You brush and floss your teeth daily, bathe on a regular basis and wash your hands after using the bathroom. Someone had to teach you these habits of personal hygiene, but who has taught you how to take care of your mental hygiene?
In acknowledgment of this month’s Canadian Mental Health Association’s “Mental Health Week- #GetLoud” campaign, we’d like to dedicate May’s blog post to the importance of maintaining and improving your mental health–something we like to refer to as mental hygiene.
Just as personal hygiene clears away the residual build up of things like dead skin cells, plaque, bacteria and dirt from our bodies, daily habits aimed at taking care of our mental well being will help clear away the residual build up of emotions, memories and thoughts. The longer we live the more of this mental “plaque” or stress builds up and affects the way we feel about ourselves, the manner in which we interact with others and how we experience the world. Research is becoming very clear on the negative impact mental stress is having on our health and quality of life. Unfortunately, it’s usually not until we’ve had an emotional breakdown or a health crisis that we begin to try to de-stress our minds.
A perfect check up with the dentist isn’t luck, it’s the result of taking daily care of your teeth. The same goes with mental well-being– there needs to be daily habits put into place to keep a healthy mind. This is precisely what Prana aims to help you to develop. I guess, we’re kind of like the public health nurse that used to visit you in grade school to show you how to take care of yourself.
So, what can you do to start your mental hygiene routine? Sit still, be silent and breathe. Many people tell us, “I clear my mind when I run, workout, clean my house, etc., etc.” We say: that is a good release, but it is not the same as proper rest. Rinsing your mouth with mouthwash isn’t the same as brushing your teeth. Being still in silence allows your mind to stop thinking about doing anything and encourages your senses to shut down for a much needed break. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for resting and digesting– the opposite to the fight or flight state we are normally in. The silence stops the constant bombardment of sensory input to your brain and calms your nervous system. Slow, abdominal breathing brings in more oxygen to your body and reduces the overall effects of chronic stress.
By literally creating space to breathe, you reduce agitation in the mind and body. The more you practice, the more you’ll build a resiliency to to stressful situations. Situations won’t irritate you like they used to or if they do, it’s for a much shorter time period. You’ll notice you react to challenges less and seek effective solutions more. Your default mental state will be much more pleasant and have a calming affect on others. Does pumping iron or running a marathon give you the same long term results? Exercise is definitely a part of maintaining mental wellness, but it’s not all of it. Here’s how to get started:
- Sit comfortably in a chair. Make sure your spine is straight, but not tense; if you are lying down, lie on your back with a pillow behind your knees or on lie on your right side, resting your head on your arm and knees bent in fetal position.
- Place your hand over your navel.
- As you inhale, try to make the belly expand so the hand rises.
- As you exhale, contract the abdominal muscles to draw the navel toward the spine and push the breath out.
- Continue to repeat steps 3 & 4 by inhaling slowly as you count to 4 & exhaling slowly as you count to 8. Continue this breathing pattern with your eyes closed and all of your attention on the breath. Let thoughts come and go, but if you become distracted by them, guide your attention back to your breathing. In the beginning it’s helpful to mentally and rhythmically count (inhale-2-3-4; exhale-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) as you are breathing to stay focused.
- Experiment with slowing down your counting and breathing. Enjoy the effect it has on the mind and body.
You can also watch our brief tutorial here: