Human mind, a metaphysical entity which is nothing but a matrix of thoughts,
as different from brain which is a physical entity,
carries the potency to determine the quality of one’s physical, and mental existence.
One’s present conditions are directly proportional to the quality and state of one’s mind at present.
This makes the health of one’s mind, mental hygiene, a priority.
The view ,essence of the world which appears to be present around oneself is actually the view being projected to oneself through the filter of the mind. It is the filter of the mind, which is different from brain, which colors one’s world dark or bright, tenders her emotions low or high, turns the outlook positive or negative.
It is needless to point out the role these characteristics of the mind play in determining the quality of one’s over all living. Thus, it becomes imperative on all to keep the filter of their mind clear of all dirt and impurities in order to maintain clarity, positive outlook on the world to render their existence more healthy, peaceful and thus meaningful.
Mental hygiene in Yoga as a term stands for the process of first identifying and then getting rid of the dirt, or the toxins which can keep the mind shrouded in negative thoughts. Yes, like the toxins ingested into the physical body via junk food need to be expelled for attaining good physical health, the mind infested with toxic thoughts needs detoxification via practicing mental hygiene.
Why Mental Hygiene is Important as per Yoga
Maharshi Patanjali ( 6th century B.C.) in the very first sutra of his ‘ Yoga Sutras’. define Yoga as the ‘ control of the modifications of the mind‘. he further states that their are five modifications of the mind, both painful (klishta or negative) and painless (aklishta or positive). The painful, klishta modifications (possible states of mind) generate negative feeling like anger, hatred, jealousy, sorrow, fear, worry etc. and end up in unhappiness.
The painless aspects of these five modifications generate feelings like love, compassion, hope, courage, confidence, blessings etc. which lead to happy state of mind. Yoga recommends mental hygiene principles which teach one how to attain and then maintain the mind in the positive or painless states (modifications) most of the time.
The negative states of mind besides giving mental stress and spoiling human relations have been found to give rise to serious health hazards like cardiac issues, diabetes and asthma.
The physical impact of the negative emotions of sorrow can be instantly seen in the emergence of tears as secreted by the body and the sweat popping out of the pores in the skin due to fear.
Similarly, the negative states of mind have deeper, less obvious to the eye impacts within the body as certain chemicals have been found to be released inside the blood stream by the endocrine system in response to negative emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy etc. These toxic chemicals include cortisone and adrenaline.
These chemicals are body’s natural defense against detrimental affects of normal levels of stress which they are meant to nullify, but stress beyond a certain level, if stays for longer duration of time, pushes the level of these chemicals in the blood stream which now turns them into toxins.
Normally, a minuscule rise in the cholesterol level in the blood, a slight fall in the level of insulin secreted in the pancreas, a little cough, cold, or sneeze is within the limits of the body to take care of.
In case the levels of these natural secretions within the body are pushed to their limits, for longer durations, under the impact of sustained mental stress these very life sustaining secretions turn into poison for the body. Mental hygiene helps by dissipating the negative stress levels and maintaining the natural homeostasis of the body.
Anger has been known to cause tension and spasm in muscles around the joints. As such, any movement of the limbs like strenuous work or brisk walk when their id anger in the mind causes extra wear and tear around the bones.
Breathing becomes unequal, impaired which adversely affects the functioning of the lungs which indirectly affects the functioning of the heart leading to heart diseases. Emotional hygiene trains one in becoming more sensitive to these normally not cognizable changes in the body and how to alter the mental states to reduce their negative impact on the body systems.
The most dangerous emotions are anger and worry which are very common and go unnoticed by a untrained mind. One can easily manage anger, and stop worrying by using simple methods from human psychology.
It can be surprising for some to know that arthritis can be caused by broken marriages, worries, anxieties, financial problems, and holding on to past resentments. Our mind and body are connected, the quality and state of mind will be projected on to the body for sure.
As per the theory of evolution of Prakriti body and the mind evolve from a common source, the sattvik aspect of Ahamkara. Moreover, as per Samkhya philosophy the nature of mind is similar to the nature of the sense organs present in the physical body.
