Tag Archives: mindfulness

Interview with Dr. Helen Johnson of Goddess Acumen

Dr. Helen JohnsonI met Helen Johnson at Oxford sixteen years ago. But it’s Doctor Helen Johnson now, which is partly why I’ve asked her for an interview. I was looking forward to speak to her about her academic work and this important milestone which must have taken a lot of time, patience and sacrifice to reach. It turns out that Helen, like any other woman, wears a lot of hats. During our conversation she puts one on, plays with it for a while, swaps for another and piles yet another on top. Women, the unsung masters of juggling and multi-tasking, never cease to amaze me.

Helen has a BA in Philosophy and French from the University of Oxford. She briefly entertained an idea of becoming a barrister before finding herself interested in public policy and justice. After getting a Masters degree in Policy Studies in Edinburgh, where Helen spent a lot of time volunteering with women’s organisations, she met Professor Roger Matthews of the School of Social policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent.

Under Professor Matthews’ supervision, Helen has spent nearly four years on research and her thesis, which aimed at helping women leave prostitution in an effective and sustainable way. Helen explains: “I interviewed thirty women who have either already left sex work or were thinking of leaving it. I realised that while current social policies in the UK address the immediate needs of those women, such as shelter and short-term emotional support, in the longer term, they are on their own.” Helen worked on putting together emotionally intelligent services to help vulnerable women build up self-esteem, confidence and trust. “When you make big changes in your life, it is common to feel stuck after a while when you are struggling to integrate within the new community. It is also very important to feel you are doing something meaningful to help with establishing a new identity.”

Listening to Helen talking about women who went through sexual violence, drug addiction, abuse and homelessness, I cannot help but think that anyone could benefit from looking at changes in an emotionally intelligent way: pursing a career in a new field, retiring from work or recovering from a debilitating illness require more than a leap of faith. I am also interested in understanding one’s identity so I ask Helen about hers.

“I am a freedom fighter, a goddess and a surfer!”

In addition to that, Helen is also an entrepreneur and a holistic practitioner. Her work on the PhD was psychologically draining, and Helen discovered the benefits of yoga, meditation and EFT. EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique, a psychological technique which clears negative symptoms through tapping. A problem may be physical (e.g. a headache) or emotional (e.g. feeling nervous before an interview) but EFT is said to be effective in ‘clearing it out’. “My professional and personal lives converged”, explains Helen. Alongside her academic work on emotions of disistence, Helen trained as a neurolinguistic practitioner, earned a certificate in EFT and mastered hypnotherapy.

Helen founded Goddess Acumen, where she helps women find a sense of balance in every aspect of their lives. Using holistic techniques such as EFT, neurolinguistic programming and personal coaching, Helen helps her clients let go of their limiting beliefs and reach their full potential. Goddess Acumen is a playful way of representing female energy through Greek goddesses, described by Jennifer and Roger Woolger in their book The Goddess Within. To illustrate, Demeter stands for motherhood and nurture, Aphrodite symbolises sensuality, Athena is a warrior and also a goddess of intellect and wisdom. (To learn about all six goddesses, click here.) What Goddess Acumen is trying to cultivate is that we feel happiest and perform at our best when our energies are in balance. Inevitably, it is not easy to achieve, but even identifying our weakest links is a start.

“Even the most driven women need to nurture themselves, otherwise they may run out of steam or burn out”, says Helen. I find myself nodding.

To learn more about Goddess Acumen and its holistic services, please visit Helen’s website

Interview with Jane Olphert, founder of Haleo, making the world a healthier place

About a year ago I offered subscribers to www.lifetonic.co.uk to meet me for a coffee and use me as a sounding board for their business ideas. This is how I met Jane Olphert and got to hear her incredible, inspiring story. We have kept in touch since, and finally I get to share Jane’s story with you to celebrate the launch of her website: www.haleo.co.uk!

Please visit Jane’s website and sign up to her newsletter for diet and lifestyle tips, spread the word about the healing properties of vegetable foods and ideas for making the world a healthier place.

Meet Shona Mitchell, Managing Director of Headspace

In the recent Ladies Who Impress stories I have been praising entrepreneurs, freelancers, academics and architects, focussing on their ideas, creativity, tenacity and courage. It is time to introduce you to a Lady Who Impresses, who is inspiring in her achievements as a talented manager, who has been instrumental in helping founders of a small London-based start-up achieve worldwide recognition and success.

