Mental health

Mental health: it’s not always good to talk
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How meditation can help you through this time of isolation and uncertainty

Being in a confined space is not good for the human psyche. There’s a good reason why solitary confinement is a form of punishment in prisons and part of brutal interrogation processes.

Mental health

Mental health: it’s not always good to talk
Image via Adobe Stock

In the 19th-century, UK prison inmates coined the term stir-crazy (with “stir” being slang for jail) to describe how people became mentally unbalanced after a prolonged period behind bars. These days we’re all inmates and our “stir” could be anything from a tiny informal dwelling to a multi-room mansion with a sprawling garden.

But it’s not necessarily the size of the jail that breaks us down; it’s what happens inside our head. Apart from being confined during lockdown, we’re also stressed about our health, our safety, our jobs, our families and the uncertain future of the world as we know it.

Helping you survive and thrive during lockdown

Experts agree that one of the best ways to keep a balanced, healthy mind at times like this is through meditation. It is a practice proven by many different cultures over thousands of years as a way to quiet the mind. In more recent times, research indicates that it may also improve immune response and decrease stress and depression.

Heavy Chef, a Cape Town-based business that creates learning experiences for entrepreneurs, notes on its website that meditation is one of the ways to not only survive, but also thrive, in lockdown.

Willow Constantine, a writer for the website, suggests starting your day with quiet time or meditation.

“At the beginning of this chaos, I found myself constantly checking social media and the news, leaving me in an unsettled mental state. A big shift occurred when I committed to wake 30 minutes earlier than usual and do a meditation,” she says.

“We’re all feeling intense emotions right now,” observes Jessica Morey, a US-based mindfulness meditation teacher with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education.

“We’re cycling through panic and fear and [overwhelming] sadness. A meditation practice can help us learn how to be with these intense emotions and shift toward compassion or recognise moments of joy.”

Some basic principles of simple meditation

According to the Guardian newspaper, there are three approaches to simple meditation:

Pay attention to your body and breath

Meditators should sit in a quiet, stable position, relaxing and bringing their attention to the sensations of the body while sitting and breathing. If you remain focused on what’s going on in the body, it becomes easier to let thoughts and sounds come and go, like background noise. And if you find yourself getting lost in thought, just gently bring your attention back to the body and the breath.

Practice loving kindness

After settling into your seat, you silently repeat phrases of goodwill for yourself and others: “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.” After repeating these several times, you begin to wish others well – starting with your friends and family, then moving outward to everyone in your neighbourhood and, finally, sending loving kindness out into the entire world.

Act mindfully throughout the day

If you don’t feel ready for seated meditation, you can practice mindfulness by focusing on your body as you engage in simple physical tasks like washing dishes or walking.

How to get started on your meditation journey

In South Africa there are several meditation schools that have taken their classes online during lockdown.

Kadampa Meditation Centre in Durban offers a combination of live classes via Zoom and also pre-recorded classes that are available for a limited period of time. A class costs around R60. Find out more here.

Vajrapani Kadampa Buddhist Centre in Johannesburg also has live classes on Zoom. The cost is around R80. Go here to get more info.

For free audio-only talks on meditation, given at the Insight Meditation Centre in California, you can visit

If you’d like to learn the basics of meditation at home, without participating in classes, there are many free and paid-for apps that you can download. Among the most popular are Calm (free to download, but with in-app purchases), Headspace (free, but requires a subscription for maximum benefit) and Reflectly (free, but with paid-for premium add-ons).

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