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Talking about Yoga and Mental Health

Talking about Yoga and Mental Health

Published May 23rd, 2022 By Jo Stewart

Yoga can be such a helpful practice for our physical and mental health. It provides a framework to help us explore and understand who we are on all levels, as well as tools to manage stress, anxiety and sleep.

It can be a practice for self compassion, liberation and cultivating inner strength to navigate life’s challenges. Our guests share of their own experiences using yoga to manage disordered eating, trauma, grief and illness and also have they have assisted others along this path.

When there are serious mental health concerns, yoga can most effective when be practiced alongside other types of therapy like psychology. We have been lucky to speak to inspirational authors, educators and experts in various aspects of mental health for The Flow Artists Podcast and we share their insights below. I've tried to broadly categories these episodes so you can easily tune in to your area of interest - but there is a lot of crossover as so many aspects of our physical and mental health intertwine.

Please note, the links below go directly to the podcast website, but you can also listen of Spotify or your favourite podcast app.

Body Image and Accessibility

Janet Lowndes - Yoga, Psychology, Body Image and Wholeness

Janet Lowndes is a Melbourne based psychologist with over 25 years professional experience which includes psychological counselling, teaching, meditation training, and yoga therapy.
We also talk about her important work with eating disorders and body image and how to thoughtfully use language in our yoga classes to help shape a culture of self-love and acceptance. Finally, we discuss how the body focused aspect of yoga that is presented in social media could potentially be damaging.

Sarah Harry - Fat Yoga

Sarah Harry was a Psychotherapist, yoga teacher, researcher and university lecturer, we are sad to say that Sarah has passed away from a rare neurological condition since this interview - we are so grateful we got the chance to meet and learn from her, and are honoured to continue to share her wisdom.

Sarah was one of Australia’s leading specialists in Body Image and Disordered Eating. She appeared regularly in the news on TV and in print as both an expert and a fat yogi. She was also the author of the book Fat Yoga and taught workshops on the subject of accessible yoga - teaching yoga to people in larger or differently abled bodies.
In this episode, we learn how Sarah moved from the world of high fashion to becoming one of Australia’s leading experts in Eating Disorders and Body Image. We learn about the challenges that Sarah faced while training to become a yoga teacher. We also learn how we as Yoga teachers can make yoga classes a more welcoming space for people in larger bodies.

Ria Tirazona - Yoga, Psychology and COVID-19 in the Phillipines

Ria Tirazona is a yoga facilitator/education and licensed Psychologist from Manila. She managed a branch of a local yoga studio brand, YogaPlus.
As a self-described emotional eater, Ria struggled with weight issues for most of her life. Through yoga, she found that she deserved to celebrate her body and treat herself with love and compassion. This is what she wants everyone to also discover. Her passion as a yoga facilitator and therapist is to support and empower others in discovering their personal path to wellness through trauma-informed, accessible, mental health aware practices such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness. She likewise wants to let people know that indeed, yoga is for EVERY BODY.

Donna Noble - You can do it

Donna Noble is a London based yoga teacher, writer, coach, body positive advocate and founder of CurveSomeYoga. Donna has been making waves in the accessible yoga space over in the UK, so we were really excited to catch up with her.
In this episode, we learn about Donna's childhood growing up in London, with a short stint in Jamaica.
We discover how a stressful job in IT brought about Bells Palsy, and how she discovered a more holistic way of living.
We also discuss the impact of diet culture on yoga and the importance of representation in media. Donna tells us about her approach to accessible yoga and we discuss why it's important that everyone in a yoga class feels included.

Marsha Banks Harold - Cultivating Strength of Awesomeness

Marsha Banks-Harold is an Electrical Engineer, a trauma-informed yoga therapist and yoga teacher, and the owner of PIES Fitness Yoga Studio, based in Alexandria Virginia, USA.
She is the creator of the flagship yoga class My Body Don’t Bend That Way designed for clients who don’t believe they are flexible enough for yoga, who are afraid to get onto the floor, who are living with physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual pains or those who have restricted range of motion. She thrives in creating a supportive, inclusive, diverse, adaptive and accessible yoga and yoga therapy experience for all. Her goal is to assist her students to cultivate everlasting physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual (PIES) peace.

