Meditation as a Mental Health Practice

girl in seated meditation pose
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I was initially reluctant to try meditation.  My thinking went something along the lines of… I’m so f***ing sick of being inside my own head, so why on earth would I want to spend more time up in there?  But my depressive illness was kicking my butt despite being on a hefty load of meds, and I was willing to try just about anything that might help even a little bit.  Meditation seemed like a good fit with the holistic approach I was trying to put together, so I downloaded a couple of meditation apps (I’ve made some suggestions on my mental health apps resource page) and decided I was going to meditate for at least 5 minutes first thing every morning.

I remained unconvinced in my early days of meditating.  Most of the beginner meditations I was listening to focused on the breath, and the cynical part of me thought that seemed like a big waste of time.  I still had no real desire to focus inward any more than I already was.  I was horribly sick of myself and couldn’t avoid myself even if I wanted to, so the idea of sitting back and watching my thoughts go by didn’t seem much different from the average moment in my day.

Once I began to realize what wasn’t working, I started looking for something different.  Then I stumbled upon Cory Muscara’s 31-day fresh start podcast on Simple Habit, and something clicked.  This was the well guided mix of inward and outward focus that I hadn’t realized I was looking for, and I was hooked (along with a bit of a virtual crush, I must say).  Around the same time I also started doing restorative yoga, which incorporates a lot of meditation.  I could listen peacefully for hours to my teacher Tianne, whose voice is almost as soothing as Bob Ross from the Joy of Painting.

My meditation practice has since expanded to at least 15 minutes every morning and 5 minutes every night at bedtime.  I’m proud of the 140+ day meditation streak I’ve got going on my favourite meditation app.  I’m starting to understand the meaning of the quote often attributed to Victor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom”.  Meditation can help to expand that space, and since I tend to be quite an emotional reactor (more like nuclear reactor what I’m not well), I’ll take any space I can get.

Some simple tricks I’ve learned are using a finger to trace an outline of the other hand, breathing onto the back of the hand, and effortless hearing (being a wide-open receiver to all the sounds around you).  I’ve found some breathwork to be really helpful, such as extending the exhalation or thinking of breath as an anchor, while other strategies are less helpful (alternate nostril breathing leaves me feeling like I’m gasping for air).  Like anything else in life, you take what works and leave the rest.

Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword lately, but this is not a new concept – mindfulness meditation is something that has worked for people for a very long time.  I started off a skeptic and am now a believer, but I still find I’m very particular about what resonates with me and what doesn’t.  Plus I’d probably be useless at trying to meditate without guidance.  There’s a lot of options out there to explore, and  I think that for anybody with mental health issues it’s worth doing some digging into meditation – some of it might work, some of it might not, but being able to widen that space between stimulus and response can be golden.

COVID-19/mental health coping toolkit

The COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit page has a wide range of resources to support better mental health and wellbeing.

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