Good good Morning!
You know what I love about CASS? YOU! You are people supporting people. You are people continuing to support people even when there’s a worldwide pandemic, when you could get sick, when the folks we support are struggling with staying in and being bored. THANK YOU for putting yourself out there for the benefit of others, even when you don’t have to. Your compassion, your care, and your commitment GLOWS!
I can’t believe we are entering our fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic. That it’s been 18 weeks since this all started for us. That we’ve trudged through, coasted, fell down and got back up again, nailed it! (fill-in-the-blanks, depending on the day ;-)). Main thing is, here you are…showing up for another day. Ready to take on whatever comes your way. Welcome!
In the past few posts I’ve alluded to the benefits of mindfulness, and today I want to dive right in. You may have barely heard of mindfulness. Or you may have been practicing mindfulness since Jon Kabat-Zinn integrated the Eastern philosophies and practice of mindfulness in to the West in the late 1970s. Or you may just have had a brief introduction to mindfulness at the end of an online yoga class you tried during the quarantine (good on ya!). Wherever you are in your mindfulness practice, there you are (pun intended – thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn).
I love Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness the best. He says Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Think about that for a moment. Instead of being immersed in the regrets of the past or lost in the anticipated catastrophes of the future, we intentionally bring our attention to the only thing that we know for sure: this very moment. We become more aware of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and rather than judging them, getting caught up in them, or dismissing them, we just acknowledge them, see them as a mental event, and bring our attention back to what is: this moment. Mindfulness often (but doesn’t absolutely have to) focuses on the breath as the anchor of our attention. I think it’s because our breath a) is always with us, b) is always available as a focus of our attention, and c) has the power to calm our bodies from the fight-flight response (remember last week’s blog?). In this way, mindfulness allows us to gain space between ourselves and our cognitive/ emotional/physical response to our circumstances. Between what is, and what could be/should be/shouldn’t be/poor me!
Mindfulness is a SUPERPOWER! Research shows it:
- improves physical health
- improves working memory and focus
- improves relationships
- improves cognitive flexibility
- increases positive affect
- decreases anxiety and negative affect
- decreases depression
- decreases stress
And while it requires little time and little work, it is CHALLENGING.
That’s why there’s no one “right” way to practice meditation, and there’s no way to “succeed” at it. It’s a work in progress. It’s a journey. It’s an ever-evolving combination of learning and unlearning.
Many people tell me there’s no way they can sit still for even 5 minutes. I get that. Mindfulness is often portrayed as sitting still and closing eyes. But it’s evolved to include many more – ACTIVE! – practices! There’s mindful eating (you’re eating already, why not try to do it mindfully?), mindful walking, mindful movement, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness of the senses….so many options!
Do you have five minutes? If so, grab your coffee, tea, or beverage of choice and let’s try a mindful drinking exercise.
- Look at your beverage. What color is it? Are there swirls of different color? It is a dark or light color? Transluscent or opaque? Is the liquid still or moving? What else can you notice in the liquid?
- Smell the beverage. What do you smell? What is the first smell, and what are the hints of fragrance that come with a bit more exploration? What does the smell remind you of? Where do you experience the smell? In your nose, your mouth, your throat, your belly? Does the smell change over time?
- Touch your lips to the beverage container. Resist the urge to drink. Stay at the edge of the container for a moment: what do your lips experience? Heat? Warmth? Liquid? Sweetness? Do you sense changes in your nose? mouth? belly? Do you notice an urge somewhere?
- Sip the beverage. Slowly and mindfully. How does it feel as the liquid enters your mouth and how does it feel (same or differently?) as the liquid runs through your mouth? What does your tongue experience? What does the roof of your mouth experience? What flavours do you taste and how do these flavours change as the liquid moves around your mouth and down through your throat? What do the tastes remind you of?
- Swallow the liquid slowly. Feel how your throat welcomes the liquid and then closes off. How does the liquid feel moving down your throat and into your belly? Is it a feeling or warmth or coolness, and what does that feeling remind you of? How does it show up in your belly? How does that feeling permeate through the rest of your body?
Mindful drinking allows us to be fully present in the act of drinking without being distracted or consumed by life’s problems. It gives us a break, and opens us up to a moment of clarity and peace. Consider practicing mindfulness this week. Experts say that practicing it regularly will change the way your brain works and produce emotional, mental, and physical benefits. Apparently, the consistency of practicing mindfulness is more important than how long your practice lasts each time. So, start with 3-5 minutes everyday and increase as you are able.
There are a plethora of apps, you tube videos, and books to choose from. I’ve listed just a few below.
Have fun with your Mindfulness practice this week, and stay well!
Mindfulness is a superpower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT4
Meditation 101: A Beginner’s Guide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-kMJBWk9E0
Benefits of Mindfulness (research paper): https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/pst-48-2-198.pdf
Mindfulness apps include: Smiling Mind, Calm, Mindfulness Coach, Happify, Headspace, Soultime, Mindshift, Ninjafocus (for kids)
Mindfulness on the web: Wellness Together Canada includes a bunch of resources, including mindfulness sites, online counselling, and online mental health courses. Even stuff for teens. go to: https://ca.portal.gs/
TAO connect (therapy assistance online): https://www.taoconnect.org/english-exercises/
This article is about self-compassion but I had to include it here because it’s WONDERFUL! Written by the CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The CEO is so honest and raw about her own journey with self-compassion and COVID-19: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/catalyst-may-2020-louise-bradley-make-self-acceptance-your-pandemic-priority
This is also a great article from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, talking about the grief that comes with job loss/change: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/catalyst-may-2020-without-job-not-without-hope
Especially for People we work with
1. Take a look at the free mindfulness apps that are available on the app store or google play. Try out a few and see what works for folks. You can also search on you tube for a variety of different mindfulness practices. Don’t forget to check out the Calgary Alternative Support Services you tube channel where my colleagues and I upload a video every week on coping strategies AND facilitate a different mindfulness practice that you can follow along with. This week’s video offers a mindful eating exercise, very much like the mindful drinking practice written above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4kjSRL9KL0
2. Play a mindful scavenger game with folks you work with. It can be an indoor or outdoor scavenger game. I find that scavenger games force us to focus on the present as we explore and find things of a certain color, texture, utility, shape, etc. Be creative with it!
3. Many folks already use coloring as a therapeutic mindful exercise and that’s wonderful! If you haven’t tried it yet, try it this week and see if it helps you and your client(s) to feel more rested, focused, and alert as a result!
4. Even when you are communicating with others over a video platform, you can practice mindful movements together. You can find 10 Mindful movements modelled by Thich Nhat Hahn (a great mindfulness teacher) online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzA6Hu840to