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Finding Meaning in Yoga and Mental Health

Finding Meaning in Yoga and Mental Health

I was drawn to the practice of hatha yoga early in 1999, as a means of nourishing and supporting my physical well-being whilst pregnant with my first child.

I expected yoga would benefit me physically throughout my pregnancy and during the birth, however, I was not prepared for the seismic influence it would have on my mind, mental health and life.

I distinctly remember the after-effects of the first class I attended. My recollection is not of the asana or how I felt physically at the end of the class. Rather, the effect was a profound and immediate experience that yoga is all about the mind, despite there being no reference to yoga philosophy or psychology during the class.

The result of my embodied experience and immediate knowing that yoga is in fact all about the mind has underpinned my attraction to yoga as well as my approach as a yoga teacher since undertaking teacher training back in 2008.

My Story

I, like many people, had a somewhat dysfunctional upbringing, which was marred by domestic violence. Growing up, I was intuitive and empathic (I still am), and as the eldest child in my family, tried my very best to please my superiors, particularly my father.

My misguided efforts to please were often unrecognised and certainly were not successful at ‘fixing’ situations or appeasing people, despite how hard I tried. This resulted in me growing up with a deep sense of shame, a very low sense of self-worth and an overall perception of not being good enough. This led to tendencies of perfectionism, anxiety and depression.

I share my backstory not to therapise, but rather, to illustrate who I was before yoga, and who I have become due to yoga and the meaning it has brought to my life, both personally, and professionally within the field of mental health.

Freedom from the Tyranny of the Mind

Back in the early days of attending classes, I marvelled at how it felt to be free of the tyranny of my mind, if only for the duration of the class.

Fast forward 10 years later, I attended a 350- hour Yoga Teacher Training which introduced me to the philosophy and psychology of yoga, the teachings of the Yoga Sutras and the beginnings of my practice of svadhyaya (self-study).

The rigours of the training and the requirement of svadhyaya helped me to begin to see that I was not my thoughts and who I believed myself to be, but something much more. And thus began the unravelling of who I understood myself to be as the result of my childhood conditioning.

During 2012, while training to become a yoga therapist, I engaged a psychotherapist to help further untangle my misperceptions of self. It was at this time the realisation dawned that I wanted to offer my personal experience of yoga and my professional training as a yoga therapist within the field of mental health.

I knew that my self-worth issues, first-hand experience of the darkness of depression and the tyranny of anxiety, meant I could help others from a place of knowing and wisdom rather than just intellectual learning.

Yoga for Mental Health Research

At the end of 2013, I had the good fortune of introducing myself and my Yoga Therapy skills to PhD candidate Michael de Manincor, offering to assist him with his Randomised National Clinical Trial, Evaluation of Yoga-based Interventions for Depression, Anxiety and Subjective Well-being. My interaction with Michael and the participants of the trial was a deeply enriching and life changing experience and my participation brought tremendous meaning, both personally and professionally.

A major takeaway from my participation in the trial was how important the provision of a safe container is when working in the realm of mental health.

I know in my heart that the success of the individual program I offered to each participant of the trial was strongly enhanced by my provision of a safe container and allowing every individual to be truly seen and heard. I cannot exaggerate enough how crucial I believe the safe container is to the successful outcome of providing Mental Health Aware Yoga to clients, particularly in the therapeutic environment.

The extent of my involvement with the trial resulted in me being cited as a contributor of the PubMed research article; Individualized Yoga For Reducing Depression and Anxiety, and Improving Well-being: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Although I am proud of my involvement, it is the meaning which I derived from the experience of helping others with mental health concerns that impacted me the most.

To be of service and supporting others experiencing mental health issues, helping them to relieve their suffering and guiding them to find meaning in their life through yoga brings great meaning to my life. Completing the Mental Health Aware Yoga training has further enhanced my skills and my desire to assist others.

Why Mental Health Aware Yoga Training

Life in 2023 is chaotic and stressful and the events of the last few years have been traumatic for many.

This, coupled with many individuals’ history of trauma and the burgeoning propensity towards anxiety and depression, means that more students than ever attending general yoga classes would benefit from teachers who have undertaken the Mental Health Aware Yoga training.

I highly recommend yoga teachers and yoga therapists undertake the Mental Health Aware Yoga training. Even if their niche is not within the arena of mental health, the training highlights many important factors relevant to general yoga classes, which are overlooked or omitted from general yoga teacher training courses.

Thank you, Lauren for the wonderful work you do in the world, including your offering of Mental Health Aware Yoga training.

Nov 20, 2023

Leelee Donoghoe

Leelee Donoghoe (she/her) is a Mental Health Aware Yoga graduate, a Senior Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist with Yoga Australia.

She is also is a registered C-IAYT Yoga Therapist with The International Association of Yoga Therapists. 

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The information provided on this blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional advice.

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