Yoga and mental health
STACEY SOLT/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Maya Kowalcyk, the owner of Jim Thorpe Yoga, demonstrates the Cobbler's pose during a talk on yoga and mental health. The talk and yoga session were lead by Kowalcyk and members of Blue Mountain Health System.
Treating depression or anxiety isn't always about taking medication or seeing a therapist.
In some cases, taking care of your body can be just as important as addressing your mental health.
This was the message that Blue Mountain Health System and Jim Thorpe Yoga shared during a recent program on yoga and mental health at the Jim Thorpe Yoga studio on Center Street in Jim Thorpe.
"Mental health is just as important as your physical health," said Catherine Miller, MSW, LSW, community liaison for behavioral health at BMHS. "We encourage exercising, eating right; which is important. But if my brain is not functioning properly, my body is not functioning properly."
She noted that Blue Mountain is scheduling more community events such as this one, to share information about the community's resources and different ways to become healthier in both mind and body.
"Who here has suffered from depression or anxiety?" Miller asked the crowd.
When every person in the room raised their hand, she nodded.
"These are natural reactions that we have, as human beings," she said. "If you didn't raise your hand, you were lying."
She added that if these feelings become overwhelming, it is important to seek professional help. She shared information about Blue Mountain's behavioral health support system.
The health network has a behavioral health unit for adults and older adults, as well as outpatient and home care support.
Maya Kowalcyk, the owner of Jim Thorpe Yoga, offered a short talk on the benefits of yoga before leading the class through an hour-long beginner yoga session.
"Yoga is about the mind. Maybe you've heard that yoga is meditation in motion. That's really what it is," she said.
As a yoga student and teacher, Kowalcyk has turned to yoga for both physical and mental wellness.
She began having knee pain while running and used yoga poses to help strengthen and heal her knee. When her mother passed away, she again turned to yoga, this time as an instructor, for much-needed relief from grieving.
"The only thing that made me feel somewhat normal, as normal as you can feel when you're grieving, was when I was doing yoga," she said.
Kowalcyk guided those at her studio through a short series of alignment-based yoga poses, designed to help restore balance in the body and calm the mind.
She modified each pose for beginners or those who had knee or back problems, and told people not to be intimidated by yoga and to ask for help or modifications when necessary.
"You can do a whole yoga class sitting on a chair. Modifications can be made," she said. "But if you have a serious physical problem, it's important to talk to a physician before starting."
Her "yoga for depression" sequence included the following alignment-based yoga poses (Sanskrit names in parentheses); each pose can be searched for online, or found in most yoga books:
• Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)
• Triangle Pose or half moon (Trikonasana or Ardha Chandrasana)
• Standing wide leg forward bend (Prasarita Paddottonasana)
• Downward facing dog at wall (Adhomukha Svanasana)
• Inverted staff pose (Viparita Dandasana)
• Hero's pose (Virasana)
• Cobbler's pose (Baddhakonasana)
• Downward facing hero's pose (Adho Mukha Virasana)
•Corpse pose (Savasana)
• Ocean sounding breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
"All yoga is good, but not all yoga is good for every body," said Kowalcyk after the program.
Both the style and pace of the yoga class, as well as the teacher, can make a difference in what type of yoga you are most comfortable with.
"It's not one-size-fits-all," she said. "There isn't just one answer to your problems. Every body is different."
She noted that it can take time to feel the full benefits of yoga practice, but even a short session can lead to short-term improvements.
"Most beginners feel a difference the first time, or the first few times."