Talking About Being Present, While Being Completely Distracted

Portrait of Mallika Chopra

I can’t remember when or where I first met Mallika Chopra. At a conference, through a friend? I can’t remember anything anymore. It was many years ago, I know that.

Mallika Chopra is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who has a new book for children that’s hit the shelves: Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More.

I was eager to hear what she had to say about happiness, good habits, and human nature.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Mallika: I meditate for about 20 minutes a day. My parents taught me to meditate when I was 9 years old and it was the greatest gift that I ever received. [Note: Mallika’s father is Deepak Chopra, quite a teacher.] My meditation practice has been irregular over the last 35 years of my life—I have gone through phases when I do it twice a day and years when I haven’t practiced at all. But, when I am meditating, I feel more calm, am able to focus more, naturally choose habits that make me feel healthier and more energetic, and feel more rested. I am also more creative as I step out of the automatic responses and daily grind of everyday.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Mallika: For many years, particularly when I was in college and then when I first had my kids (in my 30s), I thought I was too busy to take time for myself mentally and physically to be happier and healthier. But, when I meditate, I am a better mom, spouse, and friend. And I feel more connected to who I am, what I want, and how I can serve.

Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Mallika: My habits include drinking my tea every morning (which anchors me for my day), going for walks outdoors with my friend (to process life), and having dinner with my family (to connect). Recently, my husband and I began yoga twice a week, and I am eager to incorporate yoga into my daily routines, even if it is just a few sun salutations each day. When I am writing, I try to take walks in my neighborhood to give my mind some open space outside of staring at a computer!

Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

Mallika: I am a lifelong sugar addict. Over the last few years, I have made a conscious effort to notice how my body feels after I overindulge in sugary sweets. My body has more aches and I feel more on edge. Being more aware of the after effects of a sugar binge, instead of just feeling guilty while I am quickly eating what I am not supposed to be eating, has helped me to more naturally resist that chocolate chip cookie.

Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties)

Mallika: It is easy for me to come up with excuses about why I don’t exercise or meditate—most of the time I justify it by being too busy. But, exercise always makes me feel better, and with my meditation, even if I do it for 5 minutes a day, I feel better. So, now I  really try—I’ve started to meditate while in the carpool line!

Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Mallika: One day I was speaking to an audience about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation when I realized that I was having a parallel conversation in my head that went like this: “I have to pick up the dry cleaning, buy dog food, and write that note for my investors.” On stage, I realized I was being a hypocrite—talking about the power of being present, while being completely distracted by thinking about other things. This was a turning point for me to return to my meditation practice and mindfulness habits and seek to understand what balance, happiness, and living with purpose truly means for me.

Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

Mallika: “Don’t take life too seriously” is the motto that my father, Deepak Chopra, taught my brother and me as young kids. It helped us laugh at ourselves, not hold onto criticism, and to generally seek out joy in our lives.

Gretchen: You’ve just come out with a fascinating new book about mindfulness and meditation that’s targeted for young people.

Mallika: Yes, I am so excited to share my new book, Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More. It’s an illustrated guide for kids, ages 8-12 years old, with simple techniques to help them find calm, be more focused, and be happier. Teaching me meditation was a precious gift my parents gave me when I was a child, and I have seen how simple mindfulness and motivational practices have positively impacted my daughters and their friends.



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