This year has been rough. Real rough. So when FitBit's yearly insights reported that there was a rise in wellness practices like yoga, meditation and pilates it made sense. We're all searching for a sense of calm amongst the chaos that's been 2020.
For the majority of the year, we were forced indoors and for the first time, many of us were forced to look inwards and spend time with ourselves. We had time to reflect on our lifestyle choices and learn that sometimes a slower pace is better. And while mindfulness has been on the rise over the last 5-10 years, the pandemic certainly accelerated the trend with the data showing that meditation is up 3,508%, while yoga and pilates are up 187% and 52%, respectively.
To learn more about the trend, we chatted to Psychologist and Therapist, Leanne Hall, who shares why avoiding emotional discomfort is one leading contributors to mental health problems, the benefits of meditation and why we need to train our minds to stay in the now.
POPSUGAR Australia: Fitbit's comparison data from 2019-2020 shows a rise in mindful practices like yoga, meditation and pilates. Aside from the pandemic, can you explain why you think that is?
Leanne: I think over the past 5-10 years we have certainly seen a rise in mindful practices thanks to social media mainly. Clearly, the pandemic has seen a dramatic increase — for many, it has forced us to stop and reflect. Part of that is the recognition that we need to prioritise our wellbeing. We are also talking more about mental health with many high-profile sportspeople and celebrities sharing their stories.
PS: For those of us that are anxious and afraid to be alone with our thoughts, why should we persevere with practices meditation?
Leanne: Avoiding emotional discomfort (triggered by uncomfortable thoughts) in my opinion is one of the leading contributors to mental health problems. We must learn to sit with distress to understand it and move through it. Meditation helps us learn that thoughts are transient — and so are the unpleasant emotions that they trigger. Meditation also helps to create distance between thoughts and emotions, by focusing on sensory experiences and grounding the body in the present. With practice, this means that you can observe your thoughts as opposed to emotionally react to them.
PS: Yoga is often calming for the mind and body because of the controlled breath work, can you explain how breath work can help manage stress and anxiety?
Leanne: Focusing on the breath is grounding — it helps to keep us in the present, as opposed to getting lost in our own heads with all of the anxious "noise". It also ensures that we are stabilising our oxygen levels which can get out of whack through the shallow breathing that happens when we are anxious. Because breathing is something we take for granted, it helps to be guided when we are trying to control our breathing for relaxation purposes (it also helps to make sure we are doing it right).
Fitbit Sense's guided breathing exercises is an example of a tool that can help us focus on our breathing through guided imagery and relaxation. The best part of this is that we can do it anywhere anytime.
PS: A lot of mindfulness experts often say that emotion can live in the body causing strain and stress, is there any sort of truth to that? And does practising mindful exercise like yoga and Pilates help release it?
Leanne: Absolutely! We embody our emotions, often they are experienced in our body before our mind. This is certainly the case for anxiety. Migraines, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems and hypertension are just a few examples of how anxiety is held in the body. I have had many clients over the years deny "feeling" anxious despite their body telling them otherwise!
Practising mindful exercises provides a window into your emotional experiences — providing an opportunity to sit in that experience and feel it in a sensory way. This takes practice, and so having a device that can monitor your physical signs of anxiety is a great way to learn how your emotions exist in your body.
Fitbit Sense's stress management score and EDA scan app show you exactly how your body is responding to stress/anxiety. It allows you to see patterns and make connections between how you feel and how your body is experiencing that emotion. This awareness then empowers you to do something about it — and the range of mindful exercises and programs on Fitbit Premium means you have the knowledge and tools to manage those experiences.
PS: During 2020, most of us have been fight-or-flight mode constantly because of everything that's happened, how does mindful exercise help us to reset?
Leanne: Mindful exercises are all about learning to be present and in the moment. This is a difficult skill, as we are hard-wired to think about the past and future, and we can't help worrying about the "what if's".
Fight or flight mode is how the body responds to threat. However most of the time, the "threat" is in our heads. It's a thought. Often about something we fear "might" happen.
So, by practising mindfulness we are training our mind to stay in the now. We can't stay there all the time obviously, so by just taking a few minutes each day to practice being mindful — we can allow ourselves to let go of the tension, and distance ourselves from our thought processes.