Meditate on this

Depression and anxiety are common products of long-term stress experienced by students. Sometimes therapy and medication are the most appropriate treatments for extreme cases of depression and anxiety caused by stress.


But for many, the best medication is meditation.


A recent study carried out by The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore used data from 47 previous studies to uncover moderate evidence that mind-full meditation can be used to help treat anxiety and depression.


David Fowler instructs at the Ottawa Shambhala Meditation Centre on Wellington Street and recalls when he first noticed that meditation was causing him to be more mind-full of his thoughts and behaviour.


“When I first started meditating what I found was that I started to see the way that I live my ordinary life more clearly,” said Fowler. “I was able to see more clearly and therefore I was able to make some adjustments if I didn’t like what I saw.”


The Ottawa Shambhala Centre offers meditation retreats and weekly meditation classes. Paying for meditation classes can be as costly as starting a painting class or buying a gym membership, but frugal students need not worry: the Ottawa Shambhala Centre offers free meditation and yoga sessions.


In fact, the Ottawa Shambhala Center is not the only organization in Ottawa that offers free guided meditation or yoga classes.


Simply Meditation hosts a free introductory meditation session once a month at the Ottawa Public Library on Metcalf Street. Additionally, they host weekly meditation and by-donation yoga classes out of Planet Botanix on Bank Street.


Carleton psychology student Jacob Monsen attended several of the meditation sessions hosted at the library by Simply Meditation. Monsen prefers to meditate alone but admitted that group meditation had its merits.


“You don’t have to think about it and you can just sort of go along with their voice and the yogi often have a very soothing voice – soothing tone – and it’s easy to follow along,” said Monsen, 22.


“You kind of get this vibration going on – vibrating words – so that in a group, it felt very cool; very good, compared to doing it alone.”


Monson said it was at a yoga centre that he first encountered one of the mantras he would later repeat at the Ottawa Public Library. This makes sense, since yoga and meditation are said to go hand-in-hand. For students looking to attain mindfulness from a more active, physical source, Ottawa boasts an abundance of yoga studios and students need not break the bank to pay for classes.


Some universities offer free or affordable yoga classes with tuition, so students should contact their schools’ sports services to learn more.


A website called Share the Love Yoga lists centres in Canadian cities, including Ottawa, which offer yoga classes for $10 or less.


In the summer, anyone in Ottawa can count on at least one free yoga session per week on Parliament Hill and in the summer of 2013, free outdoor yoga classes were offered each week at the University of Ottawa’s Tabaret lawn, in front of city hall and on Parliament Hill.


Having a wide range of choices when it comes to choosing a location for practicing yoga is important since the mental aspect of yoga is equally as important as the physical aspect.


“After your physical practice of yoga, you aspire to meditation and that comes out of the attentiveness, the concentration, the training of the mind and body to be able to sit still,” said Barbara Mackie, who leads yoga classes at Algonquin College. “So that’s what all this physical practice of yoga is, is to get the sillies out so that you can sit still.”


While yoga may seem exclusionary to those with limited mobility, Mackie asserts that the practice is totally inclusive and can be adapted for most people. “I have taught chair yoga to seniors and people who have limited mobility,” she said. “There are absolutely no movements that you can’t do from a seated position.”


In the end, yoga and meditation both aspire to the same thing: a mindfulness that lends us perspective, helps us appreciate the present more fully and cope with the pressures of daily life.


“It means checking in with yourself on a regular basis,” said Mackie. “What can you let go of? What can you edit? What can you not cling to so ferociously? How can you, again, check in and take stock?”