These days our mental health is being tested more than ever. We are being hit with stress from many areas of life and it’s taking a toll on each of us. Specifically, our mental health which can have profound negative impacts on our physical health, relationships, career, and overall happiness.
But we have the power to break the inertia of negativity by engaging in simple mindfulness practices that will enable us to let life’s stressors flow off our backs, to be less reactive and get through life’s challenges a little easier. Our mental health matters!
2 MINDFULNESS PRACTICES TO IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
There are many simple AND inexpensive ways we can take charge of improving our mental health. However, I’m inviting you to start with just 2 mindfulness practices. Adding too many new habits into our lives can be overwhelming and lead to us giving up. So, start with these 2 practices and after time (consistency is key), you will naturally want to add additional practices. I picked these practices because they are designed to help you slow down the release of the stress hormone, cortisol and release happy hormones, endorphins and dopamine---a perfect cocktail to improve your mental health!
1 – CALM YOUR NERVES WITH BREATHWORK - Controlling your breath in certain ways can help calm your sympathetic nervous system which controls your “fight-or-flight” response. When we are stressed or anxious, we tend to take short breaths which prevents oxygen from flowing into our body effectively. By taking long deep breaths we activate our parasympathetic nervous system which controls our “rest-and-relax” response.
Try this simple breathing technique:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Sit in a comfortable position, maybe in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor to help you feel grounded.
- Softly close your eyes and place your hands on your thighs, with a slight bend in your elbows.
- Begin by breathing naturally for a few rounds.
- When ready start lengthening your inhales and exhales to the count of 4.
- Keep the amount of air that flows in and out about the same pace, so it’s a slow, methodic flow.
- Continue this way of breathing until the timer rings.
Now that you are in a calmer state you may find it easier to flow into the next practice, mediation.
2 – CULTIVATE INNER PEACE & HAPPINESS THROUGH MEDITATION
Many clinical studies have found that, like breathwork, meditation reduces cortisol. One meditation technique I use and suggest guides you to focus your attention on one object or task to keep your mind from wandering. This is the similar technique used in the breathing practice where you counted to 4 on your inhales and exhales. It keeps your mind focused on the task at hand (instead of our never-ending to-do list). Here’s how to do it:
- Set your timer for another 10 minutes.
- Sit in a comfortable position, similar to when doing your breathing exercises.
- Close your eyes and breath normally. No need to manipulate your breath in this practice, just make it effortless.
- Select a mantra (such as I am powerful, or I am healthy) and then repeat it silently throughout your meditation.
- Every time your mind wanders, and it will again and again, simply redirect your attention back to your mantra.
- When the timer rings, gently open your eyes and thank yourself for making the time to promote your mental health.
Adding a positive mantra to your meditation practice releases dopamine and serotonin which are mood enhancers. Plus, when you are feeling happiness, you attract more of the things that make you happy!
Both of these practices are a form of dhāranā, which is a Sanskrit word for fixed concentration and is the 6th limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga---a way of living your life more mindfully. Developing mental concentration like this teaches our mind to steady in one place for a longer period of time. This creates a calmer, less reactive mind, which helps us bring more loving kindness and compassion into our lives. Click here to learn more about the benefits and practices within the 8 Limbs of Yoga.