Audrey McMahon and Yoga Therapy

yoga-therapie-genevieve-kilikoEver since she was 17, CHUS Sherbrooke psychiatric resident Audrey McMahon has been practising yoga regularly.

Geneviève Kiliko | File Health

Her first class was a revelation, to the point that a few years later, she began searching for yoga-related therapeutic training to complement her medical studies, especially in the field of mental health. In fact, many scientific studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of breathing: stress reduction, emotional regulation and better overall health.

In the United States, mindful meditation has been used in hospitals for 30 years. Studies have shown that mindful meditation (meditation, yoga, full body scan) yields similar results to those obtained by antidepressants. In Europe, yoga teachers are part of the hospital staff.

Yoga as a Science

Yoga is a science that originated in India many millenniums ago. The word yoga signifies “to join, to link up, to integrate, to harmonize.”

It enables practitioners to develop unity and harmony between body, mind and spirit. Yoga is a philosophy that teaches how to better live each day, and a source of wisdom for those who decide to devote themselves to it. It is not a religion, but a path leading to harmony with oneself and with others, regardless of our personal beliefs.

Regularly practicing yoga helps maintain – or restore, in case of health problems – good physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.

Source Yoga School

After 8 years practicing yoga, Audrey McMahon started looking for a yoga-related therapeutic training approach. “Yoga provides a holistic approach and helps you reach ‘unity.’ It is clear to me that all is one: our spirit, our body, our whole being…” says Dr. McMahon. “There are many ways to treat a patient; if we limit ourselves to one school of thought, something is missing. Speaking as a medical student, I think certain elements were omitted in my courses. Western medicine is not complete in itself, and yoga brings something greater to it,” she argues.

She shared her desire to enroll for training in this discipline with a yoga teacher, who then told her about a school in Montreal – the Re: Source Yoga Therapy school. She met one of the teachers, Carina Raisman, one week before courses began, and fell in love with the program. Practitioners of all disciplines have undertaken this training to widen their arsenal: massage therapists, ergotherapists… and even psychiatrists! From a psychiatrist’s point of view, breathing and meditation play important roles in mental health. Yoga is a great way to complement this; it provides efficient tools and techniques that can enhance anyone’s health. Re: Source Yoga Therapy is the first yoga therapy school in Montreal. It brings together modern medical research and the ancient wisdom of yoga.

Mindful Meditation

From January to March 2015, Audrey McMahon gave mindful meditation courses at the hospital, working in collaboration with a spiritual care coordinator. Currently, she is the only psychiatric resident in Sherbrooke trained in yoga therapy. “I am not the only health care practitioner interested in mindful meditation. However, I apply its principles with my patients. As for whether others may show interest, I have no idea whether they talk about mindful meditation with their patients,” she says. “It is just the start, but after two sessions, a patient told me how much these techniques helped him. I feel encouraged,” she adds.

We know for a fact that mindful meditation can greatly diminish stress, which can help reduce medication for certain patients or even eliminate the need for it. Of course, this depends on the person’s medical history, since medication can remain an option for some patients. It is essential to individually assess each case, as each case is unique.

Dr. McMahon already uses breathing techniques with some of her patients, along with other notions acquired through her training in yoga therapy.
Vision of the Future

In future, Audrey McMahon envisions a more holistic approach to health. “I think it is possible to better meet the true definition of health. Health is more than just physical; it is also moral and spiritual. I think some elements are missing in our health care system. I wish we could open up to complementary approaches and discover how they can be beneficial and help us better address people’s needs. I may seem like a utopian, but I would like to bring this open-mindedness to the present system…”

Meditation in hospitals, yoga teachers, mindful breathing… These are all visionary methods that will help prevent illnesses. Visionary, because they empower patients and encourage them to play a central part in their healing process. Hospitals are overflowing with patients. Let’s hope that these new perspectives will alleviate pain and help develop healthy lifestyle habits. As a result, we will prevent illnesses instead of healing them.

Everything changes, nothing remains without change. – Buddha

Translation: Lucie Battaglia.

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