Yoga for Mental Health
Yea… Mental health.
I feel that most humans in the 21st century are experiencing mental health issues.
I know I am.
It’s pretty hard to be a human in a world that’s not so human anymore.
- 1.5 billion children worldwide have been out of school - leading to an education crisis
- In the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50%
- Over 970 million people in the world are affected by a mental disorder
- The World Health Organization lists over 200 forms of mental illnesses
- Mental health statistics reveal 1 in 6 children has been diagnosed with a mental issue
- Globally, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem
- Even in developed countries such as the USA or the UK, 75% of young people with mental health problems aren't getting the help they need
- 50% of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated
- One in six people in the world are aged 10-19 years
- Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years
- Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents
- Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds.
- The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults
- Younger people showed higher levels of depression and anxiety due to coronavirus, in comparison with older adults
- 34% of Gen Z's stated their mental health got worse during the pandemic
- 9.7% of teens suffer from severe major depression
- 5% of students have tried to end their lives since the pandemic
There is a crisis here, don’t you think?
So how can we help?
Movement is life. When we stop moving we start sending our body the message that we don’t want to live.
Movement is mood-enhancing.
Mindfulness techniques can provide children and teens helpful strategies to deal with a variety of mental health issues and life challenges they face such as depression, anxiety, bullying, eating disorders, trauma, and self-esteem problems.
With their relatively short life experience, children and teens lack the skills to put life events, discomforts, disagreements and other challenges in perspective.
It is hard for them to see how in a day/week/month/year time this may not seem as significant and even good may come out of it.
As grownups, we have learnt that some things can be fixed with the right effort, and other things just need time to heal or come back into order... but those same events, may make a young person feel like it's "the end of the world" and all hope is lost. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
Mindfulness can help a lot in creating the distance necessary from our thoughts and emotions to be able to process events in a healthier way.
We are obsessive thinkers (60,000 thoughts a day on average) and we get attached and fully identify with every thought and feeling that arises inside of us.
Even though those thoughts and feelings are very impermanent, and they move and change rapidly, without mindfulness skills we are totally consumed by them, many times to a point where we may feel helpless.
Being able to observe our thoughts and feelings and identify them, gives us the power to be free of them and even the power to change them at times.
Knowledge is power. When we don't know our inner world we are controlled by everything that rises and falls within it. When we are more familiar with it, we can more easily surf its waves.
Also, if we don't learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way, we end up doing it in unhealthy ways such as substance abuse or other harmful or self-harming activities.
Yoga and mindfulness can help a lot as a daily opportunity to take a step back from being caught in our thoughts, have a respite from this storm, see the big picture and land back into ourselves with a bit more self-compassion.
Oh! We get so stuck in our minds… We are so heavy sometimes! We really need to lighten up and play and fun can help shake us out of our darkness and bring us back to the light.
A few years ago, for my 40th birthday, I took some time away from our busy life for self-nurture. I went to Peru and spent a month with Shamans in the beautiful Andes. The lessons of the Peruvian Medicine Man are very simple and very deep, and many of them are relevant and practical not just for adults, but also for children.
The most influential teaching I took from that month is the idea that maybe there is not good and bad in our lives; rather there is only heavy and light, and we can dispel the heaviness by bringing in more lightness.
What do you think? A great lesson both for us and for the young ones?
My parents always try to teach me that. They would say “make elephants into mice”... I think that in English the saying is “make mountains into molehills.”
Anyway, it’s not like we have all of the solutions but we can definitely help. Everything helps!
When you have any kind of mental health issue, every little bit counts. It is putting one foot in front of the other.
We need to take all the help you can get, from doctors, psychologists, family and even our Rainbow Yoga community.
I have also experienced depression during COVID and with all of the extra pressure and stress and inability to plan for the future and have been taking antidepressants too. There is no shame in that.
Life sucks sometimes.
I think that one of the best tools is to always put things in perspective... This will not last forever.
Both you and I have been through tough times before and we are still here, and we are stronger and wiser for it. It will be the same this time. It is tough now, but we will grow because of it.
Sense of Purpose
I think that this is a big one for mental health.
There comes a time when we ask ourselves “what for?”
If we don’t have a good answer for this, we are lost.
I recommend for everyone to read the book Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. He is a holocaust survivor and psychologist that claims that the only people who survived the concentration camps like he did, were ones that could find meaning even in that darkest inhuman place. The ones that didn’t fade away even without getting murdered.
