Just Breathe: A Dialogue with Mallika Chopra

 

Thank you to Thrive Global for publishing my article, “Just Breathe: A Dialogue with Mallika Chopra.”

Lisa Niver (LN): Hello. This is Lisa Niver from We Said Go Travel, and I am so honored to be here today with Mallika Chopra. She often gets introduced as the daughter of spiritual guru, Deepak Chopra, which is true, but today we’re going to talk to her about being an author and being an inspiration during COVID. Thank you so much for being here.

Mallika Chopra (MC): Thank you for having me.

Mallika Chopra

LN: I imagine must be busy at your house with all of your books and being a mom and running Chopra web. What has been your main focus during these crazy uncertain COVID times?

MC: My main focus has been trying to keep my family in order. My husband, who normally travels non-stop, has been home since March. And that, of course, has been, let’s say, finding a new balance.

VIDEO: Mallika Chopra and Lisa Niver

LN: That was very politically correct; I like that you’re finding a balance.

MC: I have two daughters. One who is 18 and was a senior last spring. So missed out on all of the senior traditions and graduation and then didn’t make it to college this Fall, she’ll be going in January. It’s obviously an emotional time. My 16 year old, who’s in 10th grade has been doing zoom school here in LA. Nobody ended up going back to school in person. 

There’s a lot, a lot of transition, emotion, patience, frustration, family bonding time, which I think many are experiencing. So that really has been my main focus, but I think what I’m lucky and feel very grateful to be able to do, is to share very honestly the experiences I’m going through and share tools that I’ve learned over a lifetime, that can help during these unprecedented times.

LN: I agree with you it is so unprecedented. I’m sorry your daughter missed out on graduation. My nephew is the same age and missed graduation. That’s challenging. You mentioned your husband —I think it’s also a very exciting anniversary year for you.

MC: Yes, our anniversary will be 24 years, this December. It’s crazy how time flies by. My mom called me and said I just remembered your anniversary is coming up. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but when you think about the numbers, it’s incredible.

LN: I actually thought you were 25 years!

MC: No, our 25th is next year. Next summer, I will turn 50.

LN: Congratulations on both! I did a big project before I turned 50. I did 50 crazy challenges before I turned 50. I hope it’ll be an exciting year for you and lucky for you it’s 2021. 

I know you mentioned that it’s been a challenging time and I really appreciated in your September newsletter how honest you were. I know September for all of us, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and coming into the election that was so uncertain and long before we thought there might be a vaccine. 

Can you share some of the things that did help you stop with the unhealthy choices and move back into your preferred choices?

MC: I think we all started our various forms of change in lifestyle in March and April. We didn’t think that it was going to go so long. And all the emotional stuff with my daughter and no graduation and all that. Many people start to fall into the habits of I’ll have a drink which turned into every night. 

And, I can’t go to the gym anymore so my husband and I would go for walks in the neighborhood and I tried to do yoga. But then, that stopped. And I was getting into deeper holes of habits that normally it’d be more disciplined with. 

In September, I reached that breaking point where I said: I can’t do this anymore. I made the mistake of weighing myself. What has happened in the last few months? We started going back to eat Duncan Hines cake with frosting.

The excuse of this quarantine lifestyle led to a lot of habits and what I realized—   it was both my habits how I was feeling physically and of course, all of that coming from emotional stress, anxiety and I’m someone who gets obsessed with politics, then Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. There were just too many things and so I wrote this very honest newsletter. I have to say within one hour of sending that out I had 200 people who have responded to me. Saying: I am going through this too. And just thank you for sharing that. So many of us have been struggling, what I realized is it takes real discipline, focus and attention as well as intention to change those habits.

I decided I’m going to stop my drinks, because that’s something that, became a habit without even thinking about it. I could stop it. I started doing some more intermittent fasting, committing to yoga and being outside. 

We’re lucky because we I live in LA, so I can go outside and be in the sun and feel the warmth. I’m always very focused on my kids but that also was the time when zoom school was starting and brought a new sadness. Seeing my 10th grader on zoom, my nephew who’s in seventh grade starting a new school and not even being able to meet someone. I’m constantly in touch with teachers and parent groups and it’s been really hard for our kids. So September was that time of overwhelm, but then a real commitment personally to connect with people and to move, to eat better to shift certain habits.