Jivana Heyman - Accessible Yoga

Jivana Heyman is a yoga teacher, a yoga therapist, the creator of the Accessible Yoga conferences that run all over the world and author of the forthcoming book “Accessible Yoga: Poses & Practices for Every Body.” This is a topic that is very important to Rane and Jo so we thought that Jivana would be the best possible guest to have for our 50th podcast episode!
We both strongly believe that individuals in all types of bodies should be able to benefit from the gifts that yoga can provide. We really appreciate Jivana's work connecting a global community of teachers who share these goals.

Navigating Grief, Death, Love and the Challenges of Life

Nina Zolotow - Yoga for Times of Change

Nina Zolotow is a yoga teacher, a writer, active member of the Accessible Yoga community, and creator of the blog and book, “Yoga for healthy Aging”. Her latest book “Yoga for Times of Change” is a great mix of personal sharing, evidence based approaches and honouring the traditions of yoga.

In this conversation we talk about stress management, insomnia, moving through anger, anxiety and depression, navigating grief and how Nina has used yoga to live with challenging emotions in her own life.

Paul Denniston - Yoga, Grief and Covid

Paul Denniston, the founder of Grief Yoga about his new book 'HEALING THROUGH YOGA: Transform Loss into empowerment. Paul shares about using yoga to navigate grief and the many challenges of life in the time of COVID-19.

Chris Cheers - Notes from a Psychologist

Chris Cheers is a psychologist and educator who is passionate about creating accessible, accepting and safe spaces where people become empowered to reach their life goals. He is also dedicated to increasing community education around mental health, specialising in the arts and LGBTQI+ communities.
We discovered Chris through instagram while in lockdown- he is able to distill some deep and helpful insights into a succinct message that is easy for people to access. We were grateful to expand on these and ask our own questions - especially around navigating life after lockdown.

Chara Caruthers and Maria Kirsten - Living and Loving Life

Chara Caruthers is a yoga teacher, certified yoga therapist and the author of the book “Eat like you love yourself: a guide to ayurvedic cooking and living”. Maria Kirsten was a yoga teacher, specialised teacher trainer and the creator of Yoga for Grownups. Together they hosted the podcast "Live Like You Love Yourself", a podcast where they have conversations and interviews dedicated to uncovering what it takes to “grow up” in a way that feels balanced, authentic, graceful and juicy!

We begin this conversation discussing the inspiration behind their podcast and their life philosophies. We explore how they have both navigated COVID-19, and the lessons it has taught them. At the time of this episode Maria was diagnosed with cancer and she has since passed away. We are so grateful for the time that we shared, and to be a small part of sharing her vast wisdom.

Divya Kohli - Finding Peace in Difficult Times

Divya Kohli is a yoga teacher, a former newspaper journalist with a Masters in English Literature from Cambridge University, and the author of the book “Finding Peace in Difficult Times: grounding techniques for inner calm”
For this episode, we spoke to Divya about strategies for maintaining peace of mind and helping your community during COVID-19. She also shared her journey to becoming a yoga teacher, including her training in Mysore, India, the commonalities of yoga and journalism and of course her wonderful book.

Asher (previously David) Packman - Meditations on Death, Life and Love

Asher (previously David) Packman is a prominent Australian Meditation guide and Mindset coach. He is the current president of Meditation Australia, the national peak body that represents meditation and meditation teachers.
After attending his Meditations on Death workshop at A-space studio in Collingwood Rane was deeply moved just knew he had to have Asher on the Podcast!
In this episode, we talk about Asher’s incredible life journey and we end up in a deep discussion on death, how we deny death as individuals and as a culture, and how incredibly unhealthy this is.

Mental Health Support for Young People

Beata Heyman - Circle of breath, circle of life

Beata is a yoga teacher, a yoga teacher trainer, and the creator of Breath Circle. Breath Circle is a health and wellbeing organisation, teaching mindful breathing in schools to support emotional regulation and mental health in young people. They work directly with schools to empower students and teachers to use mindful breathing as a tool for self-regulating emotions and building resilience.

