It’s crazy how nowadays people have conditioned their bodies to systems that neglect the importance of the mind-body connection. Everyone’s so busy with this fast paced world that they don’t take time to listen or respond to what their bodies tell them. Mental health statistics show that this tendency is becoming more prevalent, with women taking the lead.
Sadly, you’re told that you have to “push through the pain,” or “go for the burn” to get the most advantages from exercise. When you’re burnt out, you reach for a high-caffeine drink or sugar-filled snack to boost your energy rather than catching a quick nap or doing some light exercise that would have both cardio and mental health benefits, such as yoga.
Food portions and food quality are out of control, with most people rushing for fast food or convenient pre-packaged meals which pile on the calories but offer very little nutritional content. This has contributed to a population that’s struggling with illnesses related to being overweight, and this is seen even in the younger generation.
Medical research has proven a connection between your physical health and your mental health.
It shows that your lifestyle choices affect your state of mind, and so a healthy lifestyle is promoted as the way to maintain a healthy mind.
This article serves as a great gateway for you to start a healthy lifestyle, particularly where your body and mind connection is concerned.
Understanding the Importance and Benefits of Good Mental Health
1. We All Have the Mind-Body Connection
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, all of us experience the mind-body connection every day of our lives. Instead of thinking of the connection as being far out of reach, or something only attainable through hours of yoga and meditation, try and be more aware of it, as it’s always present. Whenever you salivate over a delicious-looking dessert, or get nervous “butterflies” in your stomach before doing a presentation, or running a race, these are all examples of natural mind-body connections which you have experienced at some point in your life. Sometimes the mind-body connection can create negative outcomes, like your failing to meet energetic, academic, or professional goals due to nervousness set up by the mind.
2. Your Body Responds to How You Think
“All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
In other words, if we are continually thinking negative, self-destructive thoughts, our bodies will follow suit. Emotional and mental imbalance can start as stress-induced headaches, tight shoulders, or a painful upper back, and point to unhealthy weight gain or loss, insomnia or high blood pressure. On the other hand, we can make a mindful effort to think more positively and to develop healthy coping mechanisms for life’s stresses or trials. Over time, the state of our emotional or mental health can either hurt or improve the body’s immune system.
3. You Can Get Yourself Sick, or Make Yourself Well
Studies prove that your coping mechanisms and manner of handling stress directly affects your immunity, which includes how to deal with critical illnesses e.g. cancer. Chronic stress influences the body in a negative way and over long periods of time can make you more susceptible to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other medical conditions.
However through regular exercise and a healthy nutrition, your body can gain mind and body balance, which in turn can lower stress levels, thus boosting your immunity against preventable illnesses.
4. There Is Also the Body-Mind Connection
In the first point above you saw the mind-body connection, but did you know that your body also has a great influence on your brain?
This is the body-mind connection. For example, while women’s bodies are preparing for menstruation, it is the hormones in the body causing all of the dreaded symptoms. Another example of body-mind effects is the flu. More often than not a person starts to feel out of sorts mentally the day or a few days before the body succumbs to a sore throat, nasal congestion and other common physical symptoms.
On the flip side, the body-mind connection can do incredibly positive things, from endorphins resulting from exercise or stress relief during a massage. In the physical poses of yoga, it is assumed that certain poses promote certain mental states. Backbends, for example, are thought to stimulate the mind, while inversions may bring on a quieter state. These are the enormous emotional benefits of exercise, which is also a cheap method of boosting your focus, feeling and overall health.
5. Your Diet Affects Both Your Body and Mind
We go back to that old saying, “We are what we eat.” Every single morsel or liquid passing through your lips has some effect on your brain. Your nutritional intake can have huge impacts –- both negative and positive — on how you feel. Serotonin, a chemical produced by the nerve cells, is mainly responsible for your mood. It acts as a bridge between the food you eat and your general well-being.
Serotonin is manufactured by tryptophan amino acids, which are consumed through foods such as bananas, walnuts, plums, eggs, milk and even chocolate! This explains why you get a happy feeling after eating chocolate. It’s because your serotonin levels are high. On the other hand, when serotonin levels are depleted beyond normal levels, you tend to feel depressed. You should therefore maintain a healthy protein-rich diet.
So, Is There A Connection Between Your Physical and Mental Health?
Physical fitness doesn’t necessarily mean you’re emotionally healthy.
Although physical fitness is connected to emotional happiness, the narrative doesn’t always give straight answers. We all are living in times where a host of fitness or lifestyle magazines thrive on glorifying and peddling the concept of an ‘ideal’ male or female body.
This coupled with the ‘gotta have it now’ mindset is setting you up for deeper psychological difficulty, where you’re not only looking for faster results but frequently questioning yourself for not fitting in with society’s idea of a ‘fit body.’
Benefits of Mental Fitness
While you go to bed after a long day, your body starts to relax. But the mind doesn’t entirely follow.
Visualisation can help. You can usually achieve a sense of peacefulness through imagery, the method of picturing a tranquil scene or location. This practice can decrease tension in both your body and your mind by challenging neurons in the less-dominant area of your brain which controls feelings of self-confidence and optimism. When you think about anything other than your daily worries, you build activity in the neural structures of that section of your brain.
