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While there are a variety of stress relieving solutions, such as medication, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (2014) found that meditation is effective as an antidepressant.
Life can be a lot to handle, especially for activists like us, who care so deeply about a cause that is often heart-breaking. You may have been told to try meditating or relaxing more; that in itself can be hard! The purpose of this blog is to talk about why meditation is so useful, and how that can be beneficial to activism, as well as resources as to how to meditate and make it fun! Keep an open mind and maybe even use this blog to motivate yourself to start being more mindful and practicing meditation, even if just a little bit!
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We all know that stress can interfere with our lives—it can contribute to higher heart rates, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and, at extremely high and chronic stress levels, heart disease and impaired immune systems. While there are a variety of stress relieving solutions, such as medication, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (2014) found that meditation is effective as an antidepressant. Meditation works by lowering your blood pressure and calming your sympathetic nervous system, which in turn can help with “concentration, relaxation, inner peace, stress reduction, and fatigue.” Additionally, it can help with conditions such as insomnia and digestive problems.
So what does this mean for activists? It allows us to be more in tune with our reactions, which prepares us to be ready for direct action, such as dealing with criticism. We also can’t help others or sustain our activism unless we help ourselves. Otherwise, we risk burnout, which in turn negatively impacts our effectiveness. Mindfulness and meditation also allows us to improve our skills, organization, and efficiency. It also allows us to be more open to other viewpoints. It has been observed that somatic activities, such as mind-body connection techniques, performed as a group before a work meeting can improve the organization and flow of the meeting, as well as increase contribution from participants. Activism can be quite draining, especially since we care so deeply about our cause, and meditation can be a great way to cope and recover!
When we think of meditation, often what comes to mind is sitting still and breathing for a long period of time. That can be very difficult and requires practice! However, there are various types of meditation that can be incorporated into our daily lives, whether that be for only three minutes or twenty. When focusing on your breathing, you can focus solely on breathing in-and-out of your nostrils, or the ebb and flow of your stomach/diaphragm, or imagine your breath going up and down your spine. Another method would be to try alternate nostril breathing or full-body awareness scan—both require you to engage your mind, which I find easier than simply focusing on my breath! Another thing would simply be to take a walk or do some yoga and stretching, all while being mindful and present, instead of watching TV or listening to music (both of which are great relaxing activities, but not always for mindfulness!)
So where do you even start? There are so many free resources out there, especially on the internet! YouTube, like some of the hyperlinks above, is a great resource to find yoga videos or follow-along meditation guides. Some guided meditation apps include Headspace, Forest, and Rooted. Incorporating your own favorite relaxing items such as some tea, candles, or some relaxing music can also help!While I am no expert, I have been consistently practicing yoga for the past six years, and have found it to be the most beneficial form of meditation and movement for myself. My personal favorite guide is Yoga With Adriene (though there are a wide variety of other yogi guides out there on YouTube). Finally, remember that being able to sit mindfully and do absolutely nothing is not easy. It will take time and practice, but be patient with yourself.
Cora Gertjejanssen is an FFAC fellow.