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"What do you want out of life, and what is holding you back from that?" 

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February 22, 2019

Yoga and Mental Health: When What You Need Feels Like a Mystery

We've been talking about our needs for the past few weeks. As we work our way up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we're going to pause to talk about a simple tool to increase your awareness of your true needs - and simultaneously begin to meet those needs.

You may have heard people mention yoga as a great thing to try or a helpful part of your exercise routine, but not be aware of how it can meet your needs on a variety of levels.

To bring you some insight into the benefits of yoga, I interviewed Melissa Garner, LMHC, QS, RYT, who not only has a Masters Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Psychology and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, but is also a Registered Yoga Teacher, and regularly interweaves mental health and yoga. These are some of the responses she had to my questions (as well as a few of my own insights).

We’ve heard yoga is helpful – what exactly is yoga helpful for?

  • Manage your thoughts
  • Increase your confidence
  • Give you tools you can practice in class, and continue to use in your everyday life
  • Increase your self-awareness (this is the figuring out your needs part)
  • Be present in your body
  • Be present in the moment
  • Improve ability to rest (by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which enables rest and digestion)

Personally, my favorite thing about yoga is how it helps me be present, tune into my current needs and find a path forward that honors my needs. It provides an antidote to our productivity-minded society where we feel good about ourselves only when we are accomplishing things. Instead, we make progress in yoga by accepting and being present, rather than pushing harder and harder, hoping our sheer effort and will-power will bring success. (Catherine)

How would someone decide what type of yoga is right for them?

If you're looking to address depression, anxiety, or mood management, Melissa recommends something more gentle like restorative yoga, yin yoga (which is focused on relaxation poses), or any classes that have gentle or beginner in their title. Most yoga studios will have class descriptions available on their websites.

On the other end of the spectrum, you might choose a high-energy class if you're feeling restless. A high-energy class can be regulating and calming in its own way. High-energy classes tend to be more calming for me because with slower classes, my mind wanders more and I don't have an outlet for all my energy (Catherine). Listen to your body and and chose a class that feels right for you at the time. Some days you may feel restless and choose a high-energy class, and other days you may feel tired, and choose a relaxation class.

Yoga is about being attuned to what you need. If you've experienced any form of trauma, yoga can be incredibly empowering and help you be more present in your body. Do not feel pressure to participate in any poses that make you feel uncomfortable or triggered. It's not a competition. It's about listening to your body and doing what’s right for you at that time.


Pensacola has two main yoga studios, Breathe and URU. They are both wonderful options for yoga classes.

Melissa offers several yoga classes as well as private sessions for yoga and counseling. She is also launching a new CEU course about Yoga and Mental Health. You can learn more about Melissa and her services here. You will find some of her favorite poses to manage depression here.

Melissa incorporates a mental health skill into each yoga class, such as:

  • self-care
  • being aware of yourself and your needs
  • how to increase what you need and get rid of what you don’t need
  • how to regulate your thoughts (direct your thoughts to a productive state – not jumping to negative conclusions but realistically assessing situations)
  • calm your mind

Denise Amick, who is also a local therapist and yoga instructor, is holding a 4-week combination yoga/group process program.  It runs from 10/3/19 - 10/24/19.  Contact Denise by October 1 to register: 850-324-2428 or

If you want daily inspiration and tips, check out Sarah Moody, who is located in Oakland, CA. You can find her website here and Instagram here. Check out her Guided Meditation to know what you're feeling, so you can identify what you need and be present so that you can meet that need. (Full disclosure, Sarah is my sister and I think she's doing amazing work.)

If you want a way to do yoga at home, check out Yoga With Adriene. Her videos are also available on youtube, and are wonderful for helping you be present and grounded. I love her spirit of warmth and acceptance.