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June 25, 2019

The One Thing we can do to Boost our Mental Health Every Damn Day.

 

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Meditation is fast becoming a popular fix for personal development, stress relief, and mental health.

Ancient yogis used meditation for spiritual progress and enlightenment, but it’s still totally relevant to the modern world and modern problems.

I like to think of meditation as an iPod, filling your ears with the music of inner peace and outer dynamism, and helping you become unconditionally happy, loving, lively, ever-grateful, open-minded, calmly energetic, and focused—all signs of good mental health. 

Meditation is the seventh limb of the eight-limb yoga system.

My meditation journey has traveled through several different shades, from an initial “Wow,” to “It’s not my cup of my tea,” to complete disinterest to some interest, and, today, it has reached a point where I can’t go a day without it!

Here are some important lessons I’ve learned along my meditation path:

1. Choose the right tools to deal with mental health issues.

My initial encounter with meditation was during my first ever yoga teacher training around two decades ago, when our teacher guided us into a beautiful meditation. It was a great experience.

If you are new to meditation, guided meditations are a great way to get your zen on!

Back then, I didn’t quite understand the idea of doing asana (yoga postures) or meditation on a daily basis as a “practice.” Even though I had many emotional issues in my 20s and 30s, it had never occurred to me that I had some amazing mental health tools at my fingertips. I wish I had a bit more knowledge and guidance during those days. Not only would I have helped myself, but I’d have helped many others, too.

Those days, books on “the power of positive thinking,” “visualization and affirmation,” and other such self-help tools were flooding the market. I too looked to them for support. They helped me to some extent, but only at a very superficial level.

After several years of daily yoga and meditation, I’ve realized that these are such powerful tools to bring emotional stability, security, and maturity. They work at a deep level. It’s really no wonder that scientific research is now confirming the many benefits of meditation, including improving your mental health, changing your brain and the way your body responds to stress, and even changing your genes.

Yoga and meditation are some of the best coping skills or practices that you can learn if you’re suffering from any mental health issues. In fact, they’re so powerful that many doctors are recommending them as a course of treatment for mental health issues before turning to medication.

2. Listen to your inner voice.

Vipassana is an ancient form of meditation popularized by Gautama Buddha. Using the breath as an anchor, it relies on self-transformation through focused self-observation.

I first tried Vipassana meditation at the recommendation of a friend. I loved it, but I had trouble sustaining a daily practice of it for the same reasons I’ve mentioned above: I didn’t understand the importance of consistency. 

Years passed. My emotional issues—poor confidence, an inferiority complex, a sense of insecurity, nervousness, anxiety, mood swings, and unexplained aches and pains in the body—continued, and, in fact, they were becoming worse. From the outside, I was all good, but inside, these issues were suffocating me. I wanted to live life to my full potential. I wanted freedom.

In the midst of this struggle, something inside of me told me to get into regular practice of asanas and pranayamas (breathing practices) to take care of my achy body. Pretty quickly, I found some relief, and that excited me so much that I began to teach yoga to a few friends and neighbors whenever I got some free time outside of my regular work. 

During this time, I had to move to Bangalore for work. Here, I started my small yoga studio and began teaching yoga and how to live healthily on a regular basis.

I loved it. My students loved it. My life started changing. 

3. Consistency and perseverance pay off big time.

My interest in studying yoga became more intense and serious, and I decided to take some more yoga workshops and retreats to expand my experience and knowledge. One of them was The Happiness Program, in which I learned a powerful breathing practice called Sudarshan Kriya. Finally, a friend introduced me to a meditation workshop in which I was officially initiated into a meditation practice called Sahaj Samadhi meditation.

Sahaj” means effortless, and “Samadhi” means a state of equanimity or bliss. Coined by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a globally renowned meditation expert, Sahaj Samadhi meditation, as the name suggests, is an easy, enjoyable, and effective meditation technique. This ancient meditation uses a specific technique of mantra, or sound vibration, to help one go deep into the meditative state to experience profound inner peace and bliss.

The really unique thing about these two workshops was that the participants were encouraged to take on a challenge to practice these tools consistently for 40 days. This challenge hooked me into the daily routine of Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation, and they became an integral part of my day.

Over a period of a few months, I turned into a completely different person, bubbling with confidence, cheerfulness, liveliness, enthusiasm, clarity of mind, creativity, restful sleep, and a deep sense of security. I was transformed in ways that I didn’t think were possible. Of course, I am still a work in progress, and my metamorphosis continues, but on a very different plane. 

These two techniques have become part of my life and my daily routine, and I’ve been practicing for about a decade now. I show up on my mat no matter what, because I know the rewards are totally worth it.

4. Silence is so nourishing.

For the last seven years, I have made it a point to attend two silent retreats every year. Besides the many other benefits silence offers, I have found that a short period of silence enhances the quality of my daily meditations to a great extent. Every time I come back from a silent retreat, my daily practice takes me to a deeper level.

5. Connecting your meditation practice to a higher cause is incredibly rewarding.

As my journey continues, I have come across several scientific studies that have proven that large group or mass meditations help in bringing about a great positive impact. As unbelievable as it may seem, large group meditation helps in reducing acts of crime and violence and creating positive social, political, and economic results. Besides my daily practice of Sahaj Samadhi, I meditate in small and big groups on a regular basis. 

While individual practice is like tapas (the Sanskrit word for penance), group or mass meditation is like a yagya (the Sanskrit word for spiritual celebration) that raises not only the individual consciousness but also raises the collective consciousness that brings about the desired positive change.

How wonderful is that? While you are meditating, you can actually contribute to the greater good of the world! 

I meditated in a humongous group for the first time with 3.5 million other people during the World Cultural Festival in New Delhi, India. Yep, you read that correctly! The experience was unbelievably wonderful and impossible to put into words. You need to experience it personally to really get what I’m talking about.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to not miss such opportunities to meditate with large groups, whether online or in person. Soon, I am also going to meditate with an estimated 20,000 Americans for creating awareness for mental health and peace in America in Denver, Colorado, on July 24th. This is a cause that is close to my heart. Amidst the increasing incidences of violence across the United States and the whole world, such collective efforts to increase the awareness for addressing mental health issues definitely requires the participation of thousands to bring about a positive change.

An “Om” a day keeps the suffering away!

Here are my final two cents: if you have found a meditation practice that is deeply resonating with you, just stick to it and practice it daily to reap all those juicy benefits.

Just as brushing your teeth every day helps your dental health and hygiene, similarly, meditating every day helps your mental health and hygiene. It’s the best way to start your day with a peaceful, centered mindset—a mental state we all strive to be in.

I wish you the best, and hope that you find your sweet spot soon!

Let your daily meditation practice nourish your mental health and help you to live your life to the fullest.

~

Watch my meditation video on Instagram.

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author: Sejal Shah

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