Slobo came to Canada from Serbia in August 2006, and by November of that same year, he was volunteering at the North York YMCA. By January 2007, Slobo worked as a part-time swim instructor and lifeguard. Over the next 15 years, he worked his way up to progressive roles at the YMCA, and now works as a Health and Fitness Program Manager and virtual mindfulness meditation coach for The Bright Spot.
The Y was there for Slobo during the early years of his immigration, and his two children attended YMCA Child Care in North York. “The Y is like family and I felt adopted by the Y,” says Slobo. “I felt like my values aligned with the Y and it meant a lot to me to be so welcomed and supported by them. The rest of my family was in Serbia and I was alone here in Canada.”
Today, the Y continues to play a large part in Slobo’s life.
The Bright Spot and mental health
Slobo is currently working towards earning a PhD at York University. During the pandemic, Slobo conducted research to find out how mindfulness was helping people cope with the effects of COVID-19.
He interviewed 23 participants of The Bright Spot – and everyone said that participating in The Bright Spot had changed their lives and helped them with their mental health. In addition to participating in mindfulness meditation, participants also attended other virtual programs like yoga, book club, and Spanish. Participants reported that all classes were helpful during a time when many people struggled with their mental health.
Mindfulness: A launch pad for change
In 2015, Slobo worked with his mentor, Dr. Paul Ritvo, Professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science and Department of Psychology at York University to launch a Wellness Coaching program at the Y. Many YMCAs have since adopted the program across Canada.
“Mindfulness skills allow us to be present,” says Slobo. “I use Wellness Coaching when teaching mindfulness.” Wellness Coaching is evidence-based, non-prescriptive, and incorporates mindfulness-based cognitive behaviour therapy and motivational interviewing. This empathetic program and approach is used at the Y and meets participants where they are. “The goal of the program is to help participants regain self-empathy (self-compassion) so they can adopt change in their lives.”
Wellness coaching focuses on personal change through precise, careful and attentive listening. This results in participants beginning to listen to themselves and becoming attentive to their own internal processes. This self-empathy, a key component of mindfulness, gives them traction to make changes to their own health.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises when we start intentionally paying attention to our breathing sensations. During mindfulness meditation classes, participants experience relaxation. As a result, their mood naturally lifts.
This process opens us up to become aware of the negative voices and self-judgment we are often not aware of, so that we can make change. Mindfulness helps us to regain focus – stepping into the present moment using breath, opening up a space of awareness, accepting experiences as they are without removing or changing them. Then, slowly, the non-judgmental attitude leads to compassion.
This becomes a launch pad for change.
Healthy aging and mindfulness
Slobo says mindfulness is an option for supporting healthy aging. In fact, Slobo believes that the combination of mindfulness and aerobic exercise may be “fountains of youth.”
Key elements of healthy aging include a balanced diet, getting enough physical activity and managing stress. Mindfulness helps relieve stress and it might also help our hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory.
There is a connection between body and mind. The goal of mindfulness is to be present, in the moment, and that provides a level of contentment for many. When we feel self-empathy, we are able to make healthier choices.
Slobo believes that when health is your number one priority, everything else falls into place and helps to develop a positive outlook for the future.
Resilience for the future
Slobo has experienced some difficult times – a divorce, his children moved across the country, and his father recently passed away. He credits mindfulness for changing his life and helping him through these difficult times, giving him resilience.
He is thankful for the Y and The Bright Spot, which has helped so many participants with their mental and physical health throughout the pandemic and now.
Visit The Bright Spot https://brightspot.ymcagta.org/ or Mindfulness Meditation https://brightspot.ymcagta.org/zoom-meetings/mindfulness-meditation/ for more information.