Sitting down with Deborah Thurley feels like we’ve had the good fortune of meeting a poster child of mindfulness. Radiant with joy and gratitude, Deborah speaks about how mindfulness has transformed her life, sharing conspiratorially, “I won’t tell you how old I am now, but I’ve had 30 years of personal mindfulness meditation practice. I have found it to be incredibly helpful in navigating and letting go of much of the hurt and baggage along the way.”
Deborah is a mindfulness educator and positive psychology facilitator, founder of A Mindful Practice, and faculty member of The School of Positive Psychology (Singapore). At Nuguru, she leads “The power of the reset", an evidence-based program that teaches you how to build your inner resources to support your well-being, and how to switch from stress to balance.
From working with curious kids to sometimes skeptical adults, Deborah believes mindfulness sits at the core of who we are. She says, “Mindfulness meditation is an investment in yourself, because when you take care of your own well-being you are then more able to help others. Mindfulness sits at the heart of an interconnected, woven wellness tapestry that feeds into different well-being spheres like emotional intelligence, compassion, resilience and strengths.”
“The course I teach is super practical for busy people, and grounded in science. For example, there are findings from the field of neuroscience that show that practicing mindfulness skills – or any skill for that matter - change your brain. Whether you know it or not, your physiology is responding to everything you think and do. For example, when you’re stressed, your blood pressure and heart rate go up. Your digestion is affected. But you can tap mindfulness to help you lower your blood pressure, normalize your heart rate and digestion, and help you access the executive function networks in your brain so you can come up with solutions to deal with life’s problems. If you sit in a ‘stressy’ mode all the time, you never really turn off your stress response. You have to learn how to switch states and shift back to balance in order to effectively release stress and relax.”
LISTEN: Deborah explains how unhealthy stress plays out in our bodies
Much like riding a bicycle or playing a musical instrument, mindfulness is a skill anyone can learn, although Deborah points out that, like any other skill, it takes time and practice to become proficient. Wryly she confesses that in the early days she went through ‘lazy’ phases where she stopped practicing mindfulness, and consequently found herself losing the ability to lean into it when she needed to. Now, she says, mindfulness is a daily practice and an integral part of her life.
“The beauty of it is that you can immerse yourself and spend 20 minutes in a formal practice, but you can also drop a few minutes of mindfulness here and there throughout the day. This flexibility means you can build a mindfulness matrix for yourself that supports you every day. I always feel like I have a mindfulness net underneath me. Even if something comes up that really challenges me, I know I can’t fall too far because I’ve spent time building this foundation.”
Deborah isn’t just passionate about practicing mindfulness; she’s passionate about teaching it. Her teaching philosophy is anchored in her belief that everyone needs the skills to help release stress, reduce reactivity and restore balance and equanimity. In addition to the work she’s doing with adults and her graduate students at The School of Positive Psychology (Singapore), she also works with children and teenagers, although she’s never had the chance to formally teach her own three children. Laughing, she says, “My kids don’t want to sit through a training workshop with me…to them, I’m just Mum! But of course, we all know when we walk our talk it rubs off. I’ve watched them navigate their lives, listened to how they talk with friends and seen how they work through their challenges. All of this stuff has landed with them.”
The stuff Deborah refers to spans a range of attitudes that stem from learning to become more mindful, from understanding how we can become the pilot of our own lives to learning how to explore our negative emotions and feelings. Our emotional range is a gift, she explains, but it can also a challenge. What matters is that we understand it, and then navigate this inner landscape as best we can in order to learn and grow.”
“Resilience is not just the ability to bounce back, but to bounce forward, stronger than you were before.”
Speaking about why she believes mindfulness is helpful for everyone no matter their age, she says, “It’s so important for all of us to know that, when we are in the grip of a difficult emotion such as anger, fear or overwhelm, we can pivot and shift when we are ready. We are not stuck in this state forever. That’s not to say it’s all about being happy-clappy either… it is important to recognize and work with difficult emotions when they are present. Mindfulness offers you the skills to help you pull yourself back up when you are struggling. That’s where resilience is born. Resilience is not just the ability to bounce back, but to bounce forward, stronger than you were before.”
“As you probably well know”, she continues with a laugh, “we can’t control what other people say or do, but we can choose what we say and do. And when we learn how to pause, to stop reacting and start responding, we gradually change who we are on the inside. This creates positive cycles when we interact with other people in our life because we are not quite so irritated and stressed out by everything. Instead we are more curious, open-minded and calm…and people respond differently as a result. And mindfulness meditation skills teach us how. That’s the beauty of it.”
Musing aloud Deborah traces her childhood growing up barefoot on the beaches of Barbados, to corporate London, to having three children and running her own business in Singapore. Her life has taken her on a winding road of experience around the world and weaving through it all is the thread of mindfulness which brings us up to the present moment.
“Teaching this material gives me a great sense of purpose and meaning. I believe if each of us used mindfulness skills to help us navigate the ups and downs of life, regain our balance and be more present, we would be a more collaborative, kinder, open-minded and open-hearted species. Goodness knows, the world could do with that right now.”