I was absolutely honoured to be asked by the combined teams of Vetsnet and VetLed to lead the morning meditation sessions at their first ever WellVet Weekend event. One month on and I’d like to congratulate everyone involved in the ideas, organising, sessions, and support, on a wonderful and successful debut! It was also lovely to meet many of the delegates, catch up with old friends, and make some new ones. There was a great atmosphere of infectious positivity and a willingness to evoke change.
With so many great sessions and talks on offer, it was difficult to choose between them, and I was seriously impressed with the turnout, especially on Saturday for our 7am start! I’d like to thank those vets, nurses, and para-professionals who came to the meditation sessions with open minds and generous hearts; your feedback was so kind and very much appreciated. However, don’t worry if you couldn’t make the sessions, or even the whole WellVet Weekend, as this is a review of what we covered, so that nobody has to miss out!
We were lucky to be in the Stanley Library at Girton College, Cambridge, for both mornings. This is a beautiful space, featuring intricate stained-glass windows and walls cladded with bookcases; perfect for meditation and quiet reflection. For the Saturday session I figured we would do a taster session featuring a few different styles of meditation, which could act as an introduction for people new to meditation, or as a refresher for those with a regular practice. I wanted to show that meditation wasn’t just about sitting there and clearing your mind, as I feel that this is quite off-putting and difficult for most people. I strongly believe that there are meditation styles out there to suit everyone, so here are a few to get you started!
We began with some Belly Breathing, a deep abdominal breath that allows connection between the mind, body, and breath, and engages the parasympathetic nervous system, enabling us to ease into our relaxed ‘rest and digest’ mode. This style of Pranayama (‘Prana’ = life force, the breath, ‘ayama’ = extension/control) can be really useful during times of stress or anxiety, or can help calm you if you are having trouble sleeping.
This was followed by the practice of Sama Vritti, a balancing breath that involves making your inhalations and exhalations of the same duration. This can be a great one to do in between consults, or before a surgery, as all you need is to be able to count and a pair of lungs! It is also a useful breathing technique during yoga asanas and can help with breath progression.
For some people, a more active style of meditation can be more engaging, so I included one with mantra, hand movements in mudras, and visualisation. The Sa Ta Na Ma meditation has been proven to have cognitive benefits alongside being relaxing (click the link for more information) and is timed for a set period, so is ideal if you only have a short amount of time to practice and need a fixed end-point. There are 6, 12 and 30 minute versions, and we did the 6 minute version as a taster at the weekend.
It was then time for me to introduce Nadi Shodhana to the group; a cleansing breath involving alternate nostril breathing. This technique uses the fingers/thumb to close off one nostril at a time whilst exhaling and then inhaling through the free nostril, before switching sides and repeating. It’s another good one for people who like a little bit of physical engagement, and you can either decide how long you’re going to do it for, or do a set number of rounds if you prefer to count.
Last but by no means least, we finished the first session with a ‘Loving Energy‘ meditation. This involves connecting to the positive energy at your heart centre, and trying to direct it outwards via the breath to people/pets, etc, whom you visualise in your mind. Whilst it can feel a little bit cheesy (especially to us Brits), this can give you a little boost of gratitude and happiness, or even help to ease previous hurts if practiced to include people you may not feel particularly warm towards anymore. However, for our session, we kept it light and loving. As we were in a group, we sat in a circle and connected to each other via the palms of our hands. We then cultivated our loving energies and sent them forth to someone special in our lives; a mentor we appreciate; a colleague who makes our lives easier; a pet (past/present) who was much-loved; our neighbours to our left and then right; and finally, ourselves.
It was rewarding to see the effects that meditating had on the participants, and interesting to hear that they mostly had different favourites out of the styles practiced. After some time to reflect on the session and share our experiences, we all headed off to enjoy the rest of our WellVet day, feeling happy and relaxed.
Whilst our Sunday session was at the slightly less painful time of 8am, it followed on from a night of dinner, drinks, dancing, and vets showing they do not forget how to party upon leaving vet school (though we definitely pay for it more the following day as we get older)! Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that more people turned out for this practice, and it was lovely to have some of the previous participants back for round two.
Having thought that people may be feeling slightly fragile after the previous evening of merriment, I began the session with a 20 minute guided meditation, to allow people to fully relax and ease into their own space. For Saturday, the meditation position was primarily seated (either in Sukhasana or on a chair), however, for Sunday we began lying down and surrendering into the floor.
It’s important to me that people feel safe, able to express themselves, and able to do what they feel they need during my meditation practices that I lead, so for the remainder of the session I opened it up to either private practice, or gave the participants from day one the opportunity to choose two of their favourite styles introduced that they would like their colleagues to experience. They chose Sa Ta Na Ma first, and then the Loving Energy meditation, which was the perfect way to finish and feel our appreciation for our colleagues for their support, ourselves for prioritising self-care, and our profession for bringing us all together on this journey.
If you would like to try any of the meditations mentioned, please just click on the links provided and explore for yourselves. Alternatively, visit the VetYogi Meditations/Pranayama page, and feel free to share what you may learn!