It’s Mental Health Awareness Week from 18 to 24 May. This initiative, by the Mental Health Foundation, helps to put mental health in the spotlight and encourage people to consider their own wellbeing. Yoga and mindfulness have been proven to help with stress, anxiety and even ease depression.
Mental health during the pandemic
Now more than ever, everyone needs to be taking care of their own mental health and that of those around them.
As social creatures, we are not accustomed to spending long periods in isolation, away from those we love. Also, with increased levels of stress and anxiety at present; worry for family and the vulnerable, concerns and fears around the virus, and financial pressures, leave us all with many negative emotions circulating.
It is said that the effects on our mental health linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, could be around long after the virus has passed. This is why it is so important to protect our mental wellbeing as well as our physical health.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness.
Kindness may seem so simple but it holds such power. Acts and words of kindness show someone else that you care and there is only positive energy that comes from being kind, both for the giver and receiver.
In difficult times like this, there have been countless acts of kindness. Those that make the headlines but mostly those that are behind closed doors. Phone calls to family who are shielding, checking-in on a neighbour who is isolating, even not pushing forward in the queue to the supermarket.
Being kind to others shows empathy, equality and compassion. It reaches out selflessly to another human in a way that speaks volumes, even if no words are spoken.
Kindness is linked to our mental health as it puts others first. To this extent it can limit our habits to go inwards and consider only our own problems, which can be a downward spiral to depression.
“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.”
Mark Roland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.
If you want to contribute to Mental Health Awareness Week, a simple act of kindness could be the key. Use this Kindness Matters Guide, prepared by the Mental Health Foundation for inspiration.
Mental Health and Yoga
The body and mind are intrinsically linked. Some people may view yoga as simply a means of fitness, which it absolutely can be. But yoga can be so much more than that for those that build up a regular practice and want to go deeper.
While yoga may not be the whole answer – it certainly doesn’t replace the need to seek proper medical help when required – it can help to prevent mental health issues arising or taking over. It could also support medical interventions and limit the amount of time this is required.
Yoga has the potential to:
Stress is inevitable in life but it’s important to find ways to not let the stress take control and affect us on a deeper, long-lasting level.
The physical element of yoga alone can help with stress reduction, due to the release of endorphins into the bloodstream.
Also, working through a series of yoga poses means that your focus is on perfecting the posture, checking your alignment and moving gracefully through the sequence. Rather than what went wrong in work today, the fight with your partner or your growing to-do list!
You will also find that some types of yoga are particularly relaxing for the mind and body, for example Yin Yoga.
Increase concentration and attention
For the same reasons as above, yoga can help improve our focus and teach tools that can be used off the mat too. It can channel our focus into positive activities and emotions and away from the negative. It can also give us the determination to keep on trying even when things are tough.
Calm the nervous system
Yoga breathing techniques can help to kick-start the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps reduce feelings of anxiety and instils a sense of calm.
Learning to work with our breathing, not only helps in a yoga class, it can be utilised in daily life. Before a meeting or social engagement take a few deep breaths and see the difference it makes to the butterflies in your tummy or the tight chest.
Ease symptoms of depression
Yoga is naturally up-lifting and a regular practice gives you something to work towards as you can start to challenge yourself to continue to improve.
During a class it is difficult to think about your problems when you are listening to your teacher talk you through the sequence and guide your breathing. Class may only be a small amount of time each week. However, it can promote better sleep, healthier eating and more mindful behaviour, all of which can contribute to more cheerful emotions and making better choices.
Increase our self love and compassion
The yoga community is friendly and welcoming and creates a space for you to be yourself. Most of us know that we are all striving in life, in the best way we know how. Sometimes this isn’t always as perfect as we would like. We get stressed, we get anxious and sometimes we feel low. All of which has a consequence on our overall health and happiness.
Yoga can teach us to be more kind to ourselves and to others, as well as live a life filled with compassion and positive purpose.
The power of meditation
Whilst mental health issues are different for each individual, many can stem from feelings of inadequacy, confusion and comparing ourselves to others. These can be self-inflicted but often they are absorbed from society, relationships and past events.
Meditation is a way to reconnect with your true Self. Stilling the mind, not only allows for anxiety and stress to dissipate but also, you can start to listen to your true thoughts and feelings. There is much peace to be found from a regular meditation practice and getting to know yourself on a deeper level, as well as giving yourself dedicated time just for you.
Now is the perfect time to connect or reconnect with yoga and keep your own mind in a good place, so that you can also give that positive energy to others around you.