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Mindfulness and the Gym

Dumbells at Strong Side Conditioning

So remember like eleventy billion years ago when I did that mindfulness course? I haven’t really done any mindfulness practice since then, but it’s always been in the back of my mind that I probably should1.

Well, it sort of hit me one day when I was at the gym that doing strength training is a mindful practice. Being mindful is all about being present in the moment and being aware of your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. When you are doing strength training – if you are doing it right, that is – you are paying very careful attention to your body in the moment. You are setting your stance just so – maybe it’s shoulders packed down, abs and gluts engaged, knees slightly bent, and then you are doing a very deliberate action – lifting in a certain way, focusing on feeling it in a particular muscle(s), focusing on breathing out as you do a particular movement. Sometimes as you go through your sets, you start to get a little lazy with your form – in my case, it’s often that my shoulders start to creep up and/or that I forget to breath. But then you’ll notice that you’ve slipped away and bring yourself back into the right form (or start breathing again!) and it’s much like when you are doing a meditation and notice your mind start to wander, so you come back to your focus on the present.

Dumbells at Strong Side ConditioningI’d been going to the gym for a few months when I realized how mindful this practice was. My focus was very squarely in the present moment – very aware of my body and not really thinking of anything else. I wasn’t worried about the future or dwelling on this past. I was just there, just being, just breathing, just lifting. And I wasn’t even trying to be mindful – it just happened. I remembered the times that I’ve done meditation and how extremely difficult it is some days to quite the mind and just pay attention. I still think it would be useful for me to do some other forms of meditation as well, as there is benefit to the act of being still and observing your thoughts as they arrive, but I think that becoming aware of the mindful nature of my strength training has not only been beneficial in and of itself, but also because it’s reminded me about being mindful. It’s made me more mindful of mindfulness.

There is a link between physical activity and mental health. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to be beneficial to mental health. While there are likely many mechanisms for how physical activity improves mental health, I wonder if any of the benefits of physical activity on mental health are linked to it being an easy way to become more mindful?

  1. Which is quite possibly the least mindful thing a person has ever said! It’s in the back of my mind that I should do that at some point in the future! []


World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Did you know that every year, one million people commit suicide and many more attempt suicide? This year, a friend of mine was one of those one million people who took their own life, so when I heard that today was World Suicide Prevention Day, I wanted to help spread the word.

I checked out the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s (IASP) website to prepare this posting. They note that while the “World Health Organization (WHO) has noted that not all suicides can be prevented, […] a majority can” and that:

Successful approaches to suicide prevention have included:

  • restricting access to means;
  • establishing community prevention programs;
  • establishing guidelines for media reporting;
  • engaging with frontline professionals through gate keeper training programs.

Like other mental health issues, people tend not to talk about suicide. I think it’s time we change that.

What Can You Do?

  • Learn what the warning signs of suicide are and what to do if you see them
    • According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), “some warning signs that a person may be suicidal include:
      • repeated expressions of hopelessness, helplessness, or desperation,
      • behaviour that is out of character, such as recklessness in someone who is normally careful,
      • signs of depression – sleeplessness, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, loss of interest in usual activities, a sudden and unexpected change to a cheerful attitude,
      • giving away prized possessions to friends and family,
      • making a will, taking out insurance, or other preparations for death, such as telling final wishes to someone close,
      • making remarks related to death and dying, or an expressed intent to commit suicide. An expressed intent to commit suicide should always be taken very seriously.
  • If you see some of these warning signs and are concerned that the person is considering suicide – or if you yourself are feeling suicidal – it is important to take action. The CMHA’s webpage on preventing suicide has some really good advice on what to do – I suggest you check it out.
  • Let politicians know that here in Canada, we need a national suicide prevention strategy. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: “In spite of the recommendation of both the WHO and U.N., Canada remains one of the few industrialized and G8 countries that still has no national suicide prevention strategy.” Call or write your MP and sign the petition.

A few resources:


The Mental Health Commission of Canada Wants To Hear From You!

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is consulting with the public in order to set goals to guide a Mental Health Strategy for Canada:

Canada is the only G8 country without a mental health strategy. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has been given the responsibility to work with Canadians to address this gap.

The first step is to work out shared goals to guide the development of a mental health strategy. The Commission is seeking public and stakeholder input on the eight goals that are set out in the document Toward Recovery and Well-Being – A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada.

This draft framework document proposes a vision for WHAT a transformed mental health system should look like. Your input will help us to finalize the draft framework, and to set the stage for developing a detailed roadmap for HOW to achieve the eight goals it contains.

Your contribution to this exercise is important: it is only by working together that we will keep mental health issues out of the shadows – forever.

You can contribute online at:

The consultation period ends on April 19, 2009.


Mental Health Camp 2009

On Saturday, April 25, 2009, Vancouver will host its first unconference on Mental Health.

It all started with a panel held at Northern Voice this year – Coping Digitally.   This panel got a lot of positive feedback and I think everyone there felt like they really wished there had been more time to discuss all the issues raised more fully.  Enter Mental Health Camp.  This full-day event is ” a conference about the intersection of social media and mental health.”  From their website:

We are asking questions such as

  • How can blogging help decrease the stigma of mental health?
  • How does someone with a mental illness navigate the waters of anonymity in the transparent world of social media?
  • How is the journaling that happens in blogging similar to or different from journaling for healing?
  • How can social media participants with mental health issues help each other?

If you are interested in volunteering at, presenting at and/or attending Mental Health Camp, be sure to check out their wiki site.

Props to Raul and Isabella for organizing this!


Read Airdrie’s article!

Today on Mental Health Notes, Vancouver blogger and postcaster Airdrie (of Lip Gloss and Laptops fame) started a series on her experience with depression:

My first experience with clinical depression came in the year 2000. I remember clearly: I was in the maternity ward recovering from the birth of my second daughter. She was a healthy baby, and my labor was relatively easy. But something was not right; I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was like I was falling, out of control, and afraid. My confident cheery personality had just disappeared overnight. Literally 12 hours after the delivery, I was a different person. (check out the whole posting here)

I think it awesome that Airdrie is sharing her own personal story with the world.  Stigma around mental health issues is prevalent and it makes people hesitant to tell their stories.  And that results in people feeling isolated.  And to not seek the care they need and deserve.  When people share their stories, it helps to let other people experiencing similar things to know they aren’t alone and it also helps dispel myths about mental health issues.

In her article, she discusses, among other things, Student Health facilities as a great way for university students to access mental health services.  I totally agree with her – during the last year of my doctoral studies, I was not only going through the stress of completing a Ph.D. (complete with a very unexpected snag), trying to find a job (which also came with a somewhat devastating snag of its own), but I was also in the process of getting divorced (which resulted from anotherdevastating situation).  I honestly don’t know what I would have done without my counselor at the university’s Counseling Services.   I really encourage students to use the Counseling Services and Student Health Services available to them and for people who aren’t students,to use the resources available in your community.

And I encourage people to read Airdrie’s article.  I’ve added Mental Health Notes to my Google Reader and I’m looking foward to the rest of the series.

Thanks, Airdrie, you are doing more good than you know!

Further reading:
“Time for Action: Tackling Stigma & Discrimination – Report to the Mental Health Commission of Canada” (PDF)