When you think of yoga, you might picture people sitting cross-legged on mats, their palms pressed in front of their chests.
Odds are, people struggling with their mental health don’t come to mind.
But the yogis practicing at the Citizen Yoga studios in Royal Oak and Detroit are often young professionals battling anxiety and stress, mothers overcoming postpartum depression and people coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In some cases, their mental states may be life-threatening.
“I opened this studio as an effort for suicide prevention. Everything I do is to prevent people from committing suicide,” says Citizen Yoga owner and founder Kacee Must, whose sister died as a result of suicide in 2007.
Must says her goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health so people experiencing depression and anxiety, or those with loved ones facing mental health challenges, are willing to ask for help. Her studios are also nurturing spaces for people to cope with their emotions. That starts by learning to harness their breathing, she explains.
“When you learn how to properly use yoga breath, you’re just telling your body that you’re OK and that you’re safe,” says Must, 32. “So somebody with mental health issues, that’s something that they really need to feel — they need to learn how to make themselves feel safe within whatever they’re going through.”
On Sunday, Must will lead a yoga session and talk at the Healthy Body Healthy Mind event at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. The yoga and wellness expo is geared toward women of all ages who need a morning to de-stress and put their to-do lists aside.
“Women take care of everybody else but themselves at times, so we wanted to have an event like this that really focused on their needs and their interests,” says Michelle Malamis, development director of the nonprofit Kadima, which is sponsoring the ticketed event from 9 a.m. to noon.
Founded in 1984, Kadima offers housing for adults with mental health challenges, as well as in-home services throughout Oakland County. Clients can also participate in volunteer projects and social programs at Kadima’s Lois and Milton Y. Zussman Activity Center in Southfield.
Kadima’s clinical director, Jean Nemenzik says clients often report feeling better after yoga sessions — where mats aren’t necessarily required.
“Some of our clients do it in chairs,” Nemenzik says. “It doesn’t always involve a lot of physical exertion. I think it’s really more about centering the mind and learning to be fully present in the moment and learning to be more in control of your thoughts, rather than to be over-controlled by your thoughts.”
About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S., or 43.8 million people, experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Yet only 44 percent of adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports.
Research shows that yoga, and exercise in general, can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
One of the the first things psychologists tells patients is, “I want you to exercise. I want you to join a gym,” says Anthony King, research assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
“Across the board, medical doctors, psychologists, therapists, recognize that getting up and doing physical exercise — whether it’s yoga or aerobics or running or jogging — it actually changes the person’s relationship to their body,” he says.
Just 10 minutes a day of “mindful movement” can be beneficial, King says.
King studies mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which is designed to prevent depression relapses. He notes that people often don’t have just one depressive episode in their life. They often get better — and then have another.
“If you’ve had one depressive episode, you’re 50 percent more likely to have two. If you’ve had two, you’re 75 percent more likely to have three,” he says. “If you’ve had three or more, you’re pretty much guaranteed in some ways to continue to have depressive episodes throughout your life, so it becomes sort of a downward spiral.”
That’s where yoga and meditation can help. King cites a 2010 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry that found an eight-week meditation class with yoga-like exercise reduced the rate of depression relapse among patients with at least two past episodes.
“Their rate of relapse of depression was the same as people who continued on anti-depressive medication the next two years,” he says.
But you don’t have to have depression to reap the benefits of meditation and yoga.
“It’s just a place to go where you get time to yourself, and I think we underestimate that in a very stimulating world,” Must says.
Must has practiced yoga since her mother started taking her to classes at age 10. She says yoga is one of the most “accessible” forms of exercise — your age, body type and level of experience aren’t barriers. (For nervous yoga virgins, she promises the 30-minute class she’s leading Sunday is geared toward beginners.)
“People shouldn’t be afraid to come in and feel a little bit of discomfort for maybe five minutes to step into something that could really help you for a much longer period of time,” she says.
Healthy Body Healthy Mind
9 a.m. to noon
Townsend Hotel, 100 Townsend, Birmingham
Tickets: $35 at KadimaCenter.org/HBHM