Lessons from a psych ward

Each week I teach three classes in a psych ward. To be honest it feels like a real honor to have this privileged. The patients are filled with gratitude and almost always leave feeling so much better. To be able to brighten ones day brings me such joy and a real sense of purposefulness.

In saying this, it's not always easy. My dad has had a mental illness since my early years, sometimes I wonder if my birth was the cause, but regardless of what triggered it, it's out of my hands. Stories of he's nervous breakdown and admission into hospital brings me sadness. The heartache and pain my mum went through 25 years ago watching him in a padded room and hearing screams from patients down the hall who didn't want to have ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), gives me such an appreciation for my parents and where they've come from.

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Many of the patients at the hospital I teach at are perfectly normal, functioning members of society with jobs, families, friends and a positive future, they just needed a little extra help and a safe, relaxing place to recuperate from their problems.

Problems, something everyone can relate to, obviously there are varying degrees. When I first started teaching there, some years ago, I would drive home in tears. I hadn't learnt how to detach. I could feel the pain, heartache and problems that some were experiencing and I took it on as though it was my own. It was like I identified with the anguish and sorrow that I saw behind glazed eyes and internalised it. Seeing the mental hardship of others provoked mental hardship in myself.

When I realised what was happening I saw that I needed to detach, yet I had fear around this. Detachment to me had meant to cut off and be cold or distant. Yet through self-exploration I learnt that true emotional and mental detachment is not a state of indifference, apathy or lack of energy. One can be loving, happy, helpful and energetic, and at the same time be detached. Detached from worries, fears, negative emotions and taking on board feelings of others.

True detachment manifests as the ability to think clearly, stay balanced, and not get agitated in response to those around you. Practicing it is a life long journey, one that I endeavor to develop each day.

For me, learning the art of detachment is the corner stone of self-care. It is through yoga I learn to observe my state of mind and to connect to the calmness and tranquility within regardless of my external circumstances.

For today, create healthy boundaries, prioritise self-care and remember to breathe!

Namaste