By Tina Russo Lancey, CYT, R-AYF, R-CYAMT
Mental Health has recently started becoming less taboo to talk about in the 21st century, however, stigma is still one of the many problems surrounding mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Let us look at the history of mental illness in this country, discuss the place of yoga therapy in mental health, and how we can use yoga to bring our struggles to God.
Before the 1960s, there really was no medication for mental health. People who suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and the like, were forced into mental hospitals for treatment. These treatment centers were often stigmatized and referred to as “looney bins,” “nut houses,” “funny farms,” and “crazy places.”
Starting with Lithium in 1948 and then Thorazine in 1954, medications for mental disorders started hitting the market. The use of these drugs grew through the 1960s. Then in the 1970s, all over America, people with mental health issues were being fed pills to cure what ailed them. Unfortunately, during this time, mental health hospitals (the aforementioned “funny farms”) were starting to close. Former patients were handed a bottle of medication as they were told “good luck” and hustled out the door. While for some people who suffered mental illness, escaping the horrors of poorly run sanitariums was a blessing, for others, it only hurt them and their situation.
So why were the wonder pills of the ’60s such a disaster? Well, patients were no longer under the direct care of doctors, nurses, and other support staff. Patients now were on their own as far as taking their medication, and for some of these illnesses, part of the illness is the denial of a problem. Bipolar disorder is one of these types of mental illnesses where the patient often believes they are not ill, and therefore, they disregard their medication as not needed.
Other factors in the deinstitutionalization of the 1960s and 1970s included limited access to medication, access to doctors who could understand and prescribe the medication, limited talk therapies (and other therapies) often needed alongside medication treatments, increased crime committed by persons with mental illness, and increased stigma around seeking treatment. Nowhere in the equation, did physical exercise and our connection with God come into play.
During the 1960s, yoga exploded in the United States, however it was not looked at as a means to support mental health illnesses until the new Millenium. With the Coronavirus pandemic, yoga for mental health hit an all-time high. People started to recognize even the healthiest of us were dealing with uncharted waters when it came to mental health as the world went into a lockdown mode and people were forced to stay home from school, work, and entertainment.
When it became clear in the early days of the pandemic, that we were in for a potential long haul of change and isolation, yoga teachers around the world had to pivot and figure out a way to make yoga more accessible with the situation not showing signs of getting better through the summer and into the fall. With winter on the horizon and the mutation of new strains, again people sought to find ways to relieve pandemic fatigue. Many yoga classes were now streaming online, but not without problems. Thankfully the yoga community did its best to adapt to new technologies and offer yoga in different facets. Many people dusted off their mats and attended online classes, including yoga teacher training. So why was yoga suddenly popular?
Research has proven these facts:
- Yoga can ease depression
- Yoga is usually affordable
- Yoga can improve concentration, focus, memory, and mood
- Yoga can reduce the effects of PTSD
- Yoga can boost confidence
- Yoga teaches controlled breathing
- Yoga makes us more mindful
- Yoga helps to relieve stress
- Yoga can help relieve pain
- Yoga can help relieve psychotic symptoms
- Yoga can reduce fatigue
- Yoga can boost energy
- Yoga can increase healthy sleep patterns
Other benefits of yoga include:
- Improved quality of life
- Increased strength
- Lowering obesity
- Reducing cholesterol
- Increased balance
- Reduced menopausal symptoms
- Improve kidney function
- Improved posture
For Christians, there are added bonuses to practicing yoga in relation to our walk with Christ. Because yoga means to “yoke,” which translates to union, as Christians we can look through the lens of union between us and Christ. The physical and mental benefits of yoga not only can help us with stress, mental illness, etc., but we can take those things which ail us, mental health-related or not, and use our time on the mat to connect with God and give him the burdens we face.
On the mat, we can pray, meditate on the Word, and listen. Sometimes our mental illnesses can be overwhelming. The recent loss of Naomi Judd of The Judd’s, just a day before The Judd’s would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and weeks before a final tour with daughter Wynonna, let the world see the burden of depression was overwhelming. To someone on the outside, Naomi Judd continued to have everything going for her and her family. Still, she faced a struggle that overtook everything. This ultimately led her to take her own life. This was especially surprising as Naomi had so openly discussed her struggles in her book “River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope.”** (#ad)
As Christians, we can take medication, engage in talk therapy, and even practice yoga for relief, but our yoga practice allows us to also connect with God. The following verses are applicable to our struggle with mental illness. Read what God has told us.
- Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand”
- Psalm 40: 1-3 “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.”
- Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
- 1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for us”. Just throw it on him, and let him carry your burdens. Jesus said we could cast all of our cares on him because he cares for us! There is nothing we are going through that we cannot cast on the Lord.
As a society, we often revert to prayers when someone has an illness of the body such as cancer or other diseases, however, how often do we surrender our mental illnesses to God? Our yoga mats are the perfect place to not only engage in the physical benefits of yoga but give us a time and place to bring our cares to God.
Again, this is not to say medication and other therapies do not have their place in the management and healing of mental illness. They absolutely do. Christians who practice yoga, and Christians in general, can also take these struggles to our creator.
We continue to understand more about mental illness, and thankfully, more people are opening up about their struggles and talking about healing in the 21st century. While deinstitutionalization was initially a disaster for people fighting mental illness, we are slowly shifting to a space of understanding and communicating to the world, about what is happening. We are now more likely to reach out for help than ever, and we are using the practice of yoga to assist in the mental health journey. The most important factor in our journey to healing is we are now discussing bringing these cares and struggles to God, so we can continue to work on healing.
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