HOW YOGA SUPPORTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH- A BLOG POST BY CBT THERAPIST & TYSC STUDENT STEVIE TUDOR

Yoga supports mental health

Hello everyone, my name is Stevie and I am a cognitive behavioural therapist working for First Step in Carlisle and Eden. I am also a member of the Yoga Studio Carlisle!

My path into yoga started with a few 1-1s with Emma back in 2016 as I was struggling with some lower back pain. I wasn’t looking for anything more than a good stretch out in all honesty and I didn’t see myself as the sort of person who would be able to… well… relax! Fast forward to the end of my first class with Emma and I surprised myself by crying. Not with sadness or pain, but relief and gratitude as the tension I was carrying started to release.

Now yoga is a part of my life and something I recommend to my patients who are receiving therapy for depression, anxiety disorders and trauma. I have written a summary of some of the reasons why I would recommend yoga to anyone – but specifically those who are aiming to improve their self-care and wellbeing, and why the Yoga Studio Carlisle is the perfect setting for this; Yoga has a small but growing evidence base supporting the view that it can improve the symptoms associated with stress, anxiety, depression and trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder. I have included some links to research papers at the end if this floats your boat. (Disclaimer – Yoga does not take the place of, and should be used alongside side of and to compliment, evidence-based treatments such as psychological therapies and medication if these have been prescribed to you by your GP or a mental health professional)

Yoga focuses on the present moment. By being present, we can get used to letting go of the things we cannot control, or things that haven’t and may never happen…worriers, this is aimed at you! Being present and non-judgemental can also help us to reduce ruminating over the past, once again learning a life-long skill of being able to let go of things that no longer serve to help us. Our emotions are said to be regulated by different motivational systems (how human beings have survived and thrived from day dot!). We have Threat (To detect and protect us from threats), Drive (Motivating us towards the things we need) and Soothe (Allowing us to bond, connect with others, manage and calm distress).

Compassion Focused Therapy follows the idea that emotional distress is caused by an imbalance of the systems – most typically that the soothing system is underdeveloped. The good news? We can improve that balance by improving the soothing system. Examples of soothing activities include being among nature, meditation, relaxed breathing, having a bath, and of course – yoga. To put it simply – breathing and relaxation activates the soothing system. The soothing system can help us to relax, feel safe and contained, and treat ourselves with compassion.

Attending The Yoga Studio Carlisle encourages your soothing system due to its relaxed environment, supportive and knowledgeable teachers and ethos of non-judgement. You can work towards a goal within your practice whilst also respecting and being proud of exactly where you are right now – some days that might mean challenging yourself, others it may be about taking rest – but always prioritises maintaining the breath. For some, yoga will a central focus for managing their mental health and wellbeing. For many others, it will be a vital part of recovery and management – typically alongside a talking therapy and medication.

If you are seeking further support with your mental health in Cumbria, I would recommend that you speak to your GP and make use of the fantastic local and national services available; Samaritans 0330 094 5717 Carlisle Mind 01228 543354 First Step 0300 1239122 or via self-referral online at www.cntw.nhs.uk/services/first-step/ This is not an exhaustive list and there are many other wonderful services available.

Everyone is different – what works for one person may not work for another. I found an interview with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk who is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Have a read through for his take on the use of Yoga as a therapy that can help individuals working through their PTSD including precautions for trauma-sensitive Yoga students (link below)

See you on the mat! Stevie x

Further Reading; Yoga Therapy in Practice – Trauma-sensitive yoga: Principles, Practice and Research. International Journal of Yoga Therapy (2009) A Review of Published Research and Implications for Healthcare Providers (2016) Warriors at Peace. Combat veterans take refuge in yoga, discovering its ability to soothe and repair war-torn minds and spirits (2010)