Credit: Pooja Bedi, founder, Happy Soul, Strong mental health isn’t just the absence of problems but also the presence of positive traits - ability to manage stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks.

Overhauling your thoughts and lifestyle to keep your mind healthy and happy

Don’t ignore mental health. Here are some techniques to junk bad thoughts for good ones, eat and sleep right, and alter your activity charts to keep the mind sharp, yet calm and peaceful

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

We all spend hours and money sculpting our bodies and getting that chiselled look. But what about our minds? Aren’t we allowing any and every thought to home in and wreck our mental well-being? Experts say the mind should embody positive thoughts, emotions and feelings, much like a jewellery box in which we retain only the very best.

How do you keep your mind calm, relaxed, and healthy? Leading psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh says, “More than anything else, you need to recognise and accept the mind as an important component of health. Once you realise the importance of mental health, you will be able prioritise it in your life and think about how to manage it. You work on your weight, looks or a medical problem. Why not do the same for your mental health? Ask yourself these questions: what is my work-life balance? Am I investing time for personal well-being and happiness? How do I take out “me” time and how do I ensure I get good sleep?”

If things are getting out of hand, reach out for help. Says Parikh: “Even seeking help is part of prevention. You don’t seek help only when an illness has struck you.” But what happens when you can’t recognise a mental health issue or simply sweep it under the carpet? I am reminded of a short film I saw recently, called ‘Chuha Billi’ by FNP Media, which dealt with bipolar disorders. The protagonist, a mental illness patient, Kat (Katrina), kills her friend and roommate Rat (Seerat), when the latter decides to move out with her boyfriend. Kat cannot bear the idea of her friend leaving her and the absence of a person she trusts the most. In mind matters, always confront the problem head on and never drop it like a hot potato. Of course, prevention any day is better than cure.

Know when your mind needs to be rested and when it requires stimulation. Much depends upon the nature of the work-life zone you are in. There are times you must do the exact opposite in your spare time to empty out your mind. Says Parikh: “If you are already doing thinking work, you need to relax when taking a break. If a child is studying all the time, he needn’t read in his spare time. If you are living retired life, then you need stimulation.”

Games such as chess, scrabble and Sudoku are good for brain health. Crosswords and other puzzles help you stay sharp, alert and attentive. Board games also teach us a lesson or two about human engagement and life in general. Says Sunita Ajmani, a Mumbai-based HR professional, “Games like chess and Sudoku require strategy. But despite having a strategy, you can fail. Ludo validates the fact that luck favours in phases. You run out of luck and favour for a while before you get lucky again. Such is life-you can fall like a deck of cards or make some undeserved and unexpected gains. What I have learnt from Ludo is always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.”

Daily routine

Did you know that daily chores actually hold the key to mental wellness? And that billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos derive great satisfaction doing the dishes at home? Simple everyday tasks can boost happiness – the gurgling of soap, feeling of froth and sensory experience of warm water – can actually calm your mind, empty out thoughts and make you more joyful and creative. Research shows that everyday tasks like loading the dishwasher and hanging out the laundry where your hands are engaged but not brain should be an integral part of routine.

For 67-year-old Kamini Batra, the routine of reading the newspaper at a certain time, rising early and going for the morning walk is non-negotiable and keeps her wellness quotient high. Her family and her belief in God are other factors that make her sane and happy.

It’s a lot about your beliefs and attitude. Start your day with positive affirmations, end it with gratitude. The quality of thoughts you have can make all the difference to your life. Take the case of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist who performed a series of experiments on water. He claimed that water exposed to positive speech and thoughts created visually “pleasing” ice crystals, and that negative messages yielded “ugly” ice formations. When emotional “energies” and “vibrations” could change the physical structure of water, imagine the impact of negative self-talk on your mind when your body is 70 per cent water. Says Pooja Bedi, founder of wellness company Happy Soul:: “Emoto exposed the glass of water to “I love you’ and ‘I hate you’ kind of messages, and the photographs looked dramatically different. One was downright ugly, the other looked like pieces of jewellery.”

The focus on mental health received a boost with the Covid-19 pandemic, as people went through panic, depression and anxiety. A sense of hopelessness and negative emotions came to the fore. But even otherwise challenges such as broken relationships, fractured dreams, disappointments, rejection, self-hate are often a part of life.

Says Bedi: “I always say life is not what happens to you but is based on your reaction to what happens to you. My idea as a coach is to teach people coping skills. It’s your entire mind, body, spirit in alignment working forward for your development.

It’s perfectly normal to say: one part of me is dysfunctional and then work at addressing it.”

For women in particular, she recommends a self-forgiveness practice called ho’oponopono, as women tend to bottle up a lot of guilt. “You simply need to sit in front of a mirror, see eyeball to eyeball until you suddenly see “you”. When you see you, please apologize for all the choices you have made, all the injustices you’ve caused yourself to suffer with negative self-talk, and things you have done that are detrimental to you.”

Bedi says this release of pain is hugely cathartic and that she has seen some of the most powerful and influential women in her workshop literally breakdown because there is so much pent-up hurt, pain and guilt inside. The important thing is releasing them and addressing what has gone wrong, de-programming and diffusing. She shares her own journey when she lost practically every support system she had. “I lost my grandmother and my mother in a landslide. I lost my brother to schizophrenia and then suicide. I lost the man I loved, the father figure who raised me, and in between even my dog died. I have two children and my marriage collapsed. I started life from scratch with practically no money and no source of income in sight. My time between age 27 and 32 was challenging but then I realised this is not exclusive to me. As humans, we will always be confronted by challenges but what matters is your handling of that situation.”

