Yoga & Mental Health

My daughter’s car has been making a retched noise, loud enough I am certain the neighbors are ready to endorse a disorderly vehicle covenant.  We have had it in the shop several times, each time coming back “fixed” yet that pestilent breach of peace persists.  Alas, our car maintenance quest continues.

It is easy to justify taking a vehicle to the shop when there is an obvious shake or noise; it is quantifiable - you can feel or hear it.  On the other hand, when we feel unwell mentally over half of us will wait at least a year before seeking treatment, and others won’t seek treatment at all.  Although there is an obvious disruption to our health, we ignore it, delay treatment, pretend it doesn’t exist, and may try to hide it from others.  Even in 2020, mental health issues remain a taboo subject.

Mental Health: Allopathic Point of View

Mental health is defined as a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people and the ability to adapt to change to cope with challenges.  Mental illness is the term that refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders.  

Mental Health: Ayurvedic Point of View

Complete health is defined as the perfect balance of mind, body, and soul.  Since neither can be separated from the other, if one is out of balance, they are all out of balance.  Therefore, complete health in Ayurveda requires homeostasis within and between all systems - mind, body and soul - and all Doshas - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.  

Prevalence of Mental Health Issues

The state of mental health in America is not only alarming but has been declining steadily since 2011.  Throw in a pandemic, job loss, economic uncertainty, and lack of insurance and the statistics become more worrisome.

  • Mental health issues are associated with significant morbidity and disability issues
  • Lifestime prevalence rates for any kind of psychiatric disorder affect nearly half the population
  • Despite being common, mental illness is underdiagnosed by clinicians despite patients meeting diagnostic criteria
  • Over 60% of people suffering from a mood disorder (depression, anxiety, or substance use) do not seek treatment within the first year of experiencing symptoms.

(World Health Organization, May 14, 2019)

Making the Change

We all have mood fluctuations and no one is happy every day.  The mental chatter that carries on in our heads can become overwhelming and exhausting if we don’t take steps to clear the mind.  Although Yoga is a great form of exercise, the main objective of the practice is to quiet the mind.  Finding an hour of mental stillness is exceptionally restorative and therapeutic (Sattvic), especially when other parts of your life are filled with chaos, anxiety, and noise (Rajas).  A skilled and knowledgable Yoga practitioner can guide you through a balanced practice that temporarily calms or stops fluctuations of the mind leading to a very peaceful presence.

Most of us get regular physicals or screenings, like pap smears and mammograms, and go to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned.  We get our hair trimmed regularly and even our pets have grooming appointments booked out for months.  Mental health requires the same dedication and effort.  I have always told my children and patients it’s as important to take care of your mind as it is your heart or lungs - “always have a therapist in your back pocket”.  Don’t wait for a crisis before you seek help.  Find someone who resonates with you, establish a relationship with them, and when something like a pandemic happens, you know who to call.

We All Have Mental Health Issues

In our lifetime, statistics suggest we have a 50/50 chance of having a diagnosable “mental health issue”.   Considering we have nearly a 100% chance of developing a diagnosable “physical health issue”, I am surprised the statistic isn’t higher.  Here are some things you can do to stay on top of your mental health game:

  • Be your own health advocate.  Know when you aren’t feeling balanced and seek help.  If you do it for your car, do it for yourself.
  • Know your own normal.  What is normal for someone else may not be what is normal for you.
  • Know what has worked for you in the past.  Is it talk therapy?  A cleanse?  Yoga? Medication?  Abhyanga? Herbs?  Do you.
  • Be honest to yourself and others. Everyone has issues: it’s easier to hide behind a fake persona of idealism and perfection than to be human & humble.
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
― Lao Tzu

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