By Jenny Lamothe
If there is anything that can affect your mental health, it’s a pandemic. Not only the fear of the virus, or the loss of a loved one, but the inability to take part in activities that were once a part of self-care: going to the movies, out with friends or even just a great meal, most public activities feel fraught with peril.
Nicole Cameron, a registered nurse and co-owner of Two Souls Yoga in Sudbury, said mental health support is part of why she began her Giving Hearts program, a way to give back to the community and also support those less fortunate.
“In the past, I have dealt with mental health issues, so it was important to me to give back to those suffering in some kind of way,” said Cameron.
Though some changes to the program occurred during the pandemic, Two Souls offers some free classes as well as the opportunity to “pay it forward,” making a donation so that another can enjoy a free class.
“We wanted to make sure that in light of everything going on in the world, that our community had an opportunity to express themselves physically, mentally and spiritually without having to worry about cost,” said Cameron.
The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years, but while it was once a new phenomenon in North America, the prevalence of it has not only resulted in many enjoying it as a form of exercise and meditation, but also studies that confirm what many devotees have found: that yoga is beneficial for physical health, as well as mental health.
A meta-study of the physical benefits found that in addition to improved flexibility, yoga is good for reducing aches and pains, as well as conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis and back pain. It is the act of moving joints through their full range of motion, what the meta-study refers to as “squeezing and soaking areas of cartilage not often used and bringing fresh nutrients, oxygen and blood to the area, which helps to prevent conditions like arthritis and chronic pain.”
The study states that “without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage will eventually wear out and expose the underlying bone. Numerous studies have shown that asana (physical practice), meditation or a combination of the two reduced pain in people with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and other chronic conditions. Yoga also increases proprioception (perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body) and improves balance, as well as cardiovascular benefits.”
The benefits of yoga for mental health are also being studied, but Cameron knows personally just how the practice can be a complement to mental health care.
“I am a survivor of complex PTSD, and my family, friends and yoga have been my biggest support system over these past years,” said Cameron. She said that support motivated her to give back. “Two Souls Yoga was born from that deep passion to survive at the game of life.”
Studies of exercise for mental health are backing up Cameron’s beliefs. Another meta-study of exercise and mental health states that “exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function,” and has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
A practice like yoga is one that is geared to each individual’s abilities and needs, said Cameron, allowing for the benefits of exercise without feeling like you need to be an athlete to take part. “We offer a wide variety of classes on our schedule to accommodate everyone's needs and desires,” said Cameron.
Types of yoga such as hot vinyasa (40 C in the room), gentle yoga, yin, yang/yin, yoga nidra, restorative, meditation and kids yoga are offered.
“These range anywhere from intense movement, to meditation with no movement, there is something for everyone,” she said.
And it is something everyone should do, said Cameron, even just to manage life.
“We live in a society that glorifies being busy — we are not taught to truly stop, breathe, and take a moment to listen to what is happening not only around us, but within,” said Cameron. Yoga allows you to slow down, and truly see what part of you needs some TLC. By releasing any kind of negative energy, yoga allows you to “focus more clearly, breathe more efficiently, and create more space in your physical body.” It is the holistic aspects of the practice of yoga that allow for this, said Cameron.
“Yoga is a practice that has three main components: asana (physical practice), pranayama (breathing), and dhyana (meditation), capturing the body, mind and spirit,” said Cameron. “Our mental health is more than just the mind.”
When one of those areas is out of balance, then the other areas become vulnerable to injury; mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually. Because the nature of yoga is the union of these areas, it becomes an essential tool in helping people to find balance within.
Cameron said that in her belief, yoga is about getting to know yourself, understanding your needs and taking better care of yourself and others around you.
“Yoga becomes a way of life that directs you into self-awareness, mindfulness, and a state of being that is calming,” said Cameron.
It not only can be a great physical practice but it also has so many mental health benefits. It’s these benefits that are behind the Giving Hearts program.
“It is important to us to make sure that everyone can access some of the services that we offer,” said Cameron. “Everyone should have access to tools that can help them become a stronger and healthier version of themselves. We see all too often, those who continuously give to the point of exhaustion, and something needs to change. If offering these classes can help just one person take better care of themselves, then we have done our job.”
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at Sudbury.com.