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1 in 5 Adults Live with Mental Illness. These Yogis Are Breaking the Stigma

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May is mental health awareness month, and we’re highlighting yogis who are ending the stigma associated with mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults live with mental illness, and nearly 60 percent of adults with mental illness don’t receive annual treatments. While mental illness shows up in differently for people, one thing is true across the board: you should never be ashamed of it.

See also #YouKnowMe: 3 Brave Yogis Sharing Their Abortion Stories After The Recent Ban

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1. Mel Douglas

“I’ve had depressive episodes my entire life, although I didn’t learn that there was a name for that until I was 24 and finally saw a therapist for the first time. I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia, a mood disorder that causes mild-moderate depressive and hypomanic episodes. Learning this, so much of my life made more sense to me.

There was so much judgement I’d placed harshly on myself because I couldn’t understand that I was able to let go. My journey to healing started long before I found yoga, but I can honestly say that yoga has impacted my mental health more immensely than any therapist or medication has.

I share this because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month and because it’s the reason I teach. I believe we all deserve to be well and I hope that in my way, I serve my community’s wellness. 

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2. Lauren Level Fitness

“The world is dark and full of terrors so I do my best to add a little light to it. ⁣That being said, I still get nervous and anxious. I still have times where my confidence feels far from on pointe (Barre jokes). So what helps me get back to the class clown that I am?

1. Acknowledge that it comes in waves. I feel pretty confident most of the time but moods change and no one is perfect.

2. Do something I know I am good at. Maybe that’s balancing a budget or getting a toddler to eat veggies or doing a pilates roll up whatever it is, it feels good to be in my element⁣.

3. Remember who I am becoming. I know that I am working towards my beautiful goals and making progress What makes you feel confident?

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3. Emily

“It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am today. Not just physically in my yoga practice, but more importantly mentally.

I’ve dealt with depression for the past 9 years, and I’ll admit it took me quite a while to fully grasp that my mental health was suffering.

It wasn’t until I discovered yoga about 2 years after having Landon, that I accepted the fact that I needed to do something about it.

I then discovered the importance of self love- and with self love came self acceptance.

I started to understand my mental illnesses more, and through yoga, I’m constantly learning how to control and live with them.

Some days are harder than others.

Some days I don’t even want to get out of bed.

But every day- I look at my son who I know loves me for who I am.

I remember that my life is worth something.

I remember that my body is beautiful, I am strong and I am capable.

And I remember that my mental illness does not define who I am. It is not me. It’s just a small piece of my journey, that one day I hope to overcome.

The negative stigma around mental disorders needs to end. We should never feel embarrassed or scared to talk about it. There’s so much support out there, and I know there’s so many others who are going through something similar – but just know that there absolutely is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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4. Jessica Valant

“20 years ago I had to walk out of my bathroom because I was afraid I might open a bottle of pills and take too many. I was just so tired and didn’t know how to get out of the grey.

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Many things went into getting me to that point and many things went into getting me out. One of the most important factors was putting myself into therapy.

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It took going through two therapists before I found someone that worked for me. I actually tried to quit on her as well. Four sessions in and I figured I was good. I told her I was done. I told a friend I was done.

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Both of them gently recommended I could benefit from a little more.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

I had no idea the damage I was doing to myself with my constant feelings of guilt and my need to please everyone around me. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

It took time and patience and loads of grace for me to come out the other side. I am so thankful every day for the changes that helped make me who I am today.

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We talk about fitness and movement and food and vitamins for our physical health. We hire personal trainers and Pilates instructors and massage therapists. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Why wouldn’t we put just as much time and money towards our mental health?”

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5. Grace Gray

“At the age of 9 I told my mom for the first time I was being sexually abused by someone in the family. From then on I started my path to recovery. Im not sure why I told, but I did. I didn’t plan on telling. I wanted to keep it secret, I felt so much shame. I was so scared. I was threatened threats beyond belief if I were to tell. It’s almost like the words “yes” fell out of my mouth when my mom asked if anyone has ever touched me.

