A couple months ago my husband told me about an event he noticed on Facebook called ‘Mindful AF‘ hosted by Mind Matters, a workshop about how to stay in the present and mindful. Once he told me about it I contacted the organization right away. Mind Matters is a Toronto-based organization that holds mental health workshops to help reduce stress, negative thinking patterns and to inspire happiness. I loved the sounds of it and it was so in line with The Omm Life. I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Kate, founder of Mind Matters, and Nina, mindfulness guru to learn more about the organization and about their lives.
Grab a cup of coffee/tea, cozy up on the couch and enjoy this read. It was so inspiring and super insightful. I loved chatting with these ladies!
Megan: Why did you start Mind Matters?
Kate: The reason I started Mind Matters was because I found there was really a gap between talking to your friends about issues and seeing a therapist. I wanted to create a comfortable space where people could learn mental health strategies around how to be more calm, productive, have better relationships. The words mental health can seem so scary and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking care of your mind, just as you do your body, we believe is important for your overall health
M: Did you have any personal experience with doing this before or what is your background?
K: My background is in advertising and marketing for companies with a positive impact.
I started to get into meditation and going to a buddhist temple about four years ago and I found it was really helpful with my stress. I also started seeing a therapist four years ago, so doing both of those things really helped me a lot. I was then diagnosed with breast cancer and felt so lucky to be able to pull on these tools that I learned about – such as calming my mind, looking at my thoughts in a constructive way, like having a journal.
We make our diet and exercise a priority and I wanted to start saying that my mental health is also a priority. I was interested in trying to get others on board, as I knew some friends who felt the same way. So I started gathering all these experts I knew, like psychotherapists, mindfulness instructors, productivity instructors, sexologists, art therapists, so that together we could kick start comfortable conversations around mental health in our communities.
M: And was that just for you or for Mind Matters?
K: For Mind Matters. For myself it was the temple I was going to and my therapist…and I also started studying the foundations of mindfulness at UofT.
M: Cool! Do you have to be a student to attend?
K: No, it’s a certificate – anyone can take it.
M: And with Mind Matters do you also teach, or do you just organize it?
K: I organize everything and then I’m just there as a facilitator. So I’ll be there to help jump start comfortable conversations about mental health and then the experts are there to talk about strategies.
M: With the workshops it’s not just someone talking to the crowd but a place that people can share and talk to others, correct?
K: Exactly. We kind of have a three prong approach for each of the workshops. We discuss the science of what’s going on in our minds and how mindfulness helps scientifically. We show proof and examples and then we also have lots of partner and group discussions, which I think is really important in understanding you’re not alone. We then go through exercises and provide handouts so people can continue practicing what they learned at home.
M: And it’s not just for people that have a diagnosed mental health issue, it’s for anyone who is feeling stressed or anxious?
K: Exactly, it’s for everyone. and we’re not a replacement for therapy. some people come and have seen a therapist before or have never seen a therapist. It’s for every single person, whether they’re dealing with stress or just want to learn how to make mental health a priority for a calm, clearer mind. Or even just be more productive.
M: What are the courses you have?
K: We have ‘How to Not Give a Shit’, which is with a psychotherapist. ‘Mindful AF’ with Nina (mindfulness guru), ‘Art Fucking Therapy’ with an art therapist and there is also a ‘Fortification Forum’ with a sexologist and ‘How to Get Shit Done’ with a productivity guru.
M: And Nina, can you explain a little bit about what you do and your background as to how you became a mindfulness expert?
Nina: So my professional background has nothing to do with what I do now. I had a sales and marketing career for over a decade, but I started studying spirituality at the age of 16…so 20 years ago. At the time I went through a big personal tragedy…I lost my dad and younger brother…so I was kind of doing some soul searching. I was reading books on spirituality then (when i was a teen)…and then life went on and I went to university, got myself a career and I became very career-focused…to the point where I was working from 5 am to 8-9 pm. My husband and I got to a point where we were like “is this it?”
We were still going to spiritual classes once a week, so we did have a spiritual side to us but we also had a very corporate side and we kind of hit a point in our life where we were really like “what is life really about?” and I got to a point where I thought ‘I don’t want to be 60 and look back and think all I had in my life was my career’, which is great for some people, but it just didn’t feel right to me. So one day my mom called me up and said there was a one year spiritually course in Northern California that she was going to. I talked to my husband and I told him it was something I wanted to do as well. At the time we had just bought our dream home, got married, were settled in our careers…but after discussing it we decided to leave everything and put kids on hold, leave our careers sell our house and do this one year course. It was super intense. Seven days straight, up at 4:30 a.m. for meditation, classes all day…I had done a lot of soul searching leading up to that but that year was when I really looked into myself. There were no distractions, it was just you and the mountains. When something came up you had to deal with it and that’s when some really big shifts happened. So we did that for a year and then we came back home and I worked for an environmental company, which is where I met Kate…but there was something inside me that felt like I still wasn’t being true to myself. I ended up having my daughter and since then I haven’t gone back to work. Now i’m trying to get into the mindfulness industry – teaching and doing seminars.
Ever since that tragedy happened in my life, I have always wanted to give back and show that tragedy can happen but you can come out of it and still be a peaceful, happy, loving person. There are so many ways of dealing with tragedy…you can go to anger or frustration or guilt – so many negative emotions. But you can also turn to peace…and come out of the situation feeling peace and happiness…so I’ve always wanted to be an advocate of this.