LN: I appreciated how honest you were and I’m not surprised so many people reached back out because I do you think we are all feeling that way, and that really is a great place to start talking about the amazing books you’ve created for children. You were concerned about how they were feeling stressed before COVID. Can you tell everyone who might not be familiar with your just the series about how the books came about or how you got started.

MC: Thank you so I have these three books: Just Breathe. Just Feel and then next year comes up Just Be You! We’re calling them the Just Be series.

Order your copy of Just Be You which will be available starting March 2, 2021!

LN: They’re beautiful.

MC: Thank you and the first two are out: Just Breathe and Just Feel.

LN: I bet they make a great holiday gift.

MC: Yes. I did my Master’s in clinical psychology at Teachers College, which is really focused on teachers and education What we’re seeing in classrooms is that the levels of anxiety for children is really high.

There’s this whole trend in social emotional learning. But what I realized is that simple tools like breathing, like figuring out how to connect with self, to set intentions, for kids how to sense their body, and where they’re kind of physically feeling feelings. They’re really simple techniques so I got this opportunity to write these how to books for children. 

And the first one, Just Breathe, is really focused on breathing meditation, mindfulness and movement. The second one, Just Feel, is really appropriate for what we’re going through this year, the overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger and frustration. How do we process those feelings and how do we feel them in our body, how do we accept them because the range of feelings is completely normal and natural. I think it’s really important for children to recognize that.

They also need recognize that feelings come in waves. These two books were timely but what they offer is ancient wisdom traditions that have lasted centuries in cultures around the world. 

It’s been really nice to be able to share these techniques which I learned when I was nine and I learned how to meditate. I’m 49 now so I have four decades of practice, regular practice which I talked about in my adult book living with intent. But, there are tools that we can find in our toolkit. We keep adding to the toolkit that can help us through hard times, but also the joyful times and the good times. The exercises of gratitude and kindness and intention and celebrating the joyful moments in our lives.

LN: I think they’re beautiful books. The illustrations are beautiful. And I especially liked when you were talking about: it’s okay to ask for help or it’s always good to ask for help.

MC: These books have been out in the world and I’m finding that it’s not just kids but also parents, teachers, mentors anyone who is learning from them. Because there are simple tools like asking for help. And as women, who are taking care of multi generations and trying to work and find some sort of balance… often we’re just trying to do things by ourselves. Giving people permission to ask for help is one of the things found through these books. The kids are now giving tips to their parents. It’s so nice to be flipping it around, where my kids say to me: Mom, just breathe. 

Adults who are saying —my kids are telling me: Just take a moment and pause stop. Ask for help if you need to. So we all need to be reminded of that.

LN: I love reverse mentoring. I think that’s amazing that the kids are being able to use those phrases to help themselves, but also to help the whole family. I was actually going to ask you are you finding that teenagers, young adults, college students are thinking—I’m taking that book with me.

MC: I hope that becomes the case. And again, my kids are 16 and 18 and I speak a lot in high schools. And similarly, the levels of anxiety for teenagers and sadly, mental illness in that older kind of teen low 20s age group is skyrocketing. I think with COVID, it is skyrocketing even more and it is sad to say suicide is on the rise. 

We need to recognize what people are going through. Recognize that it’s normal and it’s natural to go through that. And that we’re all going through different phases of that. It’s important to reach out to others for help. But even reach out to others to check in, make sure people are okay. 

And I also think when I grew up, when I was 9, my dad was considered the witch doctor who was selling snake oil. It’s really only in the last 10 years or so that meditation, mindfulness, yoga, these practices have become more mainstream. There’s been more research, which seems to validate. These are ancient wisdom traditions which have lasted 1000’s of years but for some reason when someone does a study on it, it’s accepted. It is wonderful because I think that has allowed these practices to really seep into mainstream living now. 

What I am finding is that teenagers and college students, they’re yearning tools and techniques to help them survive. So if we can start introducing them at a young age, then they have those tools through that very rocky period which continues in life. We all know, life is full of ups and downs. We have to figure out the best way to manage the stress. Mindfulness tools where we can be aware of situations and observe them and connect with body and breath, they help us for a lifetime.

LN: I completely agree that life is a lot of ups and downs. It feels like this COVID last nine or 10 months has many more valleys than we anticipated. I like what you’re saying about teaching them when they’re younger. Your upcoming book is for even younger kids, is that correct?

MC: I have a book called: My Body is A Rainbow, which is going to be so beautifully illustrated. I feel very lucky with my publishing company that they found these artists. For me, the number one criteria was that they were warm and loving but also diverse in terms of the photo and pictures there.

My body is A Rainbow is full of color and kids from all different backgrounds and that will be for younger kids. It is more of a picture book for ages three to six, and I’m really excited about that. 

And then I’ve recently got involved with a show called Stillwater that Apple TV plus is releasing, which is based on the books, Zen shorts. They are classics and they’re on the top of my list when I’m gifting books. They teach great mindfulness lessons through this panda bear, Stillwater. The show is so beautiful. I feel like it’s an interesting time. More of these techniques and concepts are accepted in a mainstream way and if we can share them through different modes, whether that’s the books, meditations for kids and adults on the different meditation apps or something like Stillwater which is this magical show. It’s an interesting time for this type of content and I hope it lasts.

LN: I saw it for Stillwater, you’re the mindfulness consultant.

MC: Yes, I know. It is such a unique and lovely term. They reached out to me because they have this incredible show. And it was actually through Teachers College, through another alumni through the Master’s that I did. The show is beautiful and what it does —is it teaches these techniques but in the storytelling narrative as you’re watching the show. 

You feel really, it’s almost like you slow down and you take a deep breath. And so I’ve been involved to promote awareness of it. I have to say when I watched it. It was blissful and so peaceful at the same time because of the way that it’s made. It’s a beautiful show. I do a lot of how-to stuff. But this is narrative, it’s through storytelling and that’s how kids are going to learn these techniques in all the different ways.

LN: Congratulations! You have so many different pieces! Now your dad and your brother Gotham and you restarted or shifted the Chopra Well?

MC: Several years ago, YouTube was creating premier channels. And so we launched a pretty big channel called the Chopra Well which still exists, which is full of actually different kind of shows. More recently it has transitioned more to my dad doing a lot of videos. 

Like with everything, I have an adult book, Living with Intent, but the subtitle is: My somewhat messy journey to purpose, peace and joy. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had many ventures. You’re always adjusting and shifting and changing. That’s part of the lesson that I’m trying to share with kids and adults —is that it’s okay to have ups and downs— to have to readjust, whether that’s physically, emotionally, in your work, in your practice, in your habits, whatever it may be. 

We’re always tinkering and figuring it out, and giving ourselves that kind of freedom to be flexible. To recognize that the possibilities ahead can be infinite versus being stuck on a path. You know feeling trapped by some of the things that you’re doing. The YouTube channel is a great example of that— which is it keeps changing and adjusting but it’s a great platform to have.

LN: You have so many things going on. I know you mentioned that you speak with schools and I’m not sure if you’re also doing a virtual book tour but if people want to have you come to their school or their book club or their parent group how, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?

MC: I have a website http://www.mallikachopra.com/ and I’m on all the social media under Mallika Chopra. There are links to speaking or PR — I do a lot with companies as well. And it’s so interesting this year. We all have zoom fatigue…

I’m used to going and speaking to hundreds of people and you can see how they react. And you know, it’s a back and forth. The Zoom thing, especially when you’re speaking, sometimes you’re just speaking to your computer for like 20-30 minutes and you literally have no idea ow it’s going. 

I’m finding, even with the zoom fatigue, sometimes people just need that space to take a few breaths and to do a meditation practice. It’s interesting as I think some of that will continue, in terms of being able to reach people in different parts of the world. I know my dad used to travel so much but now he’s reaching so many people through his computer and on his phone. It’s amazing.

LN: That’s true, that some people have been able to use this different time, called the Great pause, to shift. You might reach more people—you could speak to three book groups on three continents and never get on the plane.

MC: It’s a really interesting dynamic. One of the things that COVID has made me realize, and I think the world realized— is that life is uncertain. We always say that…  This year, we really have all experienced it. We really don’t know what’s going to happen in a month. We’re so grateful now with the vaccine coming, and some sense of normalcy but that’s gonna take a while. In terms of planning, my daughter’s move to college, I don’t even know if it’s going to happen. And so, we really have to accept that life is uncertain.

LN: That’s true. I feel like we could just talk all day but before I let you go, would you just open one book and read a page to us. The illustrations are so beautiful.

MC: Thank you and I’ll show you some of them. In Just Breathe, which is the first one, there’s like a nice collage of our family photos. 

I’ll read from the introduction when we introduce concepts like this to children. We have to keep it simple.

