Teaching people with enduring mental health problems: Laura Potts

Teaching people with enduring mental health problems 

by Laura Potts

Since 2010 I have run a class funded by the Iyengar Yoga Development Fund at a local community recovery services centre run by the local authority. Staff at the centre knew me from teaching Iyengar yoga in the city’s psychiatric hospital, and knew there was a need for a class to sustain and support people’s health when they were not in acute care settings.  It has gone from strength to strength in that time, offering a regular weekly class to many, many students. Classes are full: there are around 20 people on the register at any one time, with space for the 10 or 12 who come on any day.

The Iyengar approach to teaching makes yoga accessible to students who may be used to feeling that they are outside society and can’t do regular activities. Their problems range widely, but there is certainly a trend to there being more people with greater vulnerability, deeper trauma and more complex issues. For instance, they may have experiences which mean the common instruction to ‘take your legs wide’ is a trigger to relive past abuse, or they may be unable to be comfortable lying supine on the floor for Savasana for instance. These students often have no money after years of ill-health, rely entirely on public transport, may not be safe going out in evenings, and would not be able to cope in a class that didn’t recognise and explicitly support their mental health needs; the funding from IYDF is passionately appreciated by students. 

The value of Iyengar yoga in the transforming lives of these students is very apparent. A young woman who has recently had intensive in-patient treatment for an acute life threatening eating disorder, told me that the class was the first thing  for which she had wanted to leave the house or her bed in years.  Students report yoga as helping them to be more stable, steady and able to cope with often very difficult lives. They tell of being more focused and relaxed, less panicky and dissociated or paranoid.  I observe a caring and supportive environment; the class is welcoming to newcomers and looks out for students who don’t attend for a few weeks.

These comments are taken from regular written evaluations:

  • ‘calms and focuses me and stops the mind being so busy’
  • After class ‘feel calmer and more grounded’
  • ‘it gives me a space that helps distract my mind’
  • After class ‘feel relaxed inspired hopeful’

Laura is a certified Iyengar Yoga Therapy teacher based in York. Visit her website at http://yogaforallyork.wordpress.com/

Click here to see Laura’s teacher profile

The Iyengar Yoga Development Fund is a non-registered charitable fund that was started with the support of BKS Iyengar to assist disadvantaged groups in accessing Iyengar yoga classes.  40% of the license fees paid by Iyengar yoga teachers each year goes towards this invaluable work.

The IYDF enables Iyengar yoga teachers to reach some of our society’s most challenged members. There is a wide range of people in classes throughout the country benefiting from the Fund, including:

  • People recovering from addiction
  • Prisoners
  • People with mental health conditions
  • A women’s refuge

Find out more and make a donation to the IYDF