5 Ways Language Learning Helps Fight Depression

If your mental health is suffering and you feel like you’ll never feel better, learning a language can help you with that. Maybe you’re going through big changes in your life, suffering from clinical depression, experiencing yucky weather, or bored with your daily routine. Ultimately, depression affects each of us in a debilitating way, so I’d like to tell you 5 ways language learning helps fight depression.

1. Language learning activates different areas of our brain. 
Depression can cause brain shrinkage, inflammation, and reduced functionality of different areas in our brain. Learning a language, however, increases the size of our brain. Our brains grow in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. Additionally, we’re delaying brain deterioration, which can protect us from dementia. It can also improve cognitive abilities with memory, creativity, flexibility, problem-solving, and other intellectual capacities.

2. Language learning helps connect you with other people.
Depression causes us to feel alone in the world. If you’re taking language classes or learning through an app, you’ll connect with other people. Whether you’re in class or at a language exchange group, you have a reason to communicate with others.

You might also find that people in your town speak the language you’re learning. If you’re abroad in that country, you’ll be able to learn more about the culture while improving upon your language skills. Many apps have forums where you can ask questions and practice new lessons. You could also connect with others through social media or online classes via video calls.

3. Language learning helps widen the scope of future possibilities.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you may feel mentally and emotionally blocked and that you’ll never feel happy again. When you’re learning a language, you’ll feel that the world offers lots of opportunities to practice the language.

You may feel inspired to visit that country for a vacation or for something longer. You may even want to study, teach, volunteer or work abroad in that country because it gives you a reason to practice the language you’re learning. Language and culture are intertwined, so it’ll open up chances for you to experience the country at a different level.

4. Language learning helps you out of a negative spiral of thoughts. 
One of the nastiest symptoms of depression is when our minds play tricks on us. It tells us that we’re worthless and that life is hopeless. Learning a language provides a healthy distraction to that negative spiral of thoughts.

When you’re learning a language, your mind is focused on other things. You’ll want to absorb music, podcasts, movies, and books in the language you’re learning. You’ll be focused on the grammar and vocabulary, and you’ll spend more time reading forums, looking at blogs, and asking questions to help you understand new things.

5. Language learning helps you feel motivated and productive.
With depression, you want to stay in bed and do nothing because you feel paralyzed or unmotivated. Learning a language will give you a reason to get out of bed. Whether you’re learning from an app or in a class, you can get to the next chapter or the next level. Many language learning apps involve games and pictures. You can also practice with vocabulary flashcards and filling in lyrics of songs (lyricstraining.com).

Most of all, learning a language is fun! It’s challenging and rewarding. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s a good feeling when you memorize something new or finally understand a tough grammar point. You don’t have to be the best or the most fluent! Learning a language is a long-term opportunity to view communication in a different light. Plus, you’ll be doing yourself (and your brain) a favor mentally, emotionally, and socially.

How else does language learning help with depression? Thanks for reading!

What Death Teaches Us

Unless someone we know/know of passes away (interesting euphemism), we don’t think about the fact that one day, we’ll cease to exist on Earth anymore. We all continue to live our lives, run errands, go to work, do the chores, and relax and have fun when we can. While death is a taboo topic (probably religious undertones to it), I still think we need to acknowledge what death teaches us.

Hourglass in black and white.

We have a limited amount of time in our lives.

All of us make several choices a day, and we have a lot of freedom with those choices. Unfortunately, we cannot make the choice to live forever (maybe in the future with robots and downloading our conscious), and it’s a scary thought. Sometimes at night when I’m lying in bed, chills run down my spine and the hairs on my arms raise just thinking about the fact that one day, I will not get to experience life anymore.

(Side note: For those of us who have depression that might think of death often as an escape sometimes, which is a permanent solution to a temporary problem ‚ÄĒ medication and counseling are helpful in diminishing these thoughts¬†‚ÄĒ let death teach you to embrace life.)

So, what does death teach us? It teaches us to notice the small things and be grateful for them, like the warmth of the sun on your face or the splashes of rain, the wind breezing through your hair, and the feel of grass underneath your toes. It teaches us to savor the hops in beer and the taste of your partner’s lips with a kiss. It teaches us to appreciate the sound of a child’s laughter, the touch of soft fur on a puppy, and the feeling you get when your food at a restaurant arrives.

