Improving Mental Health with Yoga & Meditation

me&my health up podcast episode #12 – Transcript

Anthony Hartcher 0:00
Welcome to another amazing episode of Health Up with your host Anthony Hatcher health app inspires to enhance the light in your well-being. And today, we are blessed to have Merae Kayrouz, who is a pharmacist, nutrition coach and Yoga Instructor. Today Merae will share her passion and knowledge on how yoga and meditation can improve your mental health. So welcome, Merae. How are you?

Merae Kayrouz 0:25
I’m well, thanks for having me. Anthony.

Anthony Hartcher 0:27
Pleasure. Absolutely. I always love starting these discussions around, you know, what inspired you to, you know, like you started your journey with pharmacy and then went into, you know, being a yoga coach instructor, and now a nutritional coach, you know, so it really came to how you know how all this path connects? So please, yes, sure. Yeah, share with us a little bit, a little bit about your journey.

Merae Kayrouz 0:56
Sure. So when I finished my studies at school, I was always fascinated with the body and how it works. And I picked pharmacy because I wanted to learn more about how medicine can help to treat disease. And I still wholeheartedly believe that medicine can play a really integral role in treating disease and halting the progression of the disease. But through my own experience in dealing with my own health issues, as well as seeing such a large number of patients come through a pharmacy with a whole multitude of conditions. I think over the years, it’s become really apparent to me that we have to move away from solely relying on popping a daily pill to treat our health. And the importance that you know, nutrition, stress management, physical activity, and meditation actually play in dealing with the underlying cause. And providing the right environment for us to heal is often underrated. And yeah, yoga and meditation and nutrition have been shown passions of mine for a number of years. So it’s been an absolute joy to be able to treat patients from a more holistic perspective.

Anthony Hartcher 2:15
Yes, and I think that’s exactly the point that the journey you’re very much embracing is a holistic journey. And so you’ve integrated your knowledge from a Western pharmacy, with Eastern philosophies around health and well being and now you’ve got that combined approach of understanding, you know, will taking the best of both worlds really, and integrating them for the client in front of you, and being able to best support them. So yeah, really came to find out more about the, the Eastern, I guess, more Eastern philosophies and therapies and holistic health such as yoga, as to, you know, what is yoga? You know, some people perceive it as just exercise, others see it as a more spiritual journey. So precisely, you know, being a yoga instructor, what is yoga?

Merae Kayrouz 3:09
Yeah, I’d say, yoga is both of what you described. So it’s both physical, it has a physical aspect, and it also has a very spiritual aspect. And most often, when people first do yoga, they’re attracted to the physical aspect of wanting to be more fit and flexible and strong. And they’re often quite surprised by how much of a mental exercise it really is. Because when you’re doing yoga, you’re constantly trying to connect with every single part of your body. And you’re continually scanning your body to make sure it’s in the right alignment. So your mind doesn’t have any time to really sort of drift off to think about, you know, the future or the past, you’re sort of focusing entirely on what you’re doing. So over time, you start to realise, Wow, there’s so many mental positive outcomes from doing this as an exercise. And yoga has been moved into mainstream for, I don’t know, the last 15, 20 years, but it’s been practised for over 5000 years. It’s a really ancient tradition. And there’s so many layers to it, besides just the physical component.

Anthony Hartcher 4:24
Yeah, absolutely. I can, I can totally relate to what you’re saying in terms of that. Really bringing the person into the present, you know, having done yoga myself, and, you know, in order to do that, or get to get the correct pose, you really have to focus on nothing, but you know, I guess making sure that body part is in that correct position. And yeah, as you said, you certainly takes your mind away from thinking about what you’ve got next or what you what you’re worried about in terms of the past or the future. And I think when you do that during yoga, you actually, you know, I find myself get off balance.

Merae Kayrouz 5:06
Exactly, exactly. And I think the more advanced a posture becomes, the more that you have to train your mind to literally just be there. And in sports, it’s like being in the zone, it’s exactly the same thing. But I think with yoga, because the postures can be so tricky at times, as soon as that mind slips, you literally can fall out of a posture, like you described. So you can notice that definitely,

Anthony Hartcher 5:32
and, and so, you know, coming from the instructor’s point of view, you would know where the class is at mentally during the class, right? As to whether they’re with you in the zone, or whether they’re thinking about the next meeting, or what they didn’t do at the last meeting.