What I’m trying to do in Just Breathe and then continue in the books is to have kids, connect with what I call the safe happy quiet place that we’ve discovered inside. All of these techniques are about connecting to soul, to our physical body or to our environment. 

Just Breathe starts: “Do you have a place where you feel safe, happy and quiet?

Perhaps, it’s a physical space, somewhere in your home, a hidden corner that no one else knows about or a place outside, where you can run, twirl and laugh without any worries. 

Perhaps it’s not a physical space but instead is the time you spend with a friend, a sibling or parent. Maybe, it’s those moments you chat with your sister before you both fall asleep, or when you throw a baseball with a friend and the time flies by. 

Or perhaps it is when you are by yourself. Reading, drawing or daydreaming about nothing in particular, moments when your mind and body feel rested. When you’re not thinking about the past or worried about the future. 

Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t have that place in your life, and you’re wondering if you even need it. Research shows that when you find that quiet place, your body and brain are healthier. You feel more in control, and you are happier. 

And for many people being able to feel that peace inside of themselves, helps them worry less and deal better with tough situations.

So the intent of this book, Just Breathe, is to help you find an anchor inside yourself, that is safe, happy and quiet and to help you tap into it and find it whenever you need it.”

The book is full of great illustrations and the exercises are written as one page exercises. There’s no narrative as such. It’s really: this is how you do it. It’s a great tool for teachers and for parents as well.

LN: I saw that on Amazon your books are a Teacher’s Pick which is such a great honor.

MC: The biggest honor! I am so grateful for that.

LN: It’s such a great series. Congratulations on all your success and the upcoming books! I am going to be buying some of those books as my holiday gifts! Everybody needs an usher out 2020 gift! A lot of the exercises say: You don’t need anything. You only need two minutes. I like the one that said, you need a quiet place to sit, maybe your bed. It’s very clear, and I know the books written for children but they would help such a wide range of people.

MC: Thank you so much for the conversation! I feel so grateful that I’m able to share these amazing tools that I was given as a child myself. I grew up with these tools and taught them to my kids and of course now to many kids in classrooms and it does help.

LN: It does help. I want everybody to know please get Mallika’s books, they’re wonderful and I say to you, I hope that the end of the year goes well. Namaste. It was so wonderful to meet you. Thank you so much for spending this time with me.

MC: Thank you very much.

Find Mallika on Twitter and Instagram

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Ellen Niver, M.A. Education, is a science teacher and an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. She sailed the seven seas by cruise ship for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. Find her talking travel at KTLA TV and in her We Said Go Travel videos with over one and a quarter million views (1,250,000) on her YouTube channel. She is the founder of We Said Go Travel which is read in 235 countries, named #3 on the top 1000 Travel Blogs and the top female travel blogger 3 times in 2019. She has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best, is verified on Twitter and has over 160,000 followers across social media. Niver is a judge for the Gracies Awards for the Alliance of Women in Media and also ran fifteen travel competitions publishing over 2500 writers and photographers from 75 countries on her own site, We Said Go Travel. From 2017 to 2020 in the Southern California Journalism Awards and National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards, she has won three times and been a finalist fourteen times for her broadcast television segments, print and digital articles. Niver won an award for her print magazine article for Hemispheres Magazine for United Airlines in the 2020 Southern California Journalism Awards. She was also a finalist for four other categories including online journalist of the year, digital story for activism journalism with Ms. Magazine, educational reporting for Wharton Magazine and a broadcast lifestyle feature for KTLA TV in Los Angeles.    Niver won a 2019 NAEJ (National Arts and Entertainment Journalism) award for one of her KTLA TV segments and was a finalist for articles published in both Ms. Magazine and Wharton Magazine. In 2018,  she was a finalist for stories in Smithsonian, PopSugar Fitness and the Saturday Evening Post. Niver won a 2017 Southern California Journalism Award for her print story for the Jewish Journal and was a finalist for travel reporting. Niver has written for AARP, American Airways, Delta Sky, En Route (Air Canada), Hemispheres (United Airlines), Jewish Journal, Luxury Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Myanmar Times, National Geographic, POPSUGAR, Robb Report, Saturday Evening Post, Scuba Diver Life, Sierra Club, Ski Utah, Smithsonian, TODAY, Trivago, USA Today 10best, Wharton Magazine and Yahoo. She is writing a book, “Brave Rebel: 50 Scary Challenges Before 50,” about her most recent travels and insights. Look for her underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip.  http://lisaniver.com/one-page/

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