A yoga challenge for mental health

Entering the New Year is a time of renewal and a time to set goals and ambitions for whatever is to come. The practices that a lot of people focus on are fitness and mindfulness and there is a local project that brings these two together.

he First Stretch Challenge 2022 is a seven-week online challenge run by local yoga teachers that aims to raise money for charity.

All funds raised through the challenge go to Havin ‘a Laugh which provides activity vouchers for those who are recovering from their mental health.

Bláithín Sweeney is a yoga teacher and founder of Havin ‘a Laugh and she explained how the idea for the challenge came about.

“A few teachers came to me and told me they would like to try online teaching and donate the proceeds to charity.

“It all developed in December and as different ideas landed on my desk I saw a model and said there was something really good here,” she said.

“We thought it would be great because people really need something to support them in January and February. These are the coldest and harshest months and it can be quite difficult for people. “

The Bláithín charity provides people with mental health problems with access to activities that improve life.

“We offer vouchers to those who are recovering from their mental health, which could range from knitting lessons to surf lessons to yoga. Anything that will improve a person’s sense of self and well-being during their recovery journey, ”she said.

The challenge is offered through the Anois yoga platform that Bláithín launched during the first lockdown with Louise Waters and Kathy Murphy as a tool for the Sligo yoga community to come together and deliver their services online.

“We wanted to make sure our regulars and others were taken care of. The platform is really cool, you can do so many different things, people have the choice of signing up for groups of multiple courses or just having individual lessons, ”she said.

“During the first two months of this year, the money will go directly to the charity.”

Bláithín says that the popularity of yoga and mindfulness in Sligo has skyrocketed in recent years and there is a huge amount of interest in this type of activity.

“I have been teaching yoga for over 10 years and when I started there were maybe two or three teachers in Sligo, now I couldn’t count how many there are, there is a great diversity of people. ‘teachers available and that’s important because that makes it accessible to people and they can find the type of course they want, ”she said.

There are several different classes available as part of the challenge and they aim to provide options for all body types and skill levels.

“We have Yin Yoga with Carolanne Rushe, which is a deep release sewing practice where you do three or four poses in a 45 minute session and that gives your body a chance to release stress. It’s a pretty conscious practice and suitable for anyone, literally any body can do it, ”she said.

“On Wednesdays, we have a mixed mobility class and three teachers participate. We think of someone who has been working from home at their office all day and who has given them the tools they need to break free from stress.

One of the instructors Nicola McGarry offers a fusion fitness class and says Bláithín was her first yoga teacher before training to become one herself.

She is incredibly passionate about the power of fitness and explained how the fitness method she devised brings together many different forms of practice.

“I have never been able to find a form of fitness that incorporates all the methods I wanted into a routine, so I designed a complete method that also includes mindfulness and breathing work,” she said. declared.

“Everything comes from a place free from self-punishment and flogging. It’s about empowerment and liberation, finding freedom and listening to your body rather than sticking to heavy diets or exhaustive fitness routines. In yoga you cultivate self-awareness and challenge yourself and then you start to see that translating into all areas of your life, it is a life changing practice.

Bláithín says that while Anois and the Challenge are based on Sligo, the online nature of the platform means people from all over the world can participate.

“I have friends who work in Finland and parts of Europe and have asked them to log into an online session. Neither of them knew the others would be there, it was like a surprise meeting.

“It can be a good way to connect with people you’ve lost touch with, it’s surprising the sense of connection you get when you do something active online,” she said. .

There are different price targets when participating in the project. It starts with a $ 20 sponsorship pack and then there is an option to raise more money for the charity.

However, Bláithín says they are aware of being inclusive, especially for those with mental health issues and would greatly benefit from their services.

“Everything we do through the association is available free of charge to people recovering from mental health. If a person is in mental health services, they can contact us through their counselor and access it for free, ”she said.

Bláithín added that because they hope all funds raised go to the charity, they are looking for companies to help fund some of the running costs needed for the platform, studio and equipment.

“We would prefer not to use the money people donated for the event to pay for these things, so we are looking for companies to help us, there is a link available on the Anois website where companies can contribute to the course of the event. ”

The First Stretch Challenge 2022 begins Tuesday, January 11, and participants have the option of attending live lessons or following recordings at a time that suits their schedule.