Shawnee Thornton Hardy - Autism, Neurodiversity and Yoga

Shawnee Thornton Hardy is a Certified Yoga Therapist, Educational/Behavior Consultant and the author of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs. Shawnee specialises in working with neurodiverse children and adults and we were excited to speak with her on this topic - she has written wonderful books, trainings and created sensory resources and really is a world leader in this field.
Shawnee shares what neurodiversity means and what drew her to working with neurodiverse children and adults. We discuss the ways Shawnee structures her classes to accommodate diverse needs and how her techniques can be useful in all yoga classes.

Responding to Racism

Dr Gail Parker - Restorative Yoga for Race-based Trauma

In this episode we speak to Dr Gail Parker. Gail Parker is a psychologist and a certified yoga therapist. She is a nationally and internationally renowned media personality, educator, author, and thought leader.
Dr. Parker is the author of the upcoming book Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma, and current president of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) Board of Directors. Her broad expertise in behavioural health and wellness includes forty years as a practising psychotherapist. We speak to her about how she weaves together knowledge from these different fields in her book, the parallels between her psychology practice and restorative yoga teaching, and how she appeared on the Oprah show seven times!

Michelle Cassandra Johnson - Oppression Takes the Breath Away

Michelle Cassandra Johnson is a writer, yoga teacher, social worker, activist, and author of Skill in Action.
Skill in Action is an unflinching look at power and privilege, oppression, liberation and suffering, and invites readers to take steps to make changes in their lives to create a world that allows all of us to be free. It incorporates yogic philosophy, poetry and personal practice as a path towards dismantling racism.
In this episode, we learn about Michelle's background growing up in Richmond, Virginia, how she discovered yoga and the inspiration for writing the book Skill in Action.

Wayapa Wuurk - From Self Care to World Repair

In this episode, we speak with Jamie Marloo Thomas and Sara Jones, creators and facilitators of Wayapa Wuurrk.
Wayapa Wuurrk is a modality that incorporates movement, meditation and a connection to the 14 elements of nature and the land. The word Wayapa means connection, and it draws from Aboriginal philosophy but is designed to be a practice for everyone regardless of religion or background.
We learn how Wayapa goes beyond self-care and encourages an attitude that goes beyond the self towards caring for the environment and looking after the planet for future generations.

Aerial Yoga and Mental Health

Renae Stevens - Yoga, Art Therapy and Aerial Yoga Therapeutics

Renae is a senior yoga teacher with Yoga Australia, a certified yoga therapist, trainer of teachers and holds her master's degree in art therapy. In our opinion, she is the foremost aerial yoga teacher in Australia. Renae shares about her movement and art therapy background and her how she uses aerial yoga to help support recently arrived refugee children. She explains how she weaves together these different fields of knowlege to create Aerial Yoga Therapeutics.

Managing Anxiety

Amy Wheeler - Yoga Therapy, Sleep and Anxiety

Amy Wheeler is a Yoga Therapist, holds a PhD in Educational Psychology, a sports psychologist and the developer of Optimal State system of health and healing. Amy is also President of the Board of Directors to the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Amy is a leader in the field of yoga therapy, so this is a conversation you’ll want to hear.
We speak with Amy about her journey of discovering yoga, and how she came from a background working in sports psychology to eventually become a yoga therapist. We learn about anxiety, the relationship between anxiety and sleep, and how yoga and yoga therapy may help.

Manoj Dias - A Space for Compassion

Manoj Dias is a yoga and meditation teacher, and the founder of A-Space meditation centre in Melbourne. In this conversation, we learn from Manoj what it was like growing up in the Theravada Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka before relocating to Australia as a child. We learn about his struggles with anxiety in a high flying corporate career and how finding a very special and compassionate teacher brought him back to meditation. He also tells us how he began teaching yoga and meditation, founded A-Space and continues to teach in Australia and internationally.
We have a deep and far-ranging conversation that includes issues of accessibility, cultural appropriation, the potential abuse of spiritual practices in the corporate world and self-care.

