There’s no denying that this past year was a doozy, full of turbulence and low points that have caused stress levels to skyrocket. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2020 “Stress in America” survey, high levels of stress reported by Americans directly linked to the pandemic is seriously affecting physical and mental health, including changes to weight, sleep and alcohol use.
Now more than ever it is crucial to ensure that we are prioritizing and fostering our mental health. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month—and throughout the year—we asked mind-body wellness expert Jaya Jaya Myra, author of The Soul of Purpose (Post Hill, 2021), for advice. Her recommendation: incorporate mindfulness and meditation in your daily life.
“Daily meditation helps the body process out what is not needed, keeping you focused, clear, happy and anxiety-free,” says Myra. “In your body, meditation helps to rebalance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Oftentimes the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and does not give the parasympathetic time to do its job of rest, regeneration and healing, both for physical and mental wellbeing. Meditation can reset this balance, while also reducing stress, anxiety and a host of physical and mental health problems.”
When is the best time to meditate?
“The best time is when you make time,” says Myra. “Meditating at different times of day will have a different effect on your mood and mental state, but that does not make one time better or worse than another. The most important thing is to be consistent and do your meditation practice daily.”
One of Myra’s favorite meditation techniques is the 5-sense check-in, which she discusses in The Soul of Purpose.
“This is a powerful place to start because it helps people understand quickly that your thoughts are not you. It provides perspective and helps cultivate awareness,” she says.
To do this:
Take 8-10 seconds to focus on each sense: smell, taste, sight, touch and sound.
Ask yourself: What are you smelling right now? What are you tasting? Seeing? Feeling and hearing?
“Cycling through each sense for 8 to 10 seconds will bring you back to the present moment, out of stress and overwhelm, and help you refocus your energy,” says Myra
Myra also suggests focusing on breathing. “While not directly a meditation, I highly recommend taking at least 2 to 3 minutes a day to lengthen and deepen your breathing. The more deeply you breathe, the slower the thoughts in your mind will be,” she shares.
“Breath rate is directly connected to effective meditation. By training your body to breathe more deeply on a regular basis, you’ll be able to have more control over your thoughts. The more you can slow down your breathing, the easier it will be for you to sit and meditate without mental distractions.”
Myra adds that mindfulness is also an excellent way to train the mind to focus on what is important and to learn to let go of all things not serving your best interest, aka stress.
“It takes active work to control the mind, and mindfulness is a huge part of this,” she says. “It also helps people understand how the past has shaped the present, and how this present moment will shape your future. I would call these basic success principles: In order to be happy, you have to have control over your mind, not the other way around. Both meditation and mindfulness help facilitate this.”
What is mindfulness? A type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.
Source: Mayo Clinic
“Think about meditation and mindfulness as practices that help you digest the stimuli and experiences you have each day,” says Myra. “Just like the stomach digests food, we also have to digest the thousands of stimuli we encounter each day or these stimuli start to burden and overwhelm our physical and mental health.”