By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Since 2017, a therapeutic medical yoga program has been offered free of charge to residents of the Kern River Valley (KRV) through a variety of grants. The original purpose was to teach participants to use the slow movement and breathing exercises of MediYoga to improve their cardiovascular health and overall quality of life. Just released are encouraging study results showing that these self-help exercises also significantly decrease levels of depression and anxiety.
A 2018 community health needs assessment conducted by the Kern Valley Healthcare District identified behavioral healthcare as one of the most critical needs to address in this region. From January to March of 2019, Kern County’s Behavioral Health & Recovery Services offered initial MediYoga classes within the KRV community to aid in the reduction of stress and anxiety and to improve mental health.
With the assistance of Dr. June Doornich of Nord University in Norway, the MediYoga USA organization conducted a study of the 100 adults in this initial three-month program to determine the effectiveness of the classes. Participants filled out the same questionnaires both before and after the 12 weekly sessions to measure the levels of depression and anxiety they were experiencing. At the end of the sessions, the data showed their feelings of depression had decreased by 60 percent and their anxiety levels were reduced by 46 percent.
These exercises are learned in hourly once-per-week group sessions followed by four days of practice at home. The deep breathing exercises with postures and meditation can be used as a way to calm the mind and body during times of stress or crisis, so many of the participants use it as a self-help technique when needed throughout the day. Many have described better mental health as a benefit. One participate explained why: “It really is the only time I can truly relax, and these classes carry over into my daily life.”
MediYoga was developed in 1995 in Sweden as a discipline of using yoga as a therapeutic tool to treat and prevent health problems. After research demonstrated that the program reduced cardiovascular and heart attack risks, MediYoga was integrated into the Swedish public healthcare system in 2010 and Norway soon did the same.
California’s Kern County is the first U.S. location where MediYoga is being practiced, brought here by local KRV resident Helen Miller Lynch, Educational Director of MediYoga USA. It was first introduced in hospital-associated programs, but the private sector has also begun expressing interest in its many healthcare benefits. Miller Lynch was excited about the recent study, and remarked, “We have some amazing results. In only 12 weeks, stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems were reduced.”
Kern Behavioral Health & Recovery Services has awarded MediYoga a grant to expand the pilot program throughout fiscal year 2019-2020. Miller Lynch and three other MediYoga instructors are offering nearly 400 classes free of charge to residents in the ten Kern County communities of Arvin, Bakersfield, Delano, Kernville, Lake Isabella, Ridgecrest, Shafter, Tehachapi, Wasco, and Wofford Heights. A yoga class master schedule will be available soon on the county’s mental health home page at www.KernBHRS.org.
The classes have been planned to meet the unique needs of as many participants as possible. Residents can choose from classes conducted in chairs for those with physical limitations, while others will be on floor mats. Locations will be at libraries, senior centers, high schools and adult schools, fraternal lodges, and wellness centers, with some sessions conducted in Spanish. Most classes will be for adults of all ages, but others will be for adolescents only. Further details can be obtained from Miller Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By helping people learn to control their own health issues, governmental and healthcare organizations are taking a proactive step forward in improving both the physical and mental health of their residents and patients.