Did you first come to yoga because you felt wonderful, your body was vital, your mind was healthy, and you simply wanted to keep the party going?
Or, were you like the rest of us? Did you step into your first yoga class with a physical injury, mental stress, or extreme fatigue?
As a yoga teacher, I get the exciting opportunity to meet people at a place of need. Most of my students walk through the door because something isn’t working right in their lives. It could be depressing; it’s not depressing, because I know I’m offering something valuable to their mental clarity, physical health, and spiritual fulfillment.
But what if yoga just isn’t enough? What if you need more support to get to a place of wholeness and wellbeing? Where do you turn, and how do you get started?
These are the questions we should be asking as yoga teachers. Is this student someone who is a candidate for help through the yoga practice? Or, does this student need access to greater resources and support than I can provide?
It takes 200 hours of education in order to be certified as a yoga teacher. That education must include anatomy, philosophy, asana, ethics, and other relevant yoga topics. Prior to teaching at most studios or fitness facilities, teachers must also acquire a CPR or AED certification. But, teachers are not required to receive any training on how to answer the question of mental fitness to practice yoga.
Even more damaging, many of us blindly recommend yoga as a panacea for mental health issues we aren’t equipped to identify and don’t understand. We offer courses on yoga for anxiety, depression, and stress reduction without proper training on and understanding of these topics.
I don’t think yoga teachers should be as educated as physicians on injuries or as physical therapists on rehabilitation. Similarly, I don’t think yoga teachers should be as educated as psychiatrists on identifying or treating mental illness. If that were the case, you’d pay a lot more for yoga.
I hope, though, that we begin recognizing the need for basic literacy in mental health. Just as we should be equipped to address medical emergencies through our CPR training until paramedics arrive, we should be equipped to identify and address mental health crises until the correct professionals can be called in.
This is exactly what the Mental Health First Aid course provided by the National Council for Behavioral Health provides, and they will provide it free of charge at your yoga studio. Join me in the movement to observe Mental Health Month this May by offering this training to your teachers, community, and colleagues. Book a training now.