Current medical system: a system of mental illness or health?

Written by Janet Lowndes & Michael de Manincor

Statistics tell us that in each year approximately 1 in 5 Australians experience a mental illness. Not surprisingly, many people who come to Yoga classes experience mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. 

The WHO emphasises that “mental health is recognised as more than the absence of mental disorders, and is an integral part of health. Indeed, there is no health without mental health”

(WHO, 2014).

As well as receiving recommendations from family, friends and Yoga enthusiasts, many people come to Yoga on recommendation from their medical and allied health professionals – who now recognise that Yoga can assist in dealing with mental health problems, or ‘mental illness’.

Even though the formal research is still building, peak organisations like Beyond Blue now include Yoga amongst their lists of potentially useful interventions.

Yoga for Whole Health

Whilst there is evidence to suggest benefits of Yoga as a form of treatment for conditions such as Depression and Anxiety, Yoga is not really a system of treating conditions. Rather Yoga is a system that enhances mental health for everyone, those who are experiencing periods of difficulty, and also those wanting to enhance their wellbeing and flourish.

Much of our mental health treatment system in Australia is focused on the treatment of mental illness – rather than on promoting mental health. Yoga offers a comprehensive way of understanding the nature of the human mind, and how this relates to our mental health. So, the focus in Yoga is less on Mental Illness and the associated symptoms, and more on enhancing the health and wellbeing of our entire system.

We can think of our mental health as existing on a continuum, from one end being at our optimum, at the other extreme, a state of disabling mental illness which compromises our ability to function in daily life.

Yoga can amplify symptoms


Yoga practices can have powerful effects, not all of them helpful. In fact, there are some commonly used techniques that can be particularly inflammatory to existing symptoms of anxiety or depression. Techniques such as rapid breathing and breath retentions for people who experience anxiety has be found to intensify or induce symptoms.


Necessity for Teachers to Up-skill

Conditions like Depression and Anxiety are common amongst Yoga students and practitioners, therefore it’s important that Yoga Teachers develop their mental health awareness to enable them to respond appropriately to the needs of their students.

Two of Australia’s leading Yoga Psychologists Dr Michael de Manincor and Janet Lowndes offer professional development, training and education for qualified Yoga Teachers in Mental Health Awareness. This week Michael and Janet are training at the Yoga Institute, and in August you can join them for their 5 day workshop in Melbourne.                                                                                                

Michael and Janet also offer Yoga Psychology training for Mental Health Professionals who wish to understand the Psychological framework at the core of Yoga. Their next workshop will be in Melbourne in October.


Copyright The Yoga Institute 2017