Death also teaches us to dig deep into ourselves to consider what we desire most in our life. If your dreams are to build a career, have a good life with a soulmate, or to exercise until you’re fit, then you know you’ll have to face many fears and obstacles along the way, but do it anyway. If some of your friends and family don’t support you, do it anyway. If you think you just can’t go on or you keep procrastinating, take a breather, stop with the excuses, and do it anyway. (Granted that these things are good and legal.)

No one said life was going to be easy. No one said there aren’t going to be @$$holes who try to get in your way. While you cannot “live life to the fullest every day,” you can certainly appreciate the small things, work inch by inch towards your goals and dreams, embrace new opportunities to try new things, travel and meet people, and realize that you will fall and fail sometimes, but you only get this life (that we know of). Screw being in a rut or being paralyzed by fear. Screw the haters and naysayers. It’s better to celebrate the small victories along the way and keep trying, then to give up or do nothing.

What positive things has death taught you?

Thank you for reading!

5 Documentaries to Inspire Change for People with Depression/Anxiety

While Netflix is chock-full of documentaries that cover everything from the environment to empowerment, I’m always on the lookout for documentaries that can help me learn more about mental health and how to shift¬†my attitude toward life. Sometimes, we just need some inspiration or a kick in the butt to motivate us to work towards happier, healthier lives.

Brain firing off sparks

Does our brain control us, or do we control it?

While the following documentaries¬†won’t solve all of your problems, you might learn a think or too, and they might help you put things into perspective.

1. Happy
This documentary explores the emotion of happiness by interviewing people from all over the world (including victims of traumatic accidents) from the United States to India and seeing what makes these people happy. Scientists have discovered that your happiness is 50% genetics, 10% environmental, and 40% your own attitude. With this 40%, you could help boost your happiness levels by practicing gratefulness and helping others.

2. Food Choices
After watching this documentary, my fianc√© and I decided to make a huge change with our diets. You’ll learn about the lies of industries that promote¬†false claims about the benefits of milk, meat, eggs, and fish, and you’ll learn about how a plant-based diet can lower the inflammation in your body, thereby reducing symptoms of mood disorders.

3. The Secret
Some people might think the content in this documentary is all mumbo jumbo, but I still think they’re onto something with the importance of having goals and envisioning success from these goals. “The Secret” focuses on the “law of attraction,” which states that your thoughts have positive vibes, and with these vibes, you’re attracting positive things in your life. Talk about the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4. The Minimalists
While this documentary doesn’t focus exclusively on mental health, it does talk about the importance of relationships in our lives. In our capitalist country, we believe that money is everything, and the possessions we have will impress people and raise our status. But the joy from that is short-lived. The real joy is not how many possessions we have, but the happiness we feel from socializing with friends and family

5. Neurons to Nirvana
This documentary takes a deep look into psychedelic drugs and why our country frowns upon researching them. With so many cutting-edge healthcare developments in this century, we should be searching for new ways to help people with mental health disorders, and it covers how ketamine has had positive results. You won’t look at psychedelics the same way after watching this.

More and more documentaries are touching on mental health, which is a good sign toward diminishing the taboo of this topic. Just keep an open mind while you’re watching these, and you’ll be surprised at what you learn along the way.

What are your favorite inspirational documentaries?

Thank you for reading!

5 Favorite Things About Yoga

When you think about yoga, you probably think of super skinny flexible women who can do all of the expert poses. While I’ve been practicing yoga for a couple years now (mostly three times a week), I’m still working towards that point. It’s nice to have goals though, right?¬†Sometimes it’s difficult to feel motivated to get on the mat to practice yoga, so I’ve come up with my five¬†favorite things about yoga.

Yoga pose

Reach towards the goodness of yoga.

1. Cool-sounding poses

Sanskrit, a classical Indian language that goes back thousands of years, is the language of yoga. Within this language is a philosophy that breathes deep into our minds and bodies when we practice. When you hear certain words, it taps into your consciousness and can help you get the most out of class. My favorite ones are tadasana (mountain pose), supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose), and savasana (corpse pose). The words might sound a bit scary at first, and it helps if you learn some of the syllables and how to pronounce the words.

