Mindfulness meditation for resilience with Anusha Wijeyakumar, MA, CPC, RYT
In times of great stress, we can use the tools we have within us to help us cope with overwhelming emotions. Whether dealing with personal fears, news about your diagnosis or treatment, or the events of the world, using mindfulness can help manage extreme or unhelpful feelings and focus on things you can control.
In this presentation, Anusha Wijeyakumar, MA, CPC, RYT, a wellness consultant for Hoag Hospital in California and founder of Shanti Within Wellness, explains what mindfulness is and how it can help ease stress and build resilience. As part of this video, Ms. Wijeyakumar leads a simple meditation that you can use in your own life.
Anusha Wijeyakumar, MA, CPC, RYT:
Hello, everybody. I'm so delighted to be here with you all today. I’m Anusha Wijeyakumar, and today we'll be talking about resilience and how a meditation and mindfulness practice can help. A little bit of background before we kind of jump into things: I am the wellness consultant for Hoag Hospital. I lead on all of them, meditation and mindfulness initiatives for their Women's Health Institute. I also work with the Neurosciences Institute and the one that I am really passionate about doing at Hoag Hospital is the work with our breast cancer patients, our previvors, our survivors, and our metastatic patients. Introducing these women to the powerful practices of meditation and mindfulness is something that gives me great joy in my life and something that it is an honor to be here with you all to talk about today. In these times that are challenging and that are chaotic, that are uncertain, mindfulness and meditation have been proven to help alleviate stress and anxiety and build greater resilience, both in the physical body and our mind.
Let's jump now to talking about what is mindfulness and how can you practice it. Mindfulness is something that you can do anywhere, at any time. It is simply bringing your attention to your breath, and you can do that in any moment, be it driving, be it cooking, be it gardening, be it at work –probably one of the most useful places for us to be practicing mindfulness right now, even for those of us that are working remotely. Mindfulness is bringing your attention to your breath, pulling the mind away from the past and not projecting into the future. Really training the mind to be present, right now, in this very moment. The past is unchangeable. Even what happened 5 minutes ago we cannot change. And the future is yet to be determined, but I can tell you that what is happening in the present will determine the future.
You can practice mindfulness through your breath. That's one of the most wonderful things about the practice, because everybody is able to do this, regardless of how you're feeling, if you are feeling tired, if you are feeling fatigued, if you are feeling stressed or anxious or just a bit low, you can all bring your attention to your breath to ensure that you press that reset button. We'll talk a little bit more about the science of the breath a bit further into my talk today. To recap, mindfulness is bringing your attention into the present moment, away from the past, and away from projecting negatively into the future, and you can do that through your breath.
When we take an inhale, we are enabled to bring our body and mind together. Think about that. Just close your eyes for a moment right now. I want you all to take an inhale, feeling the breath rising in the body, and on the exhale, gently feeling the breath falling in the body. Now open your eyes.
When the body is able to move in time with the breath we are enabled to be present. It's probably one of the most powerful tools that we have in our lives right now, as it really enables us to be present. It's something that we all need to be doing now more than ever.
I want to share some words now by one of my favorite authors on mindfulness, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. He says, when you breathe in, you bring yourself together, body and mind. You become one.
What happens when we are feeling stressed, when we are feeling anxious, we might feel like a zebra, that our stripes are unraveling and we don't know why.
Now, yoga is the science of the mind. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga, the science of the body. It says that dis-ease begins in the mind and manifests as disease in the physical body. We know that with breast cancer in particular stress accelerates the spread of breast cancer. Research has proven that. Stress is linked to pretty much all disease now, particularly cancers, but with breast cancer in particular, we see that correlation. So it's vital in these times when we are feeling much more heightened stress and anxiety, by what's happening around us in society, politically, whatever it might be, whether it's your family, your job, your diagnosis, your health – we're feeling that stress. And think about this: When we say that we are feeling stress, it's not something abstract. It's not something outside of us. It is actually something that is occurring within. When we say that we are feeling stressed, that stress is manifesting, not just in the mind, but into the physical body. It's really important that we utilize practices such as meditation or mindfulness, that science has verified not only regenerate our brains and our minds, but also help to alleviate that physical stress in the body.
And how do we do that? It's very simple. There's a science behind our breath. When we take an inhale and force an exhale, we are actually activating the parasympathetic nervous system response in the body, which is the aspect of our central nervous system that calms us. When we take an inhale and we force that exhalation through an audible sigh, through the mouth or through the nose, we are activating that aspect of our central nervous system that calms us, moving from fight or flight to rest and digest. And as I keep saying, we need to really be cognizant of that, and mindful of the fact that our breath is one of our greatest tools in life. It is what keeps us anchored through the changing tides of life. It is what keeps us grounded, keeps us present and focused.
