Healthy Beginnings

Yoga, meditation, outdoor walking: 3 practices for good mental health

Kathaleen Martin-Midcalf (pictured) suggests that yoga, meditation and outdoor walking are three keys to mental health success.

Stress is one aspect that negatively affects mental health. There are practices that can help maintain good mental health and stave off stress.

My own approach for staying mentally fit has three pillars, which are simple, affordable and accessible: yoga, meditation and outdoor walking.

YOGA

Yoga has been shown to combat cognitive decline and improve both memory and mood to a greater degree than conventional brain training. Regular yoga practice has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD and schizophrenia.

Other benefits include improved immune function, reduced risk for migraines, better sleep and reduced stress levels. Benefits occur in as short a time as one 20-minute session and continue to accrue with more time per session and more sessions per week.

Yoga also stimulates skin pressure receptors that boost activity in the brain and vagus nerve, both of which influence the production and release of various hormones.

As vagus nerve activity increases, the levels of stress hormones like cortisol decreases. Yoga also triggers the release of serotonin, a mood stabilizer neurotransmitter.

MEDITATION

Yoga was originally developed as a way to remain comfortably seated for long periods of time in meditation. Most yoga classes end with a brief meditation period.

Meditation is the second supporting column for good mental hygiene. Meditation relieves stress and tension, improves mental focus, concentration, and clarity.

When our thinking is clearer we can make decisions more easily, and handle life’s challenges more skillfully. Benefits are shown in sessions as brief as 1-10 minutes.

Including a few minutes of meditation at the end of a yoga session (or any time!) can definitely improve mental hygiene.

OUTDOOR WALKING

Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” For good mental health, my final supporting column is outdoor walking.

Walking outside is free and easy and all one needs is a supportive pair of shoes. Walking can increase mood — especially in sunlight when the hormone Vitamin D is produced (which can boost immune function in addition to mood).

Fresh air clears the mind, which can help with decision-making. Walking with a friend has the added benefit of improving social connections. This has been shown to positively impact cognitive decline, maybe even more so than brain puzzles.

Walking alone allows us to develop a clearer perspective on our difficulties and challenges. Benefits begin accruing in as little as 10 minutes per day.

My entire approach to good mental health can be accomplished at little or no cost (even yoga can be learned with DVDs, apps for mobile devices and internet sites — although if you are truly a beginner, classes with a qualified teacher can be most helpful), and all for less than an hour a day.

Why not start improving your mental fitness today?

Reverend Dr. Kathaleen Martin-Midcalf is the founder and master teacher at The Yoga Pearl in Sparks, Nevada. She is an ordained minister who holds a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies, a master’s degree in natural health and a doctorate in natural health. For more information, call 775-750-7610 or visit www.TheYogaPearl.com.