Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
Our each and every action, our response to the external world, stems from the internal. How present we can be with our own experience and our ability to cultivate a calm mind shapes the life we lead.
We are seeing massive shifts in our approach to mental health, with the need and appreciation for mindfulness only continuing to grow as we navigate an ever-changing world and the pressures of everyday life.
This week in New South Wales we begin to open our doors again as we come out of lockdown, reconnect with loved ones and local businesses.
We spoke with kinesiologist and mindfulness teacher Sacha Stewart about the power of meditation and tips for adjusting to this new period.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to teaching meditation.
I’m a mindfulness and meditation teacher, kinesiologist and Mind Body Medicine practitioner, however, before moving into the wellness space I was a producer in commercial advertising. About 12 years ago, I had some health issues that were largely due to stress, leading to burnout, and I had to find a way to navigate life in a new way that kept my mind healthy.
Meditation was a game changer for me, and a regular practice completely shifted how I operated out in the world. In 2016 I began teaching and it has been one of the biggest joys in my life to be able to share the practice with others, to give people tools and techniques that can help bring them a greater sense of peace, and ways to navigate the tough times we all experience.
What sets your approach to meditation apart? Are there particular areas or techniques you like to focus on?
I’m not sure that I am necessarily unique in the way I teach, but the main way I approach my classes and workshops is to meet people where they are at, and to make meditation accessible.
Even though the perception around meditation is changing, many people I still come into contact with think that they can’t meditate, or that their mind is just too busy. I do my best to break down those barriers, to give them a way into meditation that feels approachable, and gives them permission for whatever they experience to be ok.
I also invite them to be compassionate with themselves, rather than judging themselves during their practice; we live in a very busy world, and we come to meditation with so much momentum in the body and mind, and that is not something you can just switch off.
I encourage them to understand that it's not so much about their experience during the meditation itself, but rather how they feel afterwards. Are they more patient with their family and colleagues? Do they feel a little less reactive and more at ease? Perhaps something that would normally trigger them simply passes without that normal pang of frustration. These are the true indications of the benefits of the practice, rather than what happens while they are seated for 20 minutes.
In terms of practice, one tool I always like to share with people is simple breath practices that help calm their nervous system, as these can be used at any point in their day to give them a reset, as well as being a very beneficial way to bring you into a meditation.
During my workshops and courses, I also love to share practices that help to transform people in some way, to create mindset shifts and give people new perspectives and ways of looking at the world.
We have moved through multiple cycles of adjusting to being in lockdown and coming back out into the world. With both experiences tending to cause overwhelm in their own ways, how do you feel these states have impacted us?
I think it has impacted everyone in different ways depending on their circumstances, so it’s hard to be definitive, but in general I think it is the uncertainty, the not knowing, and the fear of the future, as well as for their health, and the health of their families, that causes so much anxiety and frustration.
Particularly during lockdown, it has a significant effect on many people’s mental wellbeing, and it feels like a lot of my clients' emotions are very close to the surface, and likely to be very changeable.
One minute you can be happy going about your day, doing your walks, taking a Zoom class, and the next you're crying and working your way through a packet of TimTam’s with a feeling of hopelessness. It’s important to find ways to navigate that, and to bring in some balance and stability.
The other state, when everything opens back up, can be very exciting, but can also feel very overwhelming, even for the more extroverted of us. There can be a lot of external stimulation happening all at once, plus a pressure to get back to social environments, and after being cocooned for so long this can feel quite challenging, getting back to regular life can take some adjustment.
How would you recommend we approach each of these states to help ourselves find balance in the face of uncertainty?
One of the most important things is to create routine in both of these states. Our brains like what they know, so when the world around you feels ungrounded or uncertain, coming back to some regular good habits will make you feel more stable and balanced.
Particularly what you do first thing in the morning and last thing at night has the most impact on how you will feel during your day.
Rather than roll over and check your phone, usually stressing yourself out by checking your emails, socials and news headlines before your feet have even hit the ground, give yourself some time to get grounded, move your body a little, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block, some breath work or meditation to set yourself up for a good day.
Likewise, at the close of the day, turn off screens and read or listen to something uplifting, doing a relaxation practice to set you up for a better night’s sleep can really help your overall outlook on life.
Specifically, for the two different states:
Make sure you move. When our bodies are feeling stagnant, our minds feel stagnant, so whether it be a yoga class on zoom, a walk around the park, or dancing around the house, getting going will help your state of mind and lift your spirits.
Gratitude for what you do still have is really important too, I think it’s very easy to wish your life away to be on the other side of lockdown, but we do still have so much to be grateful for on a daily basis.
When you practice gratitude it actually changes the neural patterns of your brain. It can alter the way you see yourself and the world, and it can also help to shift heavier emotions. So, when you’re a bit down, tap into gratitude - it has been proven to help you feel more uplifted, positive, and will boost your mood.
Take it slowly. Don’t feel you have to do everything at once and jam your social calendar because after a week in you’re likely to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
Put in healthy boundaries around the amount of time you will spend out and about and don’t be afraid to say no to get togethers you know will leave you feeling a bit drained.
You’ll have likely noticed during lockdown what the habits are that have a positive impact on your life, so if you have developed some good patterns, prioritise them so they don’t all go out the window as soon as we come back into a more regular life.
In either state, compassion for yourself and how you’re feeling is incredibly important. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to have your bad days, remembering these states of mind are temporary and will move through… ‘this too shall pass’.
And it goes without saying: meditate.
What are some ways you like to personally connect with self-care outside of meditation?
I walk daily, that is something I set myself a challenge around at the beginning of the first lockdown, and I have continued right through. As best I can I will get into nature and leave the tech behind, especially as I am on Zoom so much during the day.
Eating nutritionally well also plays a big role in my life, but there is always room for chocolate!
Getting good sleep is imperative for me, and having good morning and evening practices like I mentioned above makes a significant difference to my days.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about practicing mindfulness?
Be kind to each other! We don’t always know what is going on in someone else’s life, and why they think or do what they do, and I believe we are all navigating this life in the best way we can.
Kindness goes such a long way in making the world a better place!