Brandi Matheson and Shayna Davison practice mindfulness meditation at Centennial Place – a clubhouse in Mission that supports people towards mental wellness.

Being mindful for mental wellness

Centennial Place in Mission offers supportive environment

Physical illness, a broken relationship, an assault by a total stranger – any one of these situations could send a person into a deep depression. When you consider that Shayna Davison experienced all three events in the course of a year, it’s nothing short of a miracle that she not only survived them but has become a stronger, healthier person; this despite the fact that she lives with bi-polar and anxiety disorders.

Shayna credits much of her success to a good relationship with a supportive psychiatrist. She also credits the staff and members at Centennial Place with giving her the support and strength she needed to face these difficulties.

“Centennial Place is amazing,” Shayna says. “From the minute I walked in, I knew it was different. I received a warm welcome. People are so genuine in their concern for you. It feels like your second home.”

Located in Mission, Centennial Place is a program of Communitas Supportive Care Society that supports the growth and for those living with mental wellness challenges by providing a safe, nurturing environment for its members. The clubhouse also offers activities and workshops. One of the first groups that Shayna attended was called Mindful Based Stress Reduction which teaches techniques for mental wellness.

“Mindfulness-based classes, which include meditation and yoga, have become one of the most popular things we offer,” says Brandi Matheson, who manages Centennial Place and facilitates such groups. “A good portion of those who are referred to us are people who have expressed an interest in such groups and 75 per cent of these are people living with anxiety and depression.”

Brandi says that in the 12 years she’s worked for Communitas she has never found anything more accessible or effective than mindfulness and meditation in helping her clients.

“It affects them physically, mentally and spiritually. Anyone can do this, that’s what’s so great about it.”

While mindfulness, meditation and yoga are taught separately, all focus on calming the mind and do so by focusing on breath. For example, when Shayna goes for a walk, she’ll do so mindfully. She’ll focus on breathing deeply, aware of the sensation of the cool air entering her body. She pays attention to the sounds around her, and the feel of the ground as she takes each step.

Deep breathing is calming and focusing her mind at such a specific level brings a deeper awareness to what’s happening inside her and around her.

“It’s being connected with yourself,” Shayna says. “It’s not about changing or trying to manipulate any of that but simply an awareness that grounds you.”

For Shayna, mindfulness and meditation have been so effective that she’s been able to reduce her medication and in some cases even eliminate it. Instead of reaching for a pill, she now takes time in stressful situations to breathe deeply, close her eyes and focus. This practice helped her get through a period of time when her relationship with her daughter was broken. It also made the difference when she was the victim of assault at a park in Abbotsford last fall.

“I have realized that I am in control of my health and through meditation and mindfulness I’ve been able to get through these stressful events without having to be hospitalized,” she says. “That wouldn’t have been true even a year ago. I’ve gone a whole calendar year without being hospitalized for mental health issues.”

Shayna has also taken control in other areas of her life, making significant changes that have affected her overall health and wellness. She journals and writes poetry to help her process feelings and emotions. She’s made physical changes too. Last spring, she ended up in the hospital with severe stomach pains and discovered that she was not digesting her food properly. She made the decision to quit the junk food and start eating healthy. That decision, paired with daily exercise, has resulted in significant weight loss: Shayna has lost 120 pounds since last spring. She walks up to two hours each day and her diet includes real, whole foods.

“Now, when I crave a cookie or a bag of chips, I go for a walk instead,” she says.

Weekly yoga practice has helped her to tune in to her body and has given her a greater sense of her own physical presence and her ability to move. Shayna acknowledges that she is on a journey but going back to her old ways is simply not an option anymore. When asked what the future holds, she struggles to articulate that.

“I don’t really think of the future. Mindfulness has taught me to be in the present,” she says. “I want to be genuine, open and honest about who I am. I want to continue to get to know myself.”

Together with her commitment to mindfulness and meditation, she says that she has become a better person.

“I am living now, truly enjoying life and not just surviving or going through the motions. I’m learning to love myself and have compassion for myself,” she says. “All these changes have helped me to find myself and I’m loving what I’m finding!”

For more information about Centennial Place visit http://www.centennialplacemission.ca/