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When was the last time you stopped to evaluate your mental strength? It’s an important part of your overall wellness—one we often neglect, especially as young Black men. It’s time to take a closer look at what it means to be mentally strong and what you can do to get there. When you begin taking steps to improve your mental fortitude, you’ll see for yourself just how valuable it is.
First things first: mental strength is an enormous component of mental health, but it isn’t the only part of being mentally healthy. You can have a mental illness diagnosis, like depression or anxiety, while also being mentally strong (especially when your condition is well controlled). Your mental toughness is all about self-awareness and self-confidence, resilience, and the ability to handle whatever challenges life throws your way. It’s also about practicing self-acceptance and being kind to yourself even when things don’t go as planned.
Does all this sound like you—or is this unfamiliar territory? Unfortunately, even in 2021, talking about our mental and emotional health is stigmatized. As a society, we’re overdue for an attitude adjustment about mental wellness and self-care. It’s high time we learned to speak more openly about our thoughts, feelings, and moods and how we can improve our mental strength. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it can help us to improve our self-esteem, work toward building resilience, and enjoy positive emotions more frequently.
I feel like I need to be honest, and speak candidly here—or else it wouldn’t be authentically me. As young Black men, we’re especially reticent to discuss our mental states. This is due in large part to us believing that others will perceive us as weak if we talk openly about our emotions. If we can be brave enough to speak up and make vulnerability commonplace, we can make it safer and easier for others to do the same. As a united community, we can end the shame surrounding mental and emotional health issues by making these conversations the nucleus of true change. We’re all in this together, and no one should ever feel alone. Vulnerability, in this instance, is the ultimate strength.
It’s easier to navigate life when you find someone who is in the same place you are—but finding that person can be a challenge. That’s why I want to encourage anyone reading this to be brave in revealing what’s going on inside of your mind. When you have the guts to speak up, you’ll be amazed at how quickly other people will empathize with your experiences and share their own.
Changing your outlook requires more than merely thinking positive thoughts. Let’s explore the habits of mentally strong people and how those behaviors can improve our own mental and emotional wellness.
1. Practice mindfulness
If you’ve never experienced mindfulness meditation before, now is a great time to give it a try. Mindfulness exercises are simple behaviors that quiet your brain and bring you back to the present moment. If you struggle with persistent negative thoughts, meditating can help you to learn to direct your attention to calmer and happier places. Its benefits include reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as better sleep and lower blood pressure. Do you want to get started? Check out these helpful mindfulness tips, which you can incorporate into your life as soon as today.
2. Stay physically healthy
Your physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. That’s why it’s so important to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get a good night’s sleep. Aim for at least five days of exercise per week, with a minimum of thirty minutes per day. If you’re pressed for time or aren’t a gym person, try going for a brisk walk on your lunch hour or after work. When you’re exercising for mental health, it’s important that you find an activity you really enjoy. You might also ask your doctor if using a mood-boosting supplement, like Onnit New Mood, is a good choice for you.
3. Write in a journal
Here’s another way to boost your mental strength: try writing in a self-affirmation journal. A self-affirmation journal is a safe place to reflect on who you are, what you’re all about, and where you want to go. It’s a great way to practice speaking kindly about yourself and to remember all the good you bring to the world around you. You can purchase a journal with helpful self-esteem prompts or use a plain notebook and these free prompts. Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to do this—whatever helps you to practice self-acceptance and celebrate your achievements is perfect for you.
4. Ask for help when you need it
I know it’s not easy to reach out and ask for help, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you haven’t been feeling your best, it’s smart to seek support from the caring people in your life. It could be as simple as venting your fears and frustrations to a friend or asking your boss for an extension on a work deadline. Or, if you’ve been feeling unwell for some time, you might need to check in with your general practitioner or a mental health specialist. In any case, you aren’t weak for asking for help when you need it. As a matter of fact, admitting that you could use some emotional support and empathy means you’re strong and self-aware.
5. Find your people
Speaking of friends, life is so much better with good people by your side. Remember that we’re all on this journey together and that leaning on one another is how we survive and thrive. When you find friends who really understand you, support you and champion you, you want to hold onto them for dear life. And while it isn’t always easy to make new friends as an adult, it’s still possible. Wherever you find your people—at work, at school, at the gym, or on a digital app—you should make them a priority. Your friendships can improve your self-esteem and help you to meet life’s challenges head-on.
6. Train your subconscious
Once I figured out how to reprogram my subconscious mind, it did wonders for my mental strength and overall mental health. I’m huge on fitting autosuggestion, visualization, and daily-affirmations into your routine. Using myself as an example, in order to train and reframe my subconscious, I repeat this phrase to myself 20 times in the morning when I wake up, and 20 times at night before I go to sleep: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Along with gratitude journaling, I visualize my goals and imagine that I can see, touch, and feel the end result of me achieving them. My favorite books on the subconscious and these daily philosophies are Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mldinow.
