My Journey from Severe Mental Illness to Health and Happiness
Yoga changed my mental state – and my entire life. Here’s how.
Plus – my tips on how to get started with your own yoga practice, and how to make sure it feels supportive for you and your mental health.
Yoga And Mental Health – My Story
I think I was about 23 years old when I discovered yoga, and if you met me back then you’ll know I was unrecognisable compared to now. My diagnosis (bipolar disorder) was my identity, and I held on to it like a noose. Entrenched in science and pessimism, I was resolute that my whole life would be a nightmare, and I remember previously scoffing at a well-meaning CPN who suggested that yoga and meditation might help support my mental state. Surely they knew that bipolar was incurable? That this was my fate?
I didn’t want to discover yoga. I think I may have been the most reluctant yoga beginner of all time hahaha. I was comfortably uncomfortable in the pain and misery I was in, and the thought of being any other way was honestly unthinkable! But my partner kept suggesting it and, as much as I rolled my eyes for a year or two, I eventually gave in.
And as cliche as it is to say, the rest was history. I could barely touch my knees let alone my toes, but something profound shifted mentally and spiritually for me. Reconnecting to my body and my breath made me realise I was more than my mental illness. I felt hope for the first time in years.
Yoga transformed my relationship with myself in so many ways.
- I learned how I can shift my energetic and mental state simply by flowing with my breath.
- Balancing on my hands showed me I was stronger than the limiting beliefs I used to live by.
- Being present in deep stretches taught me to be calm with sensation and discomfort.
7 years after I reluctantly first stepped on my yoga mat, I was told that bipolar disorder must have been a misdiagnosis. That I had been stable and episode free for so long that I couldn’t possibly have such a severe mental illness. My doctor was adamant it was my devotion to my recovery and my self-care that changed everything. I’m not saying yoga is a cure for everything – or anything. Mental illness is hugely complex and more plastic than originally thought – and as a recovering scientist I know better than to rush to conclusions.
That said, I do know that yoga helped me manage my mind and transform all the negative beliefs I had about myself and the world. My yoga mat became my sanctuary, and from that safe place I was able to expand and feel confident in every area of my life.
Tips To Help You Support Your Mental Health Through Yoga
There’s so much more potency in your yoga practice than being able to touch your toes, and I know yoga has changed so many of our clients’ lives. All I can say is – if you struggle with your mental health, try yoga. You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain.
- Start small. Don’t feel like you have to commit to a huge amount of time every day to practice at first, especially if it feels overwhelming. Listen to your body and your mind, and stop when you’re ready. Give yourself a permission slip to build up slowly – make sure yoga feels supportive and not like a stressor.
- Get curious. What comes up in your mind when you do strong poses, and how do slower styles affect you? What thoughts do you have when you hold a deep stretch? Notice how each posture makes you feel. Are your thoughts in X pose helpful? Can you be more compassionate with yourself?
- Explore. Don’t force yourself to keep going to a class that doesn’t leave you feeling amazing, just because it’s the first one you went to. There are so many incredible teachers and styles out there! Whether you practice on your own, subscribe to an app, follow YouTube classes, find a local studio or learn 1-1 from a yoga teacher, do Power or prefer Restorative – keep exploring and find the right path for you.
If you want to learn how to support your mental health, I’d really recommend our meditation guide. This free video teaches you a simple and highly effective meditation practice which helps you feel calmer and more connected to your Self.