The word healing literally means ‘to make whole’.
Yoga and movement offers us a way to improve our mental health by working with the body to influence the mind. How we connect with and move our body influences how we feel and how we experience the world. Movement allows us to come into greater connection with our body and bring us out of the head and into the experience of the here and now.
By working with the body we can calm ruminating thought patterns and begin to change our everyday experience. Meeting our bodies through movement in a respectful and sensitive way means we can learn to listen to the wisdom that our body holds, finding support and anchoring in ourselves. Movement gives us the opportunity to release old patterns, find spaciousness and the possibility for change in not just how we move but how we think and feel.
Movement can support us to rediscovering the parts of us we have disconnected from, gradually our attention can rest into and feel at home in our body. Bringing our attention into the body can feel very relaxing and give a sense of integration, expansiveness or wholeness. However, for some of us, there may be times in our life when coming into connection with the body can feel daunting, triggering or even unsafe, especially when we have experienced trauma. When this is the case we need to take extra care in how we begin to connect with the body. We need to be gentle, respectful and listen and respond to what feels right for us in this moment. We can work slowly without pushing or rushing, honouring all the different ways we can create safety in this work and in our lives.
“Once you come into this literal body here, then you find a space that is much bigger than your literal body. It is quite clear that it is not exactly your literal body, but that is where the entrance is.” Eugene Gendlin
In the West we are re-discovering how the mind and body are not actually separate at all but deeply interconnected and one system, an idea that runs at the core of many Eastern traditions. I use the word ‘mental health’ here but really what I am talking about is wellness for the whole of our being. I see ‘mental health’ conditions such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress etc as valid responses to the world we live in and situations we experience. These mental states often come because of difficulties and traumas we have experienced, imbalances in our system and imbalances in the wider world, our environment and social structures. They are not wrong nor do they make us wrong. They can be incredibly painful to experience yet they can also offer us the possibility to find greater ease, acceptance, release and joy and even become gifts.
My approach is informed by my training in Yoga Therapy for Mental Health at the Minded Institute, which I completed in 2012. This schools approach blends yoga movement and breath practices with Buddhist meditation and psychotheraputic holding techniques, it draws on research from science and neuroscience on the specific effects that yoga, breathwork and meditation has on the brain. This approach acknowledges the differences between mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar and the different approaches needed for these conditions. I am trained to use yoga therapy to work with these different conditions in a way that addresses how they affect both the body and the mind.
“Beneath our conditioned and stressful patterns of being, thinking, moving, and feeling, lies an inner wellspring of intelligence and vitality that knows how to unwind our stress and traumas and move forward our life situations. My body appears to need me to notice it for it to remember itself.” Karen Whalen and Kevin McEvenue.