Written by Lauren Weaver
Well-being is a multi-faceted topic that varies widely in definition and in attainment. Yet, it is something that individuals and communities strive to attain with varying degrees of success. The things most challenging in life are often the most worth pursuit and, in Kentucky, there is a real need for attention in the arena of well-being.
Serious mental illness in the bluegrass state is significantly more common than the average national according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Kentucky also exhibits the absolute lowest levels of exercise in the nation per the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. Studies continue to demonstrate again and again that there is a connection between exercise and mental health. With the contributions yoga gives to both physical and mental health, it is an increasingly rewarding option.
There is a lot of information out there right now surrounding yoga, which isn’t crazy considering there are numerous spin-offs of yoga throughout history. Let’s turn directly to an authoritative text on yoga dating back to 400CE, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, to see what it insights it might provide on mental well-being.
We will focus on a few sections about the mind since yoga is defined as “the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions” (sutra 1.2). Yoga practice is commonly associated with yoga classes and the physical exercises but “the practice of Yoga must reduce both physical and mental impurities. It must develop our capacity for self-examination and help us to understand that, in the final analysis, we are not the masters of everything we do” (sutra 2.1).
According to this text, interruptions to mental clarity produce tangible symptoms. Specifically, “there are nine types of interruptions to developing mental clarity: illness, mental stagnation, doubts, lack of foresight, fatigue, overindulgence, illusions about one’s true state of mind, lack of perseverance, and regression. They are obstacles because they create mental disturbances and encourage distractions” (sutra 1.31) and these “produce one or more of the following symptoms: mental discomfort, negative thinking, the inability to be at ease in different body postures, and difficulty in controlling one’s breath” (sutra 1.31). How do you experience these interruptions and symptoms in your life?
Means of steadying the mind to halt interruptions and, consequently, symptoms are offered:
- Breathing exercises involving extended exhalation (sutra 1.34)
- Inquiry in to the roles of the senses (sutra 1.35)
- Inquiry in to what life is and what keeps us alive (sutra 1.36)
- Counsel from someone who has mastered similar problems (sutra 1.37)
- Inquiry into dreams and sleep and experiences around these states (sutra 1.38)
- Any inquiry of interest (sutra 1.39)
Each person is unique and we all have different needs and preferences. It is important to determine how to attain your optimal well-being and also support others as they seek well-being.
We’ve looked at tools for addressing mental health from a yogic perspective. Modern health institutions also provide tips for maintaining mental health. Here are a just few that align with the yogic wisdom shared above:
- Practice relaxation techniques
- Use mindfulness practice
- Practice yoga
- Talk to those who can offer support
- Spend time with friends
- Seek to understand your thoughts and feelings
- Do things that are meaningful
- Learn a new skill
- Cultivate a hobby
How do the items above cultivate your well-being? What else aids your pursuit of an optimal lifestyle that isn’t listed above? Are there any changes you can make in your life to be even more well? How can you support others in their own pursuits of well-being? Can we all strive for well-being together?
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