Anxiety makes the mind busy, and depression makes it dark. As someone who suffers from both, I had always avoided meditation for fear of the dark quiet space left behind. Greeted by Jonathan, who was leading the session in a bold maroon coloured suit, I will admit that I was a little cynical. I didn’t think it would work for me. Part of my mind was resistant. But why? Resistant to something that could help me? I decided there was no harm in giving it a go.
The demographic of the class was mixed - mostly women, of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. The organisers at The Stress Project say they struggle to get men to attend their classes, which is sadly unsurprising, but shouldn’t be the case, as men are just as welcome and can reap the same beneficial effects. Everyone in the class was friendly and caring, and I felt instantly as if the people here cared about other people - something that is quite rare to find in a busy city such as London.
We began with some simple breath-focused exercises. It is remarkable how such a seemingly simple task can be utilised to train and focus attention. By focusing on the breath, everything else fell away. But the quiet was not something that felt scary like I’d expected, in fact, I began almost instantly to feel very calm. I began to wonder if there was something to this “being in the moment” thing after all.
Next we moved onto a food focused mindfulness practice. We were each handed a raisin, except for a young lady fasting for Ramadan, who was happily accommodated for by substituting her raisin for a scrap of paper. Jonathan encouraged us to focus on different aspects of it - the texture, the smell, even the sound. My raisin, like most, was wholly unremarkable but that didn’t matter. In fact, that was the point of it . By focusing my full attention on the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing, I felt grounded.
Next, Catharine - a former client and success story who now assists the programme - led a sound based mindfulness practice. By focusing on the sounds inside the room and the busy city outside of it, the practice immediately took me out of myself and into the world around me, which felt like a welcome relief. Even more significantly coming back to myself after didn’t feel like a chore. It felt like coming home, more so than I’ve felt in a long time.
We finished the practice with a final meditation. Jonathan invited us to place our hands on our hearts for the duration of it. Depression can manifest itself as an aching pain in the chest, and taking the time and effort to simply sit and take care of it physically and emotionally was enough to soothe mine a little.
Overall, I was surprised at how instantaneous the effects of the class were for me. A brilliant experience
with excellent benefits from long term practice. But the most useful part of it was that the tools I learnt about don't have to remain in the classroom inside that hour with Jonathan and Catharine and the others. They can and should be equipped in the real, busy world - by listening to the sounds on the tube on the way to work; by being mindful of the taste and texture of your morning cup of tea, or by simply taking a moment to check in with your heart and remind yourself that you're okay, or if not, that you're going to be.
Click here to check out our free upcoming mindfulness classes or contact us for more information.