Isolation from friends and relatives, job loss and income insecurity, a mystery virus killing hundreds of thousands of people, and videos of state violence against communities of color circulating social media—it's no wonder anxiety is on the rise in the United States.
According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, a third of Americans are showing signs of depression and anxiety resulting from the alarm and uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. In cities across the country, Latinos have been disproportionately touched by Coronavirus. And, unfortunately, due to a lack of health insurance—as well as low income, immigration status, and language/cultural barriers—Latinos are less likely to get the medical attention they need.
The mounting worry, isolation, disarray, and fear are overwhelming many, but for those without the insurance or savings account to take days off of work or seek medical care, this stress and panic can be magnified. Luckily, one of the most effective ways to quell fear and anxiety is cost-free: meditation.
The advantages of meditation are far-reaching. However, there remains some taboo and confusion around the wellness practice that prevents many in the Latino community from experiencing these benefits. For those curious about meditation but are unsure how to do it or what it can do for them, Los Angeles-based Mexican-American wellness expert, and Kundalini yoga teacher, Karen Mendoza breaks down why and how you should get started.
“Yoga is just the connection of mind, body, and spirit, that’s it,” Mendoza says, noting that if this interconnection arises through family, dancing, or laughing, then these can all be considered wellness practices.
However, Mendoza does still stress the importance of traditional forms of mindfulness, including meditation. For Latinos who have never meditated before—or ever given themselves the permission to rest—she suggests to start just by lying down on a mat and breathing. Whether taking one minute or a half-hour out of your day to be still and intentional with your breath, she says doing so is crucial and can be helpful in many ways. Here’s how:
1. Strengthens Your Nervous System
The nervous system is considered the control center of your body. It is responsible for the proper function of two main responses, the somatic—voluntary components activated by our muscles—and the autonomic—involuntary components that are not under our control, like breathing and sweating. Mediation allows us to train and strengthen our nervous systems, giving us more control over how our bodies react to troubling circumstances.
2. Helps You to Calm Down
When you strengthen your nervous system, you gain the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. According to Mendoza, this doesn’t just benefit your own wellbeing but that of those around you. “Fear is contagious, but so is calmness and peace. If you are stress-free, those around you become a little less worried.” Mendoza says this is particularly important for Latinos, who are more likely to make decisions as a family or community.
3. Allows You to do a Mental Detox
Just as you take a few minutes out of your day to throw the trash out or brush your teeth, Mendoza maintains that our minds also need a detox. In order to declutter the stress, worry, errands, and projects creating chaos in our minds, Mendoza suggests a daily meditation practice—even if it’s just one to three minutes. “Walking around with all that waste makes us unclear,” Mendoza says.
4. Clears Mental Fogginess to Help You Make Better Choices
As short meditations help to detox your mind, Mendoza says you are more likely to make rational decisions rather than emotional ones. “When you think more clearly, you operate out of faith versus fear,” she says. “You’re more grounded in what’s really important.” This could help you make better decisions in relationships and work, but Mendoza says it could also assist you if you receive troubling medical news. “Are you going to go into panic mode or are you going to take a few breaths, understand the situation, and respond instead of react? That’s the difference meditation can make,” she says.
5. Helps You Communicate More Effectively
When you are able to calm down and reflect, you gain a better understanding of any situation. In turn, this allows you to better communicate with others and yourself. “Yes, it’ll improve your communication with others, but it’ll also better your inner dialogue. You can ask yourself, ‘where am I operating from? Am I’m being rigid or am I grounded? Am I speaking from a place of love or fear.’ This broadens your vision, allows you to see the bigger picture, and helps you to communicate that,” she says.
6. Allows You to Relax and Improves Sleep
One of the main reasons people have difficulty sleeping is because their minds are racing. Since meditation helps declutter and calm the mind, it creates a neutral and relaxed state that has been shown to not just help people fall asleep but also lengthen and improve sleep quality.
7. Strengthens Your Immune System
Practicing meditation can also boost your immune system -- which we all need to help prevent and fight off COVID-19 and other illnesses. When you are in a state of calm and rest, your nervous system isn't fighting or fleeing, meaning your immune system is able to function as it should, without interruptions. “When we are sick, whether it’s the common cold or a disease, this means our body is not at ease; there’s energy stuck somewhere,” Mendoza says. “In my classes, we do various breath and movement practices that help move that energy around and let it go where it needs to, within the body or releasing it out. These practices strengthen the nervous system and the immune system.” While Mendoza recognizes that meditation alone might not cure people of physical illnesses, she maintains that it is a powerful wellness tool we all have access to that will help.
Ready to start meditating? It’s as easy as downloading the Chopra App, where you can access hundreds of personalized guided meditations from the convenience of your phone.