Posted on 01/01/11

This time of year, although it happens, well, every year, can feel like such a shock. We may go from feeling confident, beaming, god(desse)s full of pro-active planning, to mice that want to crawl into a hole wearing a soft onesie and eat carbohydrates. Our minds can sink into a bit of gloom.

There are many ways (and many reasons) of experiencing a broken head. And I don’t necessarily mean seriously broken and in need of professional help, but the day-to-day experiences of ‘my mind wont slow down’, ‘why can’t I decide anything’, ‘I feel a bit down’ or ‘I’m not sure why I put the soap in the fridge but I did’.

We are often reminded of what we put into our bodies, what we <em>should </em>be doing for ourselves physically and are encouraged to eat more/less, move faster/slower, inhale more/less interesting substances. We may completely ignore the wealth of often contradictory advice, but it’s very much there. Our bodies may not be top of our list, but our mental health seems to be even further down.

How many of us spend any time actively doing something to benefit the state of our mind? Just like our physical body, our mind goes through different stages of health. For reasons to do with our personal life, hormones, our environment, or just this change of seasons, our mental health can shift, and we may have a vague sense that our minds are not as healthy as they could be. Our to-do lists probably don’t have a ‘look after my head’.

So we take for granted – or do nothing for – our mental wellbeing. But anyone who has experienced a mental breakdown or depression knows that when your mind isn’t functioning the way you’d like it to, your world turns upside down. Everything else is affected. It can feel impossible to get back to anything that nears ‘normal’. Work, family, friends and previous passions can’t be catered for.

Just as with our physical body, we shouldn’t wait until something ‘goes wrong’ with our mind before looking after it. In our society, the focus on health care is still overwhelmingly curative rather than preventative.

So what to do?

The reading that I’ve started for my course as a yoga therapist for mental health care has encouraged what I’ve been hopeful about, and what I’ve started to experience for myself in my yoga and meditation practice.

Through committing to a regular session of focusing, meditation, conscious awareness, mindfulness – whatever you want to call it, you can greatly improve the functioning of many aspects of your mind, from your memory, realisation of your habits, acceptance, your moods, as well as gaining more insight into your emotional states.

<strong> </strong>One such super book ‘Yoga for Depression’ by Amy Weintraub discusses the science behind how this might happen:

A study at the University of Wisconsin showed that the location of our current brain activity determines our moods. Mindfulness meditation has the potential to change the location of brain activity. People who are depressed show greater use of the right prefrontal cortex, and those who are considered happy use the left prefrontal cortex. A study by Dr Davidson with Jon Kabat-Zinn, showed that stressed workers showed more activity in the right, but after mindfulness training, brain scans showed more activity on the left.

So with focusing techniques we can actually shift the working part of our brains to feel more engaged, less anxious, more positive and more balanced.

Relaxing and focusing may seem like contradictory elements. However, it is only through a relaxed state, that we become much more aware, experiencing more mental clarity. I see this as an optimum mental and physical state for the many levels of functioning we’re all trying to take on.

When we enter a relaxed state of mind and body, the different brain waves mean that there is less of a boundary between the subconscious and conscious minds. It can help to make us aware of patterns, habits or even memories, that then help us to move forward with more insight.

Try now: talk yourself through relaxing your body, especially your shoulders, your jaw . . . notice your breath . . . try to lengthen your breath by putting a count to it . . . feel your system slow down . . . every time you breathe out say quietly ‘let go’ . . . make the time to do this for 15 minutes and see how you feel.

Everything is temporary, and we have the potential to change.

We expect a lot from our minds, and they are indeed very very clever.

How are you going to look after yours today?

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