It is World Mental Health Day today, and since yoga can make such an important contribution to mental well being for all, it is an appropriate day to present another of our speaker at Instill, Dr Lucy Arnsby-Wilson, who will be focusing on yoga and neurodiversity.
Here is Lucy’s presentation of her session at Instill
YOGA AND NEURODIVERSITY
At this years Instill, I will be sharing some of my personal practice and reflections of supporting hundreds of young people who are are neurodiverse using Yoga Therapy, You too, if you don’t already, might consider this also.
The older I get and reflect back over my childhood, the more I realise I have always been surrounded by neurodiversity and been fascinated by this. When I was 18 I began work with the sweetest boy, Daniel who had a diagnosis of Autism. I would visit him several times a week in Camberwell where I was employed as a home tutor. At this time, I was beginning my own yoga practice experiencing a profound connection to myself that I had not felt for some time. It has since been my greatest passion to learn how to and support others in accessing our inbuilt skills to keep us on an even keel. Seeing shared challenges, Daniel was the first person I shared some of the yoga I had been practicing. The benefits were extraordinary which led me studying, practicing and sharing yoga therapy for the past 19 years! During this time I trained as a Clinical Psychologist. Therefore, many of the people I see have also experienced or are experiencing mental health problems and trauma.
In the past 5 years, I have established a CIC which is supported by a cooperative of practitioners. We offer sessions in the community, NHS, schools, yoga centres as well as training, supervision and consultation.
The power of yoga
The power of Yoga constantly amazes me and the young people that we serve. Here are some of their responses:
‘I feel calm and clever now I go to yoga. I think I was this before, I just didn’t feel it’
‘The friends I have at yoga make me know I am loved. I like coming every week. It is quiet and I learn about how I work and how I think which helps me to understand myself’.
“My shoulders and back were hurting before I came to yoga. Now my body is more flexible and this is reflected in my thinking and mind as well’.
Every story is interesting, each being unique and with everyone I work with, Yoga manages to gently find its way to the heart, creating a capacity to come inwards and then a way to pendulum between the inner and outer layers that we experience; to integration and wholeness. It is a hugely exciting time in the field as the Western evidence base starts to reflect what has been suggested and experienced for over 7000 years!
Young People and Yoga
I am motivated to work with young people because young people are just as special as everyone else in the world and it is essential for them to realise that. Because young people are brimming with untapped potential and sometimes have not connected with that, maybe because they are do not fit into their environment or have experienced traumatic experiences and terrible circumstances. Because I want the world to see each and every young person as unique, Because each young person is on their own individual journey and where it will take them can’t be predicted. I want young people to feel that their voice matters, that they matter and my experience is that yoga can really make a difference with this.
No matter what the young person goes on to do in their lives, they will take something with them that will benefit them in ways we cannot even imagine.
Sometimes this is through strengthening a connection to self awareness and self perception. It may be through supporting restful and revitalising sleep. Sometimes it can be though the development of practices which enable reduced restlessness, cultivate a sense of peace and wellbeing and reduce anxiety or low mood. It may be through the young person feeling welcomed into and part of a loving community. It can be considered subtle or profound. By holding no expectations but offering these practices from a place of invitation, trust and compassion, this work holds no boundaries
We must talk with parents, teachers, carers and mental health professionals about yoga; the benefits for young people, share examples, present research and create strong communities to enable us to do this effectively. However, we must not forget that they too need these practices. We are all aware of the soaring rates of mental health problems in young people we support as well for those in adult hood.
In a recent poll on teacher wellbeing, nearly half of respondents said their mental health was poor, fuelling fears that growing numbers are struggling to cope with the profession’s changing demands. A significant proportion reported that they take medication because of their job. And the convener of a national mental health helpline has said that the demands of teaching are so exceptional that a counsellor should be stationed in every school (Hepburn, TES, 2017)
Yoga in schools
But how about this, how about an environment where teachers start and finish the day with 10 minutes of meditation, where students and teachers practice yoga together, finding what unites us rather than divides. I often share with them a wonderful programme ‘Get Ready To Learn’ that we piloted in schools here in Gloucestershire for 4 years. The programme requested young people with autism and their teachers practice a yoga DVD programme everyday for 12-20 minutes. Following an inset training programme and taking part in the programme on a daily basis, after 12 weeks those who attended improved concentration, attention, self regulation and feelings of well-being-and this was the young people and the teachers!
It is time to reconsider the way in which is assess, diagnose and define the problems that young people are experiencing as this leads to the care, interventions and programs that we offer. The lens of what is wrong with someone appears to have been adopted in the West. Yogas starts with what is right with someone (Cope, 2011). The more we can develop an awareness of our own internal landscape, how to manage conflict, distress and despair there, the more we can do this within our community and our society-and never has our world needed this peace more.
It is a great pleasure to be contributing to Instill and the work of the Teen Yoga Foundation, an inspiring event where we can empower young people, in all their diversity to come together.