You’ve likely heard about the many benefits of meditation, such as an increased presence, a calmer mind, and lower stress levels. I’ve been on a journey to practice meditation consistently, and I often wonder, am I doing it right? Is it even working? To help answer these questions, I recently had a conversation with Laura Roe Stevens.
Laura and I met a few months ago at a yoga retreat, and when we met, I knew I wanted to have her on the Elite Achievement podcast. Laura is a freelance writer and former magazine editor whose article and blog topics range from business and careers to parenting and dating. She has contributed to the New York Times, Inc. and Forbes, and her writing has also led her to appear on CNN and HuffPost. She has written three novels and is halfway through her fourth. When Laura is not writing, she teaches yoga and meditation across the globe at yoga retreats for writers.
I start our conversation by asking Laura to share more about her background in writing and work as a freelancer.
“I’m happy to say I’ve been a writer since I was 18,” Laura begins. “I was a super shy, little Southern girl who was curious. Being a journalist allowed me to ask a lot of questions. And at the University of Georgia, I started writing for the newspaper, then the Atlanta Journal Constitution while I was there, and then I got a job at BBC. I was covering the legal beat and crime, and it was hard. The politics were a little icky, and it really wasn’t for me, but it spurred a lot of ideas for my fiction. So, two of my novels are mysteries, and that’s where that comes in. And then, when I was pregnant in Los Angeles, I was freelancing. It was mostly for business because I like business, but I like the career aspect. I like learning about what makes really smart people tick. And usually, it’s because they surround themselves with smarter people. They’re not in their ego so much. So, I covered careers for Forbes and for Inc. and for a now defunct magazine called the Industry Standard in San Francisco. And I remember being pregnant with my first child. I didn’t have time to read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you know, because I’m just bumping along. I’m working so hard and writing a story about how to save for college, and I’m literally like, it’s mayhem. I’m having contractions. So, I wrote to an editor at Fit Pregnancy magazine and sent all the links to all the stories I’ve written. She finally wrote back and was just like, honey, you don’t have to justify yourself. You’re hilarious. I want you to write a moms at work column for us. And I was like, yes! And then she’s like, and read this book, you’re going into labor! So, it was really funny. I started writing for Fit Pregnancy, and at the time, Weider also owned Shape Magazine. And so that catapulted me into the world of health, mental health, women’s health, and focusing solely on women and careers and health. So, that’s been my journey, and I’ve always kept my toe in the water with freelance. And now I have two boys. One is in college. And one is thirteen going on fourteen. And I’m working on my fourth novel, which is a bit of a mystery, but it includes my yoga, meditation, and travels. Some of it has a little metaphysical, magical surrealism, and romance mystery.”
Laura mentioned that reporting on crime gave her some inspiration for her writing, and I ask her what other sources inspire her work. Laura explains that being shy as a young girl and growing up in the deep south greatly influenced her. She also lived in London and abroad and finds inspiration from her travels and yoga training.
“When I meditate, ideas come in sometimes as well,” says Laura. “So, I think all of it plays a role. Magic plays a big role in all my writing. There are also writers who inspire me, like Alice Hoffman and others who bring magic into the writing.”
Laura mentions another book she is working on that was inspired by a true story of a freed slave that she uncovered when she was a reporter in the North Carolina mountains right out of college. “I carried that story with me, everywhere I went, every single move,” Laura shares. “And then when I started writing this novel, which was inspired by the story, I lost that newspaper clipping from the Winston Salem Journal. And I think it freed me to write what I wanted. So, it’s called Ariel’s Mask, but it has nothing really to do with that freed slave. She inspired a part of the story where she would feel spirits by the river in this area of North Carolina, and she would make masks. Later, an art curator from the Whitney Museum in New York discovered the masks, and he thought they looked a lot like art from Ghana. He put them on auction when she was in her 90s. And it was how she put her grandchildren through college. That story super inspired me, so I wanted to do something a little bit haunting and had a lot to do with racism in the south and other issues, but through the eyes of a little white girl. So that story has been with me forever, and we’ll see if that gives birth soon.”
That’s a wonderful story about never giving up on your dreams because we always have these callings on our hearts. And it sounds like Laura leaned into hers and let it come out in a very creative way.
“I think sometimes dreams do keep coming back and knocking on the door,” Laura agrees. “I’ve always been a writer. So, when I was a parent and pregnancy editor for Real Girls Media, I lived in London with my ex-husband, and I loved that job. Because I was every day coming up with themes and creating columns. It was bought by Meredith Corp., which owns a lot of magazines. And it was really fun and creative. And so, that was my dream at the time. And then, I was also editing books for publishing houses, including How to Survive Your First Baby and How to Survive Pregnancy. And all of that was just awesome because I was living it, you know, and getting to talk to other women. And that sprouted a couple of other things. I had a cover story from the New York Times back then about women who were fired illegally when pregnant. It was all this fun stuff, so that is part of the dream. I don’t regret putting my fiction out of the way. It came out when it was meant to come out.”
