Movement (or the lack thereof) has been a defining theme of Quarantine. Where we all used to rejoice at the thought of working from your couch, or pulling a Karen-style “I’m sick” to finesse your way out of dreaded evening plans, those delights all ended when staying home became a necessary facet of everyday life.
As culture shifts to reflect the new normal, maintaining a healthy lifestyle has taken on a newfound significance, but in place of #bodygoals, we’re seeing a growing interest in the mental as well as physical benefits of a workout. Mental NYC is a wellness practice that focuses on such benefits, using movement, meditation, and conversation to unpack the relationship between mind & body.
Offering a diverse selection of programs for all types of individuals, Mental NYC creates a safe, positive environment to explore the alternative advantages of moving your booty. We got the chance to sit down with Co-Founder Sarah O’Shea to discuss mindful wellness practices, body movement, and how we can change the narrative surrounding mental health for the better!
If you were a plant, what plant would you be and why?
A coral peony in the wild. Have you ever watched a peony in bloom? It is magical, they completely change color! I love the idea of transformation and growth and for me peonies are so symbolic of that. They start as tiny closed buds and then take up all the space 🙂
Who or what influenced you to start Mental NYC?
My partner and I were inspired by our own mental health journeys. For both of us, it was the first time in our lives where our main reason for working out was because it made us feel good mentally—previously it was always attached to aesthetic or training goals. I truly notice such a difference in my mental state when I don’t move my body versus when I do. We know working out isn’t a cure-all but we do believe it’s one of the steps you can take towards greater mental wellbeing, so we set out to create conversation and community around that. We wanted to tie in meditation as it’s also been an integral tool to our mental health journey and really helps to emphasize the mind-body connection throughout our offerings. We bring it all together with open conversations about mental health both through our virtual and IRL offerings. For me, the conversation piece was influenced by the dialogues I was having with friends about their own mental health. Things like wanting to start therapy but not knowing how to find a therapist inspired us to create a more accessible narrative around mental wellbeing.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Everything is an experiment! This advice has been so important while starting a business and just going about life in general. To me, it’s a reminder to give yourself permission to try things and experiment without attaching so much weight to it. It’s ok to try things and fail—that’s where our success ultimately comes from.
How has your own personal experience influenced your company philosophy?
The idea of being present has not only been a game changer in my own life, but something that is very much woven into the DNA of Mental NYC. I have always been prone to anxiety and have had my fair share of panic attacks—being able to tap into mindfulness has been a really important factor in overcoming anxious moments.
It can be really simple, just 2 minutes of closing your eyes and noticing your breath. It can also look like journaling or taking a walk and noticing what you see or being present during a workout! Mindfulness & presence looks so different for different people. It’s truly so much more than sitting quietly for 20 minutes and that’s a message we aim to get across through our work.
To you, what is the relationship between meditation and mental health?
Meditation allows us to slow down and tune into our bodies and minds. It creates space for us to think, to process, to just be. This is so important but something we rarely make time to do in the world we live in. As New Yorkers this is especially prevalent. There can be such a resistance to ‘do nothing’ in American culture, a phenomena greatly celebrated and prioritized in other cultures. I believe if we allowed ourselves more time to tune in we may be able to take more proactive measures towards improving and maintaining our mental wellbeing. From a scientific standpoint, a consistent meditation practice has actually been shown to change the structure of your brain. Harvard did a study that found that after eight weeks of regular meditation there was a decrease in volume in the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.
Daily ritual and/or mantra?
You are here! This is the Mental NYC mantra and my personal mantra too 🙂 I find myself saying it often as a reminder to appreciate the place I am in. My daily ritual would be making my bed! I can’t start my day without making my bed. It’s one small thing I can do to start my day with intention. I am also a big believer that we are energetically impacted by our space so it’s important for me to start the day with a clear space for a clear mind.
What role does community play in your approach to wellness? What role does movement play?
Community is a HUGE part of why we started Mental NYC. For Brendan and I, so many of the wellness communities we were experiencing felt rooted in competition or status—we wanted to create a community that was just as much about creating meaningful connections as it is about movement and meditation. It is proven that community is so important to our mental wellbeing, which is why creating these conversations beyond movement and meditation is so important to us.
How do you think quarantine has / will influence the cultural conversations around mental health?
I think we’re only just starting to see how quarantine has impacted mental health around the world. Even before quarantine we were starting to see more and more people open to the mental health conversation and I believe we will it continue to see it shift further in this direction. My hope is that the conversation will turn towards how we can be proactive about our mental health and wellbeing. How can it be a conversation before we even start feeling bad? Even happiness is part of mental health—recognizing what makes you feel happy is just as important as recognizing what makes you sad. I hope that we will start to see these conversations woven into our daily lives more rather than serving as a trend.
Last thing that made you smile?
My dog, Lady 🙂
2020 is the year you…
One thing you’ve learned about yourself through your own mental wellness practices?
The body and the mind know best. I used to fight feelings and emotions but now I let them come—therapy has definitely helped with this. If I’m tired, I let myself sleep a little more. If I’m sad, I let myself be sad. If I’m happy, I lean into that too!