Let's talk about mental health. It's an area that I focus on with some of my Yoga Therapy work, and something I also have a personal interest in, given that I have known (and still do) many people who are living with mental health challenges which have greatly impacted their lives. I think it would be fair to say that most of us have either had times where we've been there ourselves or know people close to us who have. Given the stats I'll share below, it's also more than likely that within our classes, families or social groups we will come across those who are experiencing mental health challenges.
It wasn't too long ago that the words Mental Health really weren't part of our vocabulary and people living with mental health challenges were either deemed crazy and locked away in a mental institution, or shut down and kept quiet. It was not something you wanted to admit, and definitely not something to be talked about. Today, things are different and while it's still not completely accepted in society (in my opinion), there is more awareness and we are moving towards understanding instead of judging those who are living with these challenges. There are also many more organisations and options out there for people to reach out and to receive help.
During October, I joined the Make A Move challenge and dedicated 30 minutes every day to moving my body, asking my community to sponsor me in challenge, to raise funds and awareness for ReachOut who provide all young people with the mental health support they need to be happy and well, and work to prevent youth suicide. I managed to raise over $700 and the whole challenge raised over $200,000! I was so happy to be a part of this challenge and support the important work ReachOut are doing.
I also learned more about some of the numbers from doing this challenge, let me share them with you:
Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15-44yrs
1 in 4 youths will experience living with a mental health condition
1 in 6 Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both.
10 - 15% of older adults live with depression and 10% with anxiety
After this year, I wonder how those numbers will be. I can only imagine they will have grown immensely due to the situation, and much higher levels of fear and isolation that many, especially the older members of our community may have been experiencing.
I could personally tell you all about the powerful impact that the medicine of Yoga has on the young mothers that I work with every week at St John of God Hospital. Every time I work with them, I am blown away by how it just WORKS. I could talk forever about the many students from my classes who have found their way out of depression, learned how to manage anxiety, report they sleep better, or feel more connected, supported and not lonely anymore. But some may call this here-say and not trust in it as proper evidence, so luckily science is backing up what we already know, and proving more and more for those who need research studies and numbers, that Yoga has a positive effect on Mental Health (and pretty much every other condition!). New research from the University of South Australia found that movement-based yoga significantly improved the mental health of people living with a range of mental disorders including depression and anxiety. According to the study, the more weekly yoga sessions you complete, the greater the effect on easing depressive symptoms.
We can see from this study and many more like it, that Yoga can play a very important role in helping to manage mental health conditions. However, mat Yoga is not accessible for many and so people avoid practicing. One of the reasons that I believe that Chair Yoga is and will play a very important role in supporting people with mental health challenges is that it does not discriminate. Everyone can do it. There’s no age, experience or ability limit, and therefore it can be a way for our older population (or anybody!) to participate in Yoga and receive it’s mental health benefits
Here are 5 ways that Chair Yoga can help to support our mental health (along with 5 accompanying Chairasanas). Click here to see how to practice the Chairasanas
1. May Decrease Stress
This year has been a stressful time for a lot of people, so it’s even more important to prioritise time for ourselves to reset, restore and reinvigorate our minds and bodies. When we are in a state of stress we are stuck in fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system). Yoga can help to activate the rest and relax response (parasympathetic nervous system) and bring balance to our nervous system. You can read more about that in my previous blog. Yoga has also been shown to lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone that is associated with inflammation in the body) and change our perceived level of stress. It also helps by shifting the focus away from the stressful situation, with the participant instead focused on the movements and breath, offering an opportunity to move from being in a stress response towards relaxation.
Recommended Pose – Goddess pose
2. Relieves Anxiety
Anxiety is sometimes described as future thinking. This can present as overthinking, worry, fear or being overly focused on something that hasn’t even happened yet. Like maybe getting sick, losing a job or even anticipating yours or someone else’s reaction to something. These may be stories of the mind, but when anxiety takes hold, it can be debilitating and scary, plus very challenging to calm the racing thoughts. Yoga and it's breathing practices (see below for the Dirga Pranayama - also helpful for anxiety) can help to bring you back to the present moment and calm the repeating cycles of the mind. Trying to be still when you are feeling anxious is not going to feel comfortable. So a tip for working with anxiety - before practicing this pose, trying to meditate or sleep – try some slow, gentle breath focused movements to help act as a pathway, leading you gently from an overactive mind to a calmer state.
Recommended pose - Bound angle pose
3. May Lift Depression
Depression is sometimes referred to as being stuck in the past. It is a medical condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and often comes with a disinterest in daily activities. It can result in a person becoming lonely or isolated, and suicidal thoughts among other challenges. Often there will be a sense of feeling stuck, or numb and lethargic. Yoga can help to gently shift stagnant energy, and get things moving again. It improves blood circulation and oxygen flow throughout the body which has a natural uplifting effect. The entire neurological and nervous system receives a gentle but effective ‘wake up’. And emotionally, it can help to bring a lift of inner strength and boost confidence.
Recommended Pose – Fish pose
4. Could Promote Sleep Quality
Getting regular and the right amount good quality sleep can be a challenge for many of us. We may have trouble falling asleep because we're worried and anxious, or because we aren’t taking the appropriate time to wind down after our day. Or perhaps we are oversleeping or our sleep is disrupted. There are many reasons why our sleep may be affected. But if we don't get a good sleep it can not only leave us exhausted but have a huge impact on our mental health, and alternatively insomnia and other sleep disorders may be symptoms of mental health challenges. A gentle Yoga practice before bed can help us wind down and the focus on deep breathing can get us into a better state for a good night’s sleep. If we wake up during the night, some Yoga and breathing techniques can help us to get back to sleep again
Recommended Pose – Seated forward fold
5. Could Help Improve Breathing
Breathing is an important part of everyday life, (naturally) as we need it to live and we need it in order for our brain and body to function properly. The way that we breathe can have a direct impact on the way that we feel, and the state of the mind. The pace, quality and texture of our breath literally sends messages to the brain about whether we feel safe or threatened, therefore affecting our nervous system. For example, incorrect breathing that is shallow or forced can cause symptoms of anxiety to be heighten. Many people don’t even pay attention to their breath at all, let alone breathe to their full capacity. But with the movements of Yoga and different types of Pranayama (a term for yoga’s breathing techniques) we can offer space for the breath to flow, increase our lung capacity and strengthen the muscles that support our breathing mechanism. We can mindfully tap into the breath, changing the pace, rhythm and depth of our breath which in turn can alter our mental and emotional state. Practicing Yoga can help us to breathe more deeply, and into the whole space of our lungs which should help to calm the mind and soften the emotions.
Recommended Breathing Technique – Dirga Pranayama
Nearly every single yoga pose that I know lists that one of it’s benefits is that it relieves stress and anxiety. But there are some, as mentioned above, that may be more useful than others for certain conditions. Remember though, on each day you may feel different and have a different experience in each shape, so please listen into your body, and your breath to guide you as you explore these Chairasanas. If you’d like to know more about Chair Yoga or share some of your thoughts with me please feel free to contact me.
Essentially, health means one level of pleasantness. If your body becomes pleasant, we call this health. If it becomes very pleasant, we call this pleasure. If your mind becomes pleasant, we call this peace. If it becomes very pleasant, we call this joy. If your emotions become pleasant, we call this love. If they become very pleasant, we call it compassion. If your very energies become pleasant, we call this bliss. If they become very pleasant, we call it ecstasy. If your surroundings become pleasant, we call this success.
And don't forget to Get Fit Where You Sit!
PS. I hope you enjoyed this blog, please feel free to share with your friends.