Embracing Wholeness: The Transformative Power of Yoga Therapy in CAMHS

In the ever-evolving landscape of mental health care, a beacon of hope shines brightly as Southampton Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) secures a permanent contract for the integration of yoga therapy into its services. This momentous achievement heralds a new era in holistic mental health care provision, underscoring the profound impact of complementary and alternative approaches in supporting individuals on their journey towards healing and wholeness. Dr Jo Barker, Consultant Psychiatrist and student and patron of the Teen Yoga Foundation has spearheaded this approach and has spoken widely of its impact in national conferences. Yoga Therapist, Bernadette Harris, has been working for CAMHS for a year and her work has been highly valued by young people, their families and professionals alike.

Children and YP have reported feeling more relaxed, calm and focussed after sessions. They feel it has helped them at school and helped them to recognise where they have tension and what to do to help it go. They have been better able to manage their emotions

(direct quotes below from CYP)

· I am more able to relax and use breathing exercises in my every day.

· I feel calm for the rest of the day after my session.

· I feel more relaxed.

· I feel more focused.

· I notice where I have tension and know what to do to help it go.

· I have more space in my body.

· I can speak out more confidently.

· It helps me at school.

· I feel proud of myself.

· I have more energy, but I am also calmer.

· I am sleeping better than I was.

· My son has told me what he is feeling and where, he has never done this before

· My daughter was able to remove herself from an overwhelming situation and manage her emotions.

· I have noticed my child take themselves away from situations to calm down, before coming to yoga they would hit out and shout, they are more in control of this now

· School have also noticed a big change in my child, she approaches other pupils when they are upset and asks them where they are feeling it in their body before helping them with a breathing practice.

Bernadette says “I feel in a privileged position to work in Southampton CAMHS, and I am so excited that I can take the yoga pathway forward with a permanent contract. It is a busy role with a constant flow of referrals which continue to increase, evidencing the recognition of the benefits of this therapeutic intervention. Outcomes gathered from the children I have worked with so far, show the impact that yoga therapy is having in supporting our children and young people to achieve greater body awareness and to develop healthy coping and self-regulation skills. They are developing more effective responses to stress, both emotionally and physically, which is helping them feel more relaxed, grounded, and focused.”

Children’s mental health services are overwhelmed with a huge increase in referrals, especially since the pandemic, and the demand far outstrips the availability. Young people present with complex interplays of physical, emotional, and psychological factors which lead to formidable challenges for both individuals and healthcare professionals alike. Traditional treatment modalities often fall short in addressing the multifaceted nature of these disorders, emphasizing symptom management rather than addressing underlying root causes. However, the integration of yoga therapy within CAMHS heralds a paradigm shift, offering a holistic framework that honours the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit.

At the heart of yoga therapy lies a rich tapestry of ancient wisdom and modern science, woven together to create a transformative healing modality. Through a diverse array of practices encompassing physical postures (asanas), conscious breathing techniques (pranayama), mindfulness meditation, and deep relaxation, yoga therapy empowers individuals to embark on a profound journey of self-discovery and self-transformation. For those grappling with complex difficulties such as eating disorders, these practices provide invaluable tools for cultivating self-awareness, enhancing body acceptance, and nurturing a compassionate relationship with oneself.

Central to the ethos of yoga therapy is the concept of “svadhyaya” or self-study, encouraging individuals to explore their inner landscape with curiosity and compassion. Through the practice of mindfulness and introspection, individuals develop a deeper understanding of the underlying thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that contribute to their struggles with food and body image. This process of self-inquiry fosters a sense of agency and empowerment, enabling individuals to cultivate healthier coping mechanisms and make informed choices aligned with their truest selves.

The decision by Southampton CAMHS to embrace yoga therapy as a core component of its treatment approach reflects a progressive shift towards integrative mental health care. By acknowledging the complementary nature of yoga therapy alongside conventional therapeutic modalities, CAMHS demonstrates a commitment to holistic well-being and patient-centred care. This permanent contract not only affirms the efficacy of yoga therapy but also sets a precedent for its wider adoption within mainstream mental health services. The research that is currently being carried out at the University of Southampton will hopefully give us a clearer picture of exactly how yoga is helping and how best to maximise its impact.

As yoga teachers and advocates, we stand at the forefront of this transformative movement, bridging the gap between ancient wisdom and modern science. Our role extends beyond the studio walls, as we collaborate with mental health professionals to co-create healing spaces that honour the inherent wholeness of every individual. Through workshops, training programs, and community outreach initiatives, we can empower individuals to embrace yoga as a potent tool for mental and emotional well-being.

In celebrating the integration of yoga therapy into CAMHS, we honour the resilience and courage of those navigating the challenging terrain of mental disorders. May this partnership serve as a beacon of hope for all those seeking solace and support on their journey towards wholeness. Together, let us continue to champion the transformative power of yoga therapy, forging a path towards a more compassionate and integrated approach to mental health care.

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