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How to improve your mental health

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As the pressures of professional and personal life mount, stress becomes an increasingly prominent issue. Stress, the state of mental and emotion tension caused by adverse or demanding circumstances, is one of the leading causes of poor mental health. Unlike physical health, mental health refers to one's overall physiological well-being; however, physical and mental health are positively correlated and affect our abilities to participate in healthy behaviors. Our partners at the Mayo Clinic have found that symptoms of stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity.

Many people consider vacations, such as extended periods of recreation away from work, their only time to relax and recharge. However, infrequent recesses are not enough to bolster one's mental health on a daily basis. At Methodist Health System, we offer alternatives and ideas to preserve and recharge mental health day-to-day. Meditation may take a different form for everyone, depending on someone's temperament and schedule; while some may find solace in craftwork or playing with a pet, formal sessions may better serve others. Kenny Kolter, both a meditation instructor at Methodist locations and founder of Gong Meditation in Arlington, emphasizes the importance of taking time daily to participate in classes like the ones he leads to focus on personal rejuvenation and renewal.

Gong meditation, which synthesizes the gong's physical sounds and vibrations with the human body's energy. Kolter says it provides a sound bridge between the physical and the emotional to sonically tap into the human spirit. When played with sensitivity, instruments like gongs, Tibetan bowls, rattles, drums, and chimes introduce a vast sonic palette. The layers of harmonics, sub-harmonics, and unique chordal structures have the capacity to quiet the mind; after all, it is made up of 70% water, so our bodies are amazing sonic conductors. Sound travels five times faster in water than in air, so when participants absorb the instruments' sounds on a cellular level, they achieve a state of peaceful, restful alertness that serves to both calm and heal.

Kolter also leads drum circles, another variety of sound-based meditation. He says drumming is a historical and international tradition that literally and physically moves us. Drumming synchronizes the lower areas of the brain (non-verbal) and the frontal cortex (language and reasoning), producing feelings of insight and certainty. As more connections are made within the brain, generated by the sound of drumming, our experiences become increasingly integrated. Likewise, in drum circles like Kolter's, drumming creates a sense of connection between participants.

Sound-based meditation, including gong meditation and drum circles, is an outlet for all people to work on their mental health. These sessions are neither physically strenuous nor, as many skeptics believe, based on a particular belief system. Kolter has led sessions at mental health facilities, churches, prisons, and outpatient behavioral health centers.

In addition to sound-based meditation, yoga is a beneficial way to stay limber and energetic, focused and alert, and more physically stable. By focusing on connections between the body and breath, participants find a nirvana-esqe stillness within themselves that provides a necessary refuge from daily life. Unlike other styles of physical activity or meditation, yoga is a gentle exercise. Because it is so easily adapted to any participant's level of flexibility or strength, the practice can be adjusted to people of any age or level of fitness - even those with certain health conditions, including arthritis or osteoporosis. Unlike other forms of meditation, yoga does not require any special equipment and can be practiced anywhere.

Hence, the effects of one's mental health are not reserved to his or her physiological well-being - they directly impact one's physical conditions, immunities, and stamina. By reducing stress levels, and thereby positively increasing mental health measurements, one may improve both their mental and physical health. For this reason, the daily preservation of mental health is so important; mental well-being is too ubiquitous to be tended to only annually.

If you find that your mental health is something which you've been neglecting, enrolling in a meditation class might be the solution to assuaging stress. Kolter conducts regular sessions all over the DFW, and on Thursday, August 3, and Thursday, September 21, Kolter will be leading drum circles at Methodist Charlton Medical Center. Methodist also offers weekly tai chi and yoga classes at its various locations, and you can find more information here.