Focus on the moment: The power of mindfulness

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While it may not be for everyone, using awareness of breathing and focus on the current moment, mindfulness is an ancient practice that can help against symptoms as anxiety and depression.

According to a recent Statistics Canada survey on COVID-19 and mental health (SCMH), one in four (25 per cent) of Canadians between 18 years-old and older screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in spring 2021, up from one in five in fall of 2020. The results show that COVID-19 has had a dramatic effect on people’s mental health.

While it may not be for everyone, using awareness of breathing and focusing on the current moment, also known as mindfulness, is an ancient practice that can help against symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In London, there are many places that offer meditation sessions either in-person or online. With more than 800 followers on their Facebook page, the London Mindfulness Community is one example. Created seven years ago and adapted because of the pandemic, they are a peer group of enthusiasts who promote meetings each Sunday morning that are totally free for all to attend. Depending on the weather, the series takes place outdoors. The only request is to bring your own mat, blanket, pillow, or chair.

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“Meditation doesn’t have to be done in a beautiful room with a statue in the corner or anything like that,” explained Greg Reid, one of the facilitators for the group. “The first step is to take look around. What’s going on? Not try to change anything….in the second minute, you just assume your breath, notice the sensation of breathing in your body….in the third minute, there are sensations, awareness of breath to spread in your body.”

It may sound simple, but mindfulness techniques can go even further. A study carried out in partnership between the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and researchers from the Lawson Health Research Institute found that the practice can bring beneficial results for those who have Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

“[Mindfulness] is a practice where we focus on the moment and living in the present,” said Dr. Sarah Morrow, neurologist and Associate Scientist at Lawson and Director of the London MS Clinic at LHSC.

Discovering if mindfulness could help newly diagnosed patients to better cope with the situation at a time of intense stress was the goal. 24 MS patients were divided into two groups. One of the groups joined a program for 10 weeks, participating in many different mindfulness techniques, including homework they had to do to keep up the practice. One of these patients was engineer-in-training and 28 year-old, Mitchell Kuska.

“I was diagnosed with MS when I was doing my Masters at Western University. I had started a new semester when I tried to go through dealing with a diagnosis of MS,” said Kuska.

The program used during the study was based on Mindfulness Without Borders, a charitable organization that offers courses to educators, youth, health, and corporate professionals.

Six months later, the researchers recognized the results.

“[Those] in the mindfulness group had better coping, they did better on depression, and there was a better improvement on stress scale,” said Dr. Morrow.

Though the study was completed in July of 2021, Kuska said he will continue to use the techniques.

“Mindfulness just helps me about what is going on in my body, in my mind, and be able to deal with it,” he said.