WELLTHY WASHINGTON: Practicing Mindfulness in the Midst of COVID-19

During these uncertain and unnerving times, we're all seeking ways to take care of our physical health, but what about our mental health? It feels relevant now more than ever to practice mindfulness intentionally which is why we had a chat with our friend, Sasha Whitney - podcaster and cycling instructor, to get her take on mental and emotional wellbeing.  


JRINK: Thanks for hanging out with us today, Sasha! Jumping right in, will you tell us what the term "mindfulness" means to you? 

SASHA: There are many definitions of mindfulness out there but for me, very simply put, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts and feelings as they come, acknowledging and processing them without judgment, then taking action (if necessary). Mindfulness is practiced in many forms, - seated meditation, body scans, gratitude journaling, and even walking meditation. The most frequent way I practice mindfulness is through daily seated meditation and I’m finding mindfulness to be something the world could use a little bit more of right now.

JRINK: Yeah, you could definitely say that again. So why specifically right now, does this feel especially relevant in your mind?

SASHA: We are existing in a very uncertain time where many, if not all, of our routines and the way we know things to be have been turned upside down. We are being forced to change rather quickly and this change is occurring with very little to no say on our behalves. This reality can understandably create anxiety, fear, and frustration, even more so because they are out of our control and we are simply reacting. This is where the practice of mindfulness comes into play and has the power to shift your mindset from a state of chaos to calm.

JRINK: Chaos to calm sounds ideal. So tell us how. What does this practice look like IRL?

SASHA: Mindfulness calls on you to remove yourself from the state of reacting and shift to the state of stillness. A human simply being. Acknowledging what you’re feeling/doing and being present, just in the moment with those feelings and actions. Here are a few ways you can implement the practice of mindfulness in your daily life that will be especially helpful in the next few weeks:

  • Social Media & Screen Time Before COVID-19, the average person spent around 144 minutes a day on social media, about 2 hours and 24 minutes. With social distancing however, I think we’re seeing a HUGE increase in that average. Put your hands up if you’ve already found yourself falling victim to the Blue Screen Bandit. Same, sis! Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the power of social media and staying connected through 9 hour long virtual dance parties, virtual workouts, virtual wellness workshops, virtual meditation and breathwork practices, virtual concerts, FaceTime, etc. There is value in all of that BUT there is also value in turning away from screens and turning within. Being intentional with social media will look different for everyone but can be some of the following:

    • Being mindful of why you’re picking up your phone and what you’re looking at.
    • Being mindful of the content you’re receiving: does it uplift you, educate you. make you feel anxious, bring you joy, make you feel bad about yourself?
    • Setting your phone to automatically go on Do Not Disturb after a certain hour.
    • Not using social media an hour before bed.

  • Focusing on What we Can Control – There are A LOT of unknowns right now and those unknowns may seem scarier than the reality that many people have unfortunately lost their only source of income and possibly even healthcare. Many are worried about the future of their children’s’ education. Then there are some who haven’t lost their jobs but may see it coming on the horizon and are dealing with the financial insecurity unemployment will bring. There are so many negativity and pessimism that comes with dealing with the unknown but focusing on those pulls us away from mindfulness and into a state of chaos. Shifting back into mindfulness, we think about:
    • What can we change in the moment? If and when you find yourself catastrophizing about some big unknown scary monster, mindfulness encourages us to acknowledge what we’re feeling then calls on us to do what we can in this moment and leave the rest. With mindfulness you learn to put your energy to work in a way that moves toward an end and recognize you’ve legitimately done all you can do. That right there is an incredibly freeing feeling. 
    • How does it help me to fixate on this moment of negativity? Through my practice of mindfulness, I’ve adopted a practice that helps draw me out negativity, so I won’t carry that toxicity throughout me for the rest of the day. I give myself 5 minutes to cry, scream, yell, be angry, feel ALL THE THINGS, just acknowledge where I’m at and what I’m feeling. And then I make a conscious decision to let it go and move on. We’re all going to experience some level of negativity or frustration in the next few weeks but learning to manage it through mindfulness will make all the difference in how we process those moments and may even diminish their occurrences. 

  • Movement – Mindfulness doesn’t only pertain to our thoughts and feelings but also our body. Our bodies send us so many signals - shallow breathing when we’re nervous, tension in our necks/ shoulders where we carry our stress, and headaches when we’re not getting enough water - just to name a few that are a direct sign of our minds trying to communicate with us through our body. A quick way to practice mindfulness through movement or to get in touch with our bodies is to do a quick body scan – check your breathing, is there anywhere you’re carrying tension, simply close your eyes and stretch. You don’t need to go on a 3-mile run or do ALL of the push-up and squat challenges you’re being tagged in on Instagram. Movement can be as simple as a lunchtime yoga session or even simpler? Turning on “Get Low” and following all of Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twin’s instructions for the entire 5 minutes and 34 seconds of greatness contained in that song. Or if the Electric Slide is more your speed, then have at it! Either way, don’t spend the day moving from couch to kitchen then to bed. Find time to move! 

  • Community – COVID-19 has shown us the value of and power in community. Any other time, it would be very easy to think we’re alone in what we’re going through, that no one else will know what it’s like to feel how we’re feeling however this is something we are all experiencing at the same exact time. How unique is that? We’ve been given a very rare and beautiful opportunity in this case to experience and practice mindfulness which moves us toward a certain level of self-awareness. Self-awareness sparks expansion of the mind which can lead to the realization that you are not the center of the universe and point to how truly connected we all are. If you didn’t acknowledge it before, mindfulness brings you to a place where you can see that while yes, we are struggling, this is not a race to the bottom and there is room for everyone to feel what they’re feeling. Right now, we are mostly physically removed from our communities, friendships, relationships we’ve built in our gyms, yoga studios, juice shops, and beloved coffee spots and are being forced to connect in ways that are different than what we’re used to. It’s easy to look on the dark side of things but mindfulness moves us to recognize the reality of where we are now and what we can do now that we’re here to support our community. Right now, there are so many ways to support our community through donations, shopping local, and live-streaming workouts to name a few that help us recognize we aren’t in this alone and uplift those that may in fact have it worse than us. Connecting offline in small ways and online in big ways, we can still operate with a sense of togetherness. 

JRINK: Girl, we needed this wisdom and these are some super tangible tips we cannot wait to put into practice. Okay so since you're such a fan of dropping it low in the living room...what music do we need in our lives?

SASHA: I've got this playlist locked and loaded. These are tunes that always put a smile on my face, get me moving, and motivate me.  

JRINK: We'll be listening to that on repeat! Where can we find you teaching, speaking, and all the things? 

SASHA: I actually have a podcast - SashaSpins - where I cover wellness, life, current events, cycling, and sprinkle of everything in between. New episodes every Monday. And I've also started offering virtual guided mindful meditation followed by a wind down chat on Friday afternoons. People can join via Zoom (meeting ID: 780-624-299). And, of course, I'm @sashaspins on Instagram!

JRINK: YAS. Girl, we love you and all that you've shared with us today. You're such a huge supporter of JRINK it means the world. Any final words we can carry into the rest of our week?

SASHA: We are going to get through this. This too shall indeed pass. Through practicing mindfulness, you’ll come out of this stronger, healthier, and with skills that will see take hold in so many other aspects of your life. And if you are new to the practice, now is a great time to start!  

Follow Sasha on IG. Subscribe to her podcast.