6 Steps to Maintain Mental Hygiene

Liz Gill
6 Steps to Maintain Mental Hygiene

We seem to spend a lot of time keeping our bodies impeccably clean. In fact, some would say too clean thanks to the plethora of chemical-based products marketed to fight “germs” of any description.

Yet our minds and emotional bodies are sometimes neglected, to the detriment of ourselves and others. Here are five scientifically-proven ways to clean your mind without soap or any other allergens!

1. Mantra Japa

Ever feel like your mind is a hamster on a wheel, endlessly circling the same point? Or find yourself continuously distracted, bouncing around from thought to thought? Or, worse yet, repeating an old script that does you no good?

Mantra japa – the simple repetition of a mantra either aloud or in silence — is a deceptively simple technique that has profound effects. Firstly, it interrupts those automatic thought patterns. And every time we interrupt conditioned, reflexive behaviour, we’re opening space for light and new life to enter.

What's more, because the mantras are typically in Sanskrit, they prevent us from obsessing over the literal and verbal meaning – thereby again changing our brain in a tiny way.

Finally, these sacred words or phrases have been developed over hundreds of years to amplify positive sound frequencies (even if not said aloud), so switching over to a mantra from whatever noise is in your head inevitably brings a little positivity with it.

And if you must have one in English, my teacher proposes: “thank you, I love you” – you can’t go wrong repeating that every chance you get!

2. Breath

Our breathing is the only aspect of our autonomic nervous system that we can control. Think about it – all those reflexive responses, heart-rate, adrenaline secretion, digestion, and so on – are all affected by the way we breathe.

Breathing unconsciously, as we generally do, is fine, but when we bring awareness to our breath, we connect to it in a way that bypasses habitual processes and allows us to connect to the force that, in fact, might be breathing us! And because we are always breathing, this touchstone of awareness is always available to us.

By observing the breath, we give the mind a chance to relax and maybe even get out of the way – offering us a chance to re-connect with our powerful life-force that exists so specifically in this present moment, this breath.

3. Metta

Metta is a Tibetan word often translated as “loving-kindness.” A wonderful meditation practice known as “Metta Bhavana” specifically directs this loving-kindness towards oneself, a loved one, a neutral person, and then the “enemy,” or someone we have difficulties with.

But even if you’re not practicing this meditation, using the phrases employed there can have powerful rebound effects, and it’s easy to remember: “may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering, may you progress.”

The great thing is, you don’t even have to mean it! But when you repeat it, you're prevented from generating more negative karma – as the Buddha said, if you lift a hot coal to throw at someone, you get burned first.

And, of course, whomever you’re struggling with would probably be easier to deal with if they were well, happy, free from suffering and progressing, so even if you might not have meant it at first, you might just find yourself really and truly wishing that positivity for that person.

4. Listening

There are numerous meditation practices that use listening as a gateway to growth. Dream yoga alludes to listening as a way of cultivating awareness of the present moment.

Listening is a form of mindfulness that can be practiced at any time, and because of the neural connections between the ears and the brain, listening to the world around us can have a subliminal and profound effect.

Of course, listening to someone speaking with this kind of attention not only benefits the listener, who is really There, but also enhances the experience of the person speaking. Fran Lebowitz once said, "the opposite of talking isn’t listening, it’s waiting.”

And this is so often the case – but if you allow yourself to listen not just to the words but to their sounds, and the silences around them, you can enjoy every moment of the conversation as a meditation.

5. Sleep

I think we can all agree that enough sleep is a crucial factor for anybody in being able to function properly. It’s not a luxury, as some would seem to think, or a badge of honour to get too little.

Dreamless sleep is the time when our bodies release the growth hormones that repair our cells and replenish our body chemistry; dreams are said to be – at the very least - the time when experience is organised into memory. Lacking either function is inevitably going to compromise our waking experience.

In this nonstop age, people find it difficult to carve out the time to get the sleep they need, and others suffer from insomnia and nightmares. Both of these last two are dramatically improved by the practice of dream yoga, and carving out sleep time with work and/or kids is a challenge, but one we can’t afford to neglect.

6. Meditation

When I get up 20 minutes earlier to meditate, not only do I feel like a hero, but the entire day goes so much better than it would have even with an extra 20 minutes’ sleep.

Buddhist teacher Andrew Holocek asserts that when the mind is always chasing and grasping, it requires more sleep to recover. As one calms the mind through mediation, ultimately controlling and managing it like a good servant instead of an insatiable master, so then less and less sleep is required.

No-one is asking us to become so practised that we can subsist on only a few hours a night, but the fact is, in every spiritual tradition meditation, listening to that “still, small voice” or going into the light is at the core of the experience.

When I first started out, just taking 20 minutes to myself was transformative; and no matter what form you practise, if you do it every day, transformation will inevitably occur. I don’t, however, subscribe to notions such as Bikram’s that a 90-minute yoga session fulfills the requirement.

While we may practise mindfulness in every moment of the day and night, there’s no replacement for meditating and sitting in silence.

The ego will resist, and concoct every excuse imaginable as to why that simple act of sitting on a cushion is the most terrible disaster; but the peace, kindness and compassion it brings overrules all other reasons for procrastination.

These are only five tools from a plethora of spiritual technologies – please feel free to improve my description of them or share the tools for mental hygiene you use. One of the best aspects of all of them, of course, is that mental floss is free!