We’ve officially entered Pandemic Calendar Year Three, where it’s tough going. Science Daily reported earlier this month that people with disabilities were experiencing high levels of depression and anxiety, largely due to social isolation. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health released survey results in January showing that adult Canadians are reporting levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness as high as early in the pandemic. And now a lot of the early coping strategies (remember Zoom happy hours?) are starting to lose their lustre.
We all know we need connection with others and ourselves. But some in-person spiritual sanctuaries remain either closed or with in-person attendance severely restricted, and even boostered people might feel nervous about re-entering those spaces that are opening back up. Still others might be looking for nourishment outside of church. So for at least a while yet, we’ll have to keep finding ways to fill our cups without accessing in-person resources. So we’ve assembled some virtual activities to help recentre the soul.
1. Do you love to sing? There’s a place for you in one of the virtual choirs that have popped up during the pandemic. Voices in Motion, a project borne from the University of Victoria’s Nursing, Psychology, Sociology and Music collaborating, brings people together to sing and experience the health benefits: memory gains; reduced stress, anxiety, and depression; an increased sense of belonging. New members can rehearse at a physical location or just join online, and there is a recommended donation of $75 per season. Canadian-based Sing the North has a similar process but on a global scale; they run courses and concert series with participants all around the world, inviting participants to “travel” the globe on tours across the country, making music as they go.
2. Is your Daily Beautiful Thoughts journal getting harder to fill in? The University of Victoria’s continuing studies is offering a spiritual memoir course in April called Writing Your Sacred Story. The course will use writing exercises, readings from well-known works and group conversation to give writers the chance to “engage with the practice of spiritual memoir.” The course runs on Saturdays from April 2 to May 7.
3. Want to walk to meditate instead of write? Has it been a while since you experienced the inherent healing powers of placing feet on earth and nose among pine needles? Check out community forest bathing walks in your area. Forest bathing, which was popularized in Japan as shinrin-yoku, is about being mindfully in nature, and has been found to reduce cortisol levels and enhance the immune system. Eventbrite has a wide variety of options for virtual forest bathing, through different organizations and at varying price points. Forest Fix offers virtual walks for groups in the Banff and Canmore area for $40 per session. Parks Canada has a great list of selected walks across the country that are particularly suited to this mindfulness practice. And if none are near you, remember you don’t really need a guide or a mapped area: just go out with an open heart, eyes and ears. And leave your phone behind.
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4. One of the most challenging ongoing losses of the pandemic has been that of touch—be it romantic, platonic or familial. We’ve also lost the power of healing touch, by practitioners of reiki, osteopathy, and other forms of energy healing. But there are options to receive healing energy virtually. The Healing Pathway Ministry at First United in Ottawa, Ont., offers a Distance Healing Circle every Sunday after the service, starting at 12:45 p.m. Eastern. Participants watch a video, guided by a practitioner through 10 minutes of intention and meditation to allow the Spirit to flow through. There are also online Reiki sessions, some free and some paid, where practitioners channel Reiki energy virtually.
5. For more somatic healing, we look to a practice that combines yoga and prayer. Katrina Woodworth, president of the non-profit Christians Practicing Yoga, offers a twice-weekly morning yoga and centring prayer class over Zoom. Classes, which are by donation, mix gentle Hatha yoga poses with 10 to 15 minutes of mindful meditation. Woodworth teaches from the belief that contemplative yoga offers a broader container to find a path to spirituality. Open to Grace Christian Yoga based from Westmount Congregation in Orillia, Ont., offers both in-person and virtual classes integrating scripture, prayer, and devotional readings into the practice. A package of eight classes starts at $56 and and videos can be replayed.
6. Does your spirituality vibrate at a slightly quicker pace? Consider virtual dance classes, which are available at all price levels and in all styles. Gurdeep Pandher offers beginner Bhangra instructional videos on a pay-what-you-can basis. Aisha Studios has a free combined belly dancing and Reiki sound bath healing class. And YouTube has an endless list of classes that spring up when you type in a combination of keywords like “dance,” “spiritual,” and “meditation.”
Kate Spencer is a writer in Halifax.
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