2. Different levels

Almost everyone (and any gender) can practice a variety of yoga poses. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you can focus on different parts of your body you want to improve from core to arms to back to legs. Most of the poses aren’t that difficult, but if you do them repeatedly, that’s when it can get a bit tough, so stamina is the key here.¬†Thousands of YouTube videos will help you get started, and¬†most gyms offer yoga group fitness classes, or you can go to a local yoga studio. Beginner, immediate, and advanced are the main levels, so more practice equates to leveling up.

3. Mental health benefits

Practicing yoga consistently helps improve and elevates your mood, reduces anxiety, and eases the symptoms of depression. Yoga also decreases inflammation in your brain, increases positive emotions and lowers negative ones, boosts your brain power, improves memory and concentration, protects your brain from aging, and helps you feel more mentally alert and energetic.

4. Physical health benefits

Yoga has a plethora of health benefits, and I can’t even list them all here because it would be too long. The main ones: improves flexibility, posture, and balance; decreases headaches; improves bone health; boosts immunity; drops your blood pressure; improves digestive health and lowers blood sugar.

5. Affecting your life off the mat

Not only are you reaping the benefits of yoga from practicing on the mat, yoga is also affecting your life off the mat in positive ways. Yoga helps you learn how to listen to your mind and body and better, especially your breathing. When you’re flustered from waiting in lines or in traffic, you’re upset about something, or you’re having trouble falling asleep, you learned from yoga how to listen to your breath to help calm you down. Yoga also helps you improve your attitude toward life and the importance of being in the present moment.

After practicing yoga consistently, you’ll start to notice subtle changes in how you feel overall. The benefits of yoga are not instant, but if you stick with it, you’ll improve your quality of life and your relationship with yourself and others. Hopefully these five things listed will motivate you to get started, to keep going, and to never give up! The yoga pains you’ll feel from practicing are just making way for strength and resilience down the road.

What are your favorite things about yoga?

Thanks for reading!

9 Yoga Poses for Traveling in Cars, Airports, and Planes

While traveling to new places can be exciting and adventurous, it¬†takes a toll on your body and mind. From the stress of making your flight on time to the frustration of¬†being cramped in a small seat, ¬†you’ll feel the aches and pains from your head down to your toes. The good news is, however, that you can still practice yoga poses on the way to your destination.

Colorful person doing a tree pose.

You can do yoga just about anywhere.

Mats and candles? Not needed. As you’re going, get the blood flowing with these yoga stretches:

Cars/Buses: You might need to sit down for these poses. Well, actually, you probably don’t have much of a choice (haha). Sitting down for long periods of time tightens your entire body and slows down your body’s circulation. While in your seat, repeat some of these poses ‚ÄĒ

  • Seated cat/cow: With your hands on your knees, breathe in as you look up and then breathe out as you arch your back and look down between your legs. It’s all about using your core here. You might hear your back crack a couple of times, which feels oh so good.
  • Lotus pose: Not recommended if you have knee issues, but highly recommended to stretch your hips and inner thighs. You can do half-lotus, where you’ll place your right foot onto your left thigh, take about 10 breaths, and repeat. You could also do full lotus, where you’ll sit with¬†your right foot onto your left thigh and your left foot onto your right thigh at the same time. Let your hands rest on your knees as you straighten your back for 10 breaths.
  • Eagle pose: To circulate the blood more¬†and to stretch your shoulders and back muscles, try this pose. Bend your arms to a 90 degree angle. Place your right elbow under your left elbow, interlock them, and try to press your palms together. Make sure your shoulders are reaching away from your ears and your elbows are parallel to the floor.¬†Place your right leg over your left leg, hook your right foot on your left leg’s calf, and squeeze. Inhale, take a few breaths, and switch.

Airports: Even though airports are crawling with crowds, you still have the freedom to practice yoga poses by your gate¬†in an open area. Bonus: You can practice standing poses. No need to be embarrassed, as you’ll never see most of these people again.

  • Halfway lift: A great pose to stretch your hamstrings and to alleviate anxiety/depression and digestion. As¬†you’re standing with both feet on the floor, reach to touch your toes. Then inhale as you rest your hands onto your calves or thighs in a halfway position, straighten your back, and exhale as you reach to your toes again.
  • Mountain pose:¬†Stand with your arms at your sides, palms facing outward. With your feet flat on the floor, slightly apart, press your weight evenly on the balls and arches of your feet. Use your thigh muscles to engage your knees slightly upward, lengthen your tailbone with a neutral pelvis, and move your shoulders away from your ears to broaden your collarbones. Get tall from your feet to the crown of your head. Soften your face muscles and stay here for several breaths.
  • Seated forward bend:¬†Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Make sure your hips and buttocks both even on the floor. Inhale and lean forward using the hip joints, and reach to grab your feet with your head raised. Inhale to lengthen the torso more and exhale to reach forward more.