Ultimately, visualisation can promote your emotional well-being and calm you down mentally.
One of the best exercises for mental health is Yoga.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a physical exercise that involves different body poses, breathing techniques and meditation.
Yoga as a Cure for Stress and Depression
There is a primary school of thought, based on research, which acknowledges that the greatest forms of exercise, including yoga, can promote mental health as endorphins and hormones responsible for that ‘feel good’ factor are usually experienced at the end of a workout.
Nowadays , the natural ‘fight or flight’ stress responses, which kept our hunting and gathering ancestors alive, are still very much present. These generative responses are sensitive to many triggers in the modern world, such as the physical and mental stress of the workplace or pressure in other areas of life, such as responsibility, finance and lifestyle. The practice of yoga moves engages responses to that ‘fight or flight’ reaction, triggering the parasympathetic nervous system instead to a ‘rest and digest’ response, which calms the stress responses and effects balance in the face of pressure. Below are some helpful tips on the physical and mental health benefits of yoga in as far as healing stress, depression and keeping fit are concerned.
Breathing for Stress and Depression
One of the greatest emotional benefits of yoga comes from breathing control, one of the essential techniques of yoga that helps to reduce stress in complex situations and offers relaxation during episodes of anxiety attacks. Mastery of breathing techniques, taught at an early stage of yoga, is advocated to help relieve stress and depression. The breathing techniques used in the various disciplines of yoga incorporate many cyclical breathing patterns, with slow, focused breathing that calms symptoms of stress and depression.
Other yoga breathing techniques consist of controlled rapid breathing for stimulation, which can help depression by lifting moods, or focused breathing which can also significantly help pain relief, lifting mood and increasing feelings of wellness as pain decreases to a manageable level.
Stress versus spirit
The breathing or relaxation techniques which underpin yoga practice also offer an opportunity to examine and develop a spiritual outlet. Focusing the mind away can reduce a sense of waste which is often present with anxiety and depression, instead offering an alternative method to shift the focus away from negative and powerful thoughts.
Body and mind
The physical benefits of yoga play a part in reducing depression and stress, which many carry as tension in the body, causing pain and resulting in long-term health conditions. The regular practice of yoga can serve to reduce tension hot-spots in the body and decrease the effects of the extra stress this puts on the mind and body.
Additionally, yoga has offered significant relief to many ailments such as respiratory ailments, digestive problems, circulatory problems and arthritis. The benefits of yoga as a natural method of pain relief to physical illness can also reduce anxiety and relieve some of the stress and depression related to living with a chronic health disease.
This way, the mental benefits of yoga poses include reduction of anxiety and depression associated with health conditions by developing body awareness. Practicing yoga reduces mental and physical stress, and decreases strain on the body and helps you develop an understanding of how the body works and responds, methods that, once learned, may be used to control responses and mild depression.
Here Are Tips for Reducing Stress and Depression
1. Practice mindfulness
A depressed mind tends to mull over all that is wrong and worries aimlessly about all the negative possibilities that may develop in the future. This negative thought cycle reinforces depression. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and is a skill that needs to be practiced. More often than not, our brains are full of thoughts, and focusing on the immediate moment seems unnatural.
2. Listen to upbeat music
Have you ever thought of music as food for the soul? An upbeat tune can change a mood instantly and create a more positive vibe. Listening to upbeat, cheerful music alters brain chemistry and can boost your mood.
3. Use touch
Science shows that feeling therapies can help some people overcome depression, lower the stress hormone cortisol and boost the feel-good hormone dopamine. Therapies to consider include acupuncture, acupressure, reiki, massage and reflexology.
4. Think about what you can do for others
When we regularly remain stuck in ‘me and mine,’ it makes room for stress and depression. Instead try and shift your attention to how you can be of meaningful use to other persons. Strengthening yourself with some activity that involves service to others can give you deep happiness.
5. Surround you with positive company
When you spend extra time with positive-minded people, you are influenced by related thoughts that match your overall attitude to life. Only a positive mind can breed pleasure, calm and relaxation.
6. Pray, keep faith and smile!
Prayer is a great form of reassurance and support to keep you anxiety-free. Developing the attitude of daily prayer, chanting or singing bhajans fills you with positive energy and also improves the mind. This instills a sense of deep faith that there is a higher spiritual power that takes care of you. You should also make a conscious attempt to smile more and more. It will instill faith, calmness and positivity instantaneously.
7. Breathe right with pranayamas to relieve stress
Being aware of your breathing can help free the mind of the additional confusion of thoughts that breed anxiety. Try the following breathing practices:
- Kapal Bhati Pranayama
- Bhastrika Pranayama
- Nadi Shodhan Pranayama – effective in releasing stress from the system
- Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath)
So, in this fast paced life, pause and be mindful of your health, both physical and mental. Remember that your diet and lifestyle affect the state of your mind immensely. But once you understand the connection between your mind and body, and vice versa, you will have started the journey to a healthier you.
The numerous mental health benefits for exercise include stress relief, healing depression and general fitness.Yoga is one such exercise that’s been medically proven to be very effective.
So, go ahead, improve your mind and body by having positive vibes, surrounding yourself with positive people, enjoy some good music, meditate and do Yoga!