Laura’s story reminds me that it’s all about timing, so I ask her to talk about the timing of integrating yoga, meditation, and mindfulness into her life and how it all came about. She shares that it started in London when she was pregnant with her second child. “It was raining outside, and I couldn’t run very much,” says Laura. “So, I got Yoga for Dummies, and I would do it every day in the apartment. It helped a lot because I was high risk. And after I gave birth to James, things were crazy. We moved to California for a specialist. I was on bed rest. And it seems so long ago, thank God. But it was really hard back then. My ex moved back to London, and I was here with the baby. And it’s hard to make an international move. You get used to another place if you’re there long enough. So, I’m here, and I’ve got a six-year-old to care for. It was a crazy time. And I don’t like to make irrational, like knee-jerk reactive moves. So, it wasn’t like I was just going to up and move somewhere. I was going to see if I could make this work. And that’s when I started. A friend of mine started teaching me Pilates, and I joined a support group. But Pilates wasn’t really meditative enough. So, I started taking classes and more classes and more classes. Finally, one of my friends at the Green Yogi Minh was like, you know, you really should be teaching. I was the most overtrained, underworked yoga teacher. And the more I awakened, the more I knew I needed to sit back, detach, and learn more. And that’s where I think meditation plays a huge role because a lot of type-A busy people are so exhausted that they almost pass out in Savasana. That’s when they get the yoga high. I did high-powered yoga for a long time, then I transitioned to hot yoga. I thought I would hate it. But it focuses you. And then you can’t really drink alcohol or coffee. So, you start to dial back on the things you use to not feel. And then you feel more and begin working through more. I know a lot of yogis say, ‘Thoughts become things, so think the good ones.’ But if you don’t breathe, it’s like cancer in the body. I firmly believe in meditation, and it takes a while to get to where you can compound and meditate.”
I’m the type-A that Laura is describing, a type-A achiever and perfectionist. I keep a go, go, go busy schedule, and aim for big goals. I need to meditate, but I literally track it. I’m sure that’s not the point, so I wonder, am I doing it right? And is it working?
“Of course you’re doing it right,” says Laura. “There’s no way to do it wrong. I’ve been meditating since I was a little girl who was very shy in a very loud family. And I would go off in the woods because we lived in front of an old tobacco farm, listen to the stream and wind above the pine trees, and lean against a tree. Now I teach a creativity retreat at Canyon Ranch. And one of the things we do is an ancient Japanese meditation. I didn’t even know it. But I’ve been doing it since I was a little girl. And it’s called soaking in the forest. You listen to the breeze and maybe the sounds of the river. And it calms your mind. And so, we live in loud places now. But I remember in the south, everyone had window units in their house. And I would just sit in the back room and listen to the air. And so now it’s like Pavlovian. When I lived in New York and in London, I had to have a white noise anchor that sounded like air conditioning in my rooms. Why? Because I was conditioned to relax by the sound of an air conditioner because you can’t really get attached to it. I mean, is it a bad one? Is it a good one? Is it ever going to talk smack about who cheated on you? No. It’s just a neutral sound. And if you keep putting your thoughts back towards the sound, you will relax. It’s really simple. And, of course, you can use guided meditations. You can download a Chopra 21-Day Challenge. I think there’s a free one on Spotify, too, which is great. And you can just plug and play, especially if you’ve got a loud house. I would say if it seems daunting, make it simple. And make it your own. Was there anything from your childhood that was soothing to you? And I don’t mean, just like, mac and cheese. But something calming that you listened to like the ocean or wind, maybe crickets at night. You can listen to that. And if you need a mantra, you can repeat something over and over again until your mind calms down because wrestling with the problem is like a dog with a bone that he can’t bite into. It doesn’t fix anything. So, giving yourself a break can calm down your neural impulses, which can help you detach and make better decisions.”
I find it reassuring to know that meditation doesn’t have to be this big process where you have to sit on a specific pillow, cross your legs a certain way, and do it for a certain amount of time. I’m hearing Laura say there are many different ways to do it. And ultimately, it’s finding a process that helps you calm your mind.
“If you want to do a walking meditation, you can,” Laura agrees. “If you want to do an ecstatic dance, go for it. There are different ways of meditating. But for me, especially being a single, full-time working mother, I have to make it fit into my life. I promised myself that I wouldn’t turn into someone who reacted and took out her stress on her kids. We all do it from time to time, but I tried to make this conscious decision not to snap at my kids when really, I was upset over something else or stressed out. I didn’t want to be this unconscious person on a wheel, trying to pay bills and snapping, and then going out with girlfriends drinking wine. Why are we even here if we can’t have a little bit of joy and fun in our lives? So even though meditation may seem boring for some people. For me, I can be sitting up high on a mountaintop. It is like traveling. You can take little vacations in your mind and get a vantage point. And it’s like steam out of the kettle. So, you don’t explode over something stupid, like someone not putting the dishes in the dishwasher. I mean, we’re not here for that. It’s not our purpose.”
