Stress and Mindfulness with Hoame Mediation Studio's Carolyn Plater
Graydon: It’s Graydon here today, and Carolyn, who is a mental health practitioner, and the co-founder of Hoame, one of my new favourite places in Toronto. And we’re here today to talk about mental health, wellness, your skin, and how digestion all are interconnected. Those are all my favourite subjects to talk about, and we’re in very good hands! So over to you, where would you like to start?
Carolyn: I guess first of all, thanks for having me here, and I’m excited to chat about this as well! So certainly as a mental health clinician and mental health caregiver and psychotherapist, the mind and body connection is so important to us, and that is kind of what let us to actually create Hoame, which is a modern meditation studio.
Graydon: You say “we”, so you have a business partner?
Carolyn: Yes, it is me and my business partner [Stephanie]. So, we started Hoame really because both her and I were working more in the clinical medical field when it comes to mental health. I was working in emergency medicine, she was working in community care, and we were starting to see a lot of people coming in with mental health struggles, for sure, but also these co-morbid physical ailments, like chronic pain, gastro upset, skin issues, literally everything from the head to the toes can be effected by stress. So when we first started the idea of Hoame, we were like, “how do we do something on a larger scale that might really assist not really just the mental health aspect, but some of the physical health stuff, and just overall health and wellness.” And that was how we first started going with Hoame, so it really came from mental health beginnings.
Graydon: So great! Your space Hoame…I love that name by the way, it’s so emblematic of coming home to your body and being in your body, which is certainly something I have struggled with on a personal level, so that really resonates with me.
Carolyn: It’s a challenge for a lot of people, I think. With all the hustle and bustle of the outside world all the time…
Graydon: We are so disconnected!
Carolyn: So disconnected!
Graydon: And I think it’s a generational thing, you can probably speak more on this than me, but I think our parents, and I think my parent’s are a little older than your parents [laughs], they just weren’t aware - they didn’t have the skills in their toolbox. As a mother of a nineteen year old, we really talk a lot and I like to get into the nitty-gritty because I don’t want to pass that on to another generation.
Carolyn: That’s nice to hear.
Graydon: ‘Cause I think anxiety can really be generational, and it’s almost like your DNA.
Carolyn: And that’s part of what we’re doing when we first started with Hoame. How do we create or see ourselves create a lifestyle movement? How do you create this shift? So most of my clinical private practice is adolescents, and that’s what we’re seeing. If we can teach the skills early on: to connect within, and to really find out what’s within ourselves, and to really learn things like resiliency and all these other amazing skills that mediation and wellness brings to us, maybe the next generation can create this shift where we’re not so stress-focused, or so connected and plugged in, and so go-go-go. We are celebrating this culture of work that, I meant from our point, is just not sustainable. The way that we’re going and the pressure on most of us these days are making us sick, it’s not healthy, it’s toxic, and so we need to change something.
Graydon: Yeah, I think people are really blowing out their adrenals. Could you speak to that? I’m not sure if everybody is as aware as you are about what the actually means, and what happens physiologically.
Carolyn: Yeah, our stress response. So when we see or feel a stressor in the environment, and it could be anything. In our modern day society it could even be a missed phone call from your boss, or like and email you didn’t reply to, or those types of things. But whatever you see as a stressor, demands on your time, things like that, your brain first of all goes through your senses - your eyes, your ears, your nose. There’s a trigger, I always tell my clients it’s like a fire alarm in your brain when you perceive stress. So that alarm goes off, and really why we have this stress response is to keep us safe, it’s a survival response. Our brain then interprets that as “oh my gosh, I need to protect the body”. So a signal runs down our spinal cord to our adrenal glands, that sit on the back of our kidneys, and shoots out adrenaline, norepinephrin, epinephrin, and cortisol, and it revs up our body to either fight or flee to protect ourselves from that perceived stressor.
