How Mindfulness Saved and Transformed My Life - Interview With Anna Gannon
Though I talk about how hard entrepreneurship is, I feel grateful everyday that I get to meet and interact with some amazing women who are just as passionate about making a difference in the world through their professions as being awesome moms. In my own personal quest for mindfulness and mindful parenting, I feel so lucky to have gotten to know Mark, the founder of Expectful, a special meditation app for pregnant and new moms and Anna, their talented Community and Editorial Lead.
Anna is a writer and yoga instructor living in NYC. She is also a new mom who's passionate about helping other new moms find the tools they need to create a wellness routine that fits their lifestyle.
Anna’s path to becoming an advocate and supporter of mindful and healthy living wasn’t a straight one. In fact, she struggled for years with trying to bring back her lost period and after postpartum depression for months after recently becoming a mother. It is no surprise that her own struggles with wellness and motherhood fuel her passion for wellness and supporting others achieve it and make her passion that much more genuine.
I so appreciated her openness and honesty about her journey and so honored to share her story that led her to her life’s work helping people achieve holistic wellness through meditation and yoga.
1. How did you become a yogi and when did you become a mom?
I have always been athletic. I grew up doing all sorts of sports even more so than actually doing academic work in school. Sports were my life. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to keep up with my physical activity so I picked up running. At first I had a healthy relationship with running but after a few years I started to become obsessed with it. Every day I had to run 5 miles and if I didn’t I would be moody or worry I was going to gain weight.
Long story short – My running obsession became detrimental to my health and eventually led to me losing my period at 23 years old for four years. The funny thing is that the whole time my period was gone, I never thought about how running or the stress I was experiencing because of my missed period could be the underlining cause. Unfortunately, the numerous doctors I went to see over those four years didn’t either.
After four years of trying to get my period back, worrying about my health and constantly questioning if this was going to affect my ability to get pregnant down the line, I simply gave up. I stopped trying to fix myself. I did not want to do it anymore.
This was probably one of the hardest moments of my life. Constantly thinking that there was something wrong with me and having all of these dark thoughts towards myself.
A few years before my period stopped I started dabbling in yoga. Where I lived in PA at the time, there wasn’t any yoga studios close by so I basically taught myself yoga through DVDs and books.
Living in NYC during the time that I stopped trying to figure out why my period had disappeared, I decided to enroll in a yoga teacher training to keep my mind occupied. It’s funny that I decided I wanted to teach yoga before I ever even took an actual yoga class at a studio. The same day I took my first yoga class, was the same day I signed up for the teacher training.
This was definitely a light switch moment in my life. I think everyone has these moments in life where you flip a switch and your life takes you into a whole different direction. Taking the yoga teacher training was that moment for me. And 3 months into my teacher training, my period came back.
I think my period came back because one - yoga is so beneficial for stress and two – because I was doing yoga, I had cut back on running. But I think the most important thing was that I completely stopped trying to fix my problems. I stopped looking for ways in which I could bring my period back and instead decided to just live my life. No pill, no diet would have made it come back, it had to be an internal change. Once my mind and body got connected everything started functioning properly again. So long story short, this is what got me into yoga.
3. What brought you to Expectful?
So many things! The main trigger was an unexpected turn my life took when I was 7 months pregnant. I had been teaching yoga full-time at a studio in Soho for over two years when one day the owner of the studio decided make a change and I along with many of my fellow teacher’s was let go.
That studio was my life. It was my family and community. So there I was 7 months pregnant stressed about not having a job, extremely emotional about losing my community and depressed that I simply didn’t know what I was going to do for the next three months.
What’s funny was that the day I taught my last class at that studio, I got an email from my friend Dan Ryan, a hypnotherapist who helps to write the meditations for Expectful. He had heard about me losing my job and emailed me saying that “hey, I have been working for this company called Expectful and they are in beta so I think you should jump on their program because it is meditation for pregnant women. I think it will really help you.”
I have to admit that I was super skeptical because meditation was not my thing at the time. But I decided to give it a try because I knew intuitively that all the stress and depression I was experiencing could not have been good for myself, let alone my baby.
So I made this commitment to meditate every day just to see what happen… and it completely transformed my life. So after speaking with Mark two weeks after I gave birth, I couldn’t say no to his offer to join the Expectful team. Meditation shifted my whole perspective on life and I wanted to share it with all the women around me.