Shona Mitchell

Meet Shona Mitchell, Managing Director of Headspace, a meditation app, which demystified the ancient practice and introduced simple and effective means to engage mindfulness, reduce stress and anxiety, improve health, productivity and relationships of over a million of Headspace users worldwide.

Shona read Law at Oxford University, but did not pursue law as a profession. Instead, she built a successful career in events management.

“I loved the high pace of my job, especially the thrill of winning new business, putting together amazing events and living off adrenaline of the admittedly stressful but satisfyingly challenging environment. I was in my 20s, I worked hard and played hard, I hardly noticed long hours, frequent travel and stress, eventually taking their toll on me.”

It was fortunate that at some point Shona discovered meditation and found that regular practice genuinely helped her to reduce stress and anxiety. It occurred to her that meditation would be of tremendous help to business people, it could make a real difference to the most stressful of working environments and would make the world a better, more empathic place, if it became common practice.

“And then I suddenly came across the Headspace website, and I could think of little else until I sent its founders an email and told them they ought to hire me.

Headspace was started by Richard Pierson, a creative and marketing genius, and Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, who after 10 years in the Himalayas returned to Britain with a mission to demystify meditation and make it an accessible common practice. Together they created simple, yet deeply authentic content to teach meditation. 

Andy and Richard agreed to meet Shona and asked her to joined them. Perhaps Shona got lucky, but in reality she came across an opportunity and made it her own. Her experience in project management, track record in the events industry, expertise in working with corporate clients and a network of contacts made her the ideal candidate to complement the creative ingenuity of the business founders.

“Andy and Richard are incredible in how they spot opportunities and come up with extraordinarily good ideas. I then pick those ideas up, bounce them around and help mould them into projects. And then it is just the case of making them happen.”

When Shona joined the company, Headspace ran one-off events and offered free 10-minute meditation downloads. Today it offers monthly and annual subscriptions to a wealth of content, including guided meditation, books, team workshops and other resources for people on the go. The app has been downloaded by over 750,000 users in 150 countries. The company has 22 employees, and has ambitions to change the world.

“When I joined Headspace, I had no experience in managing people, accounting or finance. I did not know how to grow a digital social enterprise but then who does? With Andy’s and Richard’s support, I took each day as it came, focussed on tasks at hand and just got on with them. It was not easy and I still have to pinch myself sometimes, but I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to achieve as a team.”

It seems the trick is to recognise your own strengths and use them. In Shona’s case it is her empathy, resilience, ability to get things done and make ideas happen that made her exactly the right person to lead Headspace.

Recognise your own strengths and others will follow suit.

A story of Susanne Lurger, with a generous helping of mindfulness

Susanne LurgerI meet Susanne in Flat White in Soho and we chat over a cup of coffee. Susanne teaches yoga and mindfulness, and my interest in her isn’t surprising. I have recently been inspired by Ruby Wax, who explains how our brains work, why we are all mad and what to do about it in her latest book Sane New World.

What is particularly interesting about Susanne is that her clients aren’t individuals coming to cosy studios about town but financial institutions, technology companies and other corporates, offering yoga and meditation courses to their employees in their offices.

To give you some background, Susanne, who is Austrian, spent many years working as an office planning consultant in London, helping multinational corporations devise optimal office environment for their staff. Some companies now offer creative office environment, equip offices with showers and kitchens, but mostly offices tend to be grey, “corporate” and unappealing places few professionals rave about. So in 2009, having completed yoga teaching training in London and New York, Susanne and her then partner launched BeYoCo, a Business Yoga Company, with a mission to infuse corporate environment with mindfulness through a balanced practice for body and mind in order to improve work ethic, promote creativity, improve communication and workplace culture.

The idea makes sense, and the corporate world seems to be catching up. London’s Evening Standard reports on City bosses taking time off, suffering from chronic fatigue and exhaustion and offering yoga classes and in-house counselling. In 2012 Google founded Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, offering attention and mindfulness training programmes for business leaders, based on the latest neuroscience research and emotional intelligence studies.

But let’s go back to Susanne. Over the last four years her journey to bring mindfulness into corporate London must have been a strenuous one. Try approaching your HR team and ask to sign up for a 6-week yoga and meditation course… And yet, she did it. Through word of mouth about the effectiveness of her work, top tier banks invite her to help change their culture; curious, their employees join her courses and come out feeling de-stressed, re-energised and re-balanced. I think it takes guts to be a pioneer and to steer the corporate world towards change. I nod to Google, but I take my hat off to Susanne.