As a “millennial who spends her money on avocado toast and craft beer,” I am dedicated to discovering new self-care practices.
Self-care is defined as any activity we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health, according to Psychcentral.com. Today, the concept of self-care is used to sell products like face masks or mobile applications to improve nutrition, meditation and fitness. I tried out and downloaded quite a few, but my favorites are still in use like MyFitnessPal — a fitness and food journal app — and 10% Happier, a guided meditation and education app.
Aside from my personal affinity for self-care, a daily practice can be used to help treat the rise of mental illness in our state and nation.
According to a 2014 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 1 in 6 adults age 18 or older in North Dakota have experienced “Any Mental Illness.” AMI is defined as the presence of any mental, behavioral or emotional disorder in the past year that met DSM 5 criteria. In 2018, a report from Minnesota Community Measurement said Minnesota’s mental health system is largely ineffective at treating depression. Across the nation, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year.
“Self-care isn’t just an idea that we hope we will fit into our lives at some point. It’s a practice that can become a part of our everyday way of operating in the world,” said Randi Kay Olsen Heinold, a registered yoga teacher and holistic health practitioner.
So what’s one self-care practice we could start tomorrow? Heinold suggests yoga.
Heinold said yoga doesn’t require a significant amount of time or money before beginning. All you need to do is sit down on the mat. (I’ve discovered setting aside five minutes to do a simple yoga practice is often difficult. Netflix always has a new series to binge.)
Online videos are helpful to beginners, but Heinold encourages people to take a class from a registered yoga teacher when they are new to the practice. She said people should research different teachers and yoga classes to find the right one for their goals. Any injuries or concerns should be shared with the teacher before starting a class.
Heinold said beginners to yoga can start with the simple goal of returning to the mat every day and focus on specific health issues as they continue their practice.
If you still require an extra push of motivation, here are 5 ways a yoga practice can improve your mind and body health:
1. Yoga teaches us how to breathe deeply.
Heinold points out that often we aren’t performing deep breaths into our belly, using our diaphragm. Conscious breathing is the base of any yoga practice and can help to influence our thoughts and physiology.
2. Yoga decreases stress.
Exercise in any form acts as a stress reliever according to the Mayo Clinic. But yoga is a mind-body practice that is well known to manage stress and anxiety. Studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information say practicing yoga for at least 3 months may lower cortisol and perceived stress and reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation.
3. Yoga increases attention span.
A regular practice can increase one’s ability to focus and quiet a busy mind. The repetition and differentiating poses can help to redirect attention to improving each pose through every practice.
4. Yoga improves cardiovascular health.
Beyond reducing stress, consistent yoga practice helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and heart rate, according to Hopkins Medicine.
5. Yoga improves muscle strength
Yoga can increase muscle and core strength through consistent practice. A simple pose like the mountain can use every muscle in the body, improve posture and, when practiced regularly, can help reduce back pain.