It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week (16-22nd May) with the focus on “relationships”. Relationships with whom, you might ask? Well, the obvious ones it seems – friends, family, work colleagues etc…but has anyone ever considered that “relationships” also means the relationship with yourself? So often in our daily lives, we neglect this important relationship, giving first to others around us who may need our help, often forgetting that we also require nurturing and loving kindness ourselves. For some, the deterioration in one’s mental health could be attributed towards putting themselves last as they attend to the needs of others, often resulting in a situation where carers themselves start suffering from depression in the process…
The “This is Me” campaign by Barclays is an important initiative, raising awareness about mental health and bringing to light the stories of others and their struggle with mental illness. It also attempts to improve the processes and infrastructure for dealing with mental illness, too often neglected by large institutions as employees disappear into the wilderness of “stress leave”, never to be seen again. The stigma of mental health is another area that the bank attempts to grapple with.
What then does the practice of yoga have to do with all of this? It’s really quite simple, perhaps people don’t even consciously realise it – the yearning desire to attend a yoga class, or even one’s own self-practice, is often a reflection of some deeper need: a time for your own self. A time to get away from it all, to recalibrate, and to breathe.
The very meaning of ‘Yoga’, being in the broadest sense the “union with one’s self”, is really the ultimate way to nurture and take care of his or herself, because in the steadiness and good space of the yoga practice, the transformation of one’s state can be achieved.
A friend of my partner recently remarked on a yoga retreat that she was “angry” with me for taking her yoga teacher away from her, because she was quite miserable in her life at the moment. Whist she did not really mean to upset me, the mere admission of this feeling in a therapeutic setting was evidence that the loss of her favourite yoga teacher was in itself a cause for grief – to grieve the loss of the teacher, but also that she had lost part of herself…
For me, the relationship that I develop with myself during my yoga practice has taught me that the methods by which we as a society are so quick to label and judge others, are actually mere fictions of a consumerist, objective-based culture. The end result is that the suggestion that one is suffering from a particular disorder creates a toxic vicious circle, as the mere identification and association of the self with such a disorder actually creates the very mental health conditions that we know today! Words are like weapons – more so than the actual affliction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, being a case in point. I’m sure that addiction to social media and mobile phones will have its own disorder category one day – all just a product of habit which we have conditioned our bodies and minds to become attached to.
To this extent, the relationship I have developed with myself through my yoga practice has shown me that I am ok. It has shown me that mere feelings of tension and anxiousness are nothing more than sensations and nervous energy – that by simply meditating, breathing or moving, we can shift these subconscious patterns in order to induce calmness and stillness. Anxiety is stopped in its tracks as the body reacts and calms itself down. How then can we label someone as suffering from an “illness” if we have such powerful tools at hand? The reason is that we have created an industry which feeds upon the suffering of others. Ironically, Big Pharma is dependent upon the “ill-being” of these people, where chronic poor health keeps the profits churning.
Mental health is as important as is keeping physically fit and eating well. Sadly, the cases of mental illness are on the rise in the West as we grapple with anxiety and depression. However, the practice of Yoga can be a timely reminder to many that nurturing one’s self is an important part of our daily lives. By developing our own daily self-practice, whatever form it may take, we can learn that nurturing this relationship can result in profound shifts and improvements in our psychological wellbeing and provide a fresh perspective on your human condition.
La santé, c’est la vie (health is life).