When we fill our lives with mostly meaningless things such as scrolling down TikTok (have you tried that?) or when we can be of service to anyone or the world like during lockdowns, life starts to feel a bit empty and meaningless.
Finding a purpose or a meaning, a WHY, big or small, is essential for our mental health… Why do you think I always obsess with making the world a better place? I NEED that meaning.
Maybe most of us are far from being experts on the topic, but we can be another friend who listens to a child in need and supports them with tools we all have easy access to.
And again, teaching is sometimes the best way for us to learn too...
And surviving all of this is not enough, we really want to THRIVE!
The tools yoga offers us should help us not just deal better with stress but also enjoy life more. Ideally to the fullest.
We often get caught up in trying to do as much as we can, as well as we can, to please as many people as we can, that we don't take time to enjoy anything. We don't take enough time to listen to ourselves and to love ourselves. Yoga and mindfulness can help us do that.
Thanks for listening and being vulnerable. It takes great courage to do this and also to share this with the world.
Go out there and make the world a better place with me, one child at a time!
Bring: Paper and pens
How am I?
Have a discussion with the group about mental health. Share from the above and from your own experience and also allow time for the children to share from their hearts if they want to.
Now sit down in the circle, close your eyes and take a moment to ask yourself this very important question:
How am I today?
Each person in their heart keeps asking themselves this same question and see what answers come up.
Guide the children to really feel into themselves, peel a few superficial layers and be sincere with themselves.
It seems like just an ordinary question that people ask each other all the time… And you are right, people do ask it all the time and people also don’t really listen to the answer and people also mostly just give the same answer and not necessarily the truthful answer and definitely not a thoughtful answer.
And this is the thing; we ask the same questions, we get the same answers, but we don’t stop to really think about the question asked or to feel the answer inside of us. So the answer ends up being meaningless.
When I ask myself this same question, I actually take the time to contemplate and think and feel how am I really doing today. I actually take a moment to stop and access my inner situation.
And why is this so important? It is so important because when I really know how I’m feeling I get to take full responsibility for my feelings AND over my reactions to everything that comes at me from other people and from the world around me.
Wow! This changes everything…
Instead of blaming other people for my reactions, I know that most of those reactions are actually coming from my own inner state of mind/heart. And this also gives me the ability to be conscious enough to choose to react in a different or in a more kind way.
So much self-awareness and mindfulness here… Mind blowing!
Personal Weather Report
Being honest about what you feel, can help both release some of the burdens you carry AND receive more of the support you may need.
Have each child summon the weather report that best describes their feelings at the moment. Sunny, rainy, foggy, stormy, calm, windy, tsunami?
Each child in their turn shares their personal weather report. If you wish, they can even combine it with a yoga pose or movement for everyone to repeat with them.
This activity allows children to observe their present state without overly identifying with their emotions. We know that feelings will change like the weather. They can’t change the weather outside, and sometimes we can’t change our emotions or feelings right away either. All we can change is how we relate to them. “I am not the downpour, but I notice that it is raining.”
This activity is fantastic for helping children to become more aware of their emotions and the experiences that make them feel a certain way by giving their emotions a colour, a sound, a smell, a taste and a texture.
Give each child a piece of paper and a pen and ask them to write a little short poem about their feelings.
Emotional Facial Wave
The Wave Sun Dance
Name That Feeling
- Pick a piece of paper with an emotion on it. Make sure the others can’t see through the paper (perhaps covering it with your hand).
- Strike a pose or do a movement that shows how that emotion makes your body, face, and heart change. For example, anger might make your shoulders high, fists clenched, face tight and pinched.
- See if they can guess what emotion you are trying to convey, saying things like “warmer” or “colder”. If it is an unusual word, give them the first letter, etc.
- Describe where you feel this emotion right now: I feel this emotion in my face, belly, legs, etc.
- After one or two times of you leading, have one of the students who quietly raised their hand to guess your emotion come up and act out another emotion. Once they’ve assumed the position, you can ask the “actor” where he/she feels this emotion in their body. Then ask the audience what emotion they think is being shown. Bring up the guesser, or a person who has not yet gone. Most students will want to be the “actor” but don’t force anyone. Discuss as a class as desired.
Put Things in Perspective
- “What’s good about this?”
- “What can I learn from this?”
- “How can I benefit from this?”
- “Is there something about this situation that I can be grateful for?”
- “Can this somehow make the world a better place?”
A Letter To Yourself
- “What do you wish you knew prior to the Covid-19 pandemic?”
- “What advice would have made this past year better for you?”
- “What do you want your future self to remember about this time in your life?”
Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash