This Woman Turned from Mourning to Mindfulness

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The turning point for Linda Villines came four years ago.

Living in Los Angeles, she was working as a personal assistant while pursuing gigs as a musician and actress. Her life at home with her then-boyfriend, a TV and film director, was flourishing.

But her career, body, and spirit were otherwise tanking.

“I was so miserable as a personal assistant,” she recalls. “I just hated it. I would wake up stressed. It felt like the job was killing me.”
In some ways, it was.

The anxiety, insomnia, depression, fatigue, and mood swings she had experienced all her life seemed to be getting worse, becoming nearly all-consuming. It didn’t help that she had an unusually demanding job that left her angry and unfulfilled.

Doctors said she had irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, fibromyalgia, hormonal imbalance, hypothyroidism, and adrenal fatigue. She tried detox and elimination diets, antibiotics, acupuncture, and more — to minimal or only short-term success.

Then, two months after she married her husband, Matt Villines, he received an even worse prognosis: advanced kidney cancer.

On July 9, 2016, Matt died, with Linda by his side.

His passing, coupled with a long-growing pull to find a holistic way to address the struggles her body and mind had gone through for years, set Villines on a drastic, life-changing path that took her where she is today.

At 40, she’s no longer a personal assistant, and no longer lives amid the hustle of Los Angeles. Now a resident of Ojai, California — a bucolic, mountainside town that’s long been a center of New Age movements — she has spent the last few years building a business as a health and wellness coach certified by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

Learning to Love Yourself

Villines, a pet lover who cares for two dogs and often enjoys rotating through different colors of highlights in her hair throughout the year, says she learned to heal her mind and body through rather simple means, some of which would be described as “traditional,” as opposed to the medicines and diets she formerly sought. These include eating well, sleeping well, meditating, and, she says, “listening to your body, learning to forgive, and learning to love yourself.”

Today, Villines, a former agnostic who now identifies as a Hindu and whose family hails from Cambodia, teaches clients to improve themselves through some of the same techniques that got her through her own struggles.

“I believe in the holistic approach of mind, body, and spirit,” she says. “You cannot think you’ll meditate every day and then eat junk food and expect to get better. You have to have your heart, your body, and your perspective in the right place to tackle the problems you’re facing.”

It took cancer and death to reveal the changes I wanted to make to me.

Most of those with whom she works are women, and, these days, because of the pandemic, the coaching happens online.

“They have a sense of hopelessness,” says Villines. “They feel they are cursed with chronic pain or trauma, and feel their difficulties are their fault. I held onto those beliefs for a long time, too — that I was broken and my body was broken. But the solution was not only a practice but a mindset change rooted in coming back to love. I can choose to hate myself, or I can choose to believe in something different.”

Villines is part of a growing group of men and women who have left more traditional careers and 9-5 jobs to work in wellness, meditation, yoga, and similar career paths. The appeal for many includes working more fulfilling and flexible jobs.

For Villlines, “it took cancer and death to reveal the changes I wanted to make to me.”

Feeling Guilty for Taking a Moment to Breathe

Data is limited on those who have made “the switch,” though the growing popularity of one practice, meditation, would naturally point to a rise in those who teach the technique. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while just 4% of adults said they meditated in 2012, the share jumped to 14% by 2017.

As reports of anxiety and depression have increased this year amid the coronavirus pandemic — with Americans struggling with unemployment, deaths, and seeing friends and family less often — experts say a greater awareness has also grown around mindfulness, meditation, trauma, and wellness.

“There’s a lot of guilt among people right now in just taking time for themselves, taking a moment to breathe and notice what’s around you, or even taking a moment for joy,” says Sharon Salzberg, an American pioneer in meditation teaching who co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, in 1976.

There’s a lot of guilt among people right now in just taking time for themselves, taking a moment to breathe and notice what’s around you, or even taking a moment for joy.

“There are certain conditions, especially anxiety, that come up again and again over time, especially now. We can learn to not blame ourselves for how we feel,” notes Salzberg, who wrote Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World. Salzberg says interest in mindfulness and meditation has been growing for decades, though she has seen an uptick during the pandemic in people signing up for her online courses.

“One thing I share is the practice of gratitude,” says Salzberg. “People think if you practice gratitude, you will be satisfied with crumbs. It doesn’t work out that way. Gratitude is what gives you energy.”

Making sure to think of how to practice gratitude — to herself and others — has become a daily part of life for Villines. And while making mindfulness, meditation, and wellness a full-time career isn’t easy or viable for everyone, Villines says it’s worthwhile to consider even small ways to cope with the changes the nation and world are going through.

“People are more aware of mental health and trauma right now, and that is a good thing,” adds Villines, who offers free advice on Instagram Live and Facebook Live sessions in addition to her paid coaching. “I myself am not immune to the pandemic or the stresses today. But there are tools and perspectives right now that we can all use to help ourselves do better.”

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