So you would see a lot from just doing an exercise session, you know, exercise a yoga session with that client, right?

Merae Kayrouz 7:05
Yeah, I’d say it’s more physically being able to see someone before yoga and see the anxiety and the tension, or, you know, that butterfly feeling they have from such a really big day, and then doing a practice with them, and meditating for at least 10 minutes afterward, and physically seeing how much more relaxed and calm they are. I think that like being able to transition someone within one hour from before and after, is that the biggest thing that you sort of notice? Yeah, that’s what I I’d say,

Anthony Hartcher 7:41
Okay. Okay. And so with the mental health connection with yoga, is that specifically the physical movement of the body, you know, and, and being focused on that, that’s taking you away from, you know, brings you into the present. So that’s is that the mindfulness that yoga brings into a person’s life?

Merae Kayrouz 8:07
Yeah, most definitely. Through the physical aspect, you’re, you know, sort of conditioning the mind to learn how to stay focused, how to stay present, how to focus on one thing at a time. And it’s, you know, it’s well known that yoga can help to relieve anxiety, and it can act as a tool to help you deal with stress. But I think it’s really interesting. The scientific studies that have been released over the years, on how long term, long-term practice of yoga and meditation can benefit the body. There was a study out of Harvard University that showed that by doing short, but daily doses of meditation every single day, it can literally increase the grey area matters in your brain that are associated with compassion, and self-awareness, and reduce the grey area matters that are associated with stress and anxiety. And there was also a study from Yale University, which showed that there’s an area in your brain that’s called the default mode network. And what that means is that areas usually activated when your me thoughts come up. So when you start to think about, you know, the past or focus on the future. And that area of the brain is usually associated with conditions like ADHD, or anxiety. And the study was able to show that if experienced meditators were actually able to switch off that part of the brain, not only while meditating but also in their day-to-day life. And I think that’s why there’s yoga and meditation have been adopted by so many people, because not only is it does it act as a tool to help you relieve stress and anxiety, but the science shows that it can truly help to improve productivity, performance and focus. So you see so many people doing it like athletes, doctors, CEOs, entrepreneurs because the science is just so compelling. And also the bonus that you’re, you know, physically, it’s such a great way to become more physically fit and active as well.

Anthony Hartcher 10:20
Yeah, so it’s something that needs to be applied on a regular basis in order to achieve these great benefits in terms of the real shift in the mind around compassion and feeling at ease with self and less anxious and more focused and greater productivity. So it’s really that doing that daily practice. And it doesn’t have to belong, right? You’re saying it’s just regular, and up to sort of what sort of time intervals you’re talking about in terms of, you know, you need to be applying the yoga exercise, or we can choose for, I’d say short, but regular bursts are great.

Merae Kayrouz 10:57
So if you’re talking about yoga, then you know, even if you just did it once a week, like a full practice, say for an hour, that’s great. And with the meditation component, if you’re able to have say, five minutes, work up to seven minutes, or 10 minutes, each day, the benefits are enormous. And sometimes people hear this and they get scared. And they think all like I don’t even know where to start. And you know, I don’t know if I’ll be able to build up that discipline. So doing some is better than doing none at all. So it’s like, if you were to go for a run once a week, or once a fortnight, it’s better going for the run, they’re not doing it at all. And it’s just about creating the habit. And I think once you start to really see the transition in yourself, and notice the benefits, then you’ll start to make it more of a habit because just mentally you saw calmer.

Anthony Hartcher 11:52
Yeah. So you’re recommending that people just make a start, as opposed to get daunted about thinking they need to apply the practice, you know, for a little bit every day, it’s more about just having made a start feeling the benefits from that practice that session and realising that it’s something that is worth doing on an ongoing basis. How frequently, you know, sort of, you know, I know everyone’s very different and have different lifestyles, but what do you suggest in terms of a starting point and sort of working your way up into more of embedding it as a habitual routine that you do every day?

