Jennifer Ciarimboli credits yoga and meditation with helping her move past her own chaotic upbringing and past trauma. Shifting from a corporate career, she owned her own yoga studio for six years, but found that in spite of amazing people teaching, the "yoga industry" was not structured well to reach and consistently serve populations that need it most: single moms, first responders, veterans, teachers, social workers, and more. With that perspective, Jennifer founded studio BE Mindfulness, an innovative company that leverages the global reach of technology to offer on- and off-site and virtual minduflness trainings.
Dr. Barb: My guest today is Jennifer Ciarimboli. She began her career in corporate sales and shifted to become a yoga and mindfulness educator about a decade ago. After developing and managing her own yoga studio, she then launched a new venture called studio BE, which we'll talk more about. Welcome, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Hi, how are you today?
Dr. Barb: Good. Good, thanks for joining me. I'm eager to hear more about the work you do. I'd like to start and back up a bit and hear a little bit what motivated you to move from corporate sales into full time yoga instruction.
Jennifer: Right, that's such a good question. Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here with you today. It's a good place to start because it was a really transformative few years going from this really stressed-out, over-achieving type-A salesperson, essentially. I worked in corporate sales. I sold wiring and network solutions to enterprise organizations globally. My last job in that industry was working for a large telecommunications company managing the Northeast territory, traveling at least two or three days, sometimes on an airplane, around the territory, and commuting from the Northeast. I was commuting and reporting into the Orlando market. It was really crazy. In the midst of that job my marriage was falling apart. My first marriage. We had three children together. We were married for 10 years. It wasn't working. We were married very young.
Everything in my life seemed to really come crashing down. I was really burnt out. I hated my job. I was really unhappy in my life and I really was unwell. I really wasn't coping well. Even though at the time I probably thought I was. Yeah, everything fell apart. The divorce happened. It happened rather quickly, which I think was good for my children. It was good for us. We knew that it wasn't a good situation for any of us. We were really clear on trying to make it as painless as possible. I was trying to figure out how to move forward.
Of course, I continued working in sales, but soon after that, too, was a disaster. Long story short, I left my job. I did some consulting soon after. My ex-husband still lives in Florida; I was here up in the Northeast. The kids were moving back and forth on a schedule that we agreed on. There's this great deal of loss, and there was this huge period of adjustment to being kind of separated from the kids. My yoga practice was really what helped me get through that very difficult time.
I had been practicing at the time for about a decade. It was really just a physical practice for a very long time for me. It was something that made me feel better in my body. During that transition, after the divorce and soon after leaving my career, it was a lifeboat for me. It kept me above water. It certainly kept me off medication. I'm not against medication. It became a refuge for me. I knew at that point that I wanted to become a teacher. The consulting I still wasn't happy with. I made a bold decision to go for it.
Dr. Barb: Well that's cool to hear. It's interesting, you are not the first person who I have interviewed over the last year or two who has found yoga to be their life boat, so to speak. I think that's another message to our listeners about the value of some of those practices in our lives and maybe diving in a little deeper to see what that might offer. You did full-time yoga instruction for a while?
Jennifer: Yes, yes. I've really been teaching full time yoga, meditation, breathing practices for the last 12 years I've been teaching. I opened the yoga studio in 2008—Balance Yoga. It was really interesting, because I was really in over my head at first, certainly. Even though I had some business experience, I had never run a small business, which is much different than running a team from a corporate perspective. There was a bit of a learning curve.
We were in an area that had previously not had a yoga studio. There was this tremendous need, right? I saw a great opportunity not only to do something that I loved but actually make a living from it and help people along the way. It was really a wonderful period of time, and it was a period of tremendous growth for me personally as well. I really loved doing that for a while. I owned the studio for six and a half years. I sold it in, I guess it's 2015. I sold in March of 2015.
Dr. Barb: Now your new venture is studio BE, and that's related more specifically to your mindfulness. My understanding is you're incorporating mindfulness into the workplace. So, tell us more about that.