Airplanes: Similar to cars and buses, you don’t have much room to stretch, but you can still lean your seat back¬†and practice a couple of poses.

  • Neck, ankle, wrist/hand rolls: Sit straight up with your shoulders down and back, and roll your neck side to side a couple of times then roll your neck to the right side with your right arm over your head reaching for the left ear and your left hand on your shoulder for about 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side. For the ankles, roll your ankles clockwise and counterclockwise several times. Point your toes outward and then flexing inward for a couple of breaths. Repeat this with your wrists and hands.
  • Twisted chair pose: This is a great pose for lubricating the spine, and twists are always great for digestion. While sitting, inhale your hands into a prayer position. Keep your knees side by side and twist from the spine as you exhale your right elbow onto your left knee. Now exhale your left elbow onto your right knee.
  • Anterior/posterior shoulder stretch: With both feet on the floor, lean forward as you grab the chair behind you. Keep extending as you move forward and hold for about 10 breaths. With your feet on the floor, reach your arms outward and interlace your fingers with your palm inward. Round your back as you drop your head to look down and hold for about 10 breaths.

Lather, rinse, repeat. When you arrive at your accommodation, you can do a couple of child poses and bridge poses in your hotel room to loosen you up even more. Throw in a few planks and other balancing poses if you’re up for it. If you have the time and there’s an exercise room nearby, you’re in luck to do a lengthier yoga routine!

What are your favorite poses to do while you’re on the move?

Thank you for reading!

6 Reasons to Go on a Plant-Based Diet

After recently watching the documentary “Forks over Knives” on Netflix, my fianc√© and I felt compelled to rethink what we were eating. Over thousands of years, the human body adapted to eating plants, but meat?¬†Not so much. Meat is a huge industry in the United States, and most of us probably grew up eating meals based on beef, pork, and chicken. However,¬†our bodies crave the nutrition from fruits and vegetables. Everybody knows this, but many don’t actually try to base their meals on plants. Maybe you should need a little extra push. So, why go on a plant-based diet?

Bowl of kiwi, almonds, and berries.

A colorful adventure.

Here are 6 reasons to go on a plant-based diet:

1. You’ll Save Money
Think about how much money a month you spend on meat, eggs, cheese, and milk. Probably around $10 per day. ¬†Now think about replacing that amount for fruits and vegetables. Once you’ve armed yourself with lots of spices, the most expensive part is actually out of the way. You could be spending less than $5 a day for food¬†by eating plant-based meals!¬†You can do this by¬†buying in bulk, joining a community farm, going to a farmer’s market, growing your own plants, and shopping at different grocery stores.

2. The Meals Will Be More Interesting
How often do you make meat and potatoes? Spaghetti and meat sauce? Eventually you recycle the recipes and keep eating the same boring meals. Why not shake things up a bit?¬†Consider recipes like black bean quesadillas with avocado, creamy coconut curry, portobello burgers, vegetarian gumbo, and more. Don’t those sound a little more interesting? Have your significant other, friends, or kids help join you in the cooking process for some fun and quality bonding.

3. You’re Raising Your Intake of Healthy Foods
You’re probably wondering…what about protein? Don’t worry, you can get most of your protein from beans, whole grains, lentils, legumes, nuts, and tofu. Instead of eating too much protein from meats and getting most of your calories from starches, you’ll be raising the nutrition levels of your diet by making these protein alternatives the stars of the meal with fruits and vegetables as the sidekicks.

4. It’s Environmentally Friendly
With a plant-based diet, you’ll be doing the world a favor. Animal agriculture causes forests to be cut down for animals to graze on the land, causes nearly 1/5 of greenhouse gases, causes huge amounts of waste pollution, causes species extinction, and causes huge amount of water consumption, and more. Why not reduce your part in all of this by eating more plant-based meals?

