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Mental Health Awareness Week and being kind

Updated: May 19, 2022

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he describes specific ethical codes - Yamas and Niyamas - which act as guidelines for how to live a full life but one that also benefits society. The first of the combined ten yamas and niyamas is Ahimsā, which literally means ‘not causing harm’. It’s also variously translated as non-killing or non-violence. But whichever way you translate it, it is a pretty important concept and it is what this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is shining light on: kindness. Kindness to ourselves, others and the environment.

To tie in with Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme for my classes this week is kindness. I wanted to write something about this week but I feel a bit lost for words right now. Recently I’ve been struggling with expressing myself and finding the right words to describe my emotions. It’s been easier resharing a relatable meme than trying to articulate the things going on in my head. The pace at which my emotions have oscillated between downcast and desperate to deliriously grateful really is something. I’m calling it The Lockdown Rollercoaster. I’ve also found it increasingly uncomfortable to be openly vulnerable for various reasons, but particularly because there are so many people in much more difficult positions than me.

This year the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is, for me, a timely reminder that being kinder to myself is a great place to start. Instead of constantly criticising myself for not achieving certain goals, I’ve reminded myself to do what I can and accept that it is enough. It often feels like you should share how you feel because that is what everyone else and their dog and/or cat is doing and that’s okay. There’s a lot of encouragement to talk right now - lockdown having ramped that up big time - but there may be reasons why you don’t want to talk or can’t and that’s okay too.

These ‘unprecedented times’ (couldn’t not use that phrase) seem to have brought a need for connection, which comes from talking about our feelings. Maybe because there simply isn’t much else to connect us right now - no new news. All of this is okay - talk if you want to, don’t if you can’t - but make sure this is coming from a place of self-compassion.

At a very basic level, kindness must start with ourselves. When we start with kindness and self-compassion, we can prevent shame from wearing down our self-esteem. Kindness next extends to other people. Right now, these acts can be as simple as phoning/Housepartying/Zooming your lonely lockdown relative or friend or smiling to a stranger.

However, the official guys at Mental Health Awareness Week are going bigger and saying that we need to take kindness seriously as a society, that this will have a major impact on improving our collective mental health. They want to use the week to explore the sort of society we might and would like to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic.

While I am a big over-sharer in some areas of my life, until I started training to be a yoga teacher I was quite private about my struggles. I didn’t know how to talk about how sad I was and felt so much shame about having an eating disorder. I still find it hard trying to explain my emotions to others, or even express them to myself, and for whatever reason, I continue to hold back sometimes, BUT I do know that since I started being more forgiving of myself it has got easier. I know this might read like a massive contradiction but that feels appropriate as our difficulties usually do contradict each other and leave us feeling messy and confused. Trying to put that into words for somebody else feels overwhelming.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong approach when it comes to opening up about mental health, but I do think when we start being kinder to ourselves, we can then take that out into the world. Then maybe we can be a part of the once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-imagine a kinder society.

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