By Marina Postlethwaite Bowler
In this article #TeamOUsport Staff Tutor and Associate Lecturer Marina Postlethwaite-Bowler explores three mind-body strategies that can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing – yoga, mindfulness and journaling.
Movement is the medicine we all need to nourish mind, body and spirit. The need in these challenging times to nourish the connections between the mind, body and spirit have never been more prevalent. These connections inextricably link into the varied types of yoga you can practise and their unique abilities to develop both psychological and physiological aspects. We sometimes forget our mind and body are connected. We cannot work the body and expect a healthy mind and vice versa. Yoga is an activity that strongly emphasis the mind-body connection. The word Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’ and in Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is used to signify any form of connection. According to Bhagavad Gita (1996) “Yoga is to maintain equilibrium of the mind in any situation”. There are many varied forms of yoga offering “something for everyone”. Yoga Nidra or yogic sleep is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga that typically comes to mind when you think of yoga in general terms. The practice involves breath, body, and mind. Kundalini yoga involves chanting ,singing, breathing exercises and repetitive poses. Its purpose is to activate your Kundalini energy or shakti. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps, commonly known as the limbs of yoga, offer guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. The most recognised limb of yoga is “Asana” which works the physical body and in theory gives the mind a healthy and peaceful place to reside.
Positive psychology, which simply emphasises how and what in our lives is positive and going right, instead of what goes wrong is an important approach to wellbeing and one that is emphasised in yoga. Various studies have shown that positive psychology-based interventions buffer against stress, improve health and productivity, and enhance social connectedness (Vázquez, 2009). Yoga can prove a useful intervention. Positive psychology does not deny the negative; it simply helps you to focus in equal measure on what does work for you and why. Yoga can help to support you in the process of creating a life filled with meaning, purpose, and joyful celebration. Whether it’s a five-minute gentle stretch or a dedicated sixty-minute practice, sometimes it’s all you need to shift gear and turn your day around.
Mindfulness is best defined as “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2004).
You can be mindful in two main ways by:
- Doing simple practices (meditations)
- Being completely in the moment enjoying something simple like eating your lunch so you really taste and appreciate it rather than just gulping it down.
Neuroscience is helping us understand how our brains work and the effect mindfulness can have upon it. It can help keep you calm. Feeling some stress and anxiety around exams, for example, is natural and indeed can help boost performance. It’s when it becomes too much that it becomes a problem. Mindfulness helps calm activity in the part of your brain (the amygdala) associated with worry. Mindfulness can also help increase the neural connections in the front of your brain (hippocampus). This is part of the brain is associated with memory, your ability to solve problems and helps to manage distraction. Chiesa et al. (2011) concluded that mindfulness improves well-being, emotional reactivity, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive abilities, such as selective and sustained attention.
One of the simplest mindfulness practices is focusing in on your breath. This helps create a sense of calm which is great for reducing worry and helps increase your focus and memory and helps you to make better, more skilful decisions. Mindful breathing is a simple practice available to all. Regularly engaging in it can provide benefits such as a reduction in stress, increased calm and clarity, as well as the promotion of happiness (Catherine, 2010; Kar, Shian-Ling, & Chong, 2014).
Try to practise this (e.g., using the the video below) for 10 minutes every day. Find a regular time that works. Slowly you should start to notice yourself becoming calmer. It can work more quickly for some people and more slowly for others. The most important thing is to give it a go and explore with a sense of openness and curiosity. Life is happening right now! Is it about time we reframed the way we live – instead of working toward an ideal future, work toward an ideal present!
Journaling is the process of keeping a record of your personal thoughts, feelings, insights, and more. It can be written, drawn, or typed. It’s a simple, low-cost way of improving your mental health that has been shown to help us shift from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves (Robinson, 2017). Journaling is a great way to channel what’s weighing heavy on your mind and allows you to jot down everything that feels relevant in a safe and non-judgemental space. When you first start journaling it can be hard to know what to write – the fear of the blank page is real! How we overcome this to get us to start writing and break down our barriers is important. Try not to hold back – when we listen to the voice of caution, we deprive ourselves of those exciting and scary experiences and we increase the likelihood of the dreaded ‘what if?’ Keeping a journal can help you fully explore your emotions, release tension, and fully integrate your experiences into your mind (Scott, 2018).
The words of William Wordsworth echo here: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
Here’s a few prompts to get you started…
Daily Journal Prompts
- Set yourself up to keep writing for two minutes – write anything even if you write the same word over and over until something comes into your mind-a great way to “unblock”
- Jot down your thoughts – think about the event/experience you want to write about and have a good old vent about life. Ask yourself what is working? Don’t worry about “rambling” or getting a bit off-track; you can also revisit what you’ve written and clarify or organise it later (Hardy, 2018).
- What isn’t working? What can I change?
- What is important right now? What can wait? How can I prioritise my happiness today? “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life” (Tolle,1999).
- Ask yourself what have I done recently that I am proud of?
- Take time to recognise your hard work.
- Make a list of your aspirations for the future and set some goals to get excited about. Setting goals are linked with higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006)
- Observe/ give thanks for the special things in your life that you often overlook or haven’t appreciate in a while.
- Empty your mind on paper, write what feels relevant.
- Write a reminder or some kind words in the form of a letter and address it to your future self to read when things get overwhelming
Celebrate any wins, anything you realised, overcame and all the ways in which you showed up for yourself this week.
“Everything you need is within you”
Catherine, S. (2010). Focused and fearless: A meditator’s guide to states of deep joy, calm, and clarity. Accessible Publishing Systems.
Chiesa, A. (2014). Are mindfulness-based interventions effective for substance use disorders? A systematic review of the evidence. Substance Use & Misuse, 49, 492–512.
Hardy, B. P. (2017). Why keeping a daily journal could change your life. Medium: The Mission. Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-mission/why-keeping-a-daily-journal-could-change-your-life-9a4c11f1a475
Iyenger B.K.S (1996) Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga, Schocken Books.
Kabat-Zinn, J, (2004) Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life, Piaktus
Kar, P. C., Shian-Ling, K., & Chong, C. K. (2014). Mindful-STOP: Mindfulness made easy for stress reduction in medical students. Education in Medicine Journal, 6(2), 48-56
Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist, 12(4), 290-300.
NhatHanh,T, (1999) The Miracle of Mindfulness, Beacon press.
Robinson, K. M. (2017). How writing in a journal helps manage depression. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression