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    Ancient Practices That Can Help Maintain Good Mental Health

    By Pragati Singh
    19 Aug'23  9 min read
    Ancient Practices That Can Help Maintain Good Mental Health

    Our history is full of stories of diverse civilisations that have illuminated the path to improve mental health with their unique practices and perspectives. Let's gain inspiration from these ancient cultures, where we have discovered valuable lessons that resonate in our modern world too.

    Ancient Practices That Can Help Maintain Good Mental Health

    Our history is full of stories of diverse civilisations that have illuminated the path to improve mental health with their unique practices and perspectives. Let's gain inspiration from these ancient cultures, where we have discovered valuable lessons that resonate in our modern world too.

    In the midst of a modernised and fast-paced world where globalisation and technological development have transformed the way we live, there remains a captivating string that binds us to the wisdom of the past. Over the course of time, “contextualising” the world's most ancient civilisations have left us with a wealth of practises that are relevant even today.

    Among these enduring traditions, perhaps the most fascinating are those that provide us the insight into nurturing good mental health. However, there might be cultural differences in these practices, which frequently emphasise holistic well-being, sense of community, mindfulness, and a connection to nature.


    Origin- Mindfulness, referred as sati in Pali and smṛti in Sanskrit, has its roots in Buddhist teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. It was an integral part of the path to enlightenment outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path (Symbol of Dhamma, 'The Wheel' presenting eight rays signifying eight principles- Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood. Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration).

    Buddhism defines mindfulness as the practice of cultivating present moment awareness- a clear and non-judgmental observation of one's thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.

    Relevance Today- In a nutshell, mindfulness has evolved into a revolutionary tool for promoting mental health and well-being. By cultivating a sense of balance, inner peace, and emotional wellness, it offers a practical approach for individuals to navigate the challenges of modern life. Incorporating mindfulness into mental health treatment has led to the development of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) that are widely used in clinical settings. These interventions, rooted in the wisdom of the Buddhist tradition, have shown potential in easing the symptoms of several kinds of mental health issues. For instance, Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs have revealed that they can reduce cortisol levels and ease anxiety symptoms. Hence, Individuals who practise mindfulness can manage stress by boosting relaxation, limiting reactivity, and breaking the cycle of rumination (Overthinking).

    Moreover, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can help in breaking the cycle of depressive rumination and negative thought patterns. Mindfulness enables individuals to observe emotions without getting entangled in them, hence helps in curbing impulsivity and further building resilience. Apart from this, mindfulness also improves concentration and encourages self awareness, with the help of which individuals can gain understanding of their thought patterns, triggers, and habitual reactions, promoting personal growth and transformation.

    According to research, regular mindfulness practice can lead to changes in brain structure and function, including increased grey matter density in regions associated with self-awareness, compassion, and emotional regulation.

    Forest Bathing

    Origin- The practice of "forest bathing," known as "shinrin-yoku" in native language, originated from Japanese civilization. Drawing inspiration from ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices that signifies spiritual ties with nature, the term "shinrin-yoku" was coined to encapsulate the essence of this practice.

    Relevance Today- In a world where technology often keeps us indoors and disconnected from nature, The Japanese practice of "forest bathing" serves as a reminder of the healing potential of nature and its pivotal effect on cultivating good mental health. As an ancient practice revised to current times, forest bathing serves as a powerful antidote to the stresses of modern life. Its inclusion into wellness programs, mental health therapies, and even urban planning underlines its importance.

    Forest bathing fosters an intense sense of connection with the natural world and a consciousness of how interdependent humans are on the environment. Furthermore, exposure to nature has been related to improved cognitive function, including increased focus, attention, and creative thinking. Forest bathing also improves mental clarity and helps to eliminate mental clutter.

    It also encourages the release of endorphins, or "feel-good" hormones, which is another advantage. This results in a boost in mood, a decline in depressive symptoms, and an improvement in overall emotional health. Forest bathing encourages mindfulness as individuals engage their senses fully in the natural environment and thus foster present-moment awareness.

    Additionally, phytoncides are natural compounds released by trees, and have also been demonstrated to strengthen the immune system. While taking a forest bath, inhaling these substances can boost your immunity.

    Thermal Baths and Hydrotherapy

    Origin- The Romans had an intense appreciation for the healing power of water. Their bathing culture was influenced by the Greeks and then it further developed into an integral part of daily life and social interaction. They had constructed grand bathing complexes that included various rooms with different water temperatures and features. These complexes served as communal spaces for relaxation, socialisation, and healing. They also used to build structures around natural mineral springs and utilised aqueducts to supply clean and flowing water to their bathhouses. The mineral-rich water was valued for its therapeutic qualities hence they were believed to offer therapeutic benefits and not just use to provide hygiene. The various pools, hot baths (caldarium), warm baths (tepidarium), and cold baths (frigidarium) were used in a sequence believed to promote health and well-being.