She adds that the key lies in your subconscious mind, which you can re-programme with the help of a hypnotherapist, or through repetition such as meditation. You must de-programme and diffuse the things that caused you harm and only then move on.

Live consciously and mindfully

Make every day special. Slow down. Stop awhile to cherish the wonders around you. Many people say you need a break from life and hence need to travel. Some may require that break, some may not, and that is perfectly fine. Says Parikh: “The important thing is to know your body, know your likes and dislikes and basically, know your mind.”

Everything, from the food we eat to the skin creams we apply, impacts the mind. Opt for original, certified organic produce and stay away from preservatives and genetically modified food, high-sodium salt and high-sugar foods. Be conscious about all of your purchases. Says Priyanka Raina, Co-Founder, Maate: “Changing our complete skincare and hair care routine to more natural products is an important intervention for ourselves, especially for children. Look for more natural products infused with pure herbs, and natural oils extracted from plant-based sources.”

Mindful eating is important. Never eat too fast and always chew your food properly. Says Simrun Chopra, Deep Health Coach and Founder, Nourish With Sim: “Eating too fast will make you overeat while chewing improperly causes indigestion. When dining, try and focus on your food, not on media devices or TV shows that have you hooked.”

Heal your mind

There are many programmes, both online and offline for nurturing the mind. During lockdown, 60-year-old Shubha Vats undertook the ’21 Days of Abundance’ course by Deepak Chopra. She says it starts with the affirmation: ‘Starting today I constantly attract abundance with my thoughts because thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits make character and that makes destiny.’ And then there are tasks such as making a list of 50 people who have influenced your life so far. Her biggest takeaway was: “I give that which I want to receive–pleasant thoughts, good wishes, compliments. Basically, I nourish the universe and the universe nourishes me.”

Sleep is an important attribute of our lives. Recently mental wellness start-up Mindhouse launched Sleep Stories, a collection of 30-minute classic folk tales re-imagined with nature visuals, in the voice of famous Bollywood actors. You can choose to fall asleep to the sound of Rahul Bose’s soothing baritone, as you walk among the cool dark trees, in “A Night in the Forest”. Says Bose: “As an actor, director and a sportsperson living life at full throttle, I know a good night’s sleep is the indispensable foundation on which everything rests. So, it was a pleasure to work on a project that centres around the arts-imagination, creativity, the magic of words-and around the value of sleep.”

Breathing impacts mental health. The quality of the air you inhale impacts your mind. During the lockdown last year, 40-year-old academician Leena Satija subscribed to the Art of Living Foundation (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) online course called Sahaj Samadhi Dhyana Yoga that brings your brain waves into a calming alpha state. The results were impressive and after level-1, she moved on to do the next level.

Isha Foundation runs a programme called Inner Engineering, a technology for wellbeing derived from the science of Yoga. The online course comprises of seven powerful 90-minute sessions designed by Sadhguru, is available in many languages apart from English such as Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Russian, Spanish, German, Simplified Chinese and French. The 21-week Hatha Yoga programme starts on the auspicious day of Guru Purnima, and is conducted in Adiyogi Alayam, a specially created space for imparting Hatha Yoga at the Isha Yoga Centre. For anyone above 14 years, there is an online programme ‘In the Grace of Yoga’ for one day and three days that helps you make use of the five elements, the building blocks of existence for your wellbeing. The (Deepak) Chopra Meditation programme, a self-paced online regimen comprised of four sessions, teaches you about tools and techniques to start your self-care journey. Patanjali Yoga Foundation offers a 14-day offline ‘Yoga & Meditation’ retreat at Rishikesh, where you experience traditional Hatha Yoga, “Patanjali yoga”, and get insights into yoga philosophy and different meditation techniques. Another offline programme they offer shares insights into ayurvedic diet, herbs and medicines to stay healthy and treat diseases.

Some popular programmes for mental wellness

Organisation Course Duration and format Price

Isha Foundation

Inner Engineering by Sadhguru One month, Online Rs 3,500 (English); Rs 1,500 (Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam)
Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Programme 21-week-Offline Rs 5.5 lakh
In the Grace of Yoga Three-day, Online Rs 7,500
One-day, Online Rs 3,300
Deepak Chopra Chopra Meditation Foundations 4 sessions, online $298
Chopra Health Foundations 7 sessions, Online $298

The Chopra App for iPhone (Chopra Meditation & Well-Being)

Annual Subscription- In App Purchase

Holiday Discount 2020 $49.99
Ananda Spa meditation ASI Spa Diploma 16 weeks, offline Rs 2,76,750
Ayurvedic Spa Therapies Diploma 8 weeks, offline Rs 90,000
Art of Living Foundation (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) Sahaj Samadhi Dhyana Yoga 3-day (2 hours/day), Online Rs 2,000
Online Sri Sri Yoga Level-1 4 days, online Rs 600
Online Sri Sri Yoga Level- 2 4 days, Online Rs 3,000
Patanjali Yoga Foundation Yoga therapy & Ayurveda Rishikesh 100 hours, Offline $750
Yoga & Meditation Retreat Rishikesh 14 days, Offline $500
Mindhouse – Modern Meditation Musical Mindfulness Monthly Subscription-In App Purchase $7.99
Three-month subscription $15.99
Annual subscription $31.99

OSHO International Foundation

Meditation Plus 14 days, offline Rs 97,100
Multiversity Plus 30 days, offline Rs 1,28,400
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre Foundation to Meditation 14 days, online Rs 3,000

Source: TechSci Research

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