We recently witnessed another tragedy: a mass stabbing at an area high school. It was just one week before that there had been another mass shooting at Fort Hood. There have been many other tragic and preventable tragedies before this one, which is becoming more frequent by the day. Names like the Navy Yard, Aurora and Newtown, Virginia Tech, Columbine were once familiar names that brought back memories of peaceful locations in our great country. But, they are now a source of devastating heartbreak.
A national dialogue is emerging again amid all this. Given the mental instability of many of these shooters, it involves discussions about our nation’s mental health policies and attitudes.
Are we doing enough for the mentally ill?
How can we screen more people for mental illness?
How do we prevent guns from being taken by people with mental instability histories?
And so on.
Here’s a question that I have yet to be asked: “What can you do to prevent mental illnesses?”
It seems logical. It seems logical. Strangely, mental health attitudes and practices in our culture are very different from those for physical health.
Take a look at this.
It’s a fact that preventative maintenance is essential for a healthy body. This includes brushing your teeth, eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Every day, we do a variety of chores to improve our physical well-being and prolong our lives.
We understand that physical fitness is an indicator of health. However, when it comes to our mental and emotionally-sensible selves, we see a completely different story.
Most Americans don’t think about developing healthy habits that nourish and exercise their mental and emotional selves. Most Americans are not aware of the fact that most of their efforts to address our mental and emotional needs is more about comfort than fitness. Feeling stressed? Enjoy a beer with your friends. Are you feeling down? See the latest blockbuster movie. Are you anxious about work? What about a round golf?
We medicate ourselves, rather than improving our mental ability. While we may feel better for a short time, the root problem is that we are unable to absorb and deal with the difficulties of life. It’s similar to removing all mirrors from your house in order to address weight gain. It may temporarily make you feel better but it doesn’t solve the problem.
It’s a way of thinking that can often lead to what can only be described free-range and feral minds.
Definition of Mental Fitness
This is to be clear: Mental fitness does not refer only to knowledge development or mental acuity. This is an important point. As we have already mentioned, many of the mental activities that we engage in to improve our minds don’t directly relate to Mental Fitness. These are some examples of activities that don’t dramatically improve our Mental Fitness levels:
Data digestion as part of the learning process
To make your mind more agile, you can exercise your cognitive ability.
Engaging in activities that soothe, nurture, and nourish the mind and emotions
These activities are not worthless or ineffective. They are essential to our growth as productive and happy humans. They don’t help us to create a more pleasant experience even in the most difficult of situations. Mental Fitness is all about cultivating an ease-filled experience.
Understanding Mental Fitness requires understanding the concept of capacity. Mental Fitness measures one’s ability to cope with life’s challenges without getting too overwhelmed. It is the ability to handle a layoff, to accept a diagnosis of illness, or to face a financial challenge with grace and elan.
People like these are not uncommon and they never seem to lose their cool. Layoff? No problem. IRS audit? Fine. Traffic accident? No biggie. These people are calm and cool, no matter how much life throws at their way. What is it that makes these people so capable of overcoming life’s challenges with grace?
They have a level in Mental Fitness that allows them the ability to creatively ride out these challenges. Your mental and emotional fitness levels will determine how happy you can be despite all the challenges life may throw at you.
This ability to resist being beaten down by the ups and downs of life seems to be more common in certain people than in others. It’s true that some people are born with the ability to weather any challenge. This is not to say, however, that one’s Mental Fitness level can be fixed.
We can also learn from the physical world. The same holds true for our natural physical fitness levels. Some people are naturally born athletes while others are not. We all have different physical abilities and shapes, so no matter our natural levels of fitness, everyone can benefit from working out.
Mental Fitness is no different.
This means we are not dependent on our mental fitness or our circumstances. The more mental fitness we have, the less we are affected by the inevitable challenges that life throws at us. It opens the door to happiness and contentment in all situations.
This is just as important as developing yourself in this area. It can be a key component of the health and well-being of our communities. To prevent physical illness, you can use fitness aids. Mental fitness aids to prevent mental illness. It is a simple way to improve our well-being.
This understanding allows us to see the problem as one of improving our Mental Fitness, our ability to stay mentally and emotionally unaffected in more and diverse situations, especially those that have previously thrown our balance off.
How can I improve my mental fitness?
This begs the question, “How can we increase our mental fitness level?” Surprisingly it is much easier than you think and not that difficult to do.
It’s simple, just think about it. You must physically challenge yourself to increase your physical ability, such as your ability to lift weights. You need to lift more weight in order to lift more. You can build strength by lifting just a little more than you are comfortable with. You can lift 80 pounds easily, then lift 85. Once you’re able to lift 85, you can move on to lifting 90. By lifting a little more than you are comfortable with and keeping the fire going, you’re increasing your weight lifting capacity.
This principle is also applicable to those who are trying to increase their mental and emotional capabilities. The invitation is the same here: go a little further than you are comfortable with and keep going. We need to be challenged and have difficulty in order to expand our mental and emotional capacities.
The truth is that life’s difficulties, those that often throw us into a tizzy are for our mental fitness, just like weight is for our physical health. These are opportunities that can help us to be more calmly navigate life’s challenges, but only if we recognize the possibilities.
I am honest. I admit that there is more to effective Mental Fitness than this simple explanation. The premise is sound. This I have seen from personal experience.
My life’s work is helping people achieve their highest mental and emotional health. Over the years, I have witnessed thousands upon thousands of people create lives that are full of joy and happiness, despite all the disappointments and difficulties. My tools come from yoga’s ancient wisdom, tapping the deeper mental and emotional aspects beyond the postures. However, these tools are not the only ones that can be used.
Is this a magic bullet for Mental Fitness? It will end mental illness, and prevent future deaths and other tragedies. It is not possible. Mental fitness cannot eliminate mental illness completely, just as physical fitness can.
There will always be a need to provide treatment options, facilities and professionals for those suffering from mental illness. As we do for the physically ill.
It would be worthwhile if we could reduce the incidence of these illnesses even by 5-10% or 20%.
This invitation is to examine the enormous impact that achieving greater physical fitness can have on reducing the incidence of physical illness. Then, you can use those same principles to increase our mental fitness to reduce the incidence of mental illness.
Although the impact of this movement’s true impact is unknown, I feel it clear that we owe it the families and victims of these senseless tragedies that we at least try it.
Eric Walrabenstein, the founder of Yoga Pura is a sought-after authority on the use of yogic technology to self-healing and empowerment in the country. E is a speaker, author and master teacher in mind/body health. He is well-known for making yoga’s ancient wisdom accessible and applicable to people of all walks of life.