Arizona State University College of Health Solutions alumna Tiara Cash describes what she does for a living as “reaching out and holding space for others.”
And right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that is exactly what she is doing as program manager of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. When the university shifted to remote learning and working, Cash helped move the activities of the mindfulness center online for a daily noontime session of virtual meditation and support, offering people a place where they can reach out and add to their “bucket of resilience,” as Cash calls it, to alleviate some of their anxiety as they deal with social distancing, quarantine and the risk of disease.
Cash, who graduated with a BS in exercise and wellness in 2013, knows a little bit about resilience. After suffering a career-ending injury in collegiate track and field, she struggled with her new “retired athlete” identity. As an exercise and wellness major, she had studied the hard science of physical wellness, but she had never thought about how mentally and emotionally fit you need to be to weather physical setbacks.
Although she had practiced meditation for years, the experience with her injury inspired her to integrate physical, mental and spiritual practices for a holistic approach toward wellness. In addition, she researched similar experiences of other student-athletes and found that athletes who transitioned to retirement most successfully were those who could call on the meditative practices of introspection and awareness, the same techniques she used in her own transition.
Today, she continues to use this mind-body-spirit approach to help student athletes and others in her work at the mindfulness center. In addition, she is also working to extend mindfulness beyond the self and out into the community through her Equitable Mindfulness Initiative which explores mindfulness as a change agent for social justice and equality through programming and research.
She spoke recently about how the global pandemic has changed her work and how other health professionals can use mindfulness to cope.
Question: How have you adapted professionally during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: The change was almost instant. When we found out ASU would be moving to an online platform for the rest of the year, our immediate response was to find a way to fill the gap. It happened quickly over one weekend when we decided to do our Midday Mindfulness sessions online as part of our first wave of change. Now that we have established this daily platform, we are getting a lot of requests to do presentations and workshops through Zoom, which I find wonderful! In the next week alone, I have three presentations to classes, departments and community members online.
Q: What did you learn at ASU that helped prepare you for your career? Is there anything from your ASU experience that you’re using now to help you navigate this current situation?
A: ASU taught me how to be flexible and to find ways to be innovative under pressure. The faculty, staff and my employment at ASU’s Sun Devil Fitness Center while I was a student helped prepare me. I also learned flexibility and innovation from the faculty and staff at the College of Health Solutions who created pathways on my behalf, specifically, finding creative ways to make sure my classes fit my degree when I transferred to ASU so I could graduate on time. I’ve also used my experience as a presenter at conferences when I was a student which helped me learn how to navigate uncertainty with grace.
Q: What advice do you have for others wanting to make a difference in health in the current climate?
A: Be flexible! We are living in unprecedented times. We will experience emotions and reactions that we cannot predict, so it’s important to remember that we are all human. As human beings we each have resilient capabilities that will help us get through situations like this. I would also say to take extraordinary care of yourselves as practitioners and individuals who work to heal others. We are being looked to as the superheroes of today, but we cannot fill the cups of others until we fill our own.
Q: Anything else you'd like to share about practicing mindfulness for those working in health?
A: Anything helps. Taking 10 minutes to belly breathe or do a short loving kindness meditation is so beneficial. There are apps you can download that will take you through meditations and scripts online that you can do yourself if you prefer. Also, be kind to yourself as you use these practices over the next few months. Most people like to have a routine for practicing mindfulness and meditation. It’s wonderful if you can commit and continue that routine, but if you find yourself missing your normal routine because we are out of normalcy, remember that finding a few breaths here and engaging in some gratitude there still adds to your bucket of resilience. Anywhere you can find time to check back in and do a quick mindful practice will ultimately help you in the next moment.