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Mental Health for All

On days when things are going really badly, it feels as if nothing you’d looked forward to is panning out and new problems keep emerging from around the corner. You didn’t plan on missing the bus, and then the strap on your backpack broke, and just then your sister called to say she had some worrisome test results. And right about then, a friend tells you to “Just relax!”

How annoying is that?

Relaxation is distinctly not something you can just command yourself to do. It needs to come over you and perhaps, ultimately, to overcome you. That’s one of the reasons so many of us grow to appreciate mindfulness practice. It sneaks up on stress from the side. It lulls us into letting go of obsessively grasping for a permanent security blanket. But we’re not instructed to “just relax.” We’re instructed to pay attention to something that can’t help but be in the present: the breath, the body, sensations. Paradoxically, as our attention and focus increase, our excess stress decreases. We become, for a time at least, a well-tuned instrument.

Paradoxically, as our attention and focus increase, our excess stress decreases. We become, for a time at least, a well-tuned instrument.

We all crave—and need—this relief so much that it’s tempting to stop there. Mindfulness practice relaxed us (maybe even better than sleep), end of story. This notion persists in the popular media: The point of meditation is to escape to your own private bliss-island, to get away from it all.

But that would be a waste of all that relaxation.

The point of the relaxation is not to get away from it all; it’s to get into it all. Mindfulness doesn’t end at relaxation. It begins there. The relaxation gives you just enough stability to see what’s happening in your mind and to gently inquire, investigate. What you see may start to upset you, but you have a chance to see patterns form in your mind and to detect firsthand the formation and continuation of habits that drive your actions.

It can be tough stuff, so at that point, you just notice it and come back to the anchor in your practice, such as your breath. Encountering what’s lurking in your mind—the good, the bad, and the ugly—may inspire you to develop more relaxation, so you can go diving and exploring again and see more.

That’s why mindfulness is a practice for mental health…for everyone’s mental health, which is the motivation behind the work of the Centre for Mindfulness Studies, in Toronto (full disclosure: I serve on the board of directors). Among its many offerings, the Centre trains mental health professionals in mindfulness so they can first reduce their own stress, then help their clients with mindfulness- based skills to resiliently work with the mental challenges of their daily lives. The Centre’s community work, carried out in partnership with social service agencies, has a peer-to-peer component, whereby the clients themselves draw on their own lived experience and personal mindfulness skills to help other clients develop resilience and self-care. This practice of sharing can lessen the need for one-on-one therapy.

It’s a great example of how far mindfulness can go when we don’t stop at relief, but instead move on to real insight and habit change.

This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.


The Importance of Inquiry

Using Mindfulness for Mental Health

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Using Mindfulness for Mental Health

“Evidence-based” is a term Patricia Rockman hears often. As the co-founder of the not-for-profit Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto, Rockman and her colleagues are committed to bringing the most effective mindfulness-based interventions to the most disadvantaged and marginalized in our society—the poor, homeless, unemployed, and disabled—as well as the “front-line workers” who interact most directly with them.

According to the center, mental-health problems, including depression and anxiety, disproportionately impact these groups, which also face the greatest economic and social barriers to getting proper treatment.

The research is strong for mindfulness’ positive impact in certain areas of mental health, including stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation, reduced rumination, for reducing mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and preventing depressive relapse. There’s also some early evidence that it can be advantageous for people struggling with addictions, and appears to be particularly promising for smoking cessation. And when suffering causes someone to “have a fixed and negative view of themselves … or their circumstances,” Rockman says, mindfulness can help give them access to a different perspective, helps them open to other possibilities, and enhances resilience and their capacity to tolerate distress.

But mindfulness isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, she warns. “I think it’s really important to know mindfulness is not a panacea,” Rockman says.  “We do need to step back and be discerning about what it’s good for—or at least not harmful—and where we need to be cautious.”

Who Should Use Mindfulness for Mental Health?

Clients in the center’s personal and community programs are screened before they start any of the mindfulness-based interventions. “If someone is too sick—too depressed, too dysregulated, has unprocessed trauma or is actively psychotic—and doesn’t have adequate supports, we let them know that this likely isn’t a good time for them to enter one of our programs. They really need to receive some other form of treatment first,” she says. “We need to know when to refer and when mindfulness is a suitable option for treatment or self-care.”

“Is mindfulness better than medication or other therapies? No, probably not”

Also key to the organization’s mission is to support the people who deal directly with those who have the greatest needs. The Community Program, which Rockman calls “the heart of the center,” teaches mindfulness to professionals, including social-service workers, guidance counselors, and people who work with the homeless.

“We tackle the needs of the caregivers using mindfulness for stress management and to prevent burnout, as well as the needs of clients they serve who may have serious and persistent mental illness,” Rockman explains.

Is Mindfulness More Effective than Medicine?

In all of their programs, Rockman notes, “evidence-based” is an important quantifier. For example, MBCT has been well researched and found to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing depressive relapse.