It is pretty crazy how it all happened but I truly believe that if you look back on your life, you can almost always see that life shows up for you.
4. How did meditation transform you during your pregnancy and postpartum?
I was really stressed and depressed after I was let go that I had no motivation to get out of bed. For someone who is so physically active and cannot stay still, this was not normal. So, I forced myself to meditate for 10-20 min every day and literally within three days, I started to see a difference.
In five days, I was more energized, had a more positive outlook, was less reactive and had more overall compassion towards myself. My husband, who didn’t even know I was meditating started to notice a shift in me as well.
What meditation did for me during the last three months of my pregnancy was absolutely incredible. It made me realize that I never connected with my baby for the first 7 months. Sure, I had felt her kick and I saw her on sonograms but I really never took the time to sit and be present with her. It just never came into my psych to do that.
The best part is that now when I close my eyes, I can still feel those moments I had with her while she was in my belly, and that’s a powerful feeling. Now as a new mom, meditation has helped me transition into motherhood,
5. That sounds like a good segway into the next question. Did you have an identity transition? How is being a mom compared to how you thought it would be?
It’s completely different than I imagined, lol, for sure.
I am really open about how I went through postpartum depression (PPD). A lot of it had to do with the fact that motherhood was completely different from what I thought it would be. I think it mainly comes from how my mother portrayed motherhood. My mom raised 7 kids without ever complaining… she acted like motherhood was the easiest thing in the world which I think for her it probably was. If there’s any such thing as being a natural mother, my mother is that. But it’s because of my mother’s laid back attitude that I thought everything would be so easy. I never doubted that I wasn’t going to be able to do it or that maybe it would be a struggle.
Truth is that when I became a mom, I found that it was THE hardest thing….and it’s because of this that I would have these internal battles of how I thought motherhood should be and how it was happening in reality. My reality was almost the polar opposite of how I imagined it would be and it made me feel like a complete failure.
Through my PPD, I did not have a negative feeling towards my daughter but I had negative thoughts about myself. Even suicidal feelings. I thought my daughter would be better off without me. Looking back, I can see that there were these layers coming off, the layers of my pre-mom self, the layers of what I thought life should look like and the process felt painful.
But in the end transitioning into motherhood and losing these layers made me a better version of myself. I think any time we are forced to transition, it is scary as shit. We resist as much as we can and it is that resistance that gets us into trouble.
When I became a mom I had to stop resisting the fact that I was no longer that woman who could just walk out the house, take a yoga class and go for a long walk all in the same day. Instead I was stuck in the house all day with my baby. It is not that I did not want to be with her but it is just that it was not what I imagined. I thought you could just strap your baby on your back to do this or that and that was just not the reality. At least for me.
6. How did you get through it and did meditation help to ultimately get you where you are today?
Yes, 100%. Even though I was meditating I did still go through PPD. Meditation kept me anchored through my PPD. I was constantly aware of what was happening in mind and body but I also knew that I was not the thoughts I was having. Meditation kept me right at the edge of the cliff of PPD, it helped me to never fully fall off of it. Through meditation, my mind was telling me ‘You are in PPD - just ride this through. When you can get out, let’s get out. But right now, you are just going to have to be ok with being in it.”
7. When did you realize you rode it through?
It wasn’t an overnight thing.
Coming down from PPD was a long gradual ride down. My head came above water around 8 - 9 months postpartum. People kept saying “things will get easier after 3 months postpartum.” Then 3 months would come and I would think to myself ‘what are they thinking? I am still struggling!” Then people would say “ Just wait until 6 months, that when it gets easier” And 6 months would come around and I would still be having a challenging time. Eventually I stopped listening to everyone else and just rode the wave and around 8-9 months postpartum, the fog started to lift.
8. Tell us about your breastfeeding experience.
As a new mom I was terrified of giving my baby formula. I had such a negative image of it. I think it steamed from the fact that I don’t eat processed food so I was looking at formula as this processed thing that I didn’t want to give my baby. It’s because of this that I was super gung ho about breastfeeding. But breastfeeding did not come easy to me or my daughter. My daughter had issues with latching and every time she ate, she would scream and kick.