Graydon: Like running from a dinosaur! [laughs]
Carolyn: Exactly! The only problem is in modern day our core biology is in conflict with our environment. There are so many stressors that are being thrown at us all the time, and we’re often so in this hyperactive state of stress, that we’re also not getting this unplugging and relaxing part that we need that rests everything. Our rest and digestive, or parasympathetic system, that’s not happening much in our current society because we go-go-go all the time! We are on our phone until the end of the night, we can literally work 24/7 if we wanted to. Sadly what happens with stress and the body, when we’re constantly stressed and not able to discharge, it starts to physically make us sick and that’s a huge problem. We start to see things like sleep disorders, mental health issues, skin and physical health problems, gastrointestinal upset, inflammation…and inflammation is a killer, it is implicated in many big diseases.
Graydon: And not to mention acne! And rosacea, and all the big red, dry irritated skin conditions.
Carolyn: And working with adolescence, you always know when they’re under stress, like when exams are coming and stuff, because you literally see it on their face.
Graydon: Your skin is trying to talk to you!
Carolyn: It does. When things aren’t well in your mind, you can see it or you will feel it somewhere else, and we’re not the greatest at listening to that [laughs].
Graydon: I get asked the question all the time, “what’s your best anti-aging product?” We definitely have some great products that help you look your best, no matter what your age is. But I think the best answer to that is find ways to minimize extreme stress.
Graydon: Do you have any tips you could share?
Caroline: For me what helps the most, in terms of stress, is finding what you like to do and doing that. I often encourage people to do what makes them unplug from our plugged in society…things like medication and mindfulness help. At Hoame, we have a Himalayan salt cave, which is really cool. And from a health perspective, it helps with skin issues…
Graydon: Can you articulate how and why the salt therapy affects you?
Carolyn: Mainly it’s the iodine in the salt that helps, and breathing in the salty air. Research shows that being in a salt cave for an hour is like one week at the beach. So it really does help to clear up things like acne, pimples, rosacea, and then the nice part too is that not only does it help skin issues but it lowers cortisol, which long term is going to help your skin issue! And it gives the opportunity to mediate and be mindful in the salt cave.
Graydon: When I’ve been in a salt cave… it’s chilly!
Carolyn: Yeah it is!
Graydon: And I just loved how it was cozy at the same time, because you’re bundled up in a blanket, and I didn’t want to leave!
Carolyn: Often times when people come out of there, they’re just in this daze, and they’re like “I fell asleep in there” - which is another huge one, sleep and our body. I always tell people going inside [the salt cave], it’s like going inside one of those salt lamps, right? In a cool way [laughs].
Graydon: But it’s also kind of sensory deprivation too, because you just don’t have a lot of stuff going on. I know you do infrared [sauna] too, which is amazing, and that is a little warm. Not as warm as a traditional sauna, that sometimes can be uncomfortable for some people. I like both, but the salt cave there is just no reason to leave!
Carolyn: We talk about it as a joke, like sleepovers in the salt cave! [laughs] But we actually have corporate meetings in the salt cave, it’s a lovely place to chill out and relax, and get some health benefits too.
Graydon: If you’re thinking about holiday presents!
Carolyn: Yes! We do have gift cards!
Graydon: This is where to go. Or like even bonding your sister, or your bestie, or your mom.
Carolyn: It’s a lovely place for a getaway. We do have a package called “day at home”, where we package a few of the different options together. But that’s something else, like when we think about stress, another thing that’s been proven to minimize stress is our relationships and connections with other people. So when you’re doing things with a loved one or a friend, it actually does help us to relax a little bit, and bring down some of those stress levels, so that’s a bonus too.
Graydon: And being committed to like, working on relationships too. Your clinical practice is outside of Hoame right? Or is there an integration on some level, like a referral thing?
