August 13, 2023
Now more than ever mental wellness has become quite the commodity. In the midst of global pandemics, financial crises and such it’s no wonder people are losing it. The way that you choose to cope may be the determining factor in whether you maintain or collapse mentally.
We know that the latter is less than stellar. So let’s dive into some ways to maintain by looking at some healthy habits that changed my life.
Now I am a proud yogi of over 2 decades. As cliché as it may sound I can’t begin to tell you how yoga both transformed and saved my life. It’s been the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever I have been at my lowest yoga swooped in and literally saved my mental health.
It’s more than the bends and stretches that do it for me. Instead, it’s primarily the breath work. When I’m in the midst of high stress levels focusing on the breath rather than the chaos going on around me always re-centers me. Always. Every time.
Though before we get into that let’s rewind to see how I came upon this gem.
I first came to learn of this ancient art form in undergrad in an extistential psychology class which, by the way, forever changed my life. We did a breathing exercise and a single yoga pose in class that literally ignited something within me. I was so smitten with the craft that I had to have more. It was a high that I couldn’t get enough of.
So I looked for reasons to practice it. I began with a 15 minute morning practice, then 20. This eventually evolved into the 30 minute morning practice that I still practice to this day.
Having grown up with a parent suffering from clinical depression and bi-polar disorder who more often than not lashed out with hand fulls of finger pointing, blame to circle the world 2 times over and criticizms that could build momuments grossly underestimate the stress that I was under as a teen. To say that I was emotionally overwhelmed would be a fairytale description of my life. Moreover, at that age I had no idea how to process all of this and so unfortunately I internalized.
Internalizing anger was my normal way of life. I was never seduced by the lure of alcohol or any of its likely companions. Instead I favored internalizing. However, this would eventually take its toll so I needed another outlet.
Yoga was that for me. It encouraged me to first identify where I was housing all of this frustration so that I could release it. And release I did. I was obsessed with this new found superpower.
For the first time I felt empowered rather than subjugated. I felt larger than life, invincible even because I no longer had to carry the weight of the world. I was suddenly as light as a feather.
Its actually difficult to effectively articulate this. Myself with so many words am actually short on ways to express just what yoga did for me that was most transformative. I can simply say that it gave me a healthy outlet and offered me more insight into my body. Through yoga I learned that body talk is everything.
Believe it or not your body speaks to you. It does so in the way of tense muscles. Where muscles are tight there is mental distress. Yoga helps you to breathe life-force energy into those areas and in turn release whatever unhealthy thoughts that you are harboring and holding onto so much so that you have offered it safe haven in your body.
This is the awesome power of yoga. It is a guide to living in the present. It is a means of letting go of what no longer serves you and embracing mental, emotional and spiritual well-being instead. This leads me to my next life-saving spiritual practice.
Where life was a problem for me, meditation was the resolve. While yoga empowered me to recongize life’s challenges for what they were meditation gave me the tools to face and overcome those challenges.
I can sum it up in 2 words… Khechari Mudra.
Also known as a “tongue lock/seal” this very special style of meditation is believed to produce Nectar which brings immortality or rather delays aging per various yogic text. I can personally attest to the mind-blowing power of this meditation technique first hand. Through this style of meditation I have gotten through some of the lowest points of my life.
I won’t go into the particulars of how it is practiced, but encourage you to do that on your own, try it and thank me later. I will however, go into how it forever changed me life.
At the doorstep of literally losing everything after being laid off of a very well-paying job… when I had nothing left I had Khechari Mudra.
I was literally in the bows of despair crying myself to sleep every night with absolutely no idea what else to do. Then on one of the many sleepless nights that plagued me during this time I simply began to focus on my breathing. This inevitibly led me to Khechari Mudra.
In the midst of that hurricane of despair this very profound Mudra gave me instant calm and stillness. This in turn offered me clarity and insight to figure a way out. While that way out would end up taking years it forever changed my way of thinking, living and being, which leads me to my next life saving practice…
After losing it all one can’t help but focus on the essentials and the importance of detachment. Though essentialism is currently what many may consider a trend there is nothing new about it.
Many cultures have always practiced this way of life. Essentialism is merely a way of actualizing a life of simplicity, calm, peace and fulfillment, focusing on the things that matter most. It is a focused manner of living that is detached from those external forces that otherwise dictate how you spend your time and energy.
When I was overcome with the stresses of life essentialism was the next logical step. Job loss meant that I would have to shed some of the extras and decide what was most important. For me that was time and self. So I decided not to seek out another job and instead work for myself which birthed my life coaching/yoga instruction business. Focusing on the essentials I built a business that would go on to survive for an entire decade and counting.
This new manner of living inspired me to declutter my life of both things and people. The useless things were of course easier to get rid of then the people. Shedding personal bonds tends to be more difficult. However, there are times when doing so is necessary and the essentialism lifestyle teaches you that.
