By Margaret Alkerton
The practice of meditation is, in many ways, the practice of being free. Using mental focus and breathing exercises, meditation works to free the mind of its daily thoughts and patterns. This practice is particularly useful when the mind is cluttered with self-doubts, self-judgements, and other negative emotions. Shawna Thibodeau certainly felt this way when she first conceived of Be Free – her own unique offering of health and wellness services.
Be Free was inspired by Thibodeau’s personal experiences and struggles, and the types of treatments — especially meditation — that she found most “powerful” and “transformative.” Her passion is combined with her extensive and diverse training. Thibodeau holds two Bachelor of Science degrees – a Nursing degree from Trent University and a Kinesiology degree from McMaster. She has also completed the study of more spiritual topics, including the chakras, mindfulness, and meditation. One of the exciting services she offers through Be Free is a weekly drop-in meditation class.
“When you’re self-connected, you’re better able to serve the world,” Thibodeau said, describing one positive effect of meditation. “It’s about how you ‘show up’ in life.” Regular meditation provides even more measurable benefits. Some of the mental and physical benefits of meditation are improved immunity and sleep patterns, as well as decreased depression and anxiety.
The thing is, sitting around and thinking about nothing is actually pretty hard.
When asked about the difference between guided meditations and a personal practice, Thibodeau confirmed my suspicions, and laughed. “That you actually do it!” she exclaimed.
She believes it is easy to dismiss the value and act of meditation without the guidance of a leader and the support of a group. Even a seasoned meditator can gain from a group setting, as Thibodeau noted, “you can feel the connection with other people because you are working with the same energy. That can be really powerful.”
Each Wednesday night from 8-9pm, in a cozy corner at 9 Welland Ave. in St. Catharines, Shawna Thibodeau helps adults of all ages learn to meditate.
Thibodeau’s sessions involve two meditation periods, as well as a discussion period in the middle. The discussions are guided by monthly suggested readings, including Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. As a guide, Thibodeau provides an even pace to her meditations. She balances the necessary silence with the inclusion of supportive suggestions – on the breathe, on the mind, and on the physical sensations of the body. Sometimes, she introduces affirmations into the meditation. These repetitive practices, she explained, “start with the self and extend outwards.” In this way, her teachings extend out from each participant and contribute to a happier, healthier, and more peaceful community.
Earlier this year, Thibodeau connected with Carlo Turavani of Transitions Hair Studio. Through Transitions, Turavani has spent decades actively supporting health and wellness aspects of the beauty industry. Be Free meditations will be moving to his larger studio space at 244 Grantham Ave. in the spring. “I’ve been meditating for a quite a while now,” Turavani said, “and she has a good approach to it… you leave there feeling good.”
Even those new to meditation can expect to notice positive changes after one session – clear and re-energized senses; lighter steps and softer muscles; renewed interest in and awareness of the self. Thibodeau reminds both her new and experienced members that clarity comes with practice, and that there is no need to be discouraged by the thoughts that may surface. She suggests simply letting the thoughts exist and letting the thoughts drift away, freely and without engagement.
Be Free meditations offer a respectful environment and a welcoming energy, along with a commitment-free structure. Plus Shawna is really cool. Her meditations are perfect for beginners looking to try out the increasingly popular and rewarding skill.