Over the years, registered psychotherapist Stephanie Kersta and clinical social worker Carolyn Plater grew more and more worried about the city’s increasing mental health crisis.
“We realized that much of what we were seeing clinically was a direct result of today’s modern stress-filled lifestyle. We wanted to combat this epidemic and treat mental health on a larger scale,” Kersta says.
They had integrated mindfulness and meditation into their practices and personal lives and seen how much joy it could bring, so the pair opened the stylish meditation studio Hoame in 2018, complete with salt cave and sauna, light room and dark room for different meditation vibes, complimentary beverage bar with chaga tea and sparkling water, and a “living room” for regular community hangouts.
“Community and connection is really important to us,” Plater says.
And then the pandemic hit.
Their luxe facility may have closed temporarily during lockdown, but Kersta’s and Plater’s commitment to improving the mental health of our citizens is undimmed.
“This pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have been really tough on people’s mental health, so we have been trying to give back as much as possible,” Kersta says.
The pair have provided free online and IGTV offerings and meditation challenges, along with a meditation series for front-line workers that is available free to all hospitals. They have also offered mental-health certifications to help folks learn how to support people in their community who may be struggling, including mental health crisis response training.
“Most people don’t know what to do when faced with a mental health crisis and so we set out to create a one-day training to address that,” says Plater.
Participants learn the signs and symptoms of a mental-health crisis, practise how to start a conversation with someone who may be experiencing a mental health challenge, and figure out how to engage and identify supports in their area.
Hoame also just launched skilled suicide intervention certification, which helps individuals feel empowered to work through a suicide intervention with someone at risk.
“We review the signs and symptoms, how to assess risk, how to identify supports and resources, and how to self-care after an emotional intervention,” according to Kersta.
These join their mental health first-aid course, which is run through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
“Mental health training can often be overcomplicated and intimidating, which prevents people from acting, so we sought to change that and make it fun, accessible and empowering, so more people know how to talk about mental health and act when someone in their life may be struggling with mental health,” Plater says.
Want to try some joy-boosting meditation for yourself? Meditation can help regulate mood and anxiety; improve energy, memory, creativity and focus; reduce inflammation; and better your sleep.
“Meditation is an incredible tool for setting intentions and visualizing what we truly need and want,” Kersta says.
To make this your best spring yet — lockdown or no — try this intention-setting exercise, courtesy of Hoame instructor Aliana Comeau.
1. Prepare your meditation station
Creating a comfortable and safe space to relax, practise and ponder your intentions is important. Be sure to support the physical body with a comfortable cushion or chair — even lying down is a wonderful way to practise.
2. Grab your journal
Words are powerful. Before closing your eyes, write down a few sentences or words to begin your practice. When choosing a written affirmation, align your words with something you would like to invite into this spring. Similar to a resolution, affirmations are promises we make to ourselves. Begin by asking yourself: “What would I like to achieve this spring?” If success in your career is at the top of your mind, a written intention can look like “I am successful.” We may also focus on ideas that are no longer serving us and that we would like to leave behind. This intention can look like: “I am letting go of my limiting beliefs.”
3. Connect with the breath
Turning inward involves relaxation and focus. We connect with our breath first by noticing where each inhale lands naturally within the body. Often when we are stressed or anxious, the breath gets stuck in our chest and shoulders, creating physical tension. We begin by noticing the natural breath and, slowly over time, deepening our practice by sending it further into the body. Think of expanding: first the chest, then ribs, then lower belly. By connecting with our breath, we induce our parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to relax.
4. Notice your thoughts
When we become still, our minds become busy — quieting the mind requires practice, patience and compassion. We can begin to introduce visualization by imagining all our thoughts becoming clouds in the sky. This creates visual space in the mind by providing a focal point. If at any time during this practice you find yourself drawn back into wandering thoughts (completely normal!) redirect the awareness back into the breath. After you’ve found a steady breath and a relaxed body, begin to silently repeat your affirmations from Step 2.
Let’s say you’re using the “I am letting go of” prompt. Create a mental image that depicts a detailed visual of exactly what your intentions are. Allow yourself to surrender to the creativity of the imagination and shift deeper into practice. We connect with visualizations by using all of the bodily senses — think smell, sounds, taste and touch. By feeling into this visualization and noticing the sensations in the body, we begin to adapt into accepting and claiming intentions as our own (this is also often known as manifesting).
To conclude your practice, begin by gently, once again, returning to the breath. As you invite yourself back into the present moment, start to gently wake up the body by wiggling the fingers and the toes. To seal in the experience, guide the hands toward the heart space and take three deep breaths. Always remember to wrap up each meditative experience with gratitude: for the mind, body and breath, as well as the time and space to be with yourself.