Nicole Edwards

Last month, singer-songwriter Nicole Edwards quietly released a new album. Yukon Lullaby for Mental Health has just one song, but also includes a suite of mindfulness education tools. It’s an innovative take on what makes an album and, like Edwards’ past projects, it comes with a passionate cause.

“My message is that we are all in this together–through light and dark times,” said Edwards. “By practicing mindfulness tools, we can build compassion for ourselves and others.”

Edwards has been practicing mindfulness for years, but when she first started, she didn’t even realize she was doing it.

“There are a few songs from Sage and Wild Roses that are related to mindfulness before I had a vocabulary for it. I was figuring it out as I went along,” she said. “If you listen to the lyrics to Grumpy Pants. . . I was naming the emotion and then shifting it using humour. I would change it now, though, if I were writing it again because there’s judgment in it. In the song, I’m saying, ‘I don’t like this feeling.’ What I’ve learned over the years with mindfulness is not to judge the emotion. But the first step is just noticing it. And sometimes that’s all we can do, is just notice it.”

Mindfulness is simply the act of intentionally paying attention to the present moment without judging your experience. It is not passive. It is not clearing your mind of all thought. And it isn’t necessarily relaxing. Unlike anything else in life though, when you practice mindfulness, failure is success. That’s because the moment you notice your mind wandering (it will!) and gently bring your attention back to the present, you’ve won the whole game and it starts all over again.

There’s at least a decade of research that demonstrates mindfulness meditation has measurable effects in the brain. In 2011, Sara Lazar and her Harvard team found mindfulness meditation strengthened the hippocampus, involved in learning and memory, and shrank the amygdala, responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. 

Mindfulness can take many forms. It can be a formal meditation practice, or noticing the details of your lunch. It could be paying attention to sounds you hear as you walk the Millennium Trail, or sitting down after an argument and observing the emotions you feel. Or it could be music.

Edwards has been living with chronic illness for 20 years, but in the fall of 2017, her health took a steep dive. She has been confined to her bed and couch. Mindfulness became a vital tool to cope with symptoms and with her grief at losing her independence.

Yukon Lullaby for Mental Health came to Edwards after traumatic interactions with caregivers in the hospital. “They didn’t have the tools to de-escalate things when I was flooded with emotion, and that made things worse.” Her response was to write a song to help her cope and self-soothe. Once she’d written it, she wanted to share it as a tool to help others.

“The song can provide some dignity for disenfranchised care recipients who are going through really hard stuff,” she said. “And caregivers are human, too. They need tools and self-care.”

The melody for the song is from Robert & Richard Sherman’s 1962 song “It’s a Small World After All.” The album includes sheet music, a lyric poster, a brain science poster, and two lesson plans, one for children, one for adults. The lesson plans explain how the song can be used to regulate emotions in moments of stress. Anyone can download the album for free from the Mindfulness page of Edwards’ website at NicoleEdwardsMusic.com.