While the combination of therapy and medication is crucial to recovery, the addition of self-awareness tools and skills can also be beneficial. Whether you are just beginning your recovery or are further along on your journey, the holistic practices discussed on this page can be an excellent compliment to therapy and medication.
These methods of self-discovery can help you become more in touch with your mind, body and soul while giving you an increased sense of control over your recovery process. You can implement many of these recommendations by yourself on your own time. Everyone’s recovery and experience with mental illness is different. Accordingly, these suggestions will work for some, but not for everyone. There is no harm in trying one or a few of these ideas, but in the end, it comes down to what works for you.
Meditation and Guided Imagery
Meditation is a mindfulness practice that allows you to “let go” and be present in the moment. In the fast-paced world that we live in, we often do not take the time to clear our heads and be truly present in our surroundings. This can be especially true for if you live with mental illness, because we often experience high levels of anxiety or constantly racing thoughts.
There are numerous meditation techniques, which often work in combination with one another. Meditation, or sitting quietly in the present moment, can require a small time commitment of just five minutes up to, if time allows, even hours. Meditation takes practice; retraining your mind to let go does not happen immediately, but if you take the time to practice once a day or a few times a week, it becomes increasingly easier to access a meditative state. Making meditation a part of your life can lead to lower levels of stress and anxiety and a greater level of personal connectedness. Try the steps below to begin your meditation practice.
- Find a quiet place where you can be alone and away from distractions such as the conversations of others, the television or the radio.
- Sit down, either on the floor, a cushion, grass or a chair. Keep your shoulders back and your head upright. If sitting in a chair keep your back straight. You can also lie on your back. Wherever you decide to sit make sure you are comfortable.
- Rest your hands flat on your legs or clasp them together, laying them on your waist. Again, do whatever is most comfortable for you.
- Stay still. You can close your eyes or lower your gaze, letting your eyes de-focus on the tip of your nose or an inch or two in front of your face.
- Focus on your breathing, feel your surroundings, feel the air brushing against you, the ground or the object you are sitting on.
- Clear your thoughts. Your mind will naturally begin to wander when meditating; it is inevitable, especially when you are first starting. Instead of fighting these thoughts, simply try to let them go and return back to your meditative focus and correct body position.
- The more you practice the easier it becomes to get into and stay in a meditative state. Start with five minute sessions. As you become more comfortable increase the amount of time you put aside to meditate.
The Mayo Clinic offers great tips on meditating, and howtomeditate.org has great tips and videos on meditation for beginners.
Focusing on your breathing during meditation is an important component of the practice. It helps you to remember to breathe while meditating, teaches you to breathe with your diaphragm and can be a great way to clear your mind.
- Follow the same steps listed under “Basic Meditation” as far as finding a place to meditate and body position.
- You may find it helpful to rest a hand on your stomach or chest to feel the air entering and leaving your body.
- Take a slow and deep inhale, and then exhale at the same speed you inhaled. Silently count your breaths upon each exhale. Example: Breath in, breath out, one. Repeat this all the way through 10 and then restart. You can also try inhaling for five counts, then exhaling for five counts. Repeat.
- Try repeating word in your head upon each exhale instead of a number. Simply thinking “out” during each exhale, or picking a positive word like “love,” can help set a pace.
- When you have finished your deep-breathing exercise, remain seated for a couple of minutes as it is possible to get lightheaded when standing up due to the increased intake of oxygen.
Guided imagery is another excellent tool for stress reduction. The process relies on visualization and mental imagery. A trained mediator (or a recording of a trained mediator) talks you through a mental journey. Some mediators focus on helping you to imagine yourself without stress or worry, while others seek to take your mind to a quiet and positive place such as a lake or beach. After you have practiced mediation on your own for awhile, you may want to try letting someone guide your mind to these positive mental arenas. You can use the same techniques learned in the “Basic Meditation” and “Deep Breathing” sections to relax and clear your head in preparation for your mental journey.
