Clutter can weigh us down. Inside our homes it can be hard to concentrate and feel at peace when there are things strewn everywhere. Clothes on the floor, unwashed dishes or an excess of furniture can ruin the feeling of a home.
Our minds are exactly the same. Excess noise or unwanted activity in our brains can make us irritable, depressed, anxious and unable to concentrate. Just like our homes, our minds may need a daily tidy up to make sure they are a peaceful pleasant place to live.
When we speak of mental clarity there are a few things that may come to mind but we simply mean being present and focused with an inner calm. Presence is necessary to concentrate on the task before us, focus to engage in activity for extended periods of time and calmness is a by-product of prolonged concentration.
The benefits of achieving a state of mental clarity are plenty. The ability to remain calm and focused at work has obvious benefits but outside of work it can be beneficial too. It is widely believed that prolonged states of anxiety and stress are major causes of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes as well as mental illness.
Feelings of stress are easily exacerbated in our hectic modern world. Though stress may be triggered by external factors which we cannot control, it is an internal reaction of our mind and body which, to a large degree, we can control.
The ability to achieve mental clarity and moderate our levels of stress is necessary to lead a healthy and productive lifestyle. Here are a few methods we hope can help you gain a clear mind and some much needed inner peace.
Running or Aerobic exercise
Running and other forms of vigorous aerobic exercise greatly increase the flow of blood around the body. This increased blood flow carries additional oxygen and nutrients to the brain that it needs to perform well.
Conversely, low levels of blood flow through the brain are often linked to depression, strokes and dementia.
Short runs of half an hour have shown positive effects on the brain which include improved ability to process information, ignore distractions and solve problems. Longer runs that last over two hours result in the release of dopamine and endorphins in the body which give the feeling of the “runners high.”
The long term effects of running are also said to increase memory retention, alertness and verbal skills.
Many great writers and thinkers have spoken about how the pleasures of a simple stroll can clear their minds. Recent studies have shown that there may be more to this than just the romantic ramblings of wishful thinkers.
Walking has been linked to increased blood flow to the brain and better self image and self esteem. It can have beneficial effects on mood and sleep quality while reducing stress and anxiety.
It is also an ideal form of low impact exercise for older people and can improve memory and help fight off dementia.
Breathing is the first basic source of life. We need oxygen to survive. No matter how healthy or sound the body is, without oxygen we cannot survive.
We can control our breathing to achieve mindfulness and for healing our mind and body.
Breathwork is an emerging tool of modern medicine that marries art and science. A recent study explored the effects of voluntary controlled breathing in healing anxiety, depression and addiction.
In different cultures and traditional arts, the breath is an instrument in dealing with pain and suffering, and resolving personal and internal conflicts.
Have you tried taking a deep breath before doing any daunting activity? If your heart is beating fast, take a few seconds to breathe deeply. It may feel like something was stuck in your heart and then it's gone. You're relieved.
The way we breathe can affect the way we consume our energy and concentrate. By doing breathing exercises, we can be relaxed and, thus, we can think clearly.
Anapana and Vipassana
In meditation, breathing is a fundamental step to reach the concentration of the mind.
Anapana, as practiced in Vipassana meditation technique, one observes the incoming and outgoing of the breath. It brings the mind to focus on the natural respiration without controlling it. As Vipassana means "seeing things as they really are," one simply observes the breath as it is.
It is a way to control the mind from being agitated. Our minds are constantly tossing around like one would do during sleepless nights.
While learning the Vipassana technique requires one to take a free 10-day beginner's course in silence – anapana can be practiced by anyone interested.
Some benefits that people experience from daily practice of anapana include improved concentration, alertness, memory and self-confidence. It is also believed to be an effective method to deal with stress, anxiety and fear, among others.
Yoga and pranayama
Originated in ancient India, yoga is a holistic discipline through body movements combined with pranayama or breathing exercises. By performing precise positions and breathing properly as instructed, one can tame the mind and bring it into the present.
It is an indoor activity that can be done alone or with a group through an instructor (at least during the first few sessions). It is important to learn it in a course or practice it with a guide to be able to understand not only the positions or asanas, but also the principles behind them.
There are various studies in the United States that show evidence of the benefits of yoga and pranayama to people suffering from physical and mental illnesses. The reports include physiological and psychological effects on patients with hypertension and other psychosomatic conditions.
Though mental health is not as widely understood and is often overlooked, it is equally as important as physical health. With the links between chronic stress and physical ailments such as panic attacks, strokes and heart disease, you might even say they are one and the same.
There are all manner of fun and enjoyable ways to restore peace of mind, think clearer and get healthy at the same time. What do you have to lose?