Mental health concerns are a common problem in our modern lives. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1 in 5 people will have experienced a mental health issue in the past 12 months.
Julia Conchie (Jules), a recent graduate of The Yoga Institute, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and describes how in the past she would often need to take up to 3 weeks off work, during a bout of mania. After her most recent onset she only cancelled teaching 2 Yoga classes: “I still taught. I am able to manage.”
This personal journey is an inspiring and hopeful story of the transformative power of a dedicated yoga practice, in managing and improving mental health.
A trip cut short kicks off a cycle of depression and mania
Always an ‘over-thinker’ as a young girl, Jules worried over the slightest thing. This carried on into her young adulthood travels on a long-planned trip to the USA. She was already experiencing ‘low mood’ while she was there and then the trip was cut short.
Jules found herself back in Australia, her ‘trip of a lifetime’ prematurely ended, with no money, no job and surrounded by friends that had moved on to the next stages of their lives. She hit an all-time low. A low she didn’t come out of for four months.
After that period of depression, summer came around and she started to feel better, she felt so good, in fact, that she signed up for multiple triathlons, to learn to play ice hockey and swimming, all on top of a busy work and social schedule. She felt so good she could finally take on the world again!
By the time winter rolled around, she was back in the depths of depression. This cycle repeated for another year. She would wonder “how can I be on top of the World one minute and the lowest of the low, the next?”
The ongoing cycle leads to a diagnosis
This was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. It was 2003.
Jules continued to experience regular bouts of what she now understood as ‘mania’ and ‘depression’ for several years.
She would wake up at 3am with such empowering thoughts, she would write reams and reams of paper for hours at a time. On one occasion, she wrote for so many hours, her pen ran out of ink but continued for several more hours, believing she would be able to hold it up to the light and read the imprinted page.
She believed she could solve the problems of the medical industry, single-handed and had the key to the problems of the world. She got how people like Eckhart Tolle and Buddha found their highest levels of mind and wanted to share with the world. Thoughts of grandeur raced through her erratic mind.
Hitting rock bottom
By this time, Jules was working as a wine maker, which included long hours and high stress. Around 4 years ago, following one particularly stressful period which induced a manic state, Jules had a breakdown at work and burnt out.
When asked what the turning point for her was, she answers definitively: “Desperation. It had gotten so bad, I couldn’t go on living in that way.”
Finding some relief through Yoga
Around that time, she came across an article written by Michael de Manincor, Co-Director of The Yoga Institute. It was about the healing capacity of the breath. This sparked her curiosity and she began a daily breath practice. She chose a short activity she had to repeat several times during her work day, in a laboratory at the time, and linked that with her breath practice. Practicing conscious, complete breathing for only about 20 seconds each time. This added up throughout the day and gradually it lengthened and smoothed her breath. She was committed to bringing her attention to her breath whenever possible.
The benefits of Yoga were obvious to her and her family, which inspired her to embark on a Yoga Teacher Training course with The Yoga Institute in 2016. Despite being triggered into episodes by the challenges of her studies, she found such a resonance with the teachings, particularly that of The Yoga Sutras (philosophy), she knew she had to continue.
During the in-depth Yoga Sutras studies, she experienced many ‘ah-ha!’ moments with constant recognition: “that is me, they’re describing!” She started to find real insight into what she had been experiencing.
Using awareness and other Yoga tools to manage episodes
Through her personal practice, study and ongoing support from family, friends and her course mentor, Jules slowly became more and more aware of the subtle changes in her mood, and was able to self-regulate with increasing ease.
She recalls the time in her pranayama studies when she felt mania symptoms approach and was able to use the technique they’d been taught that day and “breath her way out of it”. This was a real breakthrough! She was so excited to share the news with her mentor.
Jules admits this has not been an easy journey for her. Despite all the daily practice, her medication and study, she still experienced two episodes last year and one this year. The difference is, she no longer feels it’s appropriate to call them classic ‘mania’ or ‘depression’ because the severity of the episodes has lessoned.
Her newly developed self-awareness enables her to notice, with fine attunement, if she has been elevated by one ‘rung of the ladder’ allowing her to take appropriate medication before an episode escalates.
Experiencing a new sense of peace and freedom
Only two weeks prior to this interview, she describes for the first time, having a felt sense of ‘peace’; not mania, not high, not low or depression but a calm, stable sense of peace, even if only for a fleeting moment.
“Thanks to my ongoing practice, I am finally finding some peace and freedom”
Written by Natalie Bowcutt