Mental Health Awareness Week 2020|18th – 24th May

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. Since 2001, the Mental Health Foundation have campaigned around a specific theme for one week each May raising awareness of topics such as body image, stress and relationships. Mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time and so mental health is everyone’s business.

This year, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Kindness’.

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Why Kindness?

During these challenging and uncertain times, the positive news that we have seen is always one of kindness. The bravery of our NHS staff and key workers. Captain Tom Moore who walked 100 laps of his garden to raise funds for our NHS. Neighbours getting the shopping for their isolated elderly neighbours. People helping people. The everyday acts of kindness that we are seeing all the time. And we saw this right from the start of the crisis. It is what makes others lives better and makes our lives better.

Kindness can transform our schools, work places, communities, and our society as a whole. As Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation says: “Acts of kindness can help improve emotional wellbeing. This is true whether we are giving or receiving it.” Kindness is clearly good for our mental health – both giving kindness (acts of kindness) and receiving kindness from others. Both can make us feel better.

In yoga, the first of limb of the eight limbs of yoga is called Yama – self-restraints. The first of the five Yama is Ahimsa. Ahimsa means ‘non-violence’ or more simply ‘compassion’ or kindness. Such is the importance that it is the first aspect of the eight limb path of yoga that is discussed. This involves kindness to ourselves and kindness to others. During Mental Health Awareness week let’s think about how we can spread this kindness to ourselves and to others.

How can I get involved?

During Mental Health Awareness Week you can carry out or reflect on an act of kindness. This can be anything – big or small  – every act of kindness is important! It may be an act of kindness that you have done or that you have received. And we can learn from one another! You can post about this on social media and may even want to add a photo or video (with permission!) and use the hashtags #KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. There is no need to stop at one act of kindness either! You can do as many as you would like! However, do remember that we must always be kind to ourselves too – don’t overstretch yourself by giving too much of yourself if you’re not able to, or by going beyond your personal resources. Acts of kindness can of course be to yourself – self-care, recognising what you need in the present moment – be that space, a treat, or just permission to relax.

You can also share on social media your ideas on how you think we could build a kinder society that would support our mental health using the same hashtags #KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Let’s start the conversation. We’ve seen how kindness is so important in all our lives, particularly over the past couple of months. How can we take that forward?

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What are acts of kindness?

The possibilities are endless, and by sharing our ideas online, we can learn from one another. The Mental Health Foundation shares lots of ideas of acts of kindness that you can do during this week and going forward. You probably do many of these already without even realising how much your act of kindness means! Acts of kindness can be to others and also towards ourselves. Often we find it easier to be kinder to others than ourselves but we must remember that both are important

Some examples include:

Acts of kindness to others:

  • Give the gift of yoga with Yogasmiths to a friend for free during Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – see full details below!
  • Call or have a virtual catch-up with a friend or friends – perhaps a friend that you haven’t spoken to for some time
  • Tell a family member or friend how much you love them and appreciate them.
  • Let someone know how proud you are of them
  • Say ‘thank you’ to someone  – show them you appreciate them and the work they do.
  • Surprise someone you live with to a homemade dinner. Or simply make them a cup of coffee or tea
  • Spend time playing with your pet! They’ll show you how much they appreciate it!
  • Give or send someone a small gift – something homemade or something you’ve grown is always nice
  • Offer support or just check up on your neighbours – many people are self-isolating and may be experiencing loneliness

Acts of kindness to yourself:

  • Relax and unwind by giving yourself time to do something that you enjoy – for example reading a book, listening to your favourite music, a warm candle-lit bath, a walk in nature, yoga, exercise, gardening, baking a cake, learning a new skill, etc. What helps you? Could you give yourself some time everyday just for you – be kind to yourself.
  • Self-care – look after yourself – perhaps this means having a routine, going to be bed earlier, giving yourself time to cook a healthy meal for yourself, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, etc. Taking time to care for your physical, mental and emotional health
  • Connect with others – call a friend or connect online. Join an online class or group.

Find our blogs on self-compassion here: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/02/17/self-compassion-by-kristen-neff-book-review/and https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/07/mindful-self-compassion-course-certificates/

What are we doing for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020?

