‘Yoga’s a a way to get to your mind through your body’

Learn about how physical activity can help with mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month 2021.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is the first in a series of free-to-read stories about looking after ourselves and the people around us, and seeking help when we need it. We all have a role to play. Please consider supporting this series by subscribing.

In a sunlit room above a cafe on Adelaide Road, yoga students stretch, bend and shift their bodies between poses.

A TV on the wall plays soothing instrumental music, its screen mirroring the bright green leaves on the trees outside.

Yet this is no gym – there are no Instagram snaps being taken during this class.

It was organised by the Murray Mallee GP Network for BPD Awareness Week, recognising the fact that physical activity can have benefits for mental health.

“Yoga is a way to get to your mind through your body,” said Michelle*, a participant in the class who lives with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

Challenging her body in new ways brought her out of her head and back to the physical, she said.

“Yoga’s a great way to face yourself,” she said.

“All you’re arguing with is yourself.

“As soon as you start feeling your body in a pose, that’s a conversation you’re having with yourself in a really deep way.”

Another participant was Jess*, a student whose mental health suffered when her classes moved online last year and she became disconnected from her friends.

“My head, I feel like it’s racing 24-seven,” she said.

“Yoga just settles it down.”

Julie*, a major trauma survivor, said yoga had helped her take back control of her life.

“I go out more than I used to,” she said.

“I try to make a point of doing that, to go out as a family at least once a month to have lunch.

“Before yoga, it was hard for me to want to do those things.”

Any mindful activity has benefits, clinician says

Jo Bourne is a mental health clinician with the Murray Mallee GP Network who has taught yoga for the past three years as part of her practice.

It was something she had drawn on for her own wellbeing in the past, she said.

She was glad that it was gaining recognition, both by service providers and clients, as a legitimate means of improving mental health for people who had lived through trauma or other issues.

“It’s a very grounding activity,” she said.

“It’s very beneficial for everyone.

“Any mindful activity has benefits – it can be singing, guitar, yoga, cricket, anything.”

To take part in the GP network yoga classes, participants must be referred through a GP or another health practitioner.

But those present at Tuesday’s class urged everyone to try using physical activity to improve their mental health, whether as part of a mental health plan or recreationally.

Don’t just do it once, though.

“After the first class I thought ‘oh no, I’m seriously not going to do this, this is too painful’,” Julie said.

“But you’ve got to keep persisting.”

*Participants’ names were changed for this story at their request.

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