I read a study once that stated the incidence of obsessive-compulsive disorder was 10-fold greater in bipolar patients than the general population (see more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/bipolar-disorder/anxious-bipolar-patient#sthash.RRY1nBjh.dpuf). This made me take pause and observe my own obsessive-compulsive thinking, as I have bipolar I. What I have noticed over the past two or three years since reading that study is that my awareness of my repetitive thinking has increased.
Once I began to become aware of that type of thinking, I would often begin to notice next the tension that I held physically during this repetitive thinking, how shallowly I breathe, and then how disconnected I am from my body sensations and from the rhythm of my breath in those moments. Finally, I begin to appreciate how simple awareness can redirect my attention. This awareness has helped me improve the quality of my life tremendously.
Circumstances often accumulate to create this body-mind-breath fun house: hunger, lack of sleep, a flirtation… I am susceptible to being thrown off-kilter by the most common events. I remedy the dysfunction by some sort of dharana practice, or intense focus. The practice of intense focus can accompany asana (Yoga postures), breath work, affirmations, mantra or japa (repetition of God’s name). As long as I am thinking about what I am doing, the OCD thinking can be yoked. Yoga means “yoke.” The more I yoke the thoughts, the more they subside and the less frequent they become!
I use Yoga postures, breathing techniques, affirmations, mantra and japa as vehicles for gathering mental energy to redirect the OCD thinking-energy. Intensive focus clears space for the delicious feeling that accompanies stillness and well-being. The surrender to well-being is called ishwara pranidhana. Engaging in enjoyable, focused practices may have the potential to transform obsessive-compulsive thinking or behavior. I experience it, though there are no studies yet to confirm my experiences. Have you noticed that by doing something captivating and enjoyable, your OCD symptoms have been alleviated?
Recently, I have noticed the calming, rhythmic and empowering force of replacing repetitive thoughts with mantra, repetitive sounds. Finding a Sanskrit mantra, a mantra that addresses something that I want – a husband, a clear pathway for a new endeavor, or the soothing Gayatri or Mahamritunjay mantras, for example – inspires me to return to their primal, resonant sounds, either mentally or verbally, as an antidote to the downward pull of negative thinking, over and over. For me, negative thinking often comes in the form of meditations on my anxiety or sense of lack. The mantra technique has become a welcomed personal infusion of Yoga into my daily practice or life sadhana. Mantras are a sanctuary for my mind when I am spinning, hypo-manic, and when I feel like I am falling in love (that gets me every time!).
I find that the effects of mantra are more powerful in Sanskrit than in English, but starting with English affirmations was a lovely introduction to this soothing mental exercise for me. “AUM” or “om” is a nice sound to repeat.
Mantra can be used on-the-go and requires no props or special body movement – taking Yoga off the mat, where it really belongs.
Diet informs my mental wellness strategy, too. I notice that eating a diet higher in protein and maintaining my blood sugar throughout the day minimizes those spikes in repetitive thinking.
Transformation is a process. Change your mind, change your life. AUM!