  • Free Yoga classes

    A0AE55FB-5FBA-410D-B7FD-090CC0D7424CDuring Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 we are inviting anyone who has attended one of our classes to give the gift of yoga to one of their friends who has never been to one of our classes before! All you need to do is send an email to your friend (remember to copy our email into the email: enquiries@yogasmiths.org) inviting them to attend one of our classes for free! That’s it! Your friend can then contact us and let us know which class they would like to attend. You can copy and paste the template below into your email:

(Title of email – Free Yoga Class! Random Act of Kindness for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020)

Hi

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 and the theme is Kindness. As my act of kindness, I would like to offer you to attend a free yoga class with my yoga teachers Yogasmiths before the end of May. The classes are taught via Zoom online video conferencing software.

Yogasmiths are Paul and Stephen Smith and are based in West Kirby, Wirral. To see the weekly Yogasmiths yoga timetable just visit:

Shop

And then email Yogasmiths at enquiries@yogasmiths.org to let them know which class you would like to book on to. They can then send you the details to access your free class!

For more details about Yogasmiths classes just visit https://pauls93.sg-host.com

Thanks and enjoy your free yoga class!

Terms and Conditions – you are only eligible for a free class if you have not attended an indoor Yogasmiths class in the past. One free yoga class per customer. The free class must be used by Sunday 31st May 2020.

  • Virtual Pub Quiz with Yogasmiths

Saturday 23rd May. All profits from this quiz will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation. You can book on to this quiz at: *event has passed* . Cost is £5 per person. If you’ve attended one of our quizzes before you know it’ll be lots of fun and it’s the taking part that counts! It’s just nice to all get together and have some fun.

  • Daily acts of kindness 

    We’ll be posting acts of kindness posts daily during Mental Health Awareness week using the hashtags #KindnessMatters and #Mentalhealthawarenessweek. These posts will include acts of kindness we are giving to others, to ourselves and acts of kindness we’ve received. Look out for these and let us know what acts of kindness you have given and received. We’ll also consider how we can all build a kinder society.

What else can I do?

Virtual fundraising:

If you do hold a fundraising event please let The Mental Health Foundation know about it – including any photos/videos. These can be sent to events@mentalhealth.org.uk. Fundraising or separate donations can be made to The Mental Health Foundation at http://mentalhealth.org.uk/donate

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival has a special programme of online activity running all this May. Artists and audiences will be exploring what kindness means to them. For more information visit: http://mhfestival.com

Spread the word – spread kindness

The Mental Health Foundation has lots of posters, graphics, booklets and more available at http://mentalhealth.org.uk/mhaw

Stay up-to-date with what’s going on during Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond – follow @mentalhealthfoundation on Facebook and Instagram, and @mentalhealth on Twitter.

You can read more about the Mental Health Foundation’s innovative programmes, campaigns and transformative mental health research at: http://mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work

Check out our previous Mental Health Awareness Week blogs;

https://yogasmiths.org/2019/05/16/mental-health-awareness-week-13th-19th-may-2019/

https://yogasmiths.org/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

 

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Blue Monday?…..Finding that inner calm

A marketing gimic?

It is likely to be widely reported that today is ‘Blue Monday’, apparently ‘the most depressing day of the year’. A quick google search reveals that the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ was actually coined by Sky Travel in 2005! (The google search also prompted me to listen to New Order whilst writing this blog!) I’m not sure how calling a day ‘the most depressing day of the year’ is meant to be helpful to us but it might just help to sell a few holidays! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Monday_(date)

It did get me thinking, however, that there is something to this concept of ‘Blue Monday’. It’s January in the UK. Christmas is a distant memory. The days are apparently getting longer but it’s a slow process. I could swear that’s it’s getting darker and not lighter in the mornings! It’s cold! It’s often raining and grey. We’re still awaiting payday! My point is….is it any wonder that all this can affect our mood?

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Is every Monday Blue Monday in January?

Accessing our inner calm

However, regardless of all of the above, it is comforting to know that internally we can access a constant, calm space within us that is always there. It is unmoved by the changing of the seasons. It may be very difficult to access at times. Particularly with all the external factors that can affect how we feel (weather, work, relationships, whatever else is going on in our lives). However, this calm, constant space is still there, despite all this.

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But how do we access this calmness? Well the first part of this is knowing it is there. Knowing that it can be accessed with practice. A breathing practice, bringing attention to the inhale and the exhale. Simply observing the breath, without judgement. This can help us begin to access this calmness within. The breath is always with us. But how often do we pay attention to our own breath? Thoughts and feelings will of course arise whilst we observe the breath, wanting our attention. Instead of giving attention to these thoughts/feelings, gently guide your attention back to observing the breath. There are innumerable breathing techniques (pranayama) to help us in finding this sense of calmness within. So regardless of whatever else is going on, with practice we can help manage our stress levels using our own breath, the constant calm space that is within all of us.