As you may have guessed, mental strength isn’t developed overnight, but we can all take steps to improve. Just like our biceps, triceps, hamstrings and quads, our brain is a muscle—and the most important one that we have. Without aligning ourselves mentally, we won’t get the most out of ourselves physically. As you spend more time and energy on building your self-esteem and sense of resilience, be patient with yourself. Every small choice or change you make is an excellent step in the right direction. Because at the end of the day, small steps equal great distances. Now let’s take those first few steps.
If you’ve ever taken a hot yoga class, you know it’s always going to be one thing—outrageously hot. Not the “let’s hang by the pool and get that sun-kissed glow” kind of hot either. I’m talking that “I can't believe I have this much sweat in my body” and “I may or may not pass out” kind of hot. It’s nothing to mess around with, and after a year or so of not being able to go, it’s easy to forget just how serious that heat can be.
To get the maximum enjoyment and benefits out of your heated yoga classes, you need to prepare yourself before and take care of yourself afterward. Luckily, I’ve been taking some classes (sweating enough for the both of us) and I’ve listed my five favorite must-dos to help you readjust to your heated classes and get back to the hot yoga summer that we all want.
Heated classes are difficult in nature. The normal difficulty of regular poses is mixed in with the added challenges of sweating and dealing with the humidity and the heat (at times, I’ve seen the thermostat climb to 108 degrees—yikes!). Depending on what type of yoga class you’re taking (sculpt, Bikram, power vinyasa), the difficulty level and temperature are going to vary. It’s also important to remember that each person in the room is going to practice in a way that’s unique to them. Hours slept, hydration levels, food intake, and different lifestyles are all contributing factors that make our practices different. What you practice on your mat is your own––trust your body and only do what feels right to you. And remember, it’s okay to take breaks!
The rise in temperature mixed in with the humidity that we all know and love creates the perfect recipe for sweating—like A LOT. You go into a heated class dry and come out feeling like you just took a dip in the pool. Before heated classes, I had no idea it was physically possible to sweat that much. If you’re going to a heated class, especially after a long break, it’s easy to forget just how much you might sweat. Is it possible to lose that much water if you haven’t consumed it first? Trust me, going into your heated class super hydrated is going to make a world of difference and help you feel good throughout your practice. And don’t forget to take some sips of H2O while you’re practicing!
Heated classes are challenging, but I can’t stop going. Nothing quite compares to overcoming the challenge— and experiencing the cleanse my body feels after I’m done. It’s the perfect blend of hard and rewarding, but I couldn’t do it if my body wasn’t properly nourished. On the days I know I have a heated class booked; I like to make sure I am eating right. I make sure to take my vitamins and fuel my body with fruits, vegetables, and my favorite superfood shake. I hold off on food about an hour before my practice, so I feel comfortable. After the class, I like to replenish with a big protein shake (boosted with collagen to aid with muscle recovery and skin elasticity). There is no one-way path for properly nourishing your body but making sure you’re fueled for the challenge of a heated class is essential for getting the most out of your practice and feeling good on and off your mat.
Increasing and maintaining your water intake on the days you take a heated class is important, but sometimes you need something a little extra. If you’re sweating that much, you’re basically an athlete (at least in my book) and if you’re performing like a rockstar yogi, you need to hydrate like one as well. That means replenishing those lost electrolytes. Reward yourself and your body for the hard work and treat yourself to your favorite drink. I switch off between electrolyte-boosting drinks and coconut water depending on what I’m in the mood for that day. Adding these to my post-practice self-care routine has helped me feel more hydrated after and ready to take on the world again after especially sweaty classes.
Usually, a yoga mat is all you need for your practice––but heated classes are a different ballgame. I’ve gone with just a mat, and I’ve slipped all over the place. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than having sweat drip all over the place while you’re trying to hold a pose that makes you grip your mat for dear life (never again). Make sure you bring a towel to place over your mat, this will help with support and grip. Bringing a smaller towel is also a good idea. You can use the smaller towel to dry yourself off during water breaks or whenever you’re feeling just a bit too sweaty. This is a small step that makes a world of difference during those super-hot classes.
So, there you have it. Five of my favorite tips (more like lifesavers) that have helped me readjust to those heated classes I love so much. Getting back into it is a challenge for us all, so know you’re not alone. No matter where you’re at in your practice, remember to be kind and gentle to yourself––celebrating your health and your body’s ability to do what you love. We’re all just getting back out there, together.
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