With 5,000 acres of crops to seed and harvest, Tamina Miller used to be so anxious, she could only sleep three hours a night. Miller, who farms with her family near Alliance, Alta., was suffering from stress overload.
Then seven years ago, Miller started meditating 10 minutes a day, and it changed her life.
Before long, she began seeing the benefits of meditating five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night, and not only does she sleep eight hours a night now, she is also more focused and productive during the day.
Like Miller, many farmers suffer from the effects of stress, and it takes a toll on their mental health.
A survey of Canadian farmers conducted by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton at the University of Guelph last year showed that Canadian farmers are affected by high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout.
Fortunately, more farmers are recognizing the importance of looking after their mental health. Two-thirds of the farmers in Jones-Bitton’s survey reported that seeing a mental health professional can be helpful, and that seeking professional help did not make them a weak person.
Meditation is one of the tools that can help farmers combat the effects of stress on a daily basis. With more than 30 years of scientific studies that verify its benefits, meditation is being used increasingly by people in all walks of life and at all ages.
Even schools are using meditation in the classroom, and they report improved academic performance and reduced conflict in the school yard as a result.
Dictionaries define the practice of meditation as the concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, or breath, in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation and enhance personal and spiritual growth.
While meditation can conjure images of people sitting cross-legged on the floor chanting “om,” there are actually dozens of ways to practice meditation and it can be done sitting in a chair, laying down, standing or walking. The important thing is to find a style of meditation that you like and will stick with.
It’s best to make it a daily habit, even if it’s only for a few minutes, says Miller, who is now a certified meditation teacher. She warns people not to expect immediate results, explaining that the impact of meditation is very individual. Some people will feel the effects instantly, but for others it may take up to eight weeks to feel the difference.
While 10 minutes of meditation a day was life-changing for Miller, she has seen even more benefit to her sense of well-being from the 40 minutes a day, including 20 minutes each morning and night, as required during her training to teach meditation.
While meditation has its roots in an ancient spiritual practice, there are many secular versions available today. Miller says the meditation she teaches can be a good add-on to existing spiritual practices. “It doesn’t contradict any religion,” she explains.
Although some people object that they can’t make time to meditate, Miller finds meditation saves her time. When she’s busy, her meditation practice makes her more mindful of what she’s doing and more efficient with her time. By slowing down, she says, she remembers all the things she needs to do, in the order she needs to do them and, as a result, she gets things done faster.
Her relationships with others have also benefited, she says. “Meditation makes you less likely to react with an angry outburst. Instead, you pause and give the wise answer.”
Miller has seen meditation have a similar impact on her husband Norman, who has also taken up meditation. “He responds more evenly when there is a breakdown. He doesn’t get as agitated.”
Pat Katz, a wellness strategist in Saskatoon, says the research also shows improved physical health and improved immunity for those who meditate. She likes to start her day with 10 minutes of meditation. She simply closes her eyes and notices her thoughts coming and going without getting caught up in the drama. “It’s a peacefulness before my day starts.”
Enhanced creativity is another perk for Katz. “At least once a week a good idea pops into my head during my meditation time,” she says.
In summer, Katz likes to practise mindfulness while walking. “Mindfulness, paying attention to my surroundings, makes me more patient; I’m not as easily rattled,” she says.
Katz says some people have the misperception that meditation is about emptying your mind of thoughts and then they think, “There is no way I can do that.”
“That’s not the case,” Katz insists. “It’s about noticing the thought but then letting it go.”
Guided visualization exercise
Sample guided visualization exercise
From the Sleepless in Manitoba booklet by Manitoba Farm and Rural Support available at ruralsupport.ca.
Here’s how to get started with guided imagery:
- Get into a comfortable position. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, focusing on breathing in feelings of peace and breathing out feelings of stress.
- Once you get into a relaxed state, begin to envision yourself in the midst of the most relaxing environment you can imagine. As you imagine your scene, try to involve all of your senses. What does it look like? What does it feel like on your skin? What special scents are involved? What is around you? Who is there or not there with you? What sounds do you hear? Do you feel any other sensations?
- Stay here for as long as you like. Enjoy your surroundings and let yourself be far from what stresses you. When you’re ready to come back to reality, count back from 10 or 20 and tell yourself that when you get to number one, you’ll feel more calm and refreshed, like returning from a vacation. But you won’t even have left the room.
- UCLA: marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
- Headspace, free trial available: www.headspace.com
- Fragrant Heart: www.fragrantheart.com
- Meditation Oasis, available as podcasts and an app. Guided sleep meditation podcast.
Pat Katz’s favourite books on meditation and mindfulness:
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn
- Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat Zinn
- Don’t Just Do Something Sit There by Sylvia Boorstein
- After the Ecstasy, The Laundry by Jack Kornfield
More information on methods and the science behind them
- CBC Radio Quirks and Quarks Podcast: www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/the-science-of-mindfulness-1.3934579
- MindUp Mindfulness program for schools mindup.org/thehawnfoundation/