Mindfulness therapy is sometimes referred to as mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy. To simplify that, mindfulness therapy is best thought of as the therapeutic combination of “mind over matter” and “living in the moment.” At its heart, mindfulness therapy is built from the ground up as a set of techniques revolving around encouraging a person to focus on the stimuli in and around them, to calm down, and offer relief from stress and a variety of mental disorders.
Like many successful therapy tools, mindfulness began first as an experimental therapy tool – in this case, for depression. However, as it became clear that the techniques work, and their mechanisms became better understood, it’s become applicable to a wide range of different diagnoses. While the premise for mindfulness is extremely simple – giving the present your undivided attention – it’s deceptively difficult to maintain, and thus utilize as a self-therapy tool. But with a little prior training, it’s one of the simplest forms of therapy to take home with you.
Mindfulness is the conceptual half of the mindfulness therapy core, and is easily described as the capacity a person has for focusing on the present, on what’s within and around them. This gauges a person’s ability to stay focused on the now like meditation – the idea here is not to dwell, reminisce, or reflect on the past at inappropriate times, but it’s also not to spend every waking minute completely focused on the now, without ever looking back.
As with anything, balance is important. Mindfulness as a pursuit for mental health isn’t necessarily meant to be a quality you should strive for always. Rigidity is far more dangerous than not being present can be, and flexibility is needed for a strong emotional base. We live in a world where the ability to take a deep breath and focus on your breathing and the air around you can sharpen your sense of self, and even allow you to dig deeper into your emotions.
We’re human, and it’s natural for us to use the past as a guide for the future – and reflecting on our past is a natural form of growth. But in many mental disorders, dwelling on the past is a symptom that can actively worsen your mental state, forcing you to dwell on painful memories and negative experiences. Mindfulness, then, becomes a clear path towards helping an individual control their emotions, discover more about themselves, and find relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, addiction and a host of other issues.
Aside from a form of relief, however, mindfulness’ greatest strength lies in its ability to teach you how to innately diagnose your emotions and thought patterns, allowing you to catch yourself in needless negative thinking and turn it around before it develops into something deeper.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a very common form of psychotherapy involving the relationship between thoughts and behavior. It’s a form of therapy that utilizes short-term goal-oriented sessions to teach patients how to better deal with their mental disorder, even without medication, by way of behavioral adaptation (healthy coping). In a way, CBT can be described as replacing negative thought with positive thought – but that might invite misconception. Negative thoughts are different from actual negative feeling. You can be an optimist and still acknowledge when you’re in a bit of a pickle with life. The goal here isn’t to live in a perfect mental utopia where you’re happy all the time – it’s in having an outlook that affords you the ability to seek out happiness, even in the darkest of times.
As mentioned above, mindfulness therapy could be summarized as a combination of CBT and mindfulness – combining the concept of active living, with a purposeful and constructive analysis on your thoughts and behavior. In total, it’s a therapeutic technique that enhances one’s exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors by inviting them to become more and more aware through the use of mindfulness. Mindfulness Therapy can be used in a wide variety of circumstances to assist someone in changing the way they react to their inner and outer stimuli, or triggers.
Take anxiety as an example. For instance, it’s very common for a person with anxiety to be triggered by a certain thought. That thought can then lead to more anxiety, which can in turn stimulate more negative thinking and fear – it becomes a vicious cycle. Mindfulness therapy supplants that with a line of thinking that gives people the means to usurp the negative cycle and instead put in place a reliable evidence-based method of self-control.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a vicious cycle of negative thought and emotional distress, CBT and mindfulness therapy can be the turning point you need.
Yoga is ancient. It’s hard to say how ancient exactly, but it is safe to assume that as a spiritual and physical practice, yoga has been around for well over 2,000 years. Why? Because it works – it works as a way to stay healthy, a way to keep sharp, and a way to build a healthy spiritual outlook on life.
Yoga is a collection of motions and positions that are partially pursued for fitness, and partially because they challenge the mind, exercise it, and by extension are meant to embolden and shape the human spirit. While most of us are familiar with basic yoga posture and some simple flows – such as the famous sun salutation – yoga is an all-encompassing structure of physical movement that includes everything from hyperventilation and calming breathing exercises, to gymnast-level strength training and balance exercises. But while the physical benefits are visually obvious, the less obvious facets to yoga are found within the practitioner’s mind.
