oh I missed my meditation, oh I feel guilty.’ Turn that moment into the practice.
SBS: What are the biggest misconceptions about daily meditation?
AG: The biggest misunderstanding is that you have to upend your whole life. My way of integrating it is to work it into what’s already happening. It doesn’t have to be the morning! When moms in particular think about trying to meditate in the morning, their eyes get huge! So instead, I look for an opportunity in their day. What we know about habit formation is the smaller you start, the more possibility there is to sustain the habit. The more manageable the original goal, the more likely you are to proceed.
Then, people think you’re not supposed to have thoughts. That’s not true! I’ve been on a meditation cheerleading campaign explaining how thoughts give you more opportunities to come back to the present moment. The idea that you’re a bad meditator because you’re aware of your thoughts isn’t true.
SBS: What's the best, zaniest part of being you?
AG: That I am me :)
Amanda's SBS Mantra:
BE MINDFUL! A beautiful reminder to keep your attention in the present moment.