Jeanne Corrigal was searching for peace and relief from stress and anxiety when she started practicing mindfulness meditation. That was 15 years ago, and now, as a teacher of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a certified Life Skills Coach Trainer, Mindful Schools Trainer, and an Insight Meditation teacher, Corrigal helps others to find this peace.
“Mindfulness brings kindness and presence into our lives,” she says. “It is especially helpful if we are having a difficult time. We can’t stop the waves of life, the waves of worries, but if we have an anchor, we can surf these waves much more easily.”
Mindfulness is this anchor.
“Mindfulness is being with what’s there, using our breath and bodies to pay attention to the present,” says Corrigal, who is based in Saskatoon. “We start with the body and breath, because these are always in the moment. And being in the moment is a way of interrupting the stress cycle and taking yourself out of the story of worry.”
Corrigal talked me through a three-minute head-to-toe meditation that went a little like this:
Sitting comfortably in a chair, close your eyes and bring attention to the body and be aware of how it is sitting. Sense what your feet feel like touching the floor: is the floor cold or warm? Feel how your knees are bending, how your thighs feel against the chair. Bring attention to your belly. If it is tight, let it relax. Sense the small of the back, notice any tightness. Bring attention to upper chest and back, shoulders and arms. Notice sensations in hands and fingers, maybe there is tingling. Feel that. Let thoughts come (what’s for dinner tonight?), notice them and then turn back to concentrating on the body. Notice your face, how it feels. Expand attention to your whole body from head-to-toe. Sense where the breath is strongest, and focus on that. You don’t need to do anything – this breath breathes all by itself. Notice the mind thinking, but stay with the breath. Open your eyes when you are ready.
I have to admit that I did feel more calm and relaxed, but I also noticed that I struggled a lot with intrusive thoughts such as planning dinner, or feeling stress about a presentation that was close to deadline. I interpreted this to be a lack of focus, and I felt frustrated and maybe even that I just wasn’t good at meditating. But Corrigal was quick to reassure me.
“There is no right or wrong way to meditate. The idea that your mind should be still during meditation is the biggest myth,” she says. “You want to meet these thoughts with kindness and non-judgement and acknowledgement. ‘This is a mind that is thinking. This is a mind that is worrying.’ We let those thoughts be there and then go back to our breath. If we let those thoughts be, over time they let us be.”
The result is that we are better able to be fully present in the small joys of our lives, and be steady in difficult times, with mindfulness as a refuge.
“There’s no question that the practice of mindfulness helps with anxiety and fear,” says Corrigal. “There is a lot of scientific evidence showing that mindfulness activates the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for resilience.”
Everyone experiences mindfulness differently, but the bottom line is that it is definitely worth a try, especially if you are desperately seeking some peace and calm. And don’t be discouraged if it takes awhile to feel fully present in your life.
“Mindfulness is like any muscle,” says Corrigal. “It gets stronger with practice.”
You can reach Jeanne Corrigal at www.jeannecorrigal.com and also download guided meditations that you can practice with or take with you on your phone (for those stressful appointments).