Jennifer: Yeah, after I sold the studio, again it was this period of transition. I think that transitions are always really interesting because that's when things tend to fall apart a little, right, if we're not paying attention. At this point in my life my boys were teenagers. My grandmother, whom I was very very close to, was facing some health problems. I was starting to feel frustrated with the industry of yoga, frustrated that I wasn't really able to impact the communities that I felt really passionate about. Just was ready for a change. It was a really conscious decision for me to go ahead and sell the studio. I knew that my family needed me more. I knew that I needed more personally. I also knew that my yoga community needed more.
It was really the best decision for everyone at that particular time. With that being said it was still a really, really hard transition. I felt I lost my identity a bit. I really didn't know what was next. I decided to take some time to figure that out because I really have never done that. I've been working since I'm 14 years old. It was the first time in my life that I allowed myself some space to not rush into anything.
Dr. Barb: So it wasn't that you had the new idea in mind that created this transition for you. It was really recognizing that the yoga studio wasn't exactly what was meeting your needs at that time and that it was up to you to create a new beginning.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. It wasn't that it wasn't only not fulfilling my needs. I wasn't fulfilling the needs of the space of the studio. The community that I had created. I felt an incredible responsibility to them. I still do, quite frankly. I knew that it was time to figure that out. It was better for me to separate. I needed to focus on the kids. I needed to focus on my grandmother. I needed to focus on myself. I did. The year prior I had enrolled with a rather deep commitment with my primary teacher, Sarah Powers. I enrolled in the Insight Yoga Institute in 2014. That also was impacting the decision because that first formal training that I had done with her, and I had been doing work with her since 2009, but in the summer of 2014, it was my first very formal training. It was an intensive. We were at The Integrated Dharma Institute for 10 days. We were in silence for a good part of that time.
It was the first time I had been exposed to the Buddhist mind training practices. The teachings of the Buddha: insight, development. I had also just started working with internal family systems, which is actually a Western psychological method that is interwoven with Buddhist psychology. I knew that I needed to pause there for a moment and work with the methods and practices and techniques, because they were really a game changer. That's what I did. I went into really deep study for several years. It changed my life dramatically.
That's really when the insight came throughout that period of time that, man, if I would have had this piece of the trainings, if I would have really understood how important mindfulness meditation is to my emotional wellbeing, my mental wellbeing, physically. I was seeing such dramatic improvements in my interpersonal communications, in my marriage, in my relationship with my kids, my parents. It was changing everything. I knew at that moment if I would have had the anchor of these practices with my yoga practice that probably I wouldn't have tossed away my corporate job that I really at one time was really passionate about. I was very successful. I really liked the people I work with. I did not have the capacity to manage stress in the way that I needed to in order to be healthy. That's when I knew I wanted to do this. I didn't know how to put it together. That took a little time.
Dr. Barb: That resulted in studio BE. Is that correct?
Jennifer: Yes, that's correct.
Dr. Barb: Tell us exactly what you have to offer the workplace and how you bring that to both employees and employers.
Jennifer: Right. Right. Well, what I know to be true, Barb, is that workplace wellness is dramatically antiquated. Not all, of course, because there's certainly more progressive companies and progressive areas of our country that have really embraced mindfulness mediation, embodied mindfulness practices, breathing practices, alternative modalities as being essential to taking care of their teams.
However, the vast majority of companies really struggle in that they're not sure what wellness is. There's a lot of companies that are still offering smoking cessation programs and that's their wellness program. Or dietary incentives on diet and exercise and gym memberships. That's all good. I'm not saying it's not. If we're not addressing mental and emotional health in 2019, if we're not taking care of our people, we know, we know they are at tremendous risk for burnout. It's happening. That's why the World Health Organization has taken notice. That's why big corporations have taken notice. That's why companies like Google have embraced mindfulness as a means of taking care of their people.
We're in a different age and time. The demands and pace of life right now if completely overwhelming for most people. We don't have the capacity to figure out how to work an eight to 10 hour day and really integrate wholeness into our lives. I think that's really what it's about. It's about integration. It's no longer about work life balance.
