Eva: a better eyes open experience

Interview by Isabella Moore

Eva Moore is in the final years of her Arts/Law degree at Monash University and works part time as a paralegal. She runs the Gravity Initiative program at Monash University. She is passionate about improving preventative mental and emotional wellbeing among students.

 

How did Gravity get its start?

Last year, the founders, Will Hanneman and Em Serle, were at Melbourne University, and were looking at was available to students to support their mental health. There wasn’t anything that they found to be accessible, free, and open to anyone. They considered different practices and tools, and decided on yoga and meditation. They started running outdoor sessions at Melbourne, sponsored by lululemon and Pressed Juices.

This year, we held our first event in January at the Federation Square atrium, which was attended by 250 people. We’ve run weekly sessions at Melbourne and Monash University since the start of the semester, and we just ran our first event at Deakin.  We hope to expand to every university Australia wide.

We’re in week 6 at the moment, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger. At Monash we have around 30/35 attendees per week. We have 60 mats, and lululemon have offered more, so if we could get 100 attendees every week that would be amazing. It’s a big ask though. It’s difficult to run and promote events of that size at a busy university.   

At the moment we’re running the events outside on the lawn, which we’ll continue up until Easter Break. It’s a great space because people can see it, and we want that visibility: I think it’s part of breaking down the stigma that’s attached to mental health.. However, I know some people, especially those new to yoga, may feel a bit exposed practicing outside. It’s a bit of a balancing act, because we want it to be a good experience for the people who are participating.

We make sure that after every session, we try and chat to the attendees, explaining who we are and what we do.

 

Do you see Gravity as filling something of a gap in mental health services for students?

As a starting point, I think doing yoga and meditation once a week is great. A lot of people have never tried it before, and sometimes going to a normal yoga class be intimidating. It can seem like a bit of a scene, and that can be alienating. When you strip away the aesthetics, the outfits, the glam studios, at its basis are practices that work.

I love hearing from people who have done yoga for the first time at one of our sessions, I’ve had amazing feedback. My hope is that they tell their friends about their experience and word starts spreading that practices like yoga and meditation aren’t luxuries. In fact, I believe they’re great foundations for creating a calm mind in a pretty hectic world.

One class a week may not change anyone’s life: our sessions are a starting point. From there, people can explore what they can do for themselves and find what works for them.

It’s about getting people motivated to do something for their mental and emotional wellbeing. For university students, and for young people in general, there’s a growing awareness around mental health as an issue. But much of the focus is on suicide prevention, on the diagnosable, on looking for a cure for mental illness. And of course that's crucial – young men are more likely to die by suicide than for any other reason. That statistic is a national crisis and something that I don’t think enough people are aware of.

But it’s important that we see the steps along the way, because suicide prevention doesn’t start with talking someone off a ledge; it starts with helping someone take care of themselves mentally. We have to get the message out that you can do things for yourself, and you can speak to people who can help you.

People are so embarrassed to say that there’s any wrong, because we do frame it as ‘wrong’, as shameful. If I had a sore throat, people would be offering all these solutions, remedies that had worked for them.

Why should we be so embarrassed about asking for help with mental health when it’s just as common?

I think you can use the analogy of basic first aid: if you’re bleeding, you know that you should put on a bandaid.  We know what to do every day for our physical health: exercise, eat well, shower, brush our teeth. But we don’t necessarily know what to do to feel calm, happy, or at least hopeful.

 

Why do we struggle with that type of self-care?

We’ve lost the ability to self-soothe, to say “okay that didn’t go well, but it will be better tomorrow”. This can manifest in different ways. A lot of destructive behaviours manifest out of an inability to appropriately manage our fears, worries, regrets and other negative emotions. People go for the quick fix, whatever that may be.  They don’t realize that a more proactive approach of undertaking daily or regular practices for our mental health, would actually equip us with the mental strength to deal with the negatives when they arise (as they inevitably do).

Social media has a lot to answer for.   The first thing you do in the morning is compare yourself to someone’s highlight reel. We’re addicting to knowing what everyone else is doing, but you have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, and you constantly see the negatives in your own life.

We have this constant need to distract ourselves, especially with technology. If chronic distraction was a diagnosis, most people I know would be afflicted.  I don’t think any previous generation has struggled with distraction in the same way, the constant onslaught of information. It’s like we see this space that we have to fill, not realising that we need that space to process and react, without distraction. We make these mile-long to-do lists that we carry around in our minds.