The video on this page takes you through a 10-minute guided meditation session.
Yoga and Tai Chi
Yoga is a great way to unite your mind and body through different poses and controlled breathing. Practicing yoga for just five or 10 minutes a day can help you relax and feel more at peace with yourself. Make sure to start slow and be in control of your body to avoid injury. Yoga is not about being perfect, but respecting what your body tells you. If you can’t fully achieve a yoga pose, its okay, do what feels right for you. Please read the following general practice guidelines before starting a yoga practice. You can also try Tai Chi or breathing exercises.
Starting yoga can be as simple as following an instructional video, like this one on basic poses for beginners. You can also look online to find a class near you.
Accessing your creative side is another great way to express your emotions in a healthy manner. Whether you keep your creativity to yourself or decide to share your gifts with others, the process of personal creation or experiencing the talents of others can be very cathartic. Your level of talent is not important, what is important is learning about yourself while having fun, you might even surprise yourself with how talented you really are. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Writing can be a great way to sift through and make more sense of your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it is easier to get a handle on why you are thinking or feeling a certain way once you make your thoughts tangible. Writing poetry, comedy, fiction, creative nonfiction, journaling or blogging are all possible outlets. If you want to share this process with the world, try Wordpress, an online community where you can set up a blog for free.
Going to a museum or making art yourself can be a great stress reliever. Art is subjective and can be anything from drawing, painting, sculpting or crafting-just to name a few. Check your local newspaper for art classes or shows. Art supplies do not have to be expensive; you can start simply with a small piece of paper and a pencil. Check out artshow.com for tips and art shows near you.
Listening to music is a great way to relax or to help you motivate for a workout. Pandora.com is a free Internet radio station where you enter a song or band that you like and then songs from that artist and other similar artists will play automatically. Making music is also an option. It is never too late to pick up an instrument, all it takes is practice. Check your local newspaper for music classes.
Free dance, taking a dance class or going out dancing with friends are all great ways to have fun. Dancing does not have to be done with others; sometimes no one is a better dance partner than yourself. The best dancing often takes place behind closed doors, in your pajamas to your favorite song.
Create a Sanctuary
Creating and decorating your own special space can give you a place to help you unwind after a long day or to jumpstart your chosen creative outlet. This space could be a bedroom, nook, staircase or your favorite chair. Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive either, try making your own art and looking through yard sales for unique treasures. This space should make you feel positive and safe, then just sit back and let the relaxation and creation flow.
My Recovery and Meditation
When I speak before groups, people ask what I think caused my mental illness. I talk about trauma as well as spiritual, social, biological and psychological elements. In my experience, all of these issues are implicated but never fully explain my illness.
I am capable of creating panic beyond my control, one anxious thought leading to another. It is what Dr. Abraham Low identifies as working one’s self up. What will happen with my job? Is it safe to fly on September 11? Will I panic? Will I end up in the hospital? Will I lose everything I have?
My panic and my paranoia are a reality that I create subconsciously. A world created by words. I take medication. I now take one medication in low doses. Without this medication, the fear is too great for me to overcome. I lose the sense of reality and the emotionally loaded thoughts become screaming voices which become more and more real until they seem my only reality. But medication doesn’t do the complete job. I practice meditation, too.
Without meditation, I still endure panic attacks and voices. After years of meditation and self analysis, and now work with a psychiatrist who actually knows depth psychotherapy, I still need to constantly train myself in mindfulness and compassion. I found that fear and anxiety are caused by craving, or attachment to something or someone as if it will last in its present form forever. By learning to tolerate feelings and letting go of ideas one learns to live with how one feels, one ceases to fear fear itself or despair over despair.
Today, I feel joy, love and peace often, in spite of the continued existence of uncomfortable mental states. Without the combination of meditation and medication, I would be in and out of the hospital very frequently. I haven’t had a panic attack in several years and I have ceased to hear voices.
Ed Knight, 68, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Member, NAMI Tennessee