5. Reverse or Reduce Your Chance of Diseases
Animal products are high in trans fat and saturated fats, and they expose us to toxic levels of antibiotics and carcinogens. If you want to reduce your chances of a shortened lifespan, gaining weight, clogging your arteries, heart problems, cancer, and memory-based and motor-based diseases, then eating plant-based meals is the way to go.

6. You’ll Feel Happier Overall
By reducing your intake of meat, dairy, sugary and refined foods, and increasing your intake of probiotics from nutritional foods, you’ll reduce the inflammation in your brain, sleep better and lower your levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Plus, you’re digestive system will overall run better, which means fewer bellyaches and blocked plumbing issues.

Eating plant-based foods will definitely be a lifestyle change, and your body will have to adjust to the differences in your diet. Just be careful about your intake of oils, hidden fats from nuts, and calorie intake as well.¬†The transition should be slow and gradual. You don’t need to give up meat completely. And guess what? It’s okay to eat a hamburger or steak every now and then, but you should view that more as a special treat. If you do choose to be a vegan or vegetarian, educate others on the benefits. ūüôā

What plant-based recipes do you suggest?

7 Unique Ways to Practice Mindful Meditation

When you think of mindful meditation, you might think of having to take time out of your day to sit cross-legged with your hands on your knees saying, “ohm.” You don’t have to practice meditation just this way though. Mindful meditation can be incorporated into activities and practiced in many different ways.

Women meditating with hearts in front of her

Love the present moment.

The main thing to know about mindful meditation is that it’s all about awareness in the present moment without judgment. It sounds so simple, yet so difficult, especially when we feel we don’t have enough time, but you just have to make it a priority. I’ve offered a few unique ways to practice mindful meditation:

1.Walking meditation
If you ever walk your dog, walk during your lunch break, or walk to/from your car in the parking lot, you can practice walking meditation. To practice, choose a path where you want to practice walking meditation.

Let your arms hang, look straight ahead, and notice your breathing. As you walk, say “in” as you breathe in and say “out” as you breathe out. Sync the “in” with your left foot and your “out” with your right foot. When your mind wanders, come back to your breathing and¬†become more aware of your senses and body motions. Try for 10-15 minutes.

2. Body Scan
You can practice this sitting or lying down in your bed with your eyes open or closed. Starting from the top of your head, imagine that your body is breathing in and out of this area and that every breath releases stress and tension. Continue down your body with your face, neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, back, arms, hands, mid-area, upper legs, lower legs, feet, and toes. Go as slowly as you can, focusing back to your body when your mind wanders.

3. Practicing yoga
As soon as you roll out the mat, commit your mind fully for the entire length of time you’re practicing yoga. This is SO difficult for me, but I continue to work on it! Every move you make, notice how your body feels, challenge yourself to push further, and notice your breathing. The breath is everything in yoga, so if you ever feel your mind wander, come back to your breath.

4. Driving
When you’re in the car, maybe turn off the radio to spend that time by yourself. Notice how you’re feeling. Are you rushing? Are you angry? You have complete control to decide to enjoy the scenery, observe your surroundings, and staying calm. Notice your breath. Just breathe out the stress of the day and decide to shift your attitude toward being awesome and having a good day.

5. Eating
This is my favorite way to practice mindful meditation! Decide to turn off the TV or music and to make it just you and the meal. With every bite you take, notice how it feels and tastes on your tongue. As you chew, savor the flavors of your meal. As you sip your tea or coffee, enjoy the warmth of the liquid and how it feels running down your throat. Make every moment count.

6. Bathing
When you’re in the shower, notice your thoughts. Are they wandering towards your worries? Planning out what you need to do for the day or what you have left to do? Instead, shift your awareness to the warmth of the water on your body, the touch of the loofah, the smell of the soap as you lather. Enjoy this time for yourself.

7. Reciting gathas 
Last but not least, you can practice reciting gathas as you do trivial activities, like folding the laundry or washing dishes. These short poems can shift you back to the present moment when you wake up or fall asleep. You can learn more here.

The present is all we have. We can’t change the past, we can’t predict the future, so you might as well enjoy the little moments throughout the day to make the most of it. Be grateful for these moments. Focusing on the present with mindful meditation will help ease your anxiety, regulate your moods, and make your brain overall more resilient.

What suggestions do you have to practice mindful meditation?