By Jean-Christian Gagnon, PSP Ottawa Health Promotion –
July 24, 2018 was International Self-Care (ISC) Day. You might find it ironic that we only designate a single day each year to celebrate the practice of self-care, and you’re right. Self-care should be celebrated and practiced every day; it is not something we do once annually to feel great for the rest of the year, as that sounds more like self-sabotage!
What is self-care?
The definition of self-care varies slightly across the literature, but it usually implies any activity done deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although this broad concept might sound self-explanatory, it is often one that is overlooked. Explaining the multiple benefits of self-care in this article would be quite fitting for ISC Day, but perhaps not very valuable as many of us already recognize – though we might not act upon it enough – that taking care of ourselves is essential to lead a happy, productive, and fulfilling life. Instead, the purpose of this article is to strip away the mysticism and the stereotypes around a well-established, evidence-based self-care practice that has gained enormous attraction over recent years, and which we all have access to: mindfulness meditation.
If you take a moment to imagine yourself practicing meditation (whether or not you like the idea of it), do you see yourself somewhere in a Himalayan monastery, bald-headed, wearing a maroon skirt, smelling incense, and/or sitting cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed for hours at a time? If any of these are true, you are probably influenced by the narrow portrait of meditation painted by society, one that deprecates meditation as a boring and somewhat useless pursuit. In the end, the choice is yours. Either you hold on to this belief, or you put it aside and think about how meditation might look like for you. As Andy Puddicombe (co-founder of the Headspace meditation app) puts it, “people define meditation by how they choose to use it” – for some it might be sleeping better, and for others reducing anxiety or even optimizing performance in sports, at work, or at home. To put it simply, mindfulness meditation is training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective, helping us develop the ability to be present and stay engaged in whatever we’re doing in the moment.
But let’s be realistic – the practice of meditation has a time and a place. Sitting comfortably on a chair to focus on your breathing and be fully present with your mind is surely not the right thing to do on duty. However, being mindful is something that can be cultivated daily, and has delivered tremendous benefits across a wide range of populations. It is well known that Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members risk exposure to trauma and operational stress that is rarely seen elsewhere in Canadian society. Therefore, adding mindfulness meditation to your coping toolbox can have a profound impact on mental health and well-being. In this article (available in English only), U.S. veterans explain how the practice of mindfulness helps them navigate PTSD and other challenges common to those who serve.
If you’re still not convinced about the legitimacy of mindfulness meditation practice, it’s perfectly normal. People realize the benefits of mindfulness meditation only once they experience it for themselves. Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and LeBron James are a few examples of highly successful individuals who turn to meditation to be fully present in what they do in order to perform at their best. There is no hard science here. Like our body, if we don’t look after our mind, it will start to break down. And mindfulness meditation is just one way we can take care of our mind.
If you want to discover how mindfulness meditation can benefit you, a great first step is to visit your iOS or Android app store to explore the variety of meditation apps available (e.g., Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm, Smiling Mind, etc.). The guided meditation sessions offered through these apps allow users to experience mindfulness meditation and decide whether it’s a practice they want to pursue or not. To obtain more information about mindfulness meditation and the proven benefits, click on this link.
Hopefully this article helped demystify the practice of meditation in some way and planted a seed in your mind as a potential self-care activity that you might consider incorporating in your day-to-day life. Staying in touch with the underlying place of ease and contentment that lies within each of us is a skill that requires practice, like anything else.
Sign up for the Ottawa Health Promotion workshops and learn about how you might go about improving your self-care habits in a variety of ways! All workshops are offered for free to CAF members, their families and DND civilians – helping you keep your wallet’s well-being in check on top of that!
Wishing you the best in your continuing journey to self-care.
This post is also available in: Français (French)