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"Your" Yoga and Mental Health

Co-Authored by: Liz Jendra and Paige Griffith

About 7 months ago, we started this project of listening to our fellow yogis' stories about their journey to yoga. We asked those that we have practiced with and learned from, to sit in front of a camera, and answer the question of what yoga meant to them. Before this project began, we knew we would get an array of answers, mostly discussing the idea that yoga is so much more than just the physical practice (See our previous blog). We each have our own individual stories about what yoga has meant to us, but as we began micing up each person, we never imagined the layers of answers we would receive. We never envisioned the amount of our fellow yogis, who have used these practices to support more than just their bodies, but their overall wellbeing. And with that, we began to realize the stories surrounding mental health were important to tell.

There is no specific right way to talk about mental health. We know that this is beyond sensitive for so many. It’s complex and sometimes impossible to truly wrap our heads around. We know people are hurting and struggling in silence. Even though it seems impossible, we must talk, we must tell our truths, share knowledge, and hold space for those that need it.

Maybe, the answer to the seemingly impossible is talking about it more. As we sit here in this coffee shop rattling our brains on how to approach this blog, looking at painful statistics, going on tangents filled with big feelings, tears, and passionate statements- we pause.

We know that sometimes reading through a list of statistics can feel mundane or impersonal at times. However, as we looked at each other, reacting to these statistics with our own emotions, we felt they were important to share. We invite you to take your time, reading through these, as you remember each of these numbers equals a human being. We offer a trigger warning for you prior to reading as some of these numbers may bring up painful emotions.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that nearly 1 in 5 adults lives with a mental illness in the United States. That is over 51 million individuals…

Take a breath here.

In the United States, there is one death by suicide every 12 minutes. One person, every 12 minutes, suffering from an invisible illness, no longer able to bear the unbearable feelings within them.

Inhale. Exhale.

The overall suicide rate has increased 35% since 1999 (National Alliance of Mental Illness).

The number of youths that are experiencing severe major depression has increased 0.5% since last year.

And yet, it’s reported that 60% of youth with major depression and 23.6% of adults with a mental illness report they did not receive any mental health treatment in 2017-2018. (Mental Health America)

We pause for the human beings who suffer from mental illness. We invite you to do the same, take a breath in… and out.

The prevalence of mental health in our society confirms our belief that telling the stories of our fellow yogis, who have used yoga and meditation as support to their own mental health, is important. We live in a society of stuffing and numbing big emotions. We grin and bear it. We fake it until we make it. We’ve become a culture of putting a smile on our face and telling ourselves we are “fine”. Our difficult emotions and personal struggles become inhabitants inside our bodies and minds.

How do we truly support our own mental health or encourage others around us to do the same?

What is the solution? We wish we had an answer for you. We want to acknowledge that mental health and mental illness lie on a spectrum. There is not a “one size fits all” support or fix to the range of mental health concerns one may experience. We also want to acknowledge that we, by no means, want to send the message that yoga and mindfulness are problem solvers or fixers to mental health concerns, as they are certainly not. However, as this project progressed, we continued to be reminded that each individual experiences yoga differently. As we reflected on our own journeys with yoga and listened to our fellow yogis, we began to learn that yoga has a more widespread potential to be a support through difficult emotions, times of struggle, and the development of our well-being than we initially thought.

Full disclosure, we both go to therapy. However, we also practice mindfulness, meditation, journaling, exercise and other things we know are key ingredients to our well-being. Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t saying we are sunshine and rainbows every day, but we do our best to do the work to grow and take care of our mental health.

We encourage you to do the same. Allow yourself to find the space to clear the mind, be connected to your body and spirit, and to process emotions and thoughts. It doesn't need to look the same, in fact, it should look different for everyone. But what needs to look the same, is the support and compassion for those struggling with their mental health. What needs to look the same is people feeling safe enough to express their feelings and ask for help.

So what is the point of all of this - the numbers are telling, we need healing and health. Whether that comes from a form of therapy, medication, a nourishing diet, exercise, self-reflection, yoga, meditation, nature, family, friends. Finding the combination that works for you is key. We know that yoga is not always THE answer or has to be a part of your combination. We aren’t saying that everyone needs to find yoga- but we are saying everyone needs their own “yoga”. Your “yoga” is a tool, a catalyst, a space for change, a coping skill, to find your own healing and health.

Click below to hear how yoga has become that tool for so many.

Special thanks to videographer and editor, Trent Hanselmann.

Huge gratitude to all participants:

Amy Jenkins, Anne Funke, Bobbi Kelley, Brennan Kreimeyer, Chase Kreimeyer, Chris Nugent, Hanna Reese, Jeff Wright, Jordan Turner, Jose Reinoso, Kevin Turner, Krissy Mueller, Mae Hingtgen, Maggie Schreiber, Maria Schreiber, Megan Gloss, Megan Kuennen, Molly Schreiber, Paula Purcell and Rachel Harwood.


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