Finding Your Bliss.
The connection between physical and mental health that allows your body to be set free of worries
We often hear that life is hard. But, it is not so much that all of life is hard; rather, life is inevitable. What is hard is stepping back and letting ourselves live our lives with intention and purpose. Everyone’s purpose is unique, but too often we find distractions that prevent us from discovering for ourselves what we truly desire. Therefore, the most important thing is not what your actual purpose is, but rather allowing yourself to be free enough to find it; to find happiness in doing things you can be proud of. In fact, the people we admire the most are those who do not seem to be struggling, who look like they have discovered their purpose and are happy. However, this perception can be problematic. The problem most people cannot overcome is daring not to be like everyone else; we cannot expect to live like someone else and be happy, because what makes one person happy may make another person miserable. Conformity or imitation is not a formula for happiness. Expecting someone to live up to certain standards, or to be like someone else, forces people to try to be something they are not and should not try to be. So rather than just pretending to have everything under control, it is important for everyone to figure out who he or she is and to live life according to what matters most to us personally. Each of us needs to own ourselves, our body, and our mind. Owning yourself is the recipe for happiness and, essentially, the way to find to find your bliss.
The first step to finding your bliss is ridding yourself of the negative ‘noise’ in your life. As Henry David Thoreau encouraged us in Walden, we should “Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.” Modern life presents us with so many distractions. Whenever we are feeling stressed, we can turn to things like food, technology, media or religion to help us avoid these stressful feelings. But, where does turning towards these things get us? The more distractions that we seek, the more our bodies are worn down by trying to processes all the extra stimuli these distractions present. The biggest source of distraction today is technology; we stare at screens for countless hours in an effort to distract ourselves; to avoid looking within and figuring out what really matters. We look for comfort in electronic friendships with people who are just as distracted and lost as we are. I am not saying that all technology is bad, but too much denial of self is. To much of anything is bad. As Thoreau explained, we need simplicity with materials and depth within ourselves. As we avoid the discomfort of genuine self-understanding, we prevent ourselves from making and true progress. The more distractions we seek, the further we move from discovering ourselves.
Self-awareness is the key to happiness. By knowing who you are as a person, you then know what to do (and what not to do) in order to make yourself happy. By removing distractions, we can then get in touch with the person that we are, as well as the person we are meant to become. It is no secret that people feel the best on days when they feel like they are living with a purpose. Mentally, the reason you feel good about yourself is because this purpose is genuine to who you are. Interestingly, this positive mental outlook can be influenced by exterior things. The connection between one’s mental outlook and physical wellbeing is underestimated. Feeling good physically can, in a sense, make or break us. It is all connected– our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. As we work to find our purpose in one aspect, the others will follow.
One of the best ways to make yourself feel mentally happy is by promoting your physical health. The National Institute of Health’s Dr. Thomas Lehmann led an experiment involving two groups of mice, an alpha group and a weaker group. Dr. Lehmann placed the alpha group into closed quarters with little room for physical activity, while the weaker group were placed into a more open environment. After two weeks, the mice that were originally alphas had been broken down to the level of the weaker mice. The mice were put into anxiety-causing stimulators and found that that repeated stressful tests caused depression in the mice that were originally the alphas. But, the mice that had been allowed to exercise during the two week period worked through the anxiety-causing simulations. As Dr. Lehmann explained, this experiment mirrors what happens to humans. Repeated stressful episodes lead to mental illnesses, like depression. Physical activity increases blood flow, which causes more oxygen to get to the brain. The limbic system is a crucial part of our brain for determining our emotional state. Therefore, it makes sense that increased levels of oxygen being pumped to the brain increases our emotional state. Exercise also aids in the release of hormones, and endorphins, which release stress. Another study reveals how running can activate parts in our brain in charge of memory and learning, making us more alert and receptive. Exercise makes one feel better about themselves by increasing our mental health,which then gives one more confidence in the person they are.
Different forms of physical activity can achieve different purposes. Again, this is why it is important to know who you are and what makes you happy. One person’s ideal exercise may not work for someone else. You can’t just follow the current exercise fad; you need to know what you need. For me, two of the most important forms of working out are yoga and hiking. Yoga is an exercise that promotes both one’s physical and mental wellbeing by encouraging a calm emotional state of mind. In yoga and meditation, you practice matching your breath to your physical actions. Breath controls action; action regulates breath. By setting up this flow, you are teaching your body and mind to act as a unit, striving for a common purpose, which in this case is the yoga pose. Each yoga exercise encourages relaxing into the pose with your breath; this releases muscle tightness and mental stress. Yoga subscribes to the theory that stress and tightness are related, and not just metaphorically. You recognize the power your mind has over your body and are therefore taught to be able to control your stress and rid your body of it effectively.
In addition to yoga, hiking is another form of activity that not only promotes physical health, but it also encourages getting back to ‘the basics.’ There is something about being outside, about being in nature that sets my soul and mind at peace. Standing in the woods, or on top of a mountain I just hiked, I feel exhausted but alive and open, like I’ve been transformed, sent into the past, to a time where everything was simple. Sometimes I allow myself to get lost on solitary hikes; I sometimes lose the path, but most of the time I lose track of time, of the outside world. There is something to be said for only living in the moment. Nature is the most natural thing on this earth. The fresh air awakens your senses and I find that my spirits are lifted when I am reminded that there are places still untouched (and untainted) by technology.
These exercises are so influential because they remind me who I am. Yoga and hiking give me time to find an inner peace. When you are placed into this calming frame of mind, then you can really allow yourself to discover who you are and make peace with that person. As discussed earlier, it is important to discover passions that are genuine to who you are as a person. Exercise, when done right, can be a form of passion. Therefore, the most important thing is not the type of exercise, but what you get out of it. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve physical and mental health.
For everyone, the things that make you happy may be different, but that is okay. There is beauty in the uniqueness of humans that allows us to have different passions. I am not saying it is important to go along with what seems to make other people happy, but rather to actually ask yourself what makes you happy. I encourage people who usually look to technology and other distractions to realize they are preventing self- discovery. I wish that, every once in a while, people would slow down, look up, and say “hello”- whether to a total stranger, or even to themselves.
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Thoreau, Henry David, Philip Van Doren Stern, and Henry David Thoreau. The Annotated Walden: Walden; Or, Life in the Woods,. New York: C. N. Potter; Distributed by Crown, 1970. Print.