Emily May - Yoga and Anxiety

Emily May is a Melbourne based Yoga and Meditation teacher and Reiki Master. Emily does a lot of work around anxiety which is the topic of this episode - and anxiety is an issue that affects many of us day to day.

We learn about how Emily discovered yoga and how she came to teach it. We learn about anxiety, some of it's causes and symptoms and how yoga may help. Finally, we learn about how yoga teachers can sequence and use language to make things easier for people struggling with anxiety.

Trauma Informed Yoga

Tristan Rose - Yoga is a weapon of Peace

Tristan Rose is a yoga teacher, military veteran and the founder of Blind Tiger Yoga. Blind Tiger Yoga focuses on helping members of the Military, Veterans, First Responders, and their broader communities, through yoga and meditation. Tristan discovered yin yoga, yoga nidra and meditation as powerful tools for managing pain from multiple injuries he sustained while on deployment overseas as well as PTSD.

Mei Lai Swan - Yoga for Humankind

Mei Lai Swan is a yoga teacher, musician, former social worker, and the creator of Yoga for Humankind, a Yoga School and Social Enterprise dedicated to bringing the benefits of yoga, mindfulness and movement therapies to communities all over the world.
Mei Lai is a wonderful teacher and an inspiration. Her work and how she lives her life provides a practical example of how the yoga philosophies taught in many yoga teacher trainings can be applied to life, so we were really excited to get the chance to speak with her while she was in Melbourne recently.

Robin Carnes - Yoga Nidra, Irest and PTSD

Robin Carnes is a yoga teacher and certified iRest® Yoga Nidra instructor who hails from the United States. She is well recognized as a pioneer and innovator in the field of mind-body therapies for trauma and related conditions. Her work has been featured in media outlets such as The Washington Post, Woman’s Day Magazine and Yoga Journal just to name a few!
In her impressive career, she served as the lead instructor of the first Defense Department-funded feasibility study of Yoga Nidra meditation for PTSD symptoms, and also went on to co-found Warriors at Ease an organisation, which has trained over 800 certified yoga and meditation teachers to work safely and effectively in military communities affected by combat-related stress.

Jo Buick - Trauma Informed Yoga

In this episode, we speak with Jo Buick on the concept and practice of Trauma-Informed Yoga.
Jo Buick is a much loved and well-respected yoga teacher and the Co-Founder of State of Being (now known as Collective Being), a Melbourne-based not-for-profit organisation that connects community organisations and groups with experienced yoga facilitators with the goal of making the tools of yoga, mindfulness and self-care practices available to and inclusive of everyone in our community.

Further Mental Health Support Resources

Yoga can be a helpful tool for mental health, but if you need more individualised care or crisis support we urge you to reach out early and often!

Thank you to Christ Cheers for compiling and sharing these helpful resources:

Finding a therapist or psychologist:
Find a Psychologist - https://psychology.org.au/find-a-psychologist
Psychology Today - https://www.psychologytoday.com/au

Finding a psychologist or therapist is not the only way to do therapy. A range of online programs are now available that offer free, effective and evidence-based programs for stress, anxiety and depression. Head to Health is great place to start searching. Some programs I’d suggest checking out include MindSpot https://mindspot.org.au/ This Way Up https://thiswayup.org.au/ MyCompass https://www.mycompass.org.au/ MoodMission https://moodmission.com/and MoodGYM https://moodgym.com.au/

When you need to talk to someone right now.
Lifeline: https://www.lifeline.org.au/ or 13 11 14 (24/7)
Trained counsellors offering crisis support and suicide prevention.
Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Health Support: https://coronavirus.beyondblue or 1800 512 348 (24/7)
Trained counsellors available and online resources.
Rainbow Door/Switchboard Victoria: https://www.switchboard.org.au/rain or 1800 729 367. QLife: https://www.switchboard.org.au/qlife 1800 184 527
provide peer-driven support services, counselling and referral for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse, intersex, queer and asexual (LGBTIQA+) people, their families, allies and communities.
The Support Act Wellbeing Helpline (1800 959 500)
a free, confidential phone counselling service, available 24/7 to anyone anywhere in Australia who works in music, the performing arts or other creative industries.

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