Modern medicine system has yet to find cure for cancer, forget about the cure it has yet to pin point the exact cause which triggers the normal body cells to turn cancerous. Still, cancer cells have been found to disappear from the bodies of the afflicted, from across the world, without any reason which can be empirically proved by medical science of today.
The studies conducted on patients recovered this way insinuate towards the positive state of their minds as the potent healer.
Maintain Mental Hygiene with Yoga – Parikarmas
Patanjali in his yoga sutra 33 of Chapter 1 talks about four qualities one must develop for keeping the mind purified and clean. These four qualities are Maitri (friendliness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (joyfulness), and Upeksha (benevolent indifference). All the four taken together are known a Parikarmas and are considered as the tools for maintaining mental hygiene.
Maitri (Friendliness) for emotional hygiene
One of the impurities of mind is finding faults with and not liking people who do not match our own standards of thinking and living. Moreover the emotions of jealousy and hatred for others who have been more fortunate than us in various aspects of life are the dark blotched on the canvas of our minds. We may have everything we need for a comfortable life but if someone else has a tad bit more, our mind becomes uneasy.
The negativity for our fellow brethren creeps into our minds because we are habituated to drawing comparisons with respect to everything with others. The ego ‘ Ahamkara as per Samkhya’ sometimes spins the feeling of individuality too far within us that we begin to exist as beings completely isolated from the rest of the creation. This generates negative stress which can be dissipated by consciously generating the feeling of friendliness with all we share our lives with.
Developing genuine friendliness for others connects one with them at the mental plain removing the sense of separation from them, and makes one participate in their happiness as a comrade would do. The feeling of Maitri (Friendliness) is a very effective tool of maintaining one’s mental hygiene.
Developing a genuine feeling of friendliness for someone we had been jealous of hitherto is not a easy task, it only comes with practice and proper understanding of the concept. One must not call some one a friend just for the sake of it, it has to be internalized in the heart as well as the mind.
It first takes to infuse generosity in one’s mind. Only a generous mind can feel happy in the happiness of others. The feeling is similar to what we feel for the achievements and successes of our own family members.
The state of purity is the natural state of mind as it evolves from the Sattvik aspect of Ahamkara. Its because we allow the toxic thoughts to infiltrate into it that it appears impure. Learning to develop the feeling of camaraderie for others helps scrap the negativity from the mind and boosts mental hygiene.
We must learn to congratulate our colleagues, neighbors, or friends on their achievements, no matter how small or big they are. I was not on talking terms for long with one of my female colleagues due to a showdown that happened owing to our difference on a certain issue.
Our bosses tried to help us patch up on a number of occasions but to no avail. Then this very colleague of mine invited the entire team for her marriage party which I was initially reluctant to attend but accompanied the team on my boss’s insistence.
And there, as we were standing in the line to step on to the podium to congratulate the newly married couple, the thought of friendliness streaked through my mind asI stepped in front of her, gave her a warm hand shake and congratulated her on her marriage.
It instantly took a lot of burden off my psyche which I was carrying for her since months now. I immediately realized that their is actually no harm in embracing the happiness of others as ours own. We just need that initial push to move forward and embrace it.
Karuna (Compassion) for emotional hygiene
The second tool for maintaining mental hygiene is developing the feeling of Karuna (compassion) within one’s mind. It is like putting oneself in the other person’s shoes and trying to understand the situation or issue from the other person’s angle. W can also call it empathizing with the other person.
Compassion means that one feels the pain of the other person as one’s own. Karuna is naturally inherent in humans by birth; even seen a baby girl caring for her doll like her own child. This motherly feeling toward others is compassion.
When one attempts to understand someone else pain one is of course helping the the other person but is also helping own self to a greater extent. This is because in trying to understand the other person’s pain one also gains understanding of one’s own pain.
This feeling of sharing pain with other person cleanses one’s mind of the negative feeling of dislike for that person. Thus, developing compassion for others works as a very powerful tool of Mental hygiene as it purges the mind of all negativity which are present due to the error of perception of others.
What is significant here is that the feeling of compassion for others must be generated as a self benefiting exercise and not that ‘ I am doing this for other’s good’. One has to understand that compassion if present within one’s personality is a bon for one’s own self.