But even with this sanction, mindfulness programs may not be enough to meet the needs of certain clients, and for others its role may be best viewed as part of an overall treatment plan, as “one of the interventions that help,” Rockman says.

“Is mindfulness better than medication or other therapies? No, probably not,” she says. “But if you are someone who doesn’t believe in taking medication or seeing an individual therapist you might be more inclined to engage in the practice of mindfulness.

“So, it becomes, ‘OK, we have a modality that people like, it’s appealing and accessible to them, so they’re more motivated to use it.’ [In that case] mindfulness may work better for them.”

Ultimately, she adds, it may be that providing people with a number of options for treating mental-health conditions, managing chronic illness, or reducing stress is actually the best medicine. ▫



On Sunday Oct. 15 a four-hour event will raise money to support to the Centre for Mindfulness Studies’ Community Program. The Mindfulness Challenge, featuring meditation instruction, yoga, and more, will be offered in three locations (Toronto, Oakville, and London) and also virtually. Participants are asked to raise donations for their enrollment. Learn more here.


Is Mindfulness the Future of Therapy?

Is Mindfulness Safe?



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5 Ways to Turn a Mental Breakdown into a Spiritual Breakthrough

YJ Influencer Hemalayaa Behl shares how you can harness the most intense mental and emotional energy to raise your vibration.

Life happens! It always will. You get fired, betrayed, heartbroken. A loved one dies. When your system is overwhelmed with agony, you can rise above the mud. Whatever your breaking point, your deepest point of depression, let it take you where it really wants you to go—UP! Rise up and reach up for the hand of the unseen, unknown support that is right there, waiting for you.

See also 8 Things You Can Do to Raise Your Vibration in the Wake of Tragedy

Open Up to What Intense Emotions Offer

My experiences with deep grief and loss have brought me closer to my spiritual connection. These mental and emotional breakdowns were blessings in disguise. Of course, seeing that in the moment is the hard part. But maybe we’re not meant to see it. It’s meant to be felt, expressed, and released. During those times, I surrender again and again to the spiritual connection that is available to us all.

Have you had a taste of that nectar? When life flows and you are feeling soft, yet strong, and connected to all? When you feel you’ve arrived home? That’s how I experience it. If your put your “opportunity glasses” on to see through the plethora of emotions, you will see that we are each gifted with a great amount of divine energy. How you choose to move this energy will aid in your healing process.

Tap into the wisdom and magic of your inner child, the 6-year-old who hasn’t let go of magic and wisdom. That child knows how to get through a breakdown and return to joy and connection again. Channeling your inner child is soul work that reconnects you to your capacity for wonder, joy, innocence, sensitivity, and playfulness.

See also A Guided Meditation on Grief

Your inner child has no filter and knows you need to release emotions instead of hold onto them. Knowing this and putting it into practice brings your closer to your spiritual connection. Trust your inner child’s wisdom, in fact, let her be in charge. Let yourself have that breakdown, knowing there is a breakthrough around the corner. Here are five ways to engage and use the energy of your breakdown to arrive closer to that divine connection that is waiting for you on the other side.

5 Ways to Turn a Breakdown Into a Spiritual Breakthrough

  1. Embrace the life-changing magic of purging!
    Mentally and physically let go of what does not serve you. Purge the feelings, the bad habits, self-limiting beliefs, even the clutter of your home and the people in your life who are not supportive. Create a safe and sacred space to cry—let it out and let it go. I am an encourager of tantrums and screaming out the pain (in a safe environment, of course). Open up the physical and mental space and watch new gifts and supportive people magically appear. Don’t worry about how long you’ve been friends with Becky with the good hair and bad attitude. Another friend is coming along who will lift you up, as you her.
  2. Get physical!
    Reconnect with your physical body. Walking, hiking, yoga asana, martial arts, jumping on a trampoline, or dance! Choreograph your life away from isolation, let movement in to be your saving grace. Depression is stagnation, and the counterpose is movement.
  3. Find a guide.
    Seek the guidance you may have been avoiding or putting off. A life coach, a mentor, a teacher could be what helps you reconnect. Women, let’s face it, we are talkers, and we can release by communicating and talking it out. Utilize this new energy to focus of your spiritual center.
  4. Tap into your creativity.
    Painting, writing, dancing, playing…embrace your innovative side. Not your thing? Try creating a group online or joining a community group and helping create the program and events. Seek ways to be inspired, to be creative, and to broaden your innate talents. When you tap into inspiration, you tap into your own divinity. 
  5. Be gentle with yourself and practice self-care.
    Self-care is a pathway to raising your vibration. Nurture and soothe yourself with baths, walks, tickles, and, of course, lovemaking—with or without a partner. Play with pleasure. Sensual dance, self-massage, touching your erogenous zones for a quick tickle, smelling and anointing yourself with essential oils, feather on the face will—these are all ways to invigorate your senses and perk you up. 

See also Learn the Value of Spiritual Surrender

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