Make the connection between mindfulness and healthy living.
It’s been a long journey through the ups and down of this pandemic, with changes to every aspect of our lives – from how we socialize and work to how we shop, travel and learn. The high level of stress associated with these disruptions to our daily routines has rattled even the most resilient of us.
In a recent wellness report looking at the psychological and financial well-being of Canadians, 7,251 participants from 70 organizations registered for Manulife health and wellness group benefits offered their input on how well they were coping in 2020. Of these respondents, 45 per cent rated their quality of sleep as very poor to fair, with work-related stress given as a top reason for sleep troubles. Moreover, 35 per cent reported binge drinking at least once a month, 48 per cent said they experienced feelings of loneliness and 66 per cent said they lacked the motivation to make better healthy lifestyle choices.
In another survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association, 40 per cent felt that their mental health was declining and, more alarmingly, 10 per cent said they were experiencing darker thoughts.
With mental health concerns on the rise, new attention is being given to the practice of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
In its simplest terms, to be mindful means to be fully present and fully aware of what you are doing, thinking and feeling at this current moment. Being fully present focuses your mind on the here and now, preventing you from worrying about the future or ruminating about things that have already happened. Mindfulness is training your brain to be still and in the moment. And this is where meditation comes in.
Meditation made easy
Meditation is becoming more common and accepted for its ability to relieve anxiety, improve sleep and promote general well-being. Basketball star LeBron James and singer Katy Perry are just a couple of people you may recognize who rely on meditation to help them stay centred and balanced. For the skeptics, numerous studies point to the tangible benefits, which include reduced stress, improved concentration, better sleep, and even lowered blood pressure and pain control.
While there are a number of styles of meditation to choose from, the goal in getting started is simplicity.
Take the first step
What’s most important when entering the world of meditation is going easy on yourself. Slipping into a wonderfully relaxed headspace where thought ceases to exist takes patience. The idea of meditation is to carve out special time for you, where there is no competition to succeed – there is no award for being the most mindful. Let’s get started:
- Find a quiet place free of distraction that feels comfortable for you.
- Set a reasonable time limit. Meditating for even just two minutes daily has its benefits. Add time as you feel able.
- Close your eyes and observe your breath. Breathing awareness is a great first step in your mindful journey.
- Become aware of how your body feels. Can you feel where you are holding tension?
- Find your focus. Help to calm a busy mind simply by focusing on a meaningful word. “Peace,” “relax” and “love” are common focus words, but this is your session. Choose a word that works for you.
- If focus wavers, be kind to yourself. Just allow that to-do list in your mind to fade away and come back to your centre. A great trick is to focus on the tip of your nose (eyes closed).
- Celebrate your success. Every meditation session is a terrific achievement. In our busy world, finding the inner strength to sit quietly in mindfulness can be incredibly challenging.
As with any new activity, it can take time for meditation to feel like a regular part of your day. Consider establishing a special meditation spot with any props that you find useful, such as pillows, blankets and music. This is your space, so set it up with the things you want. You may wish to either sit or lie down.
Life is busy, and you’re stressed. That’s why you want to meditate in the first place! If you find yourself realizing that it’s the end of the day and you’ve completely forgotten to find your zen, then set up some easy reminders. Sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, an alarm on your phone or even setting up a regular meditation time with a friend can help you to establish a routine.
What do mindfulness and technology have in common? Quite a lot, actually. Thanks to a surge of cool tech, a wide variety of apps is now available to guide you along your journey to wellness and better living. You can find loads of pre-recorded free meditations on various social platforms, take advantage of video conferencing and hop into an online meditation class, or even wear a gadget that helps tell if you’re in the meditation zone by measuring brain wave activity and states of relaxation.
Let’s face it, in a world filled with pandemic stress, busy workloads and long to-do lists, trying to squeeze in some time for meditation and mindfulness might just feel like one more thing to do. But if you start small, let go of expectations and give yourself permission to try something new, you just might be pleasantly surprised at the results.