Mindfulness Heals

By: Tara "Sprinkles" O'Donoghue

1) What is yoga?

Yoga means “union” of the body, breath, mind and soul through connection with yourself and others. Many of us think of yoga as a physical practice; however, the postures/stretches are only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is all about how we live our lives, how we treat others and ourselves, and how we breathe, meditate and move mindfully.

2) What is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment and noticing what comes up without any judgment or criticism. When we feel happy and joyful, it’s easier to stay in the present moment. However, when we notice emotions, actions, reactions, etc., we can be hard on ourselves for feeling sad, anxious, depressed or angry. What if we could simply notice and then use that information to change our behavior? Sounds easy enough, but it takes a lot of practice!

Here’s an example: While on an adventure, I often feel excited and eager to be in nature doing fun things. But there is often a time when I feel nervous and doubt my capabilities, which makes me tense up. Mindfulness is noticing when this happens – usually because I hold my breath! Then, discerning if I am actually in danger. If not, I like to use tools like breathwork, meditation, affirmations or mindful movement to relieve tension and bring myself back into the present. This helps me naturally find my flow state.

3) What is the FD mindfulness series?

The FD Mindfulness Series is an online library of resources that teaches mindfulness through breathing exercises, therapeutic movements and meditations. The videos vary in length from 5 to 50 minutes. The mindful moments and meditations are shorter ways to practice mindfulness and can become tools that you can use throughout your day, especially when encountering stressful or challenging situations. The mindful movement classes are longer and include a series of therapeutic, gentle stretches and postures featuring FD alumni and staff. 

4) Explain the difference between Mindfulness Monday classes, Mindful Moments, Mindful Meditations and Mindful Movements:

* Mindfulness Monday classes: This is a series of four recorded live yoga classes with the FD community. The themes of the four classes are as follows: the physical practice, breathing, meditation, and setting intentions and using your intuition. 

* Mindful Moments: These are short breathing practices (5 to 10 minutes each) that involve connecting your breath to body, which brings peace into the present moment. 

* Mindful Meditations: These are short, focused moments (5 to 10 minutes each) that involve quieting the mind and body while connecting to your breath, which brings relaxation and balance to your nervous system. 

* Mindful Movement: These are longer movement practices that include breathwork, stretches and postures, plus periods of relaxation and reflection. Modifications are offered to make classes more accessible for everyone. Each class has an FD alumni or staff helper.

5) How can mindfulness practices positively impact your life?

Mindfulness has a lot of benefits in everyday life and while out on adventure. In general, people who practice mindfulness feel more clarity of thought, calmer from anxiety, more emotional balance, a regulated nervous system and greater inner peace. The important thing to note is that mindfulness is a “practice,” which means that we must keep trying every day, and throughout the day, in order to continue feeling the positive effects. Just like practicing kayaking, rock climbing or surfing, the more we do it, the easier it gets, and eventually it becomes second nature. The practice itself is not the point, and it’s okay if it feels messy. Eventually you will flow right through the day, just like scrambling up a rock or floating down through a rapid. 

While out on adventure, mindfulness practices can relieve tension and bring us back to the present so we can find our flow state.

6) Why is mindfulness & yoga important for the First Descents community and young adults impacted by life-threatening illness?

Life is especially challenging when navigating a life-threatening illness that causes a stress reaction in the body and mind. The treatments, surgeries, medications and disruption of everyday life can cause trauma, and it’s normal to grieve the life you once had. It’s important to notice this through mindfulness and not to feel critical that it’s a tough time. It’s okay to feel because it leads to healing within. A lack of feeling is called disassociation, which means we are disconnected from reality and our body/mind. It’s also important not to get too caught up in the downward spiral, because this can cause dysregulation of the nervous system. Our bodies “keep the score,” and so stuffing things down just means emotions and pain get stuck. Feeling and releasing, then regulating with a mindfulness tool, allows us to stay connected to ourselves. Mindfulness is the barometer of balance in the present moment without worrying about the past or future. The present is the place of your inner peace and power.

Tap into First Descents’ Mindfulness Resources:

Mindfulness plays an important role on all of our First Descents programs. We teamed up with LOV Yoga to create a variety of mindfulness resources for the FD community to take advantage of and benefit from. To tune into these resources and start your mindfulness practice, head to our YouTube channel. 

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