Dr. Barb: I would say that many of my headlines around healthcare have been focusing on this burnout. It is. It's taking a huge toll. I think my industry of healthcare probably isn't unique. The degree of difficulty. The layers of work that's outside of my core patient contact that all of the electronic medical records, all of the paperwork, all of the pre-authorizations, all of the distractions from doing what you really are there to do day to day have continued to increase and increase. It does. It leads to burnout. Expectations don't diminish in probably any industry of what employers are expecting their employees to do and accomplish. Say my organization decides this is what they need to be healthier. What do you bring to them?
Jennifer: Right. So, we specialize in corporate mindfulness programs, courses, trainings, which we deliver either on-site or virtually. We support everything that we're doing on sight or virtually with our teachers through an e-learning platform where we upload all of our content, including whatever we're doing on-site is filmed and edited and uploaded onto the platform. We also include all of the supportive materials for those particular lessons. We've developed a proprietary signature eight-week course. That's where we really like to start. However, for some organizations what we found is it needs a slower introduction. We also have a series of be-well workshops where we come in and we slowly start to drift out these concepts. For many people it's still really new, right? They don't know what it means.
The word mindfulness is now being used and slapped on everything from baby food to medication in the grocery store. People are really confused. They're curious because they know it means something, but they're also really confused. We do a little bit of education upfront to get people on board so that they're more open to giving this a try. There's a lot of different ways that we can come in. What's most important, I think, is meeting with corporate executives, the decision-makers, the leadership, which often involves the HR departments and really identifying, hey, what's going on? Where is your team struggling? How are they managing stress? What teams have you identified that are most at risk right now? Let's figure out a strategic way to start. Then we can figure it out from there.
What's most important to me as a leader, the visionary behind this, is that we're not just focusing on leadership. Most often what I've noticed is that many of the programs out there are so hyper-focused on giving these tools to the C-level suite. That's great. That's a wonderful thing. I'm not saying that they don't deserve it. If we really want mindfulness to be impactful to an organization we need to trickle it down so that we're reaching far and wide, deep within the organization. So that really the people on the front lines, who are your most valuable asset, right? That these people feel better. So that they don't feel so completely entangled with the stressors in their job, in their personal lives. Of course those lines cross. People are suffering. I think it's a really unique way to address well-being. It's a unique way to address employee care. It's a unique way to really change things.
Dr. Barb: So to take some of the benefits of mindfulness, obviously, a lot of individuals who I interact with, aren't part of a corporate setting necessarily. I think, obviously, there isn't anyone who couldn't benefit from some of the results of the mindfulness training, which might reduce stress, improve mental clarity, more resilience are some of the things that come out of that. Are there tools or do you have approaches that individuals could consider in trying to do this on their own? For instance, do you have a website or are they available to others?
Jennifer: Oh, absolutely. We do specialize in corporate programs and course development and trickling those out. Really, the mission behind the mission for me, specifically, is I have a very deep concern for underserved populations in our communities that don't have access. Some of the people that you're probably working with have the means to download a great app or hire private instruction or go off to a retreat and get trained. The vast majority of people do not have access to those things. It was my feeling, and this was big motivation for me in developing the business plan, I really knew that companies are concerned. They recognize it. Leaders, executives, in my community, in most communities, recognize that if the community is unwell, if the city that your business is operating in, that your business is functioning in, is vastly unwell, then you're really limited, right? You're really limited from a resources perspective. It limits your opportunities in your community. It's overall not good for anyone.
Companies are recognizing this. They're making investments in not only their people, in their employees, but also in their communities. I knew if I could go into a company and make a significant impact, and because I trust in the practices wholeheartedly, I know that we can and we are. I knew that if I did that within an organization and I got the buy-in from the leadership that perhaps then I could convince them to make small investments in these programs so we can develop more sustainable programming in nonprofits so that we can develop more sustainable opportunities within local yoga studios that are doing good work. That we could make these practices more accessible to underserved populations.