Yoga and the Human Mind
On a mental level, however, yoga has been practiced for countless generations as way to clear the mind, and focus solely on the toils, hardships and challenges of moving and mastering the human body. Aside from offering a form of fitness, yoga is physically therapeutic as well, releasing tension and acting as a stretching counterforce to the demanding contractions and tolls of physical sports, such as full-contact martial arts and field sports.
Mentally, yoga is a physical practice that comes packaged with an extensive philosophy regarding the relationship between mind and body, with mindfulness being at the forefront of importance during yoga exercises.
Breathing is done rhythmically and in a controlled fashion, so as to provide the practitioner something simple to follow, hold onto and focus on instead of drifting away into aimless thinking. This mindfulness within the practice of yoga allows patients to utilize simple yoga exercises as way to both physically and mentally unwind, and pull themselves into a calming mental state with a simple movement.
Yoga’s other benefit to the mind – especially to patients with stress, depression and anxiety-related issues – is its ability to act as a form of fitness. Physical exertion is a great way to combat mental health issues, as it provides a way to boost a person’s body image and physical confidence, as well as call for the natural release of dopamine. Yoga’s relaxing effect on the musculature also doubles as a way to relieve stress, by calming your down, slowing your heartbeat, and decreasing overall tension and soreness in the body. Because of its simplicity and efficacy as a way to relax, release physical tension, build overall strength and flexibility and focus on mindfulness, yoga is an excellent auxiliary therapeutic tool in the interest of teaching patients how to feel better and more at-home within their own body.
If you or your loved ones are under tension and stress due to depression, anxiety, or another mental diagnosis, then picking up yoga could do wonders.
The human mind and the human body are inexplicably linked – we need our mind to move our body, and our body to help our mind understand the world around us. With these truths, it’s only natural to see why keeping a healthy body is often vital to maintaining a healthy mind, so long as the circumstances allow it. As a tool for psychiatric therapy, fitness is surprisingly flexible and easily applied into a patient’s life. While the initial push from a sedentary lifestyle is always a massive challenge, the beauty in fitness as a therapy tool is that it’s as individualized as a form of therapy can get.
Fitness is a personal distinction, with a broad range of possibilities and options. Going for a light run four or five times a week – enough to break a sweat and feel a little sore – is a great way to keeping fit, losing weight, reducing stress, regulating mood and even feeling more comfortable and secure within one’s body.
At the same time, however, starting fitness for mental health reasons can be the perfect entry point to finding and falling in love with a sport – and turning to a life of amateur competitions, five or six two-hour training sessions a week, a new line of social engagements and a stronger, more attractive physique. There is no strict definition, no necessary plan or highly-specific training program. Everyone has the choice and chance to pick and choose a form of exercise they enjoy, from dancing to water sports. There’s only one rule when using fitness as a therapy tool: consistency.
What Physical Exercise Does to the Mind
Our bodies have evolved not just to be used to a specific physical degree, but more importantly, to adapt to a wide range of living conditions. Human beings can change their dietary patterns and sleeping cycles, adapt to nearly any Earthly climate, survive strange new diseases and keep enough of our wits about us to survive under the strangest of conditions, even without any training. We’re tough. We’re very tough.
But that doesn’t mean that every living condition is ideal. Our body, for example, needs a specific minimum amount of exercise to prevent rapid aging – the old adage of “use it or lose it”. Even our cognitive capabilities are affected by our physical habits, as research on dementia shows. Exercise – as little as a few hours a week – directly reflects on a person’s mental state, and can help them stay young in an older body. Some of the mental benefits researchers have observed when committing to a simple moderate exercise plan include:
- Improved sleep and appetite
- Better sex drive and physical endurance
- Stress relief, positive adaptive behavior
- Weight loss/gain relative to physical condition
- Improved health and mood
As a tool in psychiatry, the first and most researched benefits to moderate aerobic exercise is reduced anxiety and reduced symptoms of depression. Boosted self-esteem, regular dopamine release and improved cognitive function are just a few of the reasons why going for a little run now and again can help keep negative thinking at bay. Exercise has even proven to be vital in managing schizophrenia, as this diagnosis is often paired with increased risk for obesity, and as a result, plummeting mood and behavioral issues.
Whether or not you have mental health problems, picking up exercising as a regular habit is something every able-bodied human should give a try. But for you or your loved ones diagnosed with a mental disorder, fitness can be an unlikely savior.