    Relevance Today- The Roman tradition of thermal baths and hydrotherapy are the foundation of modern spa culture and wellness practices. Today's thermal baths and hydrotherapy centres also provide a place for relaxation, rejuvenation, and nurturing mental well-being. By drawing from the ancient wisdom of the Romans, contemporary hydrotherapy continues to offer a holistic approach to physical and mental health, inviting individuals to immerse themselves in the healing power of water. As a result, warm water immersion improves blood flow to the brain, enhancing mental clarity and cognitive performance. It might be an ideal spot for pondering and creative thinking. Thermal baths can also establish the mind-body connection as the combination of soothing waters, ambient lighting, and serene surroundings fosters a sense of harmony.

    Hydrotherapy, such as warm baths, can help improve sleep quality by relaxing muscles and fostering calmness before bedtime. Lastly, Immersing in water can evoke a sense of rejuvenation and renewal, both physically and mentally. This is how it relieves the stresses of daily life.

    Also check - 6 Skills That Are Difficult Acquire But Are Essential For Your Success

    Cultivating Wisdom and Balance

    Origin- Many well-known figures, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were born and raised in ancient Greece. These thinkers established philosophical schools that analysed fundamental questions associated with existence, ethics, and the nature of humanity. The long history of Greek philosophy serves as a timeless guide for happiness. We can conquer life's obstacles with resiliency, take pleasure in the little things. Lead lives that are meaningful and fulfilling by embracing wisdom, balance, and the cultivation of virtues. The search of wisdom extended beyond academic knowledge to practical applications that directed moral behaviour.

    Relevance Today- As we work to improve our mental health and live more meaningful lives, the wisdom of ancient Greece is still applicable today. Some of the its virtues are:

    >> Stoicism- Resilience in Adversity: The Stoic philosophy, supported by figures such as Epictetus and Seneca, promotes the development of inner resilience in the face of challenges. This approach teaches us to concentrate on what is under our control and accept outside circumstances with calm acceptance, which further supports emotional well-being.

    >> Epicureanism- Pursuing Pleasure and Moderation: The ideology of Epicureanism that emphasised moderation and the pursuit of simple pleasures. This method serves as a helpful reminder of the value of keeping a balanced, modest lifestyle and finding joy in life's little pleasures.

    >>Aristotelian Virtue Ethics- Flourishing and Fulfilment: Aristotle's virtue ethics focused on developing virtues such as bravery, wisdom, and kindness. These virtues help us live in eudaimonia (Greek word translating to the state of 'good spirit'), or flourishing, by ensuring that our actions are consistent with our values and promoting a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

    >> Socratic Method: Self-Examination and Critical Thinking: The Socratic method, which is characterised by questioning and self-introspection, encourages us to practise reflective and critical thinking. This process enhances self-awareness, mental clarity, and the ability to make wise decisions.

    Apart from this, Greek philosophers encourage us to identify and control our emotions while engaging in rational decision-making, much like the harmony between reason and emotion. Furthermore, current education and therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which uses Stoic ideas to help people control their thoughts and emotions, continue to be influenced by Greek philosophical ideas.

    Nunchi- Being Sensitive to Others

    Origin- Korean society values the general welfare and maintaining harmonious relationships since history. Nunchi was established as a means of nurturing this harmony by empathising with others and adjusting one's behaviour accordingly by navigating social interactions with concern and respect for others that has developed over time. It is basically the idea of having an understanding of others' emotions and has its roots in Korea. Moreover, it is a deeply ingrained cultural practice that is greatly influenced by Confucian philosophy and social norms.

    Relevance Today- Practising Nunchi can have positive impact on mental health in several ways:

    >> Enhance Emotional Intelligence: Nunchi promotes empathy by encouraging individuals to step into the shoes of others and understand their emotional states. By strengthening interpersonal ties, this increases emotional intelligence that further influences mental wellness.

    >> Reduce Social Anxiety: The ability to read social cues and adjust one's behaviour can lessen social anxiety. Nunchi helps individuals feel more confident in social interactions, promoting a sense of ease and comfort.

    >> Mindful Engagement: Nunchi inspires individuals to be completely present in social interactions, focusing on understanding others rather than being self-centred. This mindfulness maintains mental health by increasing present-moment awareness.

    >> Reduced Loneliness and Isolation: Being sensitive to others fosters deep connections and eliminates loneliness and isolation. A sense of belonging and strengthened social bonds develops by being sensitive to others' emotions.

    Lastly, Nunchi contributes to building positive and authentic relationships. Being sensitive to others' feelings and needs cultivates trust and deepens connections, by creating a supportive network that positively develops a sense of strength due to supporting good bonds in life and also fosters overall mental well-being.

    Also check - How Sports Positively Affects Teens Who May Have Eating Disorders

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