World Mindfulness day - How Mindfulness Helped Me
Today is world mindfulness day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the value and benefit of mindfulness. I decided to take this opportunity to share how my mindfulness practice helped me to overcome my mental health challenges and inspired me to teach yoga.
“Yoga is the journey of the self through the self, to the self” - The Bhagavad Gita
My yoga practice began with asana. I took my first class in Kundalini yoga in 2010. As someone with a background in performing arts, dance and competitive athletics, I thought I was fit. However, that Kundalini class was a serious challenge. The practice of merging breath with movement made me shake and gasp and on several occasions I thought I might keel over. After that I didn’t take a class for a while.
When I returned to the mat, I began taking classes in gyms, where there was little mention of mindfulness, meditation, or yoga philosophy. So, I came to associate yoga practice with mindful movement and (forgive me) stretching. Granted, not an uncommon beginning to a yoga journey.
Later on, I began to incorporate meditation and philosophy into my home practice. I’d heard about mindfulness and meditation and how it could be beneficial to one's mental health and after finishing my BA in Fine Art I needed some clarity and direction. It was through the addition of these practices, at a time when I was in dire need of it, that I reached new planes in my practice. I found a combination of practices benefited me far beyond heightened body awareness, strength and flexibility. They brought mental clarity, self awareness and a new-found joy to my life.
Some of the most important lessons yoga has taught me is self awareness and self responsibility. It has enriched my life in uncountable ways and I feel blessed to be here now because of it. Because I found my Self.
For a long time I was lost in a dark depression, so anxious that I could hardly get out of bed at times. I was stuck in my inner world and it was dark there.
I have lived with depression since childhood, and with anxiety since my adolescence. It pains me to say that; to see my child self and recall the thoughts and feelings I lived with. Instinctively I think no child should have to suffer that. But, I remind myself that without the struggles I have overcome, I would not be here writing this now.
The mind is a precious thing. We have thousands of thoughts per day and we repeat most of these same thoughts every day. So, if we are stuck in a vicious cycle of negative thinking and action, it can be devastating to our lives and incredibly difficult to work our way out of it. For some, like me, it may even have felt impossible.
The most meaningful impact yoga has made in my life is the change it has affected in my mental health. My depression defined me for a long time. I used to believe that I could not do, have or be anything because of it.
There is no doubt that it was not quite as simple as my hopping on a yoga mat, having a divine revelation, and being ‘cured’. It was hard and painful, and I had to do it on my own. Not what I wanted to hear after feeling alone in my depression for so long.
But, it was my journey, my recovery and my responsibility. It eventually revealed to me what had always been true, that I was enough. I have the power and the tools to make change in myself, for myself and my life. When I was frustrated and just wanted to be ‘well’, it taught me patience, humility and perseverance.
“Yoga gave me agency.”
Through meditative practices, and mindful observation of my thoughts and emotions I gained insight and control over my thoughts. By practicing mindfulness I became aware of all that I was doing, cultivating suffering in my own life. There were definitely things that went on and were contributing factors that were beyond my control. Not everyone might be able to meditate their way to better mental health. However it can be beneficial to everyone, to be more mindful of how negative thought patterns affect us, and gradually learn how we can deal with them.
I didn’t do it all alone though. It took me years to tell anyone how I was feeling and even longer to trust anyone to help me deal with it. Along the journey, I also had the help and support of psychologists, therapists, friends, family and years of self study and reflection. I was determined to do everything I could to get myself out of a black hole, so I tried everything. It’s not easy. But, I definitely recommend talking to someone you trust and seeking the help of a professional if you think you might harm yourself.
I have kept journals constantly since I was a child and had a keen interest in figuring out what I thought was ‘wrong’ with me. For years I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Now I am fully appreciative of the importance of sharing what is going on internally when things get bad. You are never alone and there is never only one way out.
Whatever mindfulness practice you choose, try observing how it affects you. How you feel before, during and after and make a note of it, or journal your progress. Keeping a written record can really help as a reminder if ever you are feeling low again.
Persevere. Pattabhi Joyce says, “practice and all is coming.” Let your mindful practices be your rock, especially when you really really don’t want to do them. That is often when you need them most.
Even when I feel like I don’t have control over my body, mind and life, I now know that I have the tools to get me there. I practice every day to keep them sharp and ready for when I need them.
“Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha.” Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. - Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 1.2
This is my most repeated yoga quote, my personal mantra. It reminds me how yoga saved, and continues to save, me. It helped put to rest the negative thoughts I had been living with for most of my life. It proved to me that they did not have to define my existence.
I’m so grateful for everything that has brought me to this moment, to this community, including my mental health challenges. I have learnt much through this experience. Yoga gave me life, it gave me agency, purpose and hope. As a yoga teacher I share my experience and knowledge with the intention that it may help guide others on the path.
I hope that sharing this might be a little light for anyone out there in the dark.
In love and light,
If you are experiencing or have been affected by mental health issues. Here are some links and resources:
In an emergency it is possible to visit your local Accident and Emergency department and ask to see the duty psychiatrist or call the National Emergency Service.
National nurse-led helpline providing medical advice. If it is not available in your area, you will hear a message inviting you to ring the Health Information Service instead.
Phone: 0845 4647 (0845 4 NHS)
Helpline providing information on mental health. Also offers emotional and crisis support to people experiencing mental illness, their family/carers and friends.
Phone: 0845 767 8000 (12pm- 2am every day) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.sane.org.uk
Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.
Mind has confidential help and advice on a range of mental health issues. Also has a diverse range of information, leaflets, factsheets and publications – including pharmaceutical and complementary treatments; mental health conditions; positive mental health and rights for service users. Provides information and support to people with experience of mental ill health and to carers.
The UK’s leading charity, committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people. Driven by the experiences of children, young people, parents and carers, YoungMinds raises awareness of children and young people’s mental health and provides expert knowledge through training, outreach work, publications and a telephone helpline for parents and carers.
Helpline: 0808 802 5544, Monday-Friday, 10:00am-4:00pm and Wednesdays, 6:00pm-8:00pm Email: Email form (use the on the YoungMinds website ) Website: www.youngminds.org.uk