“Why use a ten dollar word, when a five cent word will do?”
I will write about devotion again, no doubt, but this time around, I want to reflect on how devotion to lifestyle helps my mental health. When learning or practising anything, I am devoted in the long term, and mindful in the moment. If that moment lasts for a significant period, say, more than an hour, several benefits will manifest, each of which can contribute to alleviating depression.
checklist of benefits for physical and mental exertion
- martial arts
- my skills improve
- my fitness improves
- training with and appreciating others
- playing an instrument
- skills improvement
- potential for socialisation
- improving your environment
- longer term results
- exposure to daylight and mindfulness of environment
Hand in hand with honest, reflective behaviour, each list item in someway tackles the symptoms of my depression. Improving my skills helps improve my self-esteem, one of the most insidious symptoms of depression – a personal marker for me, I always try to watch out for it. When skills improvement is teamed with goal-based learning, such as learning another pattern or a tune, then that helps too. Tangible achievements.
Increased fitness boosts my self-esteem, and it’s pretty well documented elsewhere that exercise changes your brain chemistry, and makes you feel better. A damn good training session can leave me feeling great for as much as six hours! Imagine how good it is having six hours respite from feeling rubbish. Last time that happened to me, I felt like I was seventeen years old again.
Socialisation and physical contact, whether shaking hands, demonstrating techniques, making eye contact or watching some else perform, all help to overcome the urge to withdraw. Other people may also inspire you. Martial arts training is a massive trust exercise, and promotes bonding. Musicians and martial artists are my extended family, and we care about each other, a lot.
Finally, the mindfulness that is devotion to training, practise or performing is also a relief from introspection and self-absorption. If I can spend two hours being mindful of something other than the horrors, and add on six hours of positive brain chemistry, that is quite literally time off for good behaviour. Eight hours respite. I realise I ride depression like a wave, rather than a pit, and this has chiseled away at prolonged dread and despair.
I don’t wish to be smug, or make it sound easy. I have failed to appreciate the weather, been immune to beauty, I have withdrawn from people, I have lain weeping on the kitchen floor, and I have felt absolutely worthless, and worse. I have made my partner cry. I do know what it can be like. Fortunately, this year has been the best year for quite some time, and long term devotion to my partner, training, music, teaching, and now writing – and the catharsis it brings – seem to be helping.
“Because everyone loves a big spender.”
Top photo: martial arts summer camp 2011, training in the sun with masters and beginners alike. Bottom photo: dressed as chough whilst the rest of the band dress as Jason King, sort of.