Mantras for Mental Health
It was one of those days – as soon as I wake up, there’s an onslaught of thoughts barreling towards me, pinning me down. My body feels heavy, inert. The only thing that feels within reach is lying in my bed, breathing. I can listen to a guided meditation. I can watch my breath. Slowly, I can start doing some yoga in my bed. Only then does getting out of bed feel possible. Taking it one step at a time is the only way to get anything done on a day like today, where the weather outside is dreary and my mind is overwhelmed and anxious from the minute I wake up.
It took me a long time to get to a place where this was what happened on mornings like these. Where waking up feeling weighted didn’t lead to just more panic, more thoughts spinning, more heaviness as I wondered why I felt this way and why I couldn’t just get up and be bubbly and excited.
This journey started with a yoga practice. My mat was my refuge. When I felt anxious or overwhelmed, I knew that I could head to my mat and regroup, reground, and step off of it, feeling a little more in control. Except, that it only worked if I had the energy to get to my mat. What if the thought of getting out of bed, rolling out my mat, and committing to a half hour practice or an hour practice, felt like too much?
It wasn’t until I did my yoga teacher training, that I found the tools I needed to help with this inertia. My training transformed my practice from one that happened only on the mat, to one that lived and breathed with me, meeting me wherever I was on a particular day or in a particular moment.
When it comes to supporting my mental health, yoga is always my starting point.
The first tool I regularly turn to is the principle of abhyasa and vairagya. In very simple terms, it means to do the thing and to let it go. It’s about doing whatever it is that you plan to do, but letting go of the outcome.
For me, this looks practically like taking life one step at a time. I know ultimately where I’m headed or what needs to get done down the line, but if I think about all those things and about all the uncertainty around them, I become paralyzed. It’s too much. So instead, I focus only on what I need to get done right now: this assignment, this job application, this breath. I do that one thing, and stop focusing day to day on where it’s leading.
This morning, getting out of bed, was easier when I stopped thinking about where I needed to end up, and instead focused only on what I could do in that moment: listening to my breath, rolling into a twist and then a cobra, doing some cat/cow, until stepping out of bed was right in front of me.
The other tool that I use to stop the onslaught of thoughts that drive anxiety (or depression) is a mantra. A mantra is simply the story you’re telling yourself. When we’re feeling anxious, we usually have a lot of unconscious mantras running through our heads, telling ourselves we can’t do it, or we’re not good enough, or the world is about to end (to exaggerate, but that’s what it can sometimes feel like). Trying not to think these thoughts is futile – you can’t stop your thinking. What you can do is practice another mantra, and the more you practice it, the stronger it will get.
Lately, my mantra has been “Life flows through me with ease”. I practice this mantra all the time – on my mat, when I wake up, when I’m walking down the street. The more I practice it, the more it becomes habit. The closer it becomes to a habit, the easier it is to recall when I really need it – when my mind is spinning and my heart is racing. I can use that mantra to slice apart the negative voice running in circles in my head. I have an anxious thought and instead of following that thought down the rabbit hole, I repeat, “Life flows through me with ease”. I repeat it in my head over and over again, as many times as I need to. Every time I feel a surge of anxiety, I repeat my mantra. And you know what? I still feel that first jolt of anxiety, but I don’t get lost in it. I take it one step at a time.
If you asked me this morning how my day was going to go, I wouldn’t have imagined it going this way. In that moment, it didn’t seem possible. But one step at a time, one mantra at a time, we can make it where we want to go.
By Kiara Elliott
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