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A mindfulness of breath based meditation can help us tune into our inner calm and help us to deal with Blue Monday. Lhasa Apsos will sometimes join in too.

Mindful Movement

Yoga posture (asana) practice is also great at helping us access that calm space within. Bringing our attention to how the body is feeling in a particular posture. The sensations you are noticing in the body and where are you noticing them? Also, breath-led movement, moving the body on an inhale and an exhale, creates a mindful practice whereby we are again bringing our attention, without judgement, to the sensations in the body. How often do we mindfully observe our bodies in our every day life?

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Mindful movement in our Yoga poses – banish the blues from Blue Monday

Self Compassion

And of course there are so many other actions that we can take to help us find this calmness within, a big part of which is to learn to treat ourselves with more compassion (ahimsa). We often find it easier to treat others with compassion than we do ourselves, especially when we’re perhaps not feeling our best. Treat yourself! Find and do the things that you enjoy, those things that make you feel good. Yes, the weather might be less than ideal at this time of year for many of us, but use this as reason to enjoy a cosy night in, a nice relaxing, hot bath, etc. Give some thought to what you can do to help you find that inner calm.

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A hot drink in front of a warm fire – an antidote to Blue Monday

So yes, it may be hard to find that inner sense of calm particularly at this time of year, and it may be easier said than done (I know I’ve felt like that many times!). But there are many ways in which we can all try to help ourselves find that constant inner calm, regardless of all external factors, and before we realise it maybe that third Monday in January, and then the rest of the winter, might not feel so ‘blue’ after all!

You may also want to check out our previous blog on Helpful ways to deal with stress which you can find here; https://pauls93.sg-host.com/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

Namaste x

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The Benefits of Backbends

We are going to discuss the benefits of backbends in Yoga.

In this week’s classes we explored back-bending yoga asanas (postures) and their many benefits.

Poor Posture

Of course there are the physical benefits of backbends. We spend so much of our daily lives sitting hunched – driving, on the computer/tablets, on our phones, shielding ourselves from the rain and wind (in the UK at least!), that it is essential to counter this with back-bending asanas.

the benefits of backbends in yoga helping with poor posture

Spinal Extension

Backbends maintain the natural extension of our spines, even increasing this mobility. They strengthen the spinal muscles. They stretch our hip flexors which can be tight from too much sitting. Countering poor posture simply feels good to do! They can feel freeing!

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However, just because they might feel good, doesn’t mean that they are without their challenges. In stressful situations, our tendency is often to close up physically, protecting the vulnerable heart space. Backbends are the opposite to this, and can therefore feel quite exposing. It can take courage to practice backbends particularly when we are feeling vulnerable. On a physical level, we are moving our body in a direction that we cannot see (behind us!). If we can’t see where we are going then we are bound to be nervous! Isn’t that the same in life too? Yet this building of courage on the mat can help us build courage off the mat too.

The Heart Chakra

On an emotional level, backbends create an opening in the heart chakra (Anahata chakra) (the centre of feeling) allowing us to be more open to our own emotions, experiences, in our relationships etc. When we are physically ‘open’ this in turn can allow us to feel more emotionally and mentally open.

the benefits of backbends in yoga heart opening

So, clearly backbends are beneficial to us but when practising them it is important to be aware that ‘opening up’ in this way may release stored emotions due to the challenge of backbends. It is not uncommon to experience fear, apprehension, frustration, self-criticism, even annoyance or anger. Our aim here is to notice what is cropping up in our thoughts and feelings but without judgement of them or judgement of ourselves. Simply allow these thoughts and feelings to come and go. They always pass. Ultimately, it is beneficial to release these stored emotions, whatever they are.

Pain free range of motion

Of course, it is necessary to practice backbends safely, and the good news is that, like all asanas (poses), backbends can be modified so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of these wonderful asanas! Backbends can be as gentle or as deep as is comfortably available to us. It is always essential to mobilise the body before attempting backbends and to only move within a pain free range of motion. All our bodies are different and we must always practice with satya (truthfulness) and ahimsa (compassion) to our own bodies and our own abilities. Your yoga teacher will help guide you so that you can experience the benefits of backbends.

Happy back-bending!

the benefit of backbends
Upward facing dog!

Namaste

Check out our other blogs here:

https://pauls93.sg-host.com/blog/

Check out this article from the NHS about poor posture;

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/common-posture-mistakes-and-fixes/

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