What we've done is we take a significant part of our profits and we put them right back into the community. I personally teach a free mindfulness meditation class. I teach it at the local Historical Society Museum once a month. We have free yoga on the river offered from Labor Day ‘til Memorial Day every Saturday. We have over 200 people that attend that class regularly. We've got the whole community involved. We have a film that we're airing in January, actually it hasn't even been announced yet, so I don't know if I'm supposed to talk about it. We just burned up the date yesterday. It's showing in January. It's going to be free to the community. We bought the rights for it and are donating it to the local theater. It's a documentary on anxiety and how anxiety is really a national crisis, especially for teens and young adults. That's going to be airing January 15th.
We look for unique ways to stay involved with the community because we know that if we're doing the work within organizations that we can give back to the community and we can take care of more people. With all of the resources that are out there, and there are so many now, so many really good ones, too. Online, through podcast, through books, and authors. There's so much out there that it's really just about educating, right? It's about educating people on where to find the resources because they're out there. They're usually free or very low cost. If they have access to a good teacher these are all practices. These are all simple methods and practices that anybody can do on their own.
Dr. Barb: Do you think the resistance maybe to engaging in this is not being aware of the benefits? Or not making it a priority to really spend the time and energy it takes to get the benefits?
Jennifer: Right. Well, I think both. Certainly, I think especially for women, there's a lot of guilt, right? Anytime we make time for ourselves we feel it's selfish, especially mothers. I had a mom come up to me at a party a few weeks ago and tell me that she had to go to the emergency room because she was having an anxiety attack, or what she thought was an anxiety attack. When they got there to the hospital her blood pressure was so sky high that they wanted to admit her. She said, "Oh, no. I have to be at a soccer game. I don't have time for this." She left the emergency room. I sat there in complete fear for this woman that I know. These things where women aren't making time for themselves. They think somehow by doing things like that, by making decisions like that, that they're taking care of their families. In reality, what our families need more than anything is a healthy, happy mother, right? Wife, friend.
We've got to take better care of ourselves. One of the practices that we really emphasize from day one are the meta practices. That's a traditional word for loving kindness or loving friendliness. Part of the metta practices, you could also call them the compassion practices, is just taking a moment to appreciate and turn care towards ourselves. This is so hard for people. That's we trickle it out from lesson one, right? How can we be kinder, how can we be more compassionate to ourselves? What is self-care? Often, Americans in general, but especially women, have such a hard time with the meta phrases, with the meta practices, that we often have to start by reframing it to someone in their lives that is so easy to love, like a small child. A beloved pet. A grandparent. We talk them through, we lead them through, a mindfulness practice where we ask them to turn that visualization of that beloved being towards themselves. We imagine these loving kindness phrases being pointed back at that particular person.
Often, they don't have access, right? There's this deep sense of criticism. There's an inner critic that has a really loud voice. There's this deep sense of self-hatred. It's really sad. We spend a lot of time reminding people about self-compassion and teaching them what that means, how to do it, where to start. When we really embrace that part of the practices it opens our hearts in such a dramatic way that there's no turning back. It opens us back into the world. It opens us back to ourselves. It's a really beautiful transformation to witness.
Dr. Barb: I can understand why you are passionate about what you do. Just hearing you talk about the opportunities. I'm thinking about four, five of the women I saw in my practice yesterday had dealt with really significant events in their own health or a spouse. I said to one woman, "I think you're probably experiencing PTSD right now." I think we aren't well equipped to navigate some of these things life is bringing because we don't take the time to nurture as you're explaining.
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. It's a process. There's been over 5,000 scientific studies on mindfulness I think it's in the last 20 years. I believe. I may have that wrong. Over 5,000 scientific studies on the benefits of these practices. You can't possibly keep up. I read new studies every single day. As a matter of fact, I started my day reading this incredible white paper on the financial services industry and how impactful mindfulness practices in that industry is not only to the success of the firms, but for individuals within those firms. Quite often they act like independent contractors. What always completely astounds me every time I read a new study is people think you need 30 minutes, 40 minutes. Some of those preconceptions come from MBSR practices, Mindfulness Base Stress Reduction, which is amazing work, John Kabat-Zinn, where they're meditating, they're using the practices for 40 minutes twice a day.