From the day I told on, I felt feelings I didn’t even know were possible. I didn’t know if it was normal, if everyone went through something like this, if it was my fault.. I didn’t know. I had to relive my trauma on many different occasions. Now I’m almost used to it. The police interviewed me for hours only to tell me they didn’t believe me because I said “I don’t remember” too many times. It happened every day, every single day. Psychologists suggest when something is too traumatic to relive, survivors will block it off in their minds suggesting they don’t remember to avoid more pain. Later, the truth came out and my offender confessed. I suffered with severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. I was on a handful of prescription medications starting at the age of 9 until I was 18. I still experience some anxiety and depression and OCD from time to time.

I am now 23, free of all medications, have a beautiful family, and most of all I have hope.

6 months after I had my son, I knew I had to do something to raise my vibrations and promote more mindfulness and positive awareness. Yoga has changed my life. I have found self awareness, self love, and self confidence. .

The stigma on mental health must change. We are all humans with all different stories. We must love and continue to love to help heal. And if you are reading this, I believe you and I am with you. 



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Take a Look Inside The Rady Children's Hospital Yoga Program

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A volunteer yoga program at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego is bettering the lives of its oncology kids.

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How Yoga Helped One Child with Cancer Recovery

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Learn more about Julia’s story.

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Why Isn’t Yoga Covered By Health Insurance?

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The short answer is, it’s complicated.

We spoke with John Kepner, executive director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), and Courtney Butler-Robinson, stress management specialist and yoga therapist for the Dean Ornish Reversal Clinic at Saline Heart Group in Benton, Arkansas, to find out why yoga therapy is largely uncovered by health insurance companies. Dean Ornish, MD, made headlines in 2010 for convincing insurance companies that yoga and meditation, when combined with proper diet and exercise, could reverse heart disease. To date, yoga therapy is covered only under the Ornish Reversal Program for heart disease, but some affiliated clinics, such as Saline Heart Group, are beginning to offer cancer care.

Yoga Journal: With all of its proven benefits, why is it so hard to get yoga covered by insurance?

John Kepner: That’s the big question. IAYT is a self-regulated organization—it’s all voluntary. We have standards and an accrediting body, continued education, certification, and an enforceable code of ethics, but we don’t yet have a certification exam. All professional health fields have some kind of exam. IAYT has just launched that effort, and I expect it will take another two years to complete. Those are necessary but not sufficient pillars when you’re talking about insurance. In most cases, but not all, insurance coverage extends to licenced health care fields.

Courtney Butler-Robinson: We are a wellness center and offer different programing. We recently extended into cancer care. The Ornish Reversal Program is the only program I know of where the whole thing, including yoga therapy, is covered by Medicare. Oftentimes, people who have cancer or have been given chemo will end up with heart problems, and in that case, we can often bill under that.

JK: One of my personal goals is yoga therapy insurance coverage for people recovering from cancer care. Their bodies have been wrecked by chemo. They need something to bring body and mind back to well-being. There’s a lot of research showing yoga can help with that. IAYT is connected with the Society for Integrative Oncology, which is seriously exploring yoga now.

See also Why More Western Doctors Are Now Prescribing Yoga Therapy

YJ: How do you see this goal coming to fruition? Will insurance-covered yoga therapy be siloed by illness or ailment, beginning with cancer and heart disease?

JK: I just don’t know. We are feeling our way. As mentioned, the Society for Integrative Oncology has two committees looking to yoga. For now, they are working independently of us, although we communicate with them. We are also developing a way to have insurance cover yoga therapies by health condition. My personal thought is that cancer is a good disease to start with. There is a lot of research and general sympathy. Heart disease is already addressed by the Ornish program.

CBR: I think Ornish will get prostate cancer covered in the next five
years. We just need to prove to insurance that this therapy will save them money.

JK: There are plenty of creative possibilities for financing yoga therapy in a health care setting beyond insurance. I wrote about it in 2005, but it’s still relative today. Anyone interested can look to my paper, “Financial Support for Yoga Therapy: A Montage of Possibilities,” published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy



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