12 Yogic Steps to Mental Wellness
Bali May, 2020
We want to take care of our minds just as we brush our teeth – a daily routine to clear our heads just as we clean our teeth to keep both healthy and sane. Instead of waiting for sickness, toothache or a breakdown, why don’t we just prevent?
My father died two years ago from alcohol induced dementia and I got to spent the last 2 years with him. I was in awe, that he could look out the window in the middle of the night and not see the darkness nor the light of the day. Most memory had been erased and he was living in a totally different world – for years. In the last few weeks I had witnessed a very close friend move into deep depression within a few weeks; she is the type who isn’t depressed and is the light of the family. It all happened so fast during the isolation period here in Bali, in despair about the world’s situation – so very fast, that it took us all by surprise. Luckily with good friends and great family around her, she managed to find a good doctor and with the help of medicines, daily swimming, good food and yoga got back really quickly. But she was VERY disciplined and was caught before diving too deep into the darker corners of the mind. Another friend in Bali wasn’t so lucky. Her depression in isolation has taken over her mind so completely, that it turned into an acute psychotic and paranoid disorder. We couldn’t home-care for her any longer and sadly she is in the hospital right now – it deeply affects me, it deeply affects me what the mind can do.
What happened here to our loved ones? And can this happen to me? What can I do?
All these happenings tell me that the mind can take over rapidly in good and in bad times and if things aren’t that rosy-glassed, it can go downhill pretty quickly. I really feel that it is prevention, more than anything these days, that can help you through tough times. Prevention in form of daily routines and practices that we integrate into our days, just like brushing your teeth, to keep us well mentally, so even when things go awry, you can find stability – within. Finding the core of our being that is stable, peaceful and even joyful, no matter what happens around you, is the core of this text. In yoga we call this place atman – the true self.
So, what to do on a practical basis?
I have put together 12 YOGIC STEPS TO MENTAL HEALTH on how to stay sane in a world that sometimes leads us to the edge, but is it really the world that gets us there? Or is it our very own mind, that drives us into insanity?
The Buddha: “
What you think, you become, The mind is everything!
With the help of the 5 Koshas, the yogic layers of your very being, I’m laying out the 12 steps.
click image to enlarge
OUT OF YOUR HEAD, INTO YOUR BODY – PHYSICAL LAYER – ANAMAYA KOSHA
Step 1: Move your body consciously for minimum 30 minutes at least once a day: Walking barefoot through the grass in the morning or taking a walk through nature/park; dancing; jogging; going to the gym; pulling out a yoga mat or going on a bike ride – whatever you choose – get physical and SWEAT ONCE A DAY. Feel your bones, your muscles – your body – the vehicle that drives your soul.
Step 2: Eating a SATTVIC DIET – making sure that the food you eat, supports the body and the actions you undertake. In yoga we focus on a sattvic diet – meaning as pure, clean, fresh, non-violent and individually fit as possible.
Step 3: Take out a moment every day (ideally before your meditation starts, or when you sit in the tram, or even a time out in the office chair) and do a GROUNDING PLUS BODY SCAN – sit quiet and look within, plant your feet or sitting bones firmly onto the ground, feel the connection deeply to the earth, close your eyes, find your breath and see where you in your body you carry tension, where you are hurting, where you feel good, what needs attention, become aware what your body needs. What is the body saying to you? Take a moment out of your very day and listen! Your body is your biggest teacher!
THE BREATH IS EVERYTHING! – PRANAMAYA KOSHA
Step 4: When the BREATH is unsteady, so is the mind – therefore control the breath! Just stop, take a moment and focus on the breath, any time you get stressed, anxious or just need a moment of peace and clarity.
In Yoga we have amazing breathing techniques called PRANAYAMA, which help in various situations – ask your yoga teacher which pranayama fits your current mood or condition. My favorite go-to pranayama is inhale on 4 counts and exhale on 8 through the nostrils while closing my eyes, ideally after a bodyscan, feet firmly anchored on the ground – for 12 rounds. Works for me every time, when I get worked up. Or I love Nadi Shodana – alternate nostril breathing – does the trick every time for me.
TAMING THE MONKEY MIND – MANOMAYA KOSHA
Step 5: Just as the body scan, take time out every day after the body scan or whenever you find a moment to do a MIND & EMOTIONS SCAN – becoming still and listening to your thoughts and feelings. Give them the space to be, observe them, accept them, and without wanting to change them, don’t judge them – just observe them and let them be.
Step 6: Set yourself a DAILY SCHEDULE – it’s not about being strict (of course exceptions are the rule!) and pushing yourself, but it’s about uncluttering your mind and assisting you when you feel overwhelmed. Please find a sample schedule below (created in times of quarantine)
Step 7: KARMA YOGA – giving back, helping someone. When your mind starts to go into fear of survival mode or depression, often the best way out is to help someone else, who really needs assistance. The key is to do it selflessly without asking: what’s in it for me? (… as Mother Theresa handed a bowl to a depressed New Yorker s eeking her help, with the words: “Go feed someone!”)
FINDING WISDOM – VINJANA MAYA KOSHA
Step 8: JNANA YOGA – daily reading of scriptures or journaling, studying the ancient yogic texts or writing down what concerns you, bringing pen to paper, or just writing your daily grateful list, can at times move mountains. Make it your daily sadhana (practice).
Step 9: SVADHYAYA – self-study – which patterns am I repeating? What gets me into trouble? What are my fears? What are my resentments? It is never the others. Blaming others backfires. Where is my part in this? Why am I attracting this situation or this person over and over again? Through working with your teacher, your therapist, a well-meaning, supporting friend, your sponsor (in the 12 step program) or eg doing Byron Katie’s “The Work” you will get to know yourself better and why you are her and how to achieve a peaceful mind and life.
FINDING BLISS – ANANDA MAYA KOSHA
Step 10: BHAKTI YOGA – Handing over all results to a Higher Power, Source, Nature – some call this the Divine, God – but it does not have to be religious or have a name. It is something bigger than you, the universe, your prayer to whomever or whatever – it can be the group spirit of your favorite group. Faith, hope, chanting, mantras, prayers and dance support us on our way, give us magical powers to persevere, show us new ways we haven’t seen yet – there are many more solutions, than the eye or mind can see. There are inspirations, miracles, phenomena … just switching on a song could bring your mind back to reason at the right moment. Let some Bhakti seep into your life every day. Get out of the ego and the microcosm – and dive into the world of unlmited possibilities and abundance of the universal consciousness and macrocosm! Have faith!
Step 11: DHYANA – Regular, extended or meaningful meditations are ultimately the portal to the Universal Consciousness. It goes beyond the physical, but it makes the manifest, earthly suffering easier and more meaningful. There are solutions to questions like, why are we here, why all this, what should I do? Thich Nhat Hanh says, ideally we meditate all day long, in every action we do.
“Without the help of meditation,
you cannot attain knowledge of the self.
Without its aid,
you cannot grow into the divine state.
Without it, you cannot liberate yourself from
the trammels of the mind and attain immortality.
the only royal road to the attainment of freedom.
It is a mysterious ladder,
which reaches from earth to heaven,
from error to truth, from darkness to light,
from pain to bliss,
from restlessness to abiding peace,
from ignorance to knowledge.
From mortality to immortality.”
Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine
Step 12: ANANDA – Joy, bliss – deep contentment with what is – realizing that we are one with the Divine and with everyone and everything else, we dont feel seperated anyloner – we feel complete within ourselves no matter whats going on around us – a deep spark of lightness in the core of our being. The doing and wanting ceases and the abundance of just being is realized. We feel light and our mind is glass clear.
written by Beate McLatchie