One of the questions I get quite often is, “You’re a counsellor, why do you have all of these other people in your office?” These questions have become more frequent over the years, especially when we opened our yoga studio this past March. What on earth does yoga have to do with mental health? The simple answer? Lots. We have been very intentional about the disciplines we’ve incorporated into our clinic and there is a research based-rationale for everything. The bottom line answer as to why we have all the various disciplines we do is because they work – and moreso, as much as I am a counsellor and believe in the type of work that we do, I know that it is only one way to approach a difficulty, and to fully help the clients we have, an integrated approach is most helpful.
The Body and the Mind
Throughout history, the body and the mind have mainly been thought of as two separate entities. Dualism has been a predominant thought for centuries in many cultures, particularly Western. Eastern cultures have had less of a dichotomous view, and Western culture and medicine are starting to take a more unified view of the body and mind. This is being supported by much of the research on human anatomy, physiology, psychology, and the therapeutic techniques available to us.
Although once thought to be separate entities, the body and the mind are indeed very connected. There is new research being done on the Vagus nerve and autonomic nervous systems, driven by the Polyvagal Theory of Stephen Porges, that is showing just how connected the body and the brain are and how this impacts treatment. Without getting bogged down in neuroscience and human physiology, what is the implication for us at Alongside You and you as our clients?
There is more that one way to treat mental health, and counselling, while effective, is only one part of the solution.
If the body and the mind are so intimately connected, then it would stand to reason that what we consume matters! We already know that what we eat has a direct impact on our bodies; well, if that’s true, then we can assume that it affects our brains as well! One of the examples of this in my own life is when I discovered how much water intake impacted my wellbeing. Common sense would suggest that since our body and brain are comprised primarily of water, making sure that my water intake was up to par would be important. I am not always a smart man. However, I was having difficulty staying awake at my desk in the hospital, and maintaining focus. I don’t remember how I got the idea, but I consciously made an effort to drink 2 litres of water a day and suddenly I had more energy, could focus better and felt human again! Needless to say, it’s been about three years and I’ve continued this practice and can tell you that it’s one of the best changes I’ve ever made. For more information on the importance of nutrition, you can see our article here and here.
Brenna and I have both written on the subject of yoga before, but what I want to point out is the bi-directionality of influence between the body and the mind. We know that the mind affects the body. Using guided imagery, meditation, and other techniques can help regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and more! I know from my own practice that mindfulness helps me keep these in check better than almost anything else.
Similarly, the body helps regulate the mind and our emotions. This isn’t new – I remember learning in undergraduate psychology at UBC that simply smiling will actually help us feel subjectively happier. Similarly, our breathing can impact our anxiety levels significantly. A technique I use with clients is one that I picked up from Dr. Marsha Linehan at a conference a few years back – it’s simple: breathe out slower than you breathe in. Try it – it works. It actually works so well that she gives a medical disclaimer that if lowering your heart rate or blood pressure could be a bad idea, don’t do it! Consider yourselves warned!
What I’m most excited about with yoga is the research coming out, primarily from Besel Van Der Kolk and David Emerson, showing that Trauma Sensitive Yoga is a very effective adjunct to psychotherapy and can sometimes be just as effective, if not more effective than counselling for recovery in people who have experienced trauma, even on its own. This is so promising for clients who are nonverbal, clients who are stuck in the symptoms of PTSD, clients who are not able to talk about their trauma, and more! You can read more about what we do with yoga here. I cannot be more excited about the results we’re seeing with our clients in our yoga program.
One of the most common questions I get is “Why do you have an art studio in a health clinic?” The answer is simple: because it helps people recover. It is not about being the best artist (thank goodness or I wouldn’t be allowed to set foot in there), becoming the next Picasso or Monet, or painting the perfect sunset. It’s about finding a way to express your emotions, build community, meet new people, encourage each other, and so much more in a non-threatening environment where you’re free to simply create, explore, and restore your sense of self, your relationships, and your passions. I get to see teens engage in new creative mediums, families bond over art and communicate with each other, seniors join with the younger folks to enjoy an activity and pass on some of their wisdom, and people of all abilities working together, and around each other, and being accepted. Art heals. If you want to read more about it, check this article out, or maybe this one!
I could go on forever about why integrated care is so important, but the bottom line is because the body, the brain, and the soul are all integral parts of healing and we need to pay attention to all of them if we want to help people. We’re still a young clinic and we can’t do it all, but we’re trying to take a well-rounded approach to care. If we can help the body, and we can help the brain, and we can help the soul, people recover.
If you’d like to talk further, please feel free to give us a call. We’d love to connect with you. If you’re not sure what the right way to go is, we’re happy to explore that with you.
If you’re interested in exploring Mindfulness, check out this article by Brenna and our upcoming workshop on July 28th!
If you’d like to try some art, we have our Open Studio Sessions and a series of pop-up workshops on various topics this summer, check out our events calendar here!
If you don’t even know where to begin, give us a call or send us an email, we’d love to chat!