Western medicine often views health as being the absence of illness. The yogis teach us that there is another way to view health. This holistic approach aims for blissful wellbeing on all levels. Therefore, when talking about mental health it is important to approach it holistically and be specific about the characteristics of the individual’s mental health needs. Are they tending more toward anxiety and nervous feelings? Or more toward depression and heaviness? Mental illness can be very tricky to manage, as thoughts and feelings can directly affect every decision, including our personal healthcare choices. The yogis teach us we have 5 interconnected bodies. The physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual. I like to think of these as 5 different levels of health potential.
The quality of food eaten and the health of the physical body has a direct effect on emotional health. When trying to gain a more enjoyable level of emotional health, choosing the highest quality of food is likely to promote the highest quality of mind. Similarly, doing work on the energetic body through yogic practices, qigong, tantric love making and getting enough sleep can also promote happiness. Meditation is a very effective way to enhance and create profound emotional, mental and spiritual wellness. However, when living with mental illness or at times of strong emotional disturbance it may be difficult to meditate. In these times other yogic techniques may be more effective.
Yoga for me has been a powerful practice to transmute or change states of mind and emotion. At times when I have experienced anxiety, stress and worry, it has felt impossible to sit still long enough to meditate. In order to calm my mind in these states I have found some form of physical practice is needed to get to a point of being able to work in positive ways with my mind. Six to twelve sun salutations has been a great way to start in these times. Next I would include a couple of calming asanas and then 10mins or so of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing). This short practice of sun salutes, calming asanas and Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is a really effective way to spend 20-30 mins to counter an experience of anxiety. Time permitting, meditation after this would expand, deepen and prolong the experience of profound mental wellness.
In times of heavy, lethargic depression, instead of calming practices, I aim to bring movement and energy into my body. Starting with some gentle warm up exercises to soothing music allows me to bring movement to my body in a very kind way. From here I would move to 3 or 4 asanas starting gently and moving to more dynamic ones. Then I would practice 5 to 20 strong Uddiyana Bandhas depending on how heavy my energy was that day. Usually after this simple 20-30 minute practice my mood will be markedly different. To complement the practice I would either meditate for some time or practice gratitude.
Profound mental wellness is totally achievable with yoga. Using specific techniques with an acceptance of ‘where you are at’ can really help to shift disharmonious moods. Taking a holistic approach, looking at diet, sleep, environment, relationships and stressors with self love and compassion is an important part of any yogic mental health plan.
Lots of love, Namaste,
George Weis, Awaken Series Teacher and Therapeutic Yoga Teacher