I had never breastfed before so I couldn’t understand why she was crying all the time. Eventually I realized that if a baby can’t latch well, it affects your milk supply because breastmilk is a “supply and demand” type of deal - if milk isn’t getting taken out – your body won’t produce much.
It was a constant struggle..
Fast forward 9 months and I was in France for a wedding at a Chateau trying to feed my daughter and she was screaming because my milk supply was at all time low due to travel and stress. Something woke me up and I just came out of Chateau and told my husband that we needed to get formula. I’ll never forget that day, giving her formula for the first time sitting in the car in France. I remember tears falling down my face because at the moment, for once, it was not all on me. It’s safe to say that now I have a completely different outlook on formula, I think “Thank god we have something for babies who cannot feed well.” I know all the benefits of breastfeeding and I know it is better for the baby and mom but just because breastfeeding is better does not mean that formula is bad.
9. Who are your role models in terms of motherhood/working motherhood.
I still look up to my mom. Because I still to this day don’t understand how she did or does it. On a different level, I look up to my friend Bex who has five children (http://www.bexlife.com/). Coming from a big family, I am in awe of women who can have a big family and still do what they do.
I also look up to every woman who ever goes through motherhood. Every mom who I interview for moms who inspire. You, and everyone else. Hearing these women’s stories makes me truly think we are all amazing.
10. Do you have your own dreams and aspirations apart from motherhood?
My work with Expectful is everything because I truly believe that meditation is going to change the future lives of women and babies. The work I do affects everyone because we all come from a mother, we are all connected in that way.
I believe that the work I do with Expectful is super important. It’s my mission to help babies while they are still in womb and to support women before, after and during pregnancy. I cannot think of a better passion than doing this in my life. I will also never stop teaching yoga. It fills me up so much. A big aspiration of mine is to write a book. My gut has not told me yet what it is going to be about though so stay tuned!
11. I practice mindfulness everyday through meditation. What does mindful parenting mean to you?
Parenting without judgment on myself. And doing my best with the knowledge I have at the moment. I practice mindfulness so that I can better understand my own emotions which helps me to better understand the emotions of my daughter, my husband and everyone else I come in contact with. I meditate because I don’t want to be frustrated or angry and lash out on my kid but I know at some point I might. No one is perfect. But I think that is where mindfulness practice comes in so that I can be aware of it and I can learn from it.
12. What have you been most surprising thing about motherhood. Most rewarding?
Surprising - I would say the amount of love I feel towards my daughter. I knew I was going to love my daughter but I did not know it would feel like this. It is so internal. It is so in you. It fills you up. It’s pure unconditional love. It is amazing to feel this way, honestly.
Most rewarding - I would have to say the most rewarding is waking up every day, opening her door, and seeing her standing in her crib with a smile. It feels like LIFE. I feel so fortunate that I get this opportunity to watch that happen every morning. Just seeing her smiling at me all excited about life and the world is simply amazing.
13. What does a brand like Mitera means to modern mothers?
I love your brand! You give women a chance to continue their identity through their motherhood journey. Mitera’s clothing helps women keep their sense of self.
What we wear is an expression of who we are, a reflection of how we are inside and how we want the world to see us. And you give women clothing that women would want to wear even if they are not pregnant or a new mom. When I was looking at maternity clothes, it felt like I was looking at foreign clothes. I looked at them and thought I would never wear these if I wasn’t pregnant. Whereas Mitera makes clothes that are beautiful. They are clothes that make you go 'OMG I must have them.' Mitera gives women that opportunity to feel like themselves during their motherhood journey.
We are talking about self-esteem. When we are talking about self-esteem, we are talking about changing someone’s entire day, entire week and or year. We are changing how they feel, how they show up to the world and how they show up to other people. And most importantly - how they show up to themselves. I don’t know why it took so long for someone to think of it.
It makes complete sense. I remember the first time I saw the dress you make with the zipper on the side for breastfeeding, I was just like OMG OMG! This simple addition can change the entire early motherhood experience! I had all of these wraps and tank tops that were practical but did not make me feel good at all.
It’s funny that when I thought I was pregnant last week I was crying feeling uncertain if I was ready for another one (pregnancy test – negative btw!) and I said to myself “at least I get to wear Mitera clothes. At least I will get to wear something I don’t hate!" You were in my little light in my dark moment. Lol!
Thank you, Anna for this honest and inspiring conversation!