About 20 years ago, as a college student, I took my very first yoga class at a small community center in Champaign, Illinois. I found a new physical activity that I enjoyed and intrigued me. At 19 years old, I had little idea about where life was going to take me.
I graduated from the University of Illinois in 2000 and decided to start my professional life somewhere fresh and new. I moved from the Midwest to southern California and began my work as a nurse. As so much in my life was changing so quickly, I soon began to feel overwhelmed, not just with my current life stressors, but also with mental and emotional issues I had never fully dealt with. I had pushed so much fear, sorrow, anger, and hurt down deep inside, and it began to seep out in ways that I was not prepared for. In my new environment I began to develop anxiety, and I experienced panic attacks. I was so scared, and at that time, I did not really comprehend what was happening to me.
The reason I share my personal story is to start a conversation and to let others know that they are not alone. So let’s talk about mental health. It is an essential part of being human. Still, we may find our emotions and feelings difficult to acknowledge or express, let alone discuss them with other people.
So let’s talk about mental health. It is an essential part of being human.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2015, 43.4 million adults in the United States, or 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 18 had a mental illness in the preceding year. Additionally, more than 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness during their lifetime. This makes mental illnesses one of the most common health issues in our country. It is highly probable that you or someone close to you has a mental illness.
Despite these astounding numbers, the mental health care system in the United States is severely lacking. Many health insurance plans do not cover prevention or treatment of mental health disorders. Access to mental health care is limited. The cost of mental health services deters many people from seeking treatment, and stereotypes about mental illness still strongly persist in our culture.
Western medicine has a strong focus on healing and preventing disease of the physical body, while mental health has fallen to the wayside. Be that as it may, the body-mind connection is undeniable. This is easily evidenced by the simple act of closing your eyes and taking deep, slow breaths in and out through your nose. These simple physical actions aid in relaxation of the mind. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) has shown that people with chronic physical illnesses are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders, and at the same time, those with mental illness are more likely to develop physical chronic disease. What we can inferred from this is having a healthy body can promote mental well-being and vice versa. So what can we do to foster the body-mind connection and promote overall health? We can try yoga to start.
The word yoga means to unite. There are many studies that demonstrate yoga has beneficial effects on both physical and mental health. Today in the US the yoga industry is booming. It is amazing how accessible and popular yoga has become. Again, it seems like the physical benefits of yoga is what attracts people initially, and the mental, emotional, and psychological benefits are not as visible.
Back in my early twenties dealing with the issues that had surfaced, I sought out counseling and joined a support group. I found that physical activity and exercise helped calm my mind. I began to explore a variety of outdoor activities, and frequently I found myself drawn back to yoga.
Although it was not apparent to me in the beginning, yoga was an outlet. It taught me how to face challenges with a greater sense of calm and ease. It helped me release destructive emotions and feelings. It calmed my anxiety and lifted depression. It provided a way to care for myself, so I could take care of my patients at work. To sum it all up, yoga helped me heal, balance, and connect to myself and others.
Yoga helped me heal, balance, and connect to myself and others.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and on October 10 we celebrate World Mental Health Day. These events help to draw awareness to concerns surrounding mental health with the hope of igniting action. Instead of just talking about it once a year, I hope mental health can turn into an ongoing conversation and something that is embraced in our world today.
Melissa Bartoletta is my dear friend and fellow yoga teacher. For her and I, mental health is a matter very close to our hearts. As yoga teachers we feel the true nature of yoga is to join body, mind, and spirit. The benefits of yoga can go far beyond the physical, and we wanted to share this with others. We worked together to organize and offer a yoga practice to draw attention to the benefits of yoga for mental health, encourage people who have never experienced yoga to try it, and raise funds for a local mental health organization. This all came to fruition, and it was fully embraced by our mountain community in Vail, Colorado.
On Saturday, September 29, people from across the Vail Valley and beyond will come together to celebrate mental health and yoga. My hope is that we can keep this conversation going, and maybe you can start one of your own. CLICK HERE to learn more about the event.
Photo courtesy of Dana Knerl.
Dana Knerl graduated from the University of Illinois in 2000, and has been working as a Registered Nurse in various fields of health care over the past 18 years. In 2005, she earned her Masters in Public Health from Boston University. In 2013, she became a board certified Holistic Nurse. Dana has been practicing Reiki since 2008, and in 2015 she became a Reiki Master. She completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training with the Colorado School of Yoga in 2016. Dana is the owner of Organic Energy Healing, where she offers Reiki and yoga to help guide individuals down a personal path of healing and wellness. Dana has lived in the Vail Valley since 2007, and she is passionate about promoting holistic health for this community.