When we think of "Mental Health," we often think of the things that are troublesome or negative. The things that happened to us that cause us pain and impact our everyday lives. But, what if I told you that "Mental Health" is something to aspire to and maintain?
Studies show that our brains and bodies are physiologically impacted by the things that happen to us. So, in essence, there is really no way to separate mental and physical health. They are one and the same. When we get nervous, our blood pressure goes up. When we experience childhood trauma, our brains can literally shrink. The term "as above, so below" is true. What happens to the brain also happens in the body, and vice versa.
In order to heal from the things that are happening to us, we have to go from a state of being on guard, to a state of being calm and relaxed. In fact, the things that have us in an elevated state don't necessarily have to be labeled as negative. They could be things that are fun. For example, having your family and friends over for a holiday meal. These things can be stressful. If we do not allow ourselves time to recover, they can have a negative impact on our mental and physical health.
Where do we go in order to heal? The first step of being able to heal is to remove ourselves from the environment that is causing us to be in an elevated state. This can either be momentary or permanent. We instinctively know that. This is why we either flee from a stressful situation, try to control it by fighting, or completely shut down. These are clear signs that something has to shift. Getting to a safe space is essentially the only way that we can truly heal. There are many places where we can go to "get away."
In the moment: Take a walk. Go to your car and take ten deep breaths. Visit the bathroom and wash your face. For more long term: Create a sacred room/corner in your home. Join a social group/spiritual practice. Attend a weekly fitness class. Take regular trips to a park.
It is important to tune into your body. Listen to the signs that you need a break. Are you getting angry over things that would not usually bother you? Are you constantly tired, and can't seem to get enough sleep? Do you overeat? Do you experience unexplained body pain? Are you buying things that you really do not need? Do you avoid talking to people, because they are "all up in your business?" Are you participating in behaviors that you later regret on a regular basis? These are clear signs that self-care is needed ASAP!
Ancient healing technologies are indigenous practices that lead to healing of the mind, body, and community in which they are practiced. Examples include dance, drum circles, Yoga, meditation, Qigong, Tai Chi, and more. These practices have been proven to heal the effects of chronic stress and trauma, including blood pressure, physical pain, depression, obesity, and dis-empowerment.
"When do you get to the part where you cried?"
I could tell you that today was just like any other Sunday of teaching yoga, but I'd be lying. The sun was shining brightly over the beautiful changing autumn leaves. My mom and I sang "Wonder Wall," and other fun songs in the car. We stopped to get cupcakes for a class member, because today was his birthday. Not to mention the fact the we have been celebrating the Baltimore Ceasefire this weekend. As we pulled up to UMAR Boxing Gym in West Baltimore, people from class rushed over to help us get things out of the car and up the stairs. We had a packed house of yogis!
"So, you're saying that things were amazing. What's with the tears?"
After community announcements, we began our opening. Deep breaths and grounding...singing "Om" three times...As I began the first line of the Patanjali Invocation, my heart was so full, that gratitude fell from my eyes like waterfalls. I had to stop singing, because I was going into the ugly cry. So, I gently asked the group to sit in silence, and we breathed. We breathed for those who could not. We sat together for those who are alone. We practiced for our lives. And for that, I am grateful.
"The day seemed to be pretty much perfect. Why did you cry?"
Lately, life is been so challenging, but today was easy. Like Lionel Ritchie said, "Easy like Sunday morning."
When things are hard, we are "on" and ready to take on the world! This "on-ness" is not a place of healing. Being "on" all the time is stressful and toxic. Today, I went to a safe space, where I was supported and loved, and the tears came, because I relaxed enough to let them go.
This is what healing is about. Listen to your body. Get to a safe space. Participate in a movement practice that lets you release the pain and heal.
Photo Credit: Fluffy Pop Postcards