Amanda Graham MSc.

Counselling Psychologist

On Achieving what may seem like the Impossible!

and the realisation that you CAN do it.

November 11, 2019

“It always seems impossible until it is done”

Nelson Mandela

Well we certainly can’t be accused of bombarding you with emails here at Praana Wellness although I do hope that now that I have freed up a fair bit of my desk time you will receive a monthly informative addition to your mail box.

The 4 months leading up to the 16th May seemed increasingly more impossible. My body had become so much more sedentary, anything outside of research for my dissertation seemed insignificant including diet, exercise and even my beloved yoga practise. And then, on May 17th, it was done. Just like that. Having juggled many other things (my business being one) while managing this increasingly demanding study programme I had convinced myself that I had something physically wrong with me. I listed my symptoms (all very familiar but increasingly challenging), visited doctors, talked to qualified medical friends (and of course consulted the internet - this should have been my final warning!) and then, finally, being convinced that it was a hormone issue that needed addressing I waited for 3 months to see the local Endocrinologist who, after 3 minutes, very brusquely told me it was stress (with a very French shrug of the shoulders!). Of course I had this notion in the back of my mind but… how could I allow myself to suffer the physical symptoms of stress to this level? I spend my days helping others manage stress! The fact is, as frustrated as I was that this consultant I had waited so long to see, had dismissed everything I was saying to her re thyroid and hormones, she was correct. I left the room feeling embarrassed and slightly stupid BUT with a huge sense of relief and a kind of knowing that what she had said to me made sense. What I now needed to do was stop looking to others for help and explanations and to take control and fix my ‘broken body’ as I was now referring to it! The most important fact I would like to share with you here is that within a week my body began to feel less broken, my sleep improved and I began to take back that all familiar control. I have read over and over through the years that our bodies want to be healthy; it actually takes a lot of effort to develop on-going, non-specific chronic symptoms YET the mind will happily jump on the bandwagon given the chance and keep you in this place of stress and anxiety! One cannot be fixed without the other BUT they (mind and body) can both recover relatively quickly if we choose to take control and allow ourselves to make the necessary change/s.

The results of my study in the early part of 2019 revealed many interesting facts about psychology AND yoga, the part yoga can play in psychological treatment for increasing mental well-being and reducing stress (one of the top reasons for visiting doctors). It also highlighted the areas for clarification and future possible studies relating to this topic so that we, as healthcare professionals can hopefully prescribe yoga alongside empirical psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Psychoanalysis thus reducing the strain on current health provision.

The take-outs from the study were the following. To date, in cultures less familiar with yoga (Europe, America, Australia) one of the factors that makes it difficult to prescribe by General Practitioners (family medicine doctors) is that despite so much research to date into the effects of yoga on reducing stress/increasing well-being it’s definition is, at the least, unclear! What is yoga? What are the components of yoga? How do we prescribe something that varies so much? Another interesting take-out was the number of people who began the 4-week trial and the number who completed. The idea behind the study was to make it as accessible and convenient as it could be to all. The only commitment was to engage in an online session 3 times a week for 30 mins each time! Out of 600 people only 100 people completed the 4-week study. Over that time frame there were several understandable reasons why people couldn’t complete and there were many more reasons given that seemed to be of greater importance than trying to improve mental well-being or reducing their levels of stress. One repetitive example would be that they didn’t have time. Another was that they had nowhere to practise. Another was that it was Christmas! Or some were going away for the weekend. This brought to mind the research I had uncovered suggesting that many only address health issues when they are chronic and not before. Many people volunteered for my study who already had a history of psychological disorders and this unfortunately excluded them. Those with no diagnosed psychological disorders were less likely to volunteer, in my experience.

So this brings me on to our own investment in our own mental and physical well-being and the interesting statistics I found between the different countries where stress levels are higher than ever and mental well-being is at it’s lowest. In the UK we spend 1.2% of our household income on health and 2.2% on alcohol and tobacco (Office of National Statistics, 2018) as opposed to the US who according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016 spend 8 times more on health than they do on alcohol and tobacco. Without blinding you with figures in the UK we spend twice as much on alcohol as we do on participating in some kind of sport or active leisure. Let me say at this stage that another take-out from my study is I have become even more sceptical of figures, I have seen how easy they can be manipulated but also how important good figures can be in supporting theories. This highlighted to me the amount of poor research there is available to us especially in important areas such as stress and mental well-being on the internet. What I would like to highlight here is my own support of these statistical differences in terms of the importance my American clients put on therapy as opposed to the British approach. Now, to the crux of the matter which brings me back to my own situation and my first paragraph – there are two important questions that reoccur with clients over and over: how much responsibility do we take for our own health and well-being? How much are we prepared to invest in our own health and well-being before we look to attribute our ‘symptoms’ to other factors and people? Let me be clear, this may be a financial investment in therapy with a well-qualified therapist in the area you need assistance, it may be an investment of your time only (often the most challenging) or as proven above it may require a readjustment of financial expenditure away from things that do nothing for your health and well-being, either physically or mentally or both.

My study supports what has always been my thinking over the past 20 years – yoga has a very definite place in physical and psychological wellness. To integrate various components of the yoga practise into more traditional but non-medical psychological interventions has been welcomed by all of my clients to date and proved to be life changing (for eating disorders and addiction). As a standalone treatment it still remains to be seen although in my opinion for all mild cases of stress, anxiety and depression I have seen excellent results in patients who develop a weekly practise. If, like many of our visitors, you are an investor in your health and well-being perhaps we can encourage you to join us in 2020 for what is shaping up to be a full and interesting season.

I use our non-clinical retreat centre near Bordeaux to deliver group and private programmes tailor-made for the needs of the demographic or individual. For details of what is happening at our retreat centre in 2020 please go to https://praanawellness.com/events or if you would like to discuss an individual customised programme please email amanda@praanawellness.com