Human beings have a very wonderful characteristic when it comes to observing and looking after our health. When nothing is wrong we remain carefree and oblivious to our bodily health, because our body does not give us any signals, but when something is wrong the body definitely gives us signs.
For example, if our breathing is healthy and normal, we are not even aware that we are breathing, but if we have a cold or bronchitis we will be very much aware of our breathing. The same is true with our mental well-being: when everything is healthy, we are not in the least aware of our mental processes. We feel balanced and content within. In contrast, when things are out of balance, our heart gives us a clear warning that something is wrong. We feel anxious, depressed, fearful, or angry, or all of these together, and these emotions can escalate into mental illness if not addressed properly.
According to the WHO, more than 300 million people are living with depression. In fact, there are reports that the COVID crisis and lockdown have further contributed to the depression rate in the world. Depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Perhaps even more worrying is that depression-related suicide is now the second leading cause of deaths for 15 to 29-year-olds. These statistics are chilling. We are facing an epidemic of mental imbalance around the world, and it is affecting our young people in a big way.
There are many reasons and causes, and not all of these can be solved, but one thing is clear: we need some basic tools to manage our mental well-being in this day and age.
Identification with our Minds
There has always been a stigma around mental illness, and there is a reason for that. Our species name is Homo sapiens, and it means ‘wise man’. Even the word ‘man’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘manas’ meaning mind. This tells us something: as a species, we identify with our mind much more than with our physical body.
This we can easily see in all sorts of day-to-day reactions. If someone tells you, “What is wrong? Your hair looks terrible!” you may be offended, but you will be more offended if they say, “You have lost your mind,” or “You are so stupid!” Our ego is more insulted by a slight to our mental well-being, whether it be to our intelligence, our thinking capacity, or our emotional maturity. In general, mental illness is much more of a stigma than physical illness, for example, diabetes and heart disease are more acceptable than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, even though all are serious health problems.
Mental health is a very sensitive subject, and that is understandable as the ego is itself one of our mental bodies. These ‘mental bodies’ — which have been known for thousands of years as the ‘subtle bodies’ in Yoga — define us as human beings and give us species its name. Our ego gives us our sense of identity.
So rather than getting caught up in the problems, what if we can find simple ways and methods to look after our mental bodies so that they are refreshed, rejuvenated, and revitalized? What simple tools can help us regain mental balance, so that we can feel as good as possible and function well in today’s world of high stress and fast pace? We may not be able to solve all the issues leading to mental imbalance, but we can do the best we possibly can to look after ourselves and our loved ones.
FOUR SIMPLE PRACTICES
If done daily with interest and enthusiasm, these four practices will support and help you balance your mental well-being. To try them out, you are invited to attend three masterclasses on these Heartfulness practices at http://heartfulness.org/masterclass :
Relax anywhere, anytime. The Heartfulness Relaxation takes just a few minutes and is especially helpful when you need to sleep, deal with moments of panic, stress, or fear, or to generally help you to feel more content.
If you are having trouble sleeping specifically, try this 5-minute Heartfulness sleep meditation.
As well, use nadi breathing to calm yourself down, whenever you feel panicked or stressed. Hold your right nostril with your thumb and take 10 deep breaths in and out through your left nostril: it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming you down.
Meditation regulates the mind so that it can focus on one thing. In heart-based meditation, we go deeper into the heart — discovering a world of feelings, inspiration, creativity, and love — and come out refreshed and rejuvenated.
3. Clean your heart and mind
Your mind and heart need cleaning, just like your body. With regular cleaning, you will find inner stillness, lightness, clarity, and calm. Your mind will regain its natural flexibility and let go of its heavy burden.
4. Connect with your Higher Self
To feel happy, we need to look after all three of our bodies — the physical, mental, and spiritual. Nurture your mental and spiritual bodies by connecting with your higher Self within the heart. This is done through the time-honored practice of prayer. Prayer creates an open state in your heart that can be filled with love. Prayer takes you into the infinite world of the heart, which is filled with so much joy and beauty.
BE IN TUNE WITH NATURE
Our mental well-being also depends on living a natural lifestyle. We are part of Nature, and this means that we have daily, weekly, monthly and longer-term cycles wired into our physiology. For example, let’s take our daily cycles of activity, rest, and sleep. If we go against the natural rhythm our health is badly affected, especially as we age — it is like swimming upstream. We also have monthly cycles that are in tune with the lunar cycles, seasonal cycles, and the cycles of aging. If we do not sync ourselves to be in tune with these we will also be swimming upstream.
Here are four tips to fine-tune your lifestyle with natural cycles and look after yourself better:
1. Get a good night’s sleep
If you sleep by 10 p.m. you will maximize the benefits of your sleeping hours. Before you sleep, spend time winding down and relaxing, and enjoying the company of family and friends, rather than watching TV or playing video games, which over-stimulate the brain and make you restless.
You can also listen to certain music to help you sleep well. Try listening to soothing music from your favorite channels.
2. Be an early bird
Wake early and meditate. This will give you a great start to the day so that you feel content and balanced inside. Then try to carry that inner state with you for the rest of your day: you will be able to handle anything that is thrown at you, no matter how challenging.
3. Speak with love
Most of our waking time is spent communicating with others. So make an effort to speak gently, tenderly, and evenly, without sharpness or roughness; it will change your life. To learn more about this, visit http://www.heartfulnessmagazine.com/speak-with-love/.
4. Eat with love
We also spend a lot of our waking time eating. Eating and digesting food take energy. If you want to be healthy, both physically and mentally, take time to eat, so that your energy reserves can focus on digesting. Is that possible when you are eating while on the go, driving, watching TV, or sitting at a computer screen working? No! The body is diverting energy to the other tasks, so your digestion suffers. Many of us are rushing so much that we don’t even chew our food properly, and then we expect our poor digestive systems to manage. Cultivate the art of eating in a relaxed way!
Then, there is the matter of how you eat. Are you grateful for the food you are eating? Scientific studies are now showing the benefits gratitude has on our health. Eating with an attitude of gratitude, love, and compassion has a very different effect on our bodies than eating with greed or carelessness. If you take care of your body in this way, it will pay great dividends in the long run. There are many studies now linking depression with gut health.
So dear friends, your mental health is worth nurturing. I am happy to answer any questions you have about this vital area of health and hope that you will try the Heartfulness practices that have been designed for this very purpose. Through them, learn to listen to your heart and care for yourself and for others as well.
By practicing Heartfulness, you can first of all experience a state of mental balance and peace. And from there you can go much, much further, experiencing the inner states of joy, contentment, and inspiration that are our human birthright. Please join us.
All the best.