Then people hear that and then they think, well, I don't have that time. Here's the thing, most people don't. Right? Most people don't have two 40-minute blocks of time a day to sit in silence. I wouldn't recommend starting that way for anyone. What we know now is that just five minutes, five minutes, of formal practice consistently done over a long period of time is completely transformative. Not only emotionally, not only mentally: Neurologically it's a game changer. That's where we see we can build gray matter in the brain. We build healthier pathways into the prefrontal cortex, where our higher thinking resides. Problem solving resides. We start people there. Three to five minutes a day.
Guess what? Everybody has three to five minutes. Everybody. It doesn't have to be sitting on a meditation pillow in some esoteric way. It could be standing with your feet on the ground consciously breathing for five minutes. Following the breath. It's learning the method and understanding what the neuroscience is. We talk a lot about that when we're working within corporations. We talk a lot about teaching these practices in a secular way because some people get really turned off by the spirituality that is layered in some of these practices.
We teach our students micro practices that they could drop into ordinary life at any given time that really hack the nervous system and calm us down. Once people understand these simple things, right, and it doesn't take long. Our average engagement with our course work is eight weeks. There's such a dramatic change that people really adopt the practices and it changes their lives. It changes their lives. It's really exciting. It's enormously gratifying. I am extremely passionate about the work because I know how much it's helped me and I have witnessed these practices and methods transform literally thousands of people's lives over the last decade.
Dr. Barb: Well, I think it's really exciting and I am grateful to think as a society we're becoming more cognizant of the necessity of incorporating things like this to thrive and survive, really. I'm grateful that you're on the front edge of figuring out how to really make this come to be because I think we can talk about it all day long but until there are resources that can come in and made available it's great to think about but it has to be initiated. Thank you for your work in that.
One of the final questions I often ask guests is personally where do you find fullness in this stage of your life? I think we just heard a lot about that. I don't know if there's anything you'd like to add.
Jennifer: Yeah, I saw that question. I was thinking about it. Absolutely my practice. I have a daily practice. I get up early before things get hectic with the kids getting off to school. It's something I look forward to tremendously. It gives me a moment to check in and see how things are. I think at this stage of life what I'm noticing, I'm 45, my things are changing. What I thought I once understood about myself, I'm noticing that's shifting a little bit. It's really getting curious about what's going on and having this understanding on how to navigate the rest of the day once I check in is really helpful. If, for instance, I notice that there's an overall tone of agitation coming out for no particular reason perhaps, I might look at my schedule and create a little more space in my day. Move things around a bit. Get outside. Go for a hike.
Self-care's just a priority for me. It starts with that moment of checking in in the morning. My kids, my family, doing things I love, making it a priority in my schedule. Really scheduling date nights out with my husband. Making sure that I'm spending time with my parents. Spending time with my niece and nephews and my sister and brother. Family is so important and this life is so precious. It's so short. Reminding myself every day of preciousness and impermanence. Landing in full presence. That's really what I find most fulfilling.
Dr. Barb: Well, thank you for sharing. Thanks for your vision and the work you're doing. I'm excited for you and studio BE and the important changes you have recognized can come to each of us if we engage. It's available to each of us. I think that's probably one of the frustrations that we could all improve so many aspects if we understood and invested in ourselves. Self-care has become something that I speak about a lot to my patients. I have to admit I haven't probably incorporated the specific of mindfulness in that. I will now after talking with you.
Jennifer: That's great. That's so great to hear Barb. I'm so excited for you because it is such an amazing journey. Like I said, there are so many great apps. There's a thousand apps on iTunes now for mindfulness. So many great places to start. I would encourage you to give a few of those a try. Great podcasts. We have a blog on our website. There's a blog post on there that talks about the top 10 podcasts out right now that we recommend. That our teachers recommend for learning about mindfulness. I would absolutely encourage you and your audience, your listeners, to check that out. I can even send you the link if that's helpful.
Dr. Barb: Can you state your website?
Jennifer: Sure. It's www.meetyourcenter.com.
Dr. Barb: Good. I do encourage all our listeners to check out the website and dive in.
Dr. Barb: Thanks for your time, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Thank you so much. Have a great day.
Dr. Barb: You, too.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten. Read more about and from her here.