Guylaine Williams, a yoga instructor at Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio on Quinpool Road, has been practicing yoga since 1998. She believes that yoga is first seen as a physical practice by most, and may start that way, but eventually it begins to “open” you up. Guylaine says negative thoughts you have are stored somewhere in your body, and practicing the poses and flow of yoga releases tensions and gives you an emotional release. In this way, she regards yoga as a form of therapy. 

“I gradually started to really get it that my yoga mat was my therapy,” says Guylaine. “Physical therapy, mental therapy, and spiritual therapy.” She adds that now, if she needs guidance, she’ll get on her mat and practice yoga in whichever way feels right at the time.

When asked if she uses yoga to keep her mentally healthy, Guylaine quickly answers with a resounding, “Yes.” She says if she didn’t accept the fact that she has ups and downs with her mental health, she couldn’t be a good yoga teacher.

“It’s just connecting with who you really are,” she says.

A way of life

When Hillary Nette, a yoga instructor at the Yoga Loft, was a teenager, she started experiencing depression and anxiety. The anti depressants she began taking worked so well that she became very “up,” or what’s called manic in someone who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After five months of what Hillary calls irrational behaviour, not being able to cope with daily life and insomnia, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A mood stabilizer and an anti-anxiety drug were added to her medications; shortly thereafter, she began taking yoga.

“One of the biggest things I first discovered with yoga is that it builds body awareness, and self awareness,” says Hillary. “So I felt like I became more in tune with my emotions and more in tune with myself and what I needed on a day-to-day basis to kind of keep homeostasis.”

Something that still bothered her was the insomnia, and Hillary found yoga helped rid her of the problem.

“When I wasn’t sleeping, it was because I was too much ‘up in my head’ and not down in my body,” Hillary adds. “And yoga really helped me to relax and get out of my head and just sleep.”

 Hillary’s now 25 and, after a few years of getting deeper into the practice of yoga and feeling more stable, she decided to slowly wean herself off of her medication. Almost two years have passed since Hillary has taken anything.

Practicing yoga has brought Hillary to believe people need to move through their emotions to be free of emotional instability. She refers to the “emotional release” Guylaine talks about, and says she experiences them as well. Hillary adds that she has a tendency to go in the depressive direction, and in order to keep herself out of that she has to express her emotions.

“I feel like lack of expression leads to depression,” Hillary says after some thought. “And things like yoga can help us free them out, get stuck energy moving.”

Yoga as the Trojan horse of meditation

Not everyone practices yoga for the mental benefits, or meditation. They do it to become more fit and flexible. Patrick LaRoche, a practicing yoga student and new yoga instructor at Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio on Quinpool Road, says that’s fine, too. As a competitive sailor, road biker, and generally active person, Patrick first attempted yoga to try a new fitness regime and, well, because there would be girls in spandex. But as an inquisitive yoga student who wanted to learn more, Patrick discovered more.

“Yoga’s the Trojan horse of meditation,” says Patrick. “It gets you in on the athletic level, and then over time you realize that hey, it’s kind of therapeutic.”

By therapeutic, he means practicing yoga slows you down and makes you focus on something simple, like standing – still. While you’re doing this posture – called mountain pose – your instructor cues you to focus on your breath. Over time, Patrick says, you learn it’s not just standing still: it’s grounding; it’s foundation; it’s posture; it’s your breath. Once that connection is made, yoga isn’t solely a practice to keep you physically fit – it’s a practice that keeps you mentally fit.

Patrick finds yoga has allowed him to worry less, and feel less stressed out on a daily basis. He finds he needs a physically challenging yoga practice to keep this balance, as he’s not in a place where slower, more meditative yoga suits him.

Luckily, there are hundreds of different ways to practice yoga, all with different instructors. So put on some comfy, stretchy clothes and head to the nearest yoga class.