World Mental Health Day: Let’s Focus on Ourselves
Today, October 10th, marks the World Mental Health Day. While it is important to raise worldwide awareness for mental health problems and their effective treatments, but most importantly we must focus on our own mental health. By first focusing on our own mental health improvement, we are also able to aid in the improvement of the health of others around us. Furthermore, as yogi’s, we must ask ourselves if we are getting the most out every session. This includes not only the physical benefits of our practice, but also the spiritual and mental benefits that come along with practicing our craft.
Whether or not you are aware of the mental health benefits of practicing, the evidence of benefits are there. I found a German study from 2005 that concluded amongst a group of women practicing yoga, depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. So eye-opening! Additionally, a 2008 study conducted by the University of Utah concluded that yoga aids in regulating stress along with improving pain response. Another piece that's so important since we have become a society that is plagued with bandaiding pain with OTC meds and scripts. While if simply practicing has these immense benefits, and we are truly we are serious about the huge mental benefits, we must be extremely focused while we practice. Breathe, yogis! Allow yoga to be that sanctuary in which we are able to leave our problems and stressors at the door. For 30, 45, or 60 minutes need to enable our practice to give us a mental clean slate and a refreshed feeling when we walk out the door.
I realize that this can be one of the most difficult things in life to do. How often do we hear, “just forget about it’” or, “move on,” only to dwell on that very subject for hours? Although it is nearly impossible to replace the existing thoughts with blank space, it is possible to fill them with other thoughts that will also help our practice.
One of the best methods I use when negativity or outside stressors begin to seep into my thoughts is focusing on every single breath I take. I begin with my long, slow inhale, making sure I am not sucking in, but rather filling my lungs and body cavity with as much oxygen as possible. It's all about the ujjayi breath! I then engage in a long, slow, and forced exhale, making sure I have expunged every bit of air that I can muster. While remaining respectful to your neighbors, do not hold anything back on this exhale and it is OK if it is not totally silent as you want your neighbors to hear that breath, mirroring how you hear theirs. I repeat this process again and again, counting after each cycle, until we move to the next pose.
Another technique I use if the first fails is focusing on the flexion and release that each specific pose targets or works. For instance, in downward dog, I focus on the tenseness of my shoulders while in the position. As soon as my knees hit the floor and my shoulders are relieved of the weight I focus on relaxing and releasing the energy that was previously built up in them.
Regardless of how you choose to clear your mind, most importantly routinely make yoga part of your day to reap the mental benefits it provides. See you on your mat, yogis! Namaste.
Love + Light,