I'm reading Sarah’s Wilson’s new book at the moment, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful. Wilson has anxiety and bipolar disorder. She writes about the fact that so many iconic people have suffered from these issues, and their best ideas have come from just sitting there, looking out the window, thinking about a problem they can solve.

We have demonized ‘doing nothing’, yet actively giving your mind the space and time to wonder, to actually be ‘bored’, can lead to a feeling of mental space.

 

What is holding us back from better self-care?  

I hate to think that for people who are struggling with a particular issue, or feeling progressively more stressed or anxious, they just have live with it, because there’s no outlet for them until it’s a bigger problem. We all still operate under the impression that until you’ve been diagnosed, or until you’re really losing the plot, so to speak, there’s nothing proactive you can do about it, which is just not true. I have reached out to psychologists for guidance on numerous issues in my life, yet I don’t have a mental illness. I try and talk openly about my experiences, yet there is definitely still a stigma attached with consulting a mental health professional. A friend of mine, Charlie Cooper, who works extensively with Headspace, says that his dream is to reach the point where going to the psychologist is as normal and mundane as going to a GP when you have a cold.

I see this gap in the services available and the conversation we have around mental health, particularly self-care. Normally, when we get stressed, self-care is the first thing to go, because of this notion of not having enough time. There needs to be a shift in understanding so that it’s the other way around. Mental health should be your number 1 priority, because you can’t succeed in much if that’s not on track.

That’s why mental health should be a part of school curriculum. If schools didn’t offer sex ed, they’d be seen as failing students, so why not mental health ed? We just need to find the right formats for different ages, sexes and other groups, because people do engage with things in different ways.

Our generation hasn’t had that education, and now that we’re in our 20s we’re facing the consequences: this struggle to balance work, study and finances, we’re thinking about what our lives are going to look like, and at the same time being told that we should be having the time of our lives.

I don’t profess to have the answers, but you do need to do something for your mental health.

It doesn’t have to be drastic, but it has to be something, finding something that helps you cope with the onslaught of pressure and expectations.

For me, my energy, my willingness to get involved in things, my perspective on study, my relationship with my boyfriend – those day to day things that make up the bulk of my life – can be improved so much if I’ve been to yoga, or meditated for 15 minutes. The impact is immeasurable for me. The smallest things can make the world of difference.

 

How can we start making those small changes in our daily lives?

You just have find what it is that works for you and your wellbeing. People often say that of course, in an ideal world, they’d do something like meditation every day. That’s not the right idea. It should just be a normal part of every day. We need to get used to the idea that yes, there are things you can do for your mental and emotional health, and if you stick to it, you’ll notice so many benefits in your life.

Laura Poole, a meditation teacher who started the One Giant Mind meditation app, says that you don’t mediate to have a good mediation experience, you do it to have a better ‘eyes open’ experience. You do it so that your day improves, your interactions with people improve. Taking that time to stop and pause improves the rest of your day. Really, it doesn’t actually matter if you don’t feel ‘zen’ while you’re meditating. Thoughts are a natural part of our human experience. We aren’t aiming to get rid of them!

We do need to stop thinking of busyness as a badge of honour. People love listing the things they’re doing – “I have this due, and this party, and this many hours at work”. But I’m not jealous. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to do nothing on a Saturday night. That’s not a criticism, if you like being busy. The goal is to feel like mental health is a normal part of a normal life, there’s no need stop anything else you do, necessarily.

In the face of the stress that we all feel, what people need to say is, firstly, that’s normal, and secondly, there’s a way of dealing with that, and here’s what I did.

The most comforting feeling in the world comes from hearing that someone understands, that it’s happened to them too. It makes the whole experience less lonely, less alienating.

If we look at it this way, the conversation can only grow. There’s no one person or practice or theory that will change everyone’s perspective. Change will come from the people who normalise it, who lead by example, who say “Oh, I’m just off to meditate” without explaining or preaching. People around you will see the difference in you: you’re a calmer, happier version of yourself.

It starts with realising that you need to do something, and from there, it just needs to be consistent. Meditation doesn’t have to be formal – you can lie in bed for 10 minutes and just feel and think. There’s no perfect practice, it can be imperfect. It’s about finding what it is that helps you, that centres you.