Throughout life you will grow and evolve and sometimes that means you outgrow certain people and relationships. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s growth. It shows that you are expanding into more than you were. You are elevating. So honing in on the essentials may mean that your focus is redirected. Commonalities that you once shared with some may be no more and you instead develop that with others. This will always be and it’s a sign of growth that should be embraced.
This is what I love most about a life of essentialism. It’s a lifestyle that encourages my expansion and in the most ironic way. By letting go of detachments I gained what was most valuable to me. I opened up myself to a whole new world of abundance and fine living.
What a great segway to my next life changing find…
I have been a vegan for over 2 decades. In fact, I adopted this lifestyle around the same time that I became a yogi. It seems that yoga gave me the inspiration to clean up my body in more ways than one. It all goes back to that body talk and how to listen to it when it speaks.
I initially came into veganism by way of health reasons. Throughout my life as a child I would too often get really sick and each time my carnivorous musings were the culprit. Now I’m not talking a little tummy ache, I’m talking weekly stays in the hospital. The last time was the final straw for me when I literally felt like I was knocking on death’s door after being hospitalized for 3 weeks!
It was then that I said that meat and I must part ways and can be no more. So I officially “went vegan” and never turned back. Do I have any regrets? Well I would say I don’t tend to live with regrets anyway, but this was one life change that was certainly no easy feat. However, no regrets.
When I “went vegan” there weren’t many options at the time so creativity became my close companion. I was a young adult with negative zero cooking skills and not an ounce of culinary know how. When I tell you that I burned boiling water and the fire department had to be called…
So this has been quite the journey for me. It has forced me to grow in ways unimaginable. The delectible creations that I can conjure with plants today would cause younger me to experience mental overload.
Suffice it to say that veganism changed my perspective of food. It seemed that prior so much of my day was spent preoccupied with this attention hog. Veganism simplified things. At the onset of this journey choices were fewer and so meals were repetitive. Oatmeal, peas and rice were my staples. That said, there was no more time being spent excessively pondering what’s for breakfast, then wondering what’s for lunch while eating breakfast to then begin obsessing over what’s for dinner in the midst of lunch.
I never before knew a life where food wasn’t so centerstage. It is merely nourishment, sustenance and nothing more.
With this new found wisdom I inhereted so much time to focus on other things of interest and that’s exactly what I did.
So I guess that you could say that veganism redirected my focus and in the most exceptional way. It changed my whole manner of thinking about food and gave me the clarity of mind and body that I so needed. It encouraged me to dive still deeper which brings us to my next healthy life changing habit….
Once veganism gifted me with the insight of shedding food obsessions I craved more of this goodness. It was fasting that would present itself as the next teacher.
When fasting and I met I was a more than eager student. By the time we met I had garnered the association of other like-minded tree huggers who introduced us.
Now I’m not gonna lie to you and say that our time together was all sunshine and roses. We literally hated each other initially. Fasting was a pain in my ass (pun intended). Of course, when I first decided to fast every challenge that could present itself did.
There was the luncheon at work, the cookout invite, the fact that my children weren’t fasting and needed to actually have cooked meals daily. I couldn’t catch a break and fasting and I just couldn’t seem to find the time that we needed to be alone so that we could get to know one another.
Despite my being in the fight of my life trying to be with this dude, fasting just would not let up and cut me any slack. No excuse was exceptable. Each time I tried, it just stood there giving me that snobbish glare as if it just could not entertain my making excuses.
So in my competitive way I gave into the fast. Mind over matter was my mantra and it worked. A day at a time, always present, always focused inward I succeeded and to this day fasting is my most prolific life changer. It is the single most giving practice that I hold dear and always turn to in my darkest of hours.
Need clarity, do a fast. Need healing, do a fast. Need weight loss, do a fast. Need to cleanse, do a fast. Whatever the need a fast is there to fulfill it. The benefits are endless and if it helps any they are backed by science. From lowering blood pressure to boosting brain functions and self discipline fasting is most wonderful.
Speaking of self discipline while it is not quite a thing like all the others on the list it is still one of my most prized life changing practices that is coincidentally a byproduct of all the others.
Of course yoga, meditation, essentialism, veganism, and fasting all required self-discipline. So in a way I guess its the chicken before the egg or the egg before the chicken thing (or whatever). At either rate it was self discipline that first got things started.
Self-discipline requires a strong will and is necessary to succeed at anything in life. Efforts to accomplish anything will prove fruitless without it.
So if you’ve gained nothing else from what I’ve said in this article please receive this. This whole thing called life began with and will end with you… Self. That’s what this whole thing is about. It’s a journey of self-discovery and that is what is truly life changing. It’s also the most integral of all the healthy habits that changed my life.
What are some of yours? And in what ways did they enrich your life?