Written by Emma Newlyn, a yoga teacher and therapist at Emma Newlyn Yoga
Whilst there may not be an abundance of positives to choose from during the coronavirus pandemic, we benefit on every level from training our minds to look for silver linings and positive actions.
The state of ‘well-being’ involves looking after all aspects of who we are, from our physical fitness and immune health, to our cognitive function, emotions and outlook on life.
To put it simply: when our minds are strong and feeling good, we feel a whole lot better and are more resilient when it comes to dealing with challenging situations.
Here are some ways you can help to keep your mind strong, active and healthy.
Positive thinking during isolation
When you’re having a bad day, remember these key things:
You are not alone
If you’re finding this period of isolation and unpredictability difficult, first of all, know that you’re not alone – almost the entire planet is in the same boat right now.
Know that it’s okay not to feel okay
Isolation and solitary confinement are usually reserved for criminals, so it’s supposed to be difficult.
Photo: Eliza10 CC-BY SA 2.0
Positive [distr]actions during isolation
Keeping busy can provide a welcome distraction and help keep negative thoughts at bay.
Find a focus
Whether it’s finally writing that book, developing a meditation practice, designing home workouts, cleaning up your diet, or simply learning what it’s like to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. These few weeks or months are an opportunity to get to know yourself in a whole different light.
Begin a gratitude list
Try noting down five things you’re grateful for each day (studies show that gratitude actually boosts immunity and lowers the risk of disease) .
Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill, such as learning an instrument or language has been shown to increase brain health and slow cognitive ageing .
Record your positive actions
For the times when you’re feeling down and demotivated, keep a journal or blog about your daily achievements, things you’re grateful for, and the things you’ve learnt each day. You could even post a photo of one thing you’re grateful for each day on Instagram. Refer back to these when you’re having a bad day, to help you remember the reasons to feel positive.
Breathing exercises to help with anxiety
Relax Your Breathing, Relax Your Brain
The way we breathe has a huge impact upon how we feel mentally, physically and emotionally. But do we really know how the breath changes our state of mind?
Why is breathing so important when it comes to relaxation?
One reason is the relationship our breath has to do with the vagus nerve.
This long nerve runs from the brain to the stomach. It passes and contacts the tongue, vocal cords, throat, heart, lungs, diaphragm, liver, spleen, large intestine, small intestine, pancreas and kidneys, and ends in a ball of nerve endings in the stomach. This is one of the reasons the relationship between the brain and gut is so important; they’re literally connected via this nerve!
The vagus nerve largely contributes to the parts of our nervous system responsible for both the fight or flight and rest and digest responses.
The vagus nerve contacts the lungs and diaphragm
This means the way we breathe has an impact on the messages the vagus nerve relays back to our brain.
Whilst the science behind the nervous system goes deep, there’s no mistaking the relaxation we feel after focussing on conscious, calm breathing.
4-7-8 breathing technique for anxiety
Try practicing the 4-7-8 breathing technique:
- inhale for four seconds
- hold for 7 seconds
- exhale for a count of 8 seconds
You can stimulate the vagus nerve even more whilst doing this by adopting a yogic technique known as brahmari breath, which involves humming on the exhale, thus vibrating the vocal cords.
Box breathing technique
Another breathing technique that helps the nervous system relax, promotes good quality sleep and aids post-exercise recovery is box breathing. To practice this:
- visualise drawing a square in your mind
- inhale for about 5 seconds as you imagine drawing one side of the square
- hold the breath for 5 seconds as you draw the line along the second side
- exhale for 5 along the next side
- hold for 5 seconds as you visualise drawing the line along the fourth side of the square
You may like to try this 10-minute guided practice.
‘What we think, we become’
For thousands of years, philosophers, sages and teachers have explained how powerful our thoughts are, and with experts like Joe Dispenza furthering modern concepts like The Law of Attraction , we’re now realising that what we think, we really can attract.
Siddhartha Gautama - the Buddha - famously stated that “The mind is everything. What you think, you become”.
When we focus intently on a certain outcome, our brains are essentially primed to expect that very outcome to happen, and the body virtually prepares itself for it.
The mind & the placebo effect
This goes some way towards explaining the placebo effect, and how we can all use it to our advantage.
When the mind expects to feel healthier and stronger and really believes it, the brain releases chemicals known as endogenous opiates – natural pain relievers and bio chemicals that relax the nervous system - thus strengthening the immune system.
Conversely, if we believe or focus on illness, our bodies are primed to expect illness to occur.
To keep your mind, body and immune system strong, practice visualising yourself feeling radiantly healthy and strong.
See yourself at the peak of your health and wellbeing, perhaps running a race or walking in nature. Really try to use all your senses to bring this visualisation to life; this will make it even more effective.
What can you see? What can you feel, hear, smell and taste?
The stronger and more detailed your visualisation is, the more your body really believes it’s real , helping you prime your whole being to expect nothing less than complete wellness.
We hope you have found some positive inspiration from this post.
Remember: your mind is just as important as your body when it comes to staying well throughout this strange time. Keep it healthy and use it well.