I’m so glad Laura brought that up. Because I’ve been more aware of when I snap at Scarlett, and thankfully she’s called me out on it. Like mama, I don’t like it when you yell at me. And she’s right. No one would like that. But I find that I do it when I’ve got so much mind chatter going on. And I’m ruminating on a problem, or I’m having these convos with myself, which I know aren’t helpful. I’m not solving anything in my mind. I ask Laura how those of us with a lot of that mind chatter can use meditation to calm down.
“Oh, that’s a good question,” Laura replies. “I do have friends on Wall Street who meditate twice a day. And I think that’s lovely. For me, I tend to take a five-minute break if I need to give myself a timeout. A girlfriend in Atlanta came up with the idea. She had three kids close in age, and she created a timeout room for herself when she was building a house. It was even padded and soundproof. She also had her own at-home business, so when things were going crazy, she would just lock herself in the room and put on classical music. And now, looking back, I know it’s like she was meditating. She would sit and breathe and listen to music. Sometimes we can’t disengage. We don’t want our children putting their thumbs in electric sockets in our house. I get it. But we can certainly put on a TV show if we need a break. They’re not going to die by watching Elmo for 15 minutes if we’re getting ready to blow. Make a better, more loving choice and sit and breathe. So, deciding when we need to take a break is important.”
I ask Laura how we can fit meditation into what already feels like a packed schedule. She explains that when you stop and pause, you actually get a lot more back because you stop sweating the small stuff and start putting yourself first. You start to realize that not everyone needs an instant email back, and in fact, people respect you more when you set boundaries.
“You start to get answers,” says Laura. “Slowly but surely, little things can come into your mind, like, after meditation when you cut your phone off. With clients, if you used to always respond to every emergency they created, it’s enabling, and then they get used to that. And if you don’t always charge for things. For me, it’s like every re-edit or pivot. But if you don’t always charge for every FaceTime or whatever it is that you may be doing, they get used to that too. But in meditation, you can pause and start to think about what is making sense for you. And for some, it’ll be doing less and making the same. For some, it’s doing less and making more by starting to value ourselves more and what we bring to the table – and not panicking too much. Fear is our ego. We have deep-seated fears that can be related to childhood or to anything outside of work relationships. So, we may have a fear of abandonment, of not doing everything perfectly. Whatever it is we have, we have the ability to say no, and then it becomes this powerful vortex where we start to attract more respect and attract people that are in alignment with us. And so, we have to trust the universe more because it helps us get through some of our fears. I’ve noticed that in my life, since I’ve been meditating daily that I’m working fewer hours and making the same or more. It has to do with attracting the right people into your life and then getting challenged and saying no. So, if someone is demanding too much out of me I start to get this feeling. We get tuned into our intuition instead of, oh, I’m just tired, let me grab a coffee. Let me plow through. The fear can be, what if I lose this client? But what if you start to value yourself and your health more? When you’re strung out, you’re not eating well. You’re snapping at family members. You’re not getting enough sleep. That’s when we start to have high blood pressure, cortisol is flowing through our veins, when we’re not working out, and our low back and shoulders hurt.”
Laura continues by explaining that when we start to take chances, by saying no to things that are holding us back, we’re telling the universe we’re worthy. We can set our own parameters, whether it is not responding to emails past a certain time or charging what we’re worth, and the universe will continue to respond in that way.
“It starts with meditation by detaching from that initial fear that had nothing to do with that client,” says Laura. “That initial fear was maybe about abandonment or not being worthy, which made you think you had to cater to this person. Or maybe it was something you witnessed in your family behaving like that, right? But our own meditation is one way of saying, I’m going to take care of myself today. You can wake up and do it for five minutes. If you have a partner, they don’t even have to know. You can lay in bed and put in the earphones. If it’s something that someone else in your house might poo-poo, don’t worry about it. It’s your challenge to be more authentic. And the more you are, the more you attract people who are super attracted to you. And that’s fabulous. You start building a circle that reflects what you want and who you are. And that’s really a cool thing, too. So, I would say five minutes a morning to start. You can even just put on nature sounds by Spotify, take three deep breaths, exhale, and imagine it floating through every cell of your body.”
I love how Laura shared aspects and benefits of meditation that I had never even thought of, like helping to stop sweating the small stuff, allowing us to get answers, and setting boundaries. That’s huge. In a lot of my coaching calls, we talk about boundaries, and people are afraid to honor their boundaries. They know what they want. They’re just scared to do it. I also love how she connected that back to fear and how meditation can help us detach from some of that fear.
To learn more about Laura Roe Stevens, you can follow her on Instagram or visit www.laurakroe.com. If you’re interested in hearing a guided meditation from Laura, listen to our conversation on episode 53 of the Elite Achievement podcast.
And with that goal achievers keep celebrating your weekly wins, noting your lessons learned, and identifying your priorities for next week so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.