Ruah Mental Health Services: yoga & mental health recovery

Ruah Mental Health Services: yoga & mental health recovery

Ruah Mental Health Services works with individuals recovering from serious and persistent mental illness. We worked with Ruah to design a yoga program that would help their clients build the skills and confidence to participate in their community.

Yoga tailored to mental health recovery

Research shows that yoga can have a positive impact on mental health: it can help with stress management, create focus and improve self-awareness. But ordinary classes may be confronting for those dealing with mental illness, who may be overwhelmed by large groups, uncomfortable with being touched, or have specific learning needs.

In keeping with Ruah’s mandate for mental health recovery, we needed to design a program that would help participants develop the skills to get the most out of a group yoga experience. In doing so, they would be building confidence to transition from the support of the organisation to community participation.

How we did it

Before setting foot on a yoga mat we did background research to understand Ruah’s organisational culture, and their key work with clients. We also did a literature review of how yoga can help with mental health. This broad understanding allowed us to scope a program that would support Ruah’s work in the world.

Individual consults then gave us the detail of individual needs, language and expectation.  This guided us to our starting point of what to cover in session one.  Delivery of the pilot followed an action-research method, using critical reflection after each class.

Scoping – collaboration is key

Ruah’s mental health workers helped scope the project, to ensure that program outcomes reflected Ruah’s organisational culture.  Clients were also consulted over a group conversation.

Together we decided on this key objective:

Participants in Yoga for Mental Health Recovery develop the skills, motivation and knowledge to undertake a yoga practice at home and in the community, in accordance with their own, personal objectives for their yoga practice.  They can assess their own readiness, and communicate their needs with a teacher and support crew.

Individual consults – each person has different needs

Ruah recognises that recovery in mental health means different things to different people, so we spent time helping each person understand if this was the program for them and what they wanted to get out of it.  These preparatory sessions also allowed us to work more accurately with the diverse range of mental health needs and the considerable range in physical capacities of participants.

Feedback after the individual sessions included physical and emotional benefits:

“I liked that it took me back to somewhere that is safe”

“You got rid of the shoulder pain without even touching me!”

Prototyping – learn and build as you go

We adopted a prototype-based approach to course design, wherein the specific content of each class is based on learnings from the previous session.  The group came together for six weeks of group classes to learn yoga postures (asana), pranayama (breathing) and meditation. They were also introduced to yogic education philosophy, such as the principle of non-violence to illustrate that they were allowed to stop anything that felt uncomfortable.  We used feedback and insights from participants and their mental health workers at each step to refine the course as it progressed.

Critical reflection

A key part of the method was assisting each person to reflect on their learning journey so as to understand how to meet their own needs for their yoga practice. Participants learnt how to learn about yoga and in doing so learn about themselves.

The results

After six weeks, our yogis were performing more complex yoga postures. They said they felt stronger, more co-ordinated and that their balance had improved.  The group also had interesting discussions about motivating themselves to practice at home, where to find affordable classes in their area and the style of yoga that would suit them best.  Everyone in the group said they felt more comfortable about attending yoga classes in the community and about adapting postures to their own capabilities.   Almost everyone was intending to enrol in a yoga class in the community.

Ruah staff said that it was really important for those recovering from mental illness to have programs like this that offer a transition between the kind of support mental health workers can provide and the step into the community.

Does your organisation work with a mental health recovery model? This course can be run for you. Get in touch.

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