Lizzie: Maybe the Elephant in the Room is Indian…

A current topic of concern in New Zealand is mental health, more specifically, the growing number of people effected by mental illness and the lack of resources to support the mental health of New Zealanders. The question now is, what can we do to better support the mental health of our country?

As a component of Indogenius’ program, Reimagining India, the group of PSMA recipients have been getting up in the mornings to practice yoga. Susie Roy is the yoga guru and welfare officer from the Indogenius team and has been looking after our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing throughout the trip. Her aim from the beginning of the program has been to equip us with the knowledge and skills to be able to carry on a basic practice once we get home. She believes yoga enables you to be happy and content and physically fit, saying that “you are only as young as your spine is flexible”. The basic practice we are learning includes breathing exercises, sun salutations and 12 Asanas. From Susie’s flexibility and strength at the incredible age of 75, the physical benefits of a regular practice are clear as she holds a head stand and crow poses longer than us University students. However, the spiritual aspect of practice is what Susie really would like us to take away from her guidance.

At the first session we walked into a dimmed room with wafts of smoke coming from an incense stick burning at Susie’s feet. She started the practice by explaining that yoga is not something you do but rather a state of being and is uniquely intertwined with the philosophy that we have energy in our bodies divided between our seven chakras. Yoga works to align our seven chakras and achieve a sense of consciousness- the ultimate goal of true yogis being to find true consciousness. After this explanation she laughed as said “you don’t have to believe the ‘woo woo’ side of all of it. But if you breath and move, you will feel energised and strong which is a pretty good start”. The spiritual aspects of yoga come into play at the beginning and end of practices which can be intimidating if you do not have any experience with connecting to your consciousness. Essentially, this can be demystified as a way of holding the mirror up to yourself and becoming confident and comfortable enough to have a long look and be honest with yourself. Asking yourself: how I feel today? what hurts? what am I thinking about? am I tired? how does it feel to breathe? This is why we started each practice by pressing our palms together in front of our chest and chanting three Ohm’s. This is meant to connect our energy to one another and the energy around us to ground us in our practice and allow us to reflect inward and outward concurrently.

The practice of yoga in India is ancient and the 5,000 years of developed philosophy has shown to have a distinctly positive impact on those who practice regularly. One of the positive effects of practicing yoga is having greater control over mental health and managing your mental wellbeing. With movement that focuses on specific chakras (energy centres) within the body, yoga works to balance hormones and use the breath to circulate negative energies out of the body.

New Zealand’s cultural framework distinctly lacks a spiritual outlet within day to day life. While this can not be said to be the case for everyone or the cause of the increasing decrease in mental wellbeing, yoga would be provision for helping more New Zealander’s recognise the importance of mind health. New Zealand has a lot to learn from countries such as India, especially when it comes to cultural eastern philosophy that we tend to disregard. A large scale education plan in primary schools to get kids practicing would greatly promote the responsibility everyone has to care for both their mental and physical wellbeing from an early age.

While psychological studies, therapy and medication have a place within the management of mental health it is time from a shift in thinking. Everyone has mental health from the moment they are born, just like we have a physical body.

Learning a sun salutation for the first time

Lizzie Harvey

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