M: I feel like that in this day of age it’s a negative experience that triggers the feeling of wanting to be more mindful or learn mediation to deal with your emotions, but it sounds like Mind Matters is a great preventative tool that you are providing the community with.
K: Ya, exactly. Some people only see a therapist when things are really bad and there isn’t really anything in between. I’m lucky and I know others are lucky to have good friends to talk to (which is an in-between tool), but learning about what other tools and resources are out there is what Mind Matters is all about.
N: It’s really all about having a tool kit, whether it’s leaning into breath or leaning into some yoga stretches, or a concept of observing your mind and meditating..there’s always a way to a solution when you are stressed, anxious or depressed.
M: Do you have a favourite tool that you use?
N: Personally, I think the biggest tool for me is gratitude and feeling grateful. We often lose sight of that so easily. Be grateful that you can wake up, feed yourself, go to the bathroom, etc.
When I wake up in the morning, I think to myself: I have my husband and my daughter, we have our health, life is good then i realize all is good. Life can change in an instant so I make sure to remind myself of what I’m grateful for. That is one of my favourite tools when I begin to spiral down.
M: Do you journal your gratitude?
N: I actually just started journaling this year.
So I’d say gratitude and meditation are two things I lean into the most. In the morning I meditate and it makes a huge difference in the rest of my day, I just feel more calm, peaceful and in tune. And when I journal, I will often journal gratitude.
K: Me too! I find it just comes out!
N: Ya, it comes out and I realize “wow life is really good right now”.
My husband and I have this thing where when we notice each other dragging something out that is stressful, we turn to each other and say “five things” and that person has to say five things about life that is so amazing.
M: Kate, what do you like to do when you are anxious?
K: My two tools are meditating…so i’ll just sit, breathe and give myself a chance to look at the situation and then i’ll also journal. I journal a lot and one kind of strategy I find helpful is if you have something negative you are saying about yourself write that down and then write all the evidence that proves it’s not true. I think it helps make me put things into perspective. A lot of the things in our head are perspective driven…sometimes we have to step back and look at the reality of the situation.
M: It’s nice to write things down and it’s funny when it ends up coming out more positive then what you anticipated. Often I’ll begin writing something that’s bothering me and then I realize all the great things in my life that make me happy and I start focusing on those.
K: It’s also good to see it on the paper. Sometimes you can make it so much worse in your head but once you see it in the journal you realize “oh i can tackle that!”
I also love meditation because it allows you to tap into the resistance we have against a certain emotion. when I’m meditating I open the door to a feeling and observe it. I feel like it’s a good way to constructively look at a feeling.
M: When do you like to meditate?
K: I like to meditate in the morning and before I get out of bed…but even if I’m in a bad mood about something I’ll meditate. I’ll find some time to sit down, take a couple breaths or even during the day if I’m frustrated about something I’ll write it down. Nina tells me meditation is happening all the time, because when you want to understand something better or you find yourself being reactive it’s like taking those couple breaths…which is meditation in itself.
N: It’s true. In California they’d say meditation should be 24/7, which is mindfulness…being present all the time. One of the teachers actually told us a story, which has always stuck with me and it’s about a student and his monk. After years of the student studying under the monk, he got frustrated and said to the monk “I do everything you do. You shower, I shower. You eat, I eat. You go for a walk, I go for a walk. You meditate, I meditate. He asked “how are you enlightened and I’m not”, and the monk said “it’s because when I shower, I shower. When I eat, I eat, and when I walk, I walk, and when I meditate, I meditate”. Most people aren’t like that. We live in this world where when we’re showering, we’re thinking about work and when we’re at work we’re thinking about things we have to do at home, and when we’re at home we’re thinking about work. When are we ever present?
Monks are always meditating, always present. They’re constantly present in this meditative state with everything they’re doing. I asked my teacher how he did this, I really thought it was impossible…and he said talk out loud what you’re doing something to get you into the practice. So let’s say you’re having a shower. Say all of the steps out loud… “ok, i’m taking the shampoo, I’m putting it on my head, I’m scrubbing my head, etc.” That’s when you will be fully present. You’re not thinking…you’re being. Just like learning something for the first time, it takes practice..even if it’s just once a week taking a mindful shower, start there.
M: I love that.
N: So that is where I find meditation is 24/7
M: Are there any other activities you like to do to destress?
N: I like spending time with friends and talking to people. I like to talk through my challenges all the time, I find it very therapeutic
K: I like to workout. I find if I workout less than two to three times a week my mind will feel off. I also find eating well helps. If I eat something crappy I can totally see the effects on my mind. So ya, I think just talking with friends, watching a lot of documentaries and finding that ‘me time’ is helpful. When you say to yourself “I’m not going to do anything else” you are relaxing, which in a way is totally being productive. Sometimes we say to ourselves “oh I have to be doing something in order to be productive”, but when you’re not thinking about doing something…it activates your parasympathetic nervous system and you get into a relaxed state.
M: That is so true and so important to do. I love just hanging out on the couch and watching Netflix…it totally turns my mind off.
M: Okay, one last question…Mind Matters is non-profit, correct?
K: Ya, it’s non-profit the money just goes back into creating more workshops. The prices for the workshops are pretty much non-profit, at $35, by having a lower price allows it to be more accessible. Therapists can be $100+…and we aren’t a replacement for therapy…but we want people to be able to access these tools.
M: I think that’s so great and I just love what you guys are doing. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!
To register for their upcoming workshops, click here, or check out their Facebook page! Rob (my husband) and I attended Mindful AF and it was super interesting. We would highly recommend the workshops!!!