Others behave in their own way, according to what they thing is right, according to their nature. One should not interpret these things as per one’s own way. Our behavior must always be the behavior of understanding.
Compassion is not recommended to be developed for fellow human beings but it must be inculcated for all life forms we share this planet with.
Mudita (joyfulness) for Mental Hygiene
The point in Mudita as a tool of mental hygiene is that one choose not to loose one’s peace of mind, joy just because situations are different. One’s life is a gift of nature to oneself, it needs to be lived with joy no matter what the apparent circumstances appear to be.
One’s happiness doesn’t lie in others hands, it is one’s internal affair. If one decided to be unhappy nobody can make one happy. One can be in the best of the situations, but if one is unhappy from within one can find hundred faults with it.
On the contrary, the person who has decided to be happy always will find joy and positivity in the darkest of the situations. This quality of maintaining one’s peace, and joy irrespective of situations is called mudita or Joyfulness in yoga.
Mudita is about feeling joy in the joy of others. It is about rejoicing in the exaltation of everything noble and holy present in this universe. Anyone who is faced with any situation has only two choices available to oneself: either be happy or sad.
Training the mind to always take things joyfully is a great instrument of mental hygiene for maintaining purity of the mind. A newly born child is always mudit, or happy, the child doesn’t need a reason to be happy.
One must be child like in the way one looks at the world around one self. Its only when maturity seeps into the mind in the form of negative emotions does one appear gloomy most of the time. When one sees punya / mangal ( auspicious acts) happening around, one must feel happy about it.
People always find something wrong (even Rama and Krushna were not spared) in others. The technique of always being joyful is to develop the habit of always seeing good in others. The joy resides within one self and not anywhere in the outside world.
One must learn to take things positively always. One must perk up one’s mental hygiene routine by constantly reminding oneself of always being positive and joyful. Learnt o be aware of the tendencies of the mind to fall in the pit of negativity.
If one sees the pictures and statues of all great people like Christ, Buddha, Mahavira, one will find blissful smiles on their faces. Their happiness didn’t depend on the outside world, it was something which surged from within.
One has to earn to not get swayed by the turmoil of the ever changing external situations, one must maintain one’s peace of mind in any situation. One should never get disturbed by seeing people not being nice to each other, or they speak lies. Instead of lamenting on what is not in one’s control one must think of developing joy within one self and spread it to others.
Upeksha (benevolent indifference) for Mental Hygiene
The fourth tool recommended for practicing mental hygiene by Patanjali is to develop Upeksha – benevolent indifference – to all that is bad in one’s personality. Upeksha means that the senses will show both good and bad qualities of people and situation one comes across, but one must be indifferent toward the negative qualities we see in other people and focus more on their good qualities.
If one searches for good one finds good, and if one searches for bad one finds bad. That is why it is said that one creates one’s own world. If one chooses to find faults and being afraid then one begins to attract situations which make one find more faults and be more afraid. one must always choose to think good, to see good in others and not the bad.
One needs to understand that no individual is only bad or good. Focusing more on the negativity prevalent around oneself is detrimental to one’s mental hygiene.
One must learn to avoid a bad character, not speak ill of him. Do not abuse such a character, just maintain distance from it. Upeksha is about benevolent (harmless) indifference to un-holiness or evil. It is the un-holi act (apunya) which is not right.
One must be indifferent o evil because the moment one comes in contact with it one gets sucked into its details. Humans beings are inherently divine and evil behavior is always situational. One must run away from the evil act and not the person committing that act.
One has to learn that one cannot change others, but only own self. one must never allow the evil to make one loose one’s balance of mind.
Conclusion: Toxic thoughts can be harmful to the physical as well as the mental health of the person. The classical yoga of Patanjali had given us four tools for practicing mental hygiene: Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, and Upeksha. Maitri is about generating the feeling of friendliness with others, or being happy in the happiness of others. This feeling will on its own replace the negative emotions of jealousy and the hatred emerging from there on.
Karuna is about developing the feeling of compassion for all, empathize or share the pain of others with own self. Mudita is about not loosing our mental balance because of external factors, and Upeksha is about learning to be indifferent to evil or what is not holy.