17 Sep TO NO AVAIL
I’ve played hide and seek with mindfulness throughout my whole life. The first person you’re looking for can be relatively easy to find in hide and seek, just as the benefits of mindfulness feel when you first begin. As the game progresses, you grow tired and annoyed that you just can’t seem to find the last person. The original intent of the game gets lost and suddenly it’s not as fun anymore.
Mindfulness has been a part of my life since I was young enough to be in daycare, where we had weekly yoga classes from a volunteer parent. As a child, I was in the right place at the right time, as yoga and other forms of breathing meditation became popular forms of stress management for children. Growing up, mindfulness hid from me just as much as I hid from it. I fiddled with it, but the practice truly came back to me around five years ago, as my high school carved out time for us once a week to practice. It was there that I decided mindful breathing was something I needed in my life, so I later took mindfulness classes. Mindfulness was a coping mechanism that worked well with my fast-paced brain and helped me successfully navigate my anxieties to an extent that other coping skills hadn’t. I am lucky to have lived in communities that prioritized children’s mental health just as much as adults and had the funds to pay for it throughout my life. Mental health services are rarely cheap or subsidized, and I am so grateful these were not hurdles I had to struggle with.
While it fluttered in and out of my life, the practice itself was hit and miss. Some days I felt the benefits, where I would leave with my head a little lighter and my mind a bit clearer. Some days I felt like I had just wasted my time, where I struggled more than usual to focus on my breathing and not my thoughts. When practiced in the long term, as it should be, your ability to remove yourself from rampant thoughts or feelings and back into your physical body increases. Eventually, the practice of mindfulness began to feel more obtainable as it helped me manage my anxiety.
I struggled with who I was supposed to be if I meditated. I bought myself crystals, loose pants from Kensington Market, singing bowls, and tried to become the hippie that I mistakenly thought I had to be. Unfortunately, I forgot the real reason I began meditating – to manage anxiety. While some stuck, other additions to my practice ended up being distractions, as all you really need is yourself and a space to be. The difficulty in mindfulness is in the minimalism of it; it tests how able you are to be alone with your breath and your body.
Mindfulness is hard to harness because there are no tangible results. There is nothing to check off as you progress, no benchmarks or signs of accomplishments that are glaring with certainty. You’ll never see the effect of what you’re doing when you look in the mirror but possibly feel it briefly at a random moment before it flutters away. It provides you with a sense of calm that is so much more gradual than it is instant. Finding success in mindfulness is difficult, as you may always doubt if you’re even doing it right. The irregularity in results can be more confusing than frustrating. When I feel like I’ve lost the practice, in the moments where I have more difficulty clearing my mind and being kind to myself when I can’t, I have forgotten that mindfulness is a long path to contentment. In continued practice, skills build upon each other to make effective breathing more obtainable.
The practice of mindful breathing itself has developed throughout its own lengthy journey. The origins cannot be traced to a specific country or time period as practices popped up throughout Asia years ago, and were brought to North America through global migration. However, like most things, Western culture took a sacred aspect of another culture and altered it. Mindfulness changed from a solely religious practice, commonly aligned with Buddhism, to one at times based on science and at other times based on materialism. Many brands are able to profit off mindfulness by making you feel like a $30 incense tray or a $100 pair of leggings are essential to “successful” mindfulness practice. Mindfulness as we know it here in Canada is different than how it exists in other communities. I had to leave behind aspects of Western mindfulness practices in favour of its simpler origins, as materialism in Western practice is irrelevant to real work.
As mindfulness is an ongoing practice that seeps into varied aspects of your life, I began to find guidance in unusual places. I came across the How To Breathe books by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, that reiterate important aspects of mindful breathing from drag queen Thorgy Thor’s Instagram post. This isn’t to say you should adopt sacred aspects of a culture, but instead recognize that these are the simplest forms of mindful breathing. My outlook shifted to be more minimal and focussed on how the practice can be incorporated into regular life. While mindfulness is solitary in practice, I continued to seek support from others as the experiences are universal. For a year, I visited a mindfulness coach who, among many other valuable teachings, encouraged me to practice self-compassion in the moments when I wanted to abandon the practice. Working with someone allowed me to explore why I was doing this type of work and set a commitment to it.
I had to find a way of mindfulness that was engaging for me; a practice that was enjoyable outside of meticulous breathing. Mindful breathing can be found in every moment from the minute you wake to the minute you sleep. Many practice mindfulness without having ever heard the term. Those that struggle to sit still are likely to find more success in a moving meditation like yoga than a sitting meditation. Those that are looking for better sleep will find that a full-body, laying meditation might be more effective than a movement one. On the other hand, everyone’s bodies are uniquely different and will seek different outcomes from mindfulness. It is about finding the ways that work for you and deciding to commit to it even if you fear you’ll never see the results.
My mindfulness practice now changes every day and some days it’s not even there at all. I have to remember to be kind to myself on those days, weeks, or even months where I lose the practice. Some days it’s five seconds of breathing with my eyes shut while other times it’s an hour-long yoga session. Mindfulness is difficult and hard and something that you must be committed to if you want it to work, which can feel far more demanding than imagined for a person seeking help. It is not a complete solution to whatever you’re going through, but it made things manageable for me, at the very least. In the best of moments, the world around you won’t matter as much. It’s like the world goes silent, as you ignore the idea of the future and the past, and the anxieties that come along with them. To feel calmed by how your body and mind have slowed and be able to look into yourself and, even for just a moment, feel stable within your own body is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for anything.