MINDFULNESS can be practised at anytime, anywhere. The most basic mindfulness practice can be washing the hands – focusing on the water cascading over the hands. To heighten the experience, you can close your eyes and take deep breaths while focusing on the sensation while emptying your mind of all other thoughts that may try to enter.
Actor Ayanna Cezanne, who describes herself as a “soul adventurer,” said, “Mindfulness is more about not thinking – quieting the mind and going within. Going within, we find so many things that we allow our minds to race with, causing us to overprocess and overthink.” Cezanne practises mindfulness anywhere, anytime, and does yoga at home and at a OneYoga in Port of Spain.
Mindfulness and meditation have been buzzwords in the media and popular culture. This is possibly due to the growth of the yoga community and the expansion of what is generally referred to as new age spiritual movements and greater need for coping mechanisms in an era when cases of depression and anxiety continue to increase.
The power or lack thereof behind the practice has been up for broad discussion – explored recently by O Magazine, Self Magazine, Time Magazine and Psychology Today.
How much are mindfulness and meditation practised in TT? Are they merely another fad? And do they really work?
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness or attention on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is widely used as a therapeutic technique. Mindfulness and meditation therefore tend to go hand in hand. Meditation is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as the act of giving attention to only one thing – either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.
The concept adopts principles from ancient Buddhism, and was popularised in the 1980s by the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He practised Buddhist meditation techniques to create what he referred to as mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Local psychotherapist Julian Stollmeyer, who has 30 years of experience in psychotherapy and specialises in stress reduction, has been an instructor in mindfulness for over 40 years.
“I taught meditation in the US for over 20 years, before returning to TT seven years ago,” he explained. “I do a mindfulness-based form of psychotherapy. It has been found to be very helpful in cases of depression, anxiety and other emotional disorders.”
Though he was not able to provide statistics, Stollmeyer said meditation in TT has increased over the years, becoming more popular than it was seven years ago.
He said most people seek meditation as a coping technique for stress, which is usually triggered by increased stimulation due to modern technology and social media, and a faster pace of life. “People are stressed, and meditation is a way through which people find serenity and peace.”
The most recent reports by the World Health Organization on TT, from 2017, say approximately 67,614 people suffer from depressive disorders – 5.2 per cent of the population, a figure which is likely to have increased based on recent findings which declared TT the 14th unhealthiest country in the world – depression being one of the factors.
Stollmeyer said there is a lot of overlap between mindfulness and meditation, as mindfulness is one of the most common forms of meditation.
“Mindfulness is the art of training oneself to focus on the present moment without making any judgment of the experience.” He said mindfulness applies to the awareness of any activity being carried out in the present moment. “Mindfulness techniques include yoga, body scan, which connects the breath while taking note of the sensation in different part of the body. Playing most sports can also be considered a mindfulness technique. You can bring mindfulness to washing, cooking or playing football.”
Executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter Julie Corliss, in an article entitled Mindfulness Meditation may ease Anxiety, Mental Stress published in 2014, made reference to a study on mindfulness in which researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore went through approximately 19,000 meditation studies and found mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Stollmeyer, who teaches mindfulness techniques to men in prison, said prisoners with whom he works have shown indications of improved anger management.
“They really connect with it. After one of the classes, a prisoner came to me and said he was amazed to find that there is actually a technique that can help him deal with his anger.”
Stollmeyer recalled another prisoner who had been helped. This prisoner had murdered his mother, and was haunted by the emotions that came with confronting what he had done.
“He said this is the first thing he came across that helped him to manage his emotions and not act out even more, or feel overwhelmed by regret.”
“Mindfulness practices,” he added, “are like any other form of exercise, which means it should be done on a regular basis for it to be effective. A lot of people find it helpful to have a group with which they practise for support.”
Cezanne said for her, mindfulness also means having accountability.
“In quieting myself, even though it is a time for going silently within, it is also an opportunity for me to hold myself accountable for my thoughts, intentions, goals, dreams and the things I hold to myself that are harsh. We feel like we have to do so much on any given day.”
She said the measure of accountability and being able to see oneself from an external/ third-party point of view is helpful in her meditation. Stepping outside herself gives her the opportunity to forgive herself and to be truly present.
She said the art of setting the mind right and quieting the noise is a concept that has spread throughout the world among all age groups.
“If we can take the time to connect with our breath by practising mindfulness and meditation and other ancient practices that have been re-adopted, we can take better control of our lives in spite of the inevitable challenges and toxicity. The more we deal with the challenges and manage our responses, the exhale becomes much easier before responding.”
Stollmeyer is slated to launch a mindfulness-centred business venture, where he will do mindfulness training sessions for individuals and groups.