Since 1949 May has been observed as Mental Health Month in the United States, and according to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness):
1 in 5 adults in the US experience a mental health condition in any given year.
During this time of physical distancing, managing good mental health can be challenging. However, there are 2 practical tools anyone can use to add to their daily routine for mental wellness: Box breathing and Qi-gong.
Box breathing is a technique used when taking slow, deep breaths. Simply relax your body and do the following: Let out all of the air in your lungs to the count of four. Keep your lungs empty for a count of four. Inhale for a count of four. Keep your lungs full for a count of four. While performing each step, you can make a box shape with your finger to guide your breath. Box breathing can heighten concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever. It can benefit anyone, especially those who want to meditate or reduce stress.
Qi-gong is a traditional Chinese exercise widely practiced and developed over thousands of years for its health benefits and as a martial art. It essentially involves simple sequences of low-impact aerobic exercises aka “flowing movements” coupled with changes in mental focus, breathing, coordination, and relaxation. Breathing and mindfulness are primary focuses of the exercise, making Qi-gong a true mind-body intervention. It is an ideal practice for anyone interested since it’s appropriate and safe for any age and gender. Physical and mental health go hand in hand and Qi-gong is an easy, practical way to improve both. Its many associated benefits make it a great nonpharmacological supplement to standard mental health treatment. Clinical trials have shown its ability to reduce stress and improve mood, specifically easing symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is no wonder since regulated breathing practices increase blood levels of endorphins and decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This is the scientific mechanism of experienced RELAXATION! Physiologically, Qi-gong may improve bone density, cardiopulmonary health, arthritis, fibromyalgia, tension headaches, and other medical conditions like insomnia. To reap all of its wonderful benefits, it is recommended people practice 30 minutes to 2 hours, 1 to 3 times per week.
Watch our short clip for demonstrations of basic box breathing and Qi-gong techniques. We hope you can use these exercises in your everyday life to improve your mental health this and every month of the year. Happy Mental Health Month, from Christina Wright and Brian Bittings of Mercer Council.