So how can mindfulness help to build resilience?
There are a number of things that you may or may not be familiar with that are central components to a mindfulness practice. The first we've discussed, which is to be fully present in each moment. That might sound like a lofty goal, because we know that you're all here listening to me right now, in this moment. But are you also thinking: “I'm tired”, “I'm hungry.” “What do I have to do tomorrow?,” “What do I have to do next Wednesday?,” “What did I forget to do on Saturday?” And the list goes on and on.
We find that we tend to live in this place of not being able to be present, living with the wandering mind that doesn't cause us happiness, peace, or joy, but it's proven to create greater stress and anxiety in our minds and our lives. So therefore just being present, with whatever it is that we are doing, whether it's in the shower, whether it's driving, whether it's cooking, to train our minds to be present, the more that we are able to do that – and remember that when we talk about meditation and mindfulness, they are practices. This is not about perfection.
I never talk to my patients about trying to create a blank canvas because to me that's completely unattainable. What we are trying to do is train the mind to be present by training the mind to become detached from all of the constant cascading thoughts that are entering our mind. It is said that on average, every single person has at least 60,000 thoughts a day. A lot of those thoughts are repetitive and a lot of those thoughts are negative. No wonder we are living in the prison of our own minds. We can't help it. We can’t escape from it.
What people don't realize is the tools of meditation and mindfulness are proven to help us retrain our mind to be present. And that is incredibly powerful. We no longer need to be living in that prison, replaying the tape. We all have one, of the past, reliving our pain, our trauma, and then projecting negatively into the future, which we can't predict. But what I can tell you is that whatever is happening in the present has a direct impact on the future. So therefore, if all of you who are listening and watching today are able to devote simply 5 minutes to a meditation or mindfulness practice, you can, and will, see a difference.
I myself see this difference in the lives of my patients and clients at Hoag. I was one of the first people to actually create a meditation program that we are using in clinical research at ag hospital, the peri-operative pain management for breast cancer patients that I am a sub-author on with two other breast surgeons that I work with. We are seeing, anecdotally at the moment, the powerful impact that this meditation program is having on our breast cancer patients.
I always like to say, until we take our last breath, there is always hope to change your mindset and change your life. And how can you do that? By being present, by bringing your attention to your breath, by learning to be non-reactive when your triggers are pushed. I think right now, if we're honest, we're all feeling more reactionary. We're feeling more tired, we're feeling more fatigued. And when we are feeling tired and fatigued, we tend to become more reactionary. How do you learn to become less reactionary? By giving yourself three central things that are integral to a mindfulness practice. What are they? Number one is love. Number two is compassion. Number three is non-judgment. So how can you practice those things, right now, today? By giving yourself love, by giving yourself compassion, and by being non-judgmental towards yourself.
That's probably one of the hardest things that we can do, especially as women. We tend to live with the inner critic. The constant judge. What we don't realize is that when we are criticizing ourselves, we are unconsciously or consciously criticizing others around us. But the harshest critic of all is our judge within. Through the practices of meditation and mindfulness, we are enabled to begin to silence that internal critic, begin to turn the volume down on that constant chat that is going 24/7 – because remember that even when we are sleeping, the mind is working in our dreams.
So really think about how you can start embracing self-love, self-compassion, and non-judgment, I can assure you that the more that you are able to practice these three central components of a mindfulness practice, you will not be disappointed. You will begin to feel more freedom, more liberation with it.
I want to now, because I do love a quote, share with you some favorite words by Anaïs Nin. “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
I invite you today to really think about how you can devote simply 5 minutes a day to meditation and mindfulness. It will change your life. And ultimately it will just enable you to begin to truly feel love, peace and joy within. Liberating yourself from the critic, from the judge, and learning to embrace your journey in its entirety, and learning to give yourself that love, that acceptance, and that validation that we need in order to have resilience, to have the fortitude, the grace, the strength, and the courage to keep going.
You can find details of my meditation and coaching program below, and you can also pre-order my book Meditation with Intention that is due out in January 2021 by Llewellyn Worldwide, which talks about my work in cancer, talks about my work with survivors, with previvors, and really talks about how adopting a 5 minute meditation practice can, and will, change your life. All it takes is 5 minutes a day, and all of the practices that are detailed in the book you can do at home. And they are all 5 minutes. I hope that you will all think of adopting a meditation practice, as it will really help towards feeling greatest strength, resilience, courage, and fortitude within. Thank you so much for joining me today.