Carolyn: Not directly. So Hoame itself is a modern meditation studio. We have two spaces in there, both are themed. One is light theme, and one is dark. So it’s dark, restorative and calming, and the light one is more awakening and energizing. And we have the rock salt cave, and the infrared [sauna], and then we have a community space. We do have that space for workshops, and education, and just hanging out. But we really wanted to keep our clinical stuff separate from that, so it can really be a place that’s accessible to people, people can just come down whether they’re here after a night out, or for a fun day with their mom, just having a good time. The nice part is, not only are you going to get the mental health benefits anyways without the psychotherapy, but you’re also going to get some of the physical benefits, the health benefits, and just have a really fun time too. On the side, we’re still continuing our psychotherapy work. We also have a corporate stream, where we’re doing mediation and wellness in the corporate world, where we are integrating more of our therapeutic practices. So we have lots going on!
Graydon: I like how you’ve modernized the whole thing and made it really accessible. I was mentioning earlier before we starting this conversation that I had dabbled in meditation, and it was such a strange, uncomfortable experience. It was this dirty, smelly room in the middle of the summer, and we were just to follow our breath and count. And it just increased my anxiety and feeling of self judgement, like ‘I can’t do this’, and I just really like how you’ve made it so easy. You don’t have to have a spiritual practice to go to Hoame.
Carolyn: Absolutely, and it’s unfortunate when I hear stories like that, where they had an experience and they’re like ‘oh I can’t mediate, it’s not for me’. Everybody can meditate, every single person can! And I think that’s what we’ve really tried to strive for at Hoame, that any time spent with yourself in the practice is a win. There’s no right way to do it, there’s no wrong way to do it. If you need to lie down, if you want to sit…
Graydon: If you want to fidget a little bit…
Carolyn: That’s totally fine! All of our instructors, we have 13 instructors with a wide range of background in terms of mediation. Some are yogis and more traditional in training. We have a lawyer who left her corporate practice to focus more on things like mediation and mindfulness practice! We have everything in between, so we really have something for everyone, and we want to create that accessible space. We want people who have never, ever touched mediation before, have no idea what it is, to be able to walk in and be like, okay, I can do this and I want to do this.
Graydon: Or, ‘I just want to feel good!’, right? That’s what your end goal is.
Graydon: Anyways long story short after my not pleasant experience, I loaded some mediation apps on my phone just for some sleeping issues, and then I just got so hooked. Like now, bedtime is me time!
Carolyn: And that’s such a nice way to put it, me time. It’s taking time for yourself, where you’re really just there with yourself. And I think that’s such a rarity in today’s society. We love apps, it can be an amazing way to make the practice accessible, and why we like adding classes in addition to the apps is for that sense of community. There’s a great article I just read today about being alone, but together, in your practice [of meditation], and that’s the nice thing about classes - you’re alone because your practice is individual, but there’s something about the collective energy.
Graydon: Absolutely, and the more you do, the more you want to do. If there was ever an addiction that was good for you…
Carolyn: I was going to say! We always say with mediation and mindful practice that it’s so easy to do, you can do it anywhere and anytime, and there’s no side effects. There’s nothing negative about it, so it’s such a win-win.
Graydon: An example of that for me is when I’m not sleeping well…I go “okay! I get to be in my body”, and I have sleep stories, music, and I do admit I go on my phone but it’s almost like a security blanket for me. Like if I need this tool, it’s there, and then it relieves my predisposition towards anxiety, and I have the time to be in my body.
Carolyn: That reframe that you do, instead of panic when you wake up, to “okay, there’s more time to be here, and check in about how I’m feeling, and what’s going on in me”. I think that’s what the beauty of mediation and mindfulness practice brings to people, is now like, I’ve started to reframe my commute. My commute could be an intensely stressful thing for me, or it could be reframed as an opportunity to just be. And it’s so interested when you actually do that, like I’m not changing the situation, I’m changing the way in which I’m perceiving it, and it has an entirely different effect on my body.
Graydon: Wow. So you’re very inspiring.
Carolyn: Thank you!
Graydon: Well all I have to say is get yourself down to Hoame, and you will not regret it!
Carolyn: I look forward to seeing you around Hoame, and thanks for having me!
If you would like to book your cushion at Hoame visit their website: https://hoame.ca/
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