Merae Kayrouz 12:28
I guess it depends on each person’s lifestyle. But you know, I usually find the mornings to be the best. So if it’s first thing in the morning, and the best thing really, or the easiest way to access meditation is if you do it after a yoga practice, and I say that because after you’re, you’re physically exerting yourself in yoga, you’re very tired. So you’re, it’s very easy to switch off a lot of the muscles in your body and just relax. So then when you go into even just one minute of meditation, after that, you’re able to sort of get to that point, as opposed to if you want to do any physical activity, and your mind’s buzzing, and you need to try and stay focused. So I’d suggest either the morning or the evening. And it’s just as if you were talking about meditation, it can be a really, really simple exercise of just finding somewhere that you feel calm, and sitting upright, and focusing on your breath. And, you know, you’ll notice that, okay, I’m present at the moment, I’m, you know, listening to my breath, I’m here, and then you know, maybe 20 seconds, after all, 15 seconds, you notice, okay, I’m starting to think on my to-do list, and think about what I’m going to do tomorrow. And instead of being frustrated, you just slowly bring your attention back to your breath again. And the more frequently you do that, the more you’ll realise that, okay, so I’m able to do you know, 15 seconds, and now I’m able to, you know, extend that to 30 seconds, etc. And that’s the best way to start to build up a more regular practice.

Anthony Hartcher 14:02
Yeah, wow. And you mentioned, you know, from a yoga point of view that you know, that the benefits are beyond just the exercise, you’ve also, obviously got that component of mindfulness that it creates and generates is that element of flexibility, right? Strength. So you’re getting quite a holistic workout through a yoga practice. In terms of taking off, you know, you’re covering off the elements of mindfulness. Yeah, so that’s good for mental health, you’ve got the exercise component, which is also good for mental health you. But within the exercise component, you’re covering off strength and flexibility, which is, you know, also important on the mindfulness side of things. So just separating, I guess yoga, and the practice of mindfulness within yoga on the, I guess, the meditation side of things and that form of mindfulness. So the benefits, you mentioned, obviously more, you know, helps you become calm and more compassionate lowers anxiety. Any other benefits beyond that?

Merae Kayrouz 15:14
Yeah, I’d say that most often people think of yoga or meditation. And, you know, it’s automatic to think, okay, they’ve got mental health positive outcomes. But yoga meditation in the long term can impact such a large number of parts in your body. So if you treat it as a tool to relieve anxiety and stress, and if you think about what stress can do to the body, and what areas that actually impacts, it’s, it’s easier to see the link. So when you’re stressed over a long period of time, you know, stress can impact your cardiovascular system, it can impact the gastrointestinal system, it can impact the reproductive system. And with yoga, or meditation, yoga can impact the sympathetic nervous system and activate it. But it also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is when your body is able to relax, you rest and digest and recover. And so that’s why yoga or meditation have been linked to improvements in things like irritable bowel syndrome, or psoriasis because stress is such a trigger for those conditions as well. So if you think of it, not as a, you know, a be all end all cure, but it’s just a tool to treat stress and help manage it, then it becomes a lot clearer as to what are the mental conditions, what are the physical and mental conditions that can actually help to treat.

Anthony Hartcher 16:42
Yes, great point really helps the body, you know, be able to better regulate the nervous system in terms of that, you know, sympathetic. And that parasympathetic so allows us to, you know, switch off the sympathetic turn on the parasympathetic and vice versa. And so you’ve got that constant regulation, which is giving an overall benefit of stress management and putting the person back in control as opposed to feeling out of control, you know, which, you know, when I guess you’re constantly in that sympathetic, dominant state, you can feel that you don’t have the ability to switch it off. Whereas I guess this practice on a regular basis is allowing you to back control of turning it on, off on-off.

Merae Kayrouz 17:26
And I think people just don’t realise how much stress can impact the body. And, you know, over many years, you realise, wow, I’m actually holding so much tension. And that tension held in the body for a long period of time can, you know, impacts so many areas, so I don’t think people often make that connection and realise, you know, I’ve got so many gastrointestinal symptoms, I’m chronically constipated, or I’ve got irritable bowel syndrome. And they don’t realise, okay, there’s, there’s an issue of stress that I need to address to be able to, to get that functioning again.

Anthony Hartcher 18:03
And you were telling me in terms of with yoga, there’s certain poses that will help various conditions so that, you know, if the person has constipation, for example, his particular poses that will help alleviate constipation, or, you know, I guess, