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When the community services director at Masonicare began evaluating ideas about what local residents were looking for in terms of programming, she decided to host a class on mindful meditation Tuesday, November 22.
The free course — part of Masonicare’s monthly Lunch & Learn program — is open to the public. Each session consists of a presentation on the day’s topic, a Q&A opportunity with participants, followed by a free catered lunch.
“Part of our mission is to do education in the community,” said Director of Community Services and Social Accountability Audrey Grove. “[Lunch & Learn] is a wonderful education program.”
Ms Grove told The Bee that she arranged to have the mindful meditation course after reviewing Lunch & Learn evaluation forms from previous program attendees. Masonicare asks for suggested future topics, and she discovered there was a need for a class dealing with stress and meditation.
A group of nearly 20 community members signed up for mindful meditation, which was led by Elaine Laydon, RN, and nurse education supervisor at Masonicare. She has a health and wellness background and is very passionate about inspiring the community to live a balanced and mindful lifestyle.
“This is my love,” said Ms Laydon. “It was something I was tremendously drawn to. I really enjoy it.”
At the beginning of the lecture and slideshow, Ms Laydon said while her talk focused on mindfulness in general, “I approach it from the standpoint that a lot of us are in most of the time, which of course is stress. Most of us know stress.”
She identified that stress is “an external and usually temporary cause of physical or mental strain and suffering,” but clarified there is both good and bad stress.
After participants in the class shared what they constantly stress about, Ms Laydon explained the difference between good and bad stress; overcommitting to enjoyable recreational activities is good stress, also known as eustress, while events like a car accident or a family member being ill falls into the category of bad stress, or distress.
“Stress comes from those ruminating, pervasive thoughts that you just can’t get out of your head,” said Ms Laydon. Those thoughts, however, not only effect a person’s mental health but also a person’s body.
“Our bodies experience a number of physical changes,” said Ms Laydon. She explained that some internal issues to be aware of are poor metabolism and immune. Sleep and stomach problems can also be attributed to stress, and chronic stress can produce an increase of cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
Some traditional coping strategies include time management, exercise, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep. She also informed the group that engaging in something that they love — like dancing, singing, and the creative arts — is an enjoyable way to reduce stress levels.
Ms Laydon suggests creating a sacred place — whether it is a couple items on a counter or an entire table dedicated to relieving stress. It does not matter where it is located, just as long as it acts as “a reminder of things that are meaningful to you.”
She finds peace at her desk at home by using her Buddha Board, which is a board where the person draws with water and the design eventually fades away.
“I use it frequently,” said Ms Laydon. “It is very relaxing.”
She emphasized that tiny practices that are specific to the individual person make a huge difference, because it helps a person’s mind deflect the stress.
For the second portion of her lecture, Ms Laydon shifted her focus from stress to mindfulness.
“It’s a newer term,” she explained. “But the actual concept has been around for a very long time. It is essentially just living in the present.”
There are three qualities that contribute to mindfulness and that is to be aware of being aware, being purposeful, being in the present moment.
She recommended a great place to practice mindfulness is in the shower, which was followed by a few giggles from the class. She went on to say that there is scientific evidence that water hitting the back of a person’s neck promotes a person to be mindful.
“There is so much data to show that it heightens creativity, developmental, and emotional capacities,” Ms Laydon said. “It places you in a state that primes you for mindfulness.”
With that in mind, mindful meditation does not have to look like the stereotype of meditation with a person sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. A person just needs to set aside quiet time.
She then instructed the class through a three-minute mindfulness practice with the lights off. Participants sat up straight in their chairs with their feet flat on the floor, and focused on inhaling and exhaling. She reminded the group to not alter their breathing.
“It is simple, but not easy,” Ms Laydon said. It is common to have thoughts preventing a person’s mind from settling down. Thoughts like having a lot to do or being frustrated that they can’t relax can impact being mindful.
She encouraged her students to not give up if they found the class’s meditation lesson difficult.
“For people that have not meditated before, this is just a way for you to understand what the practice is and slowly begin to lengthen it,” said Ms Laydon.
When the lights came on the participants told her they felt very relaxed and calm.
To end the class, Ms Laydon took the group through a few standing exercises and stretches to encourage mindfulness. The movements were taught to show them how to concentrate on stretching the body and to focus their attention on north, south, east, and west.
“These small little changes have profound effects,” said Ms Laydon. “Anyone can be mindful, anytime, anywhere. All you have to do is pay attention to this present moment.”
Connecticut residents can sign up and receive more information for Lunch & Learn events in 2017 by calling the Masonicare HelpLine at 888-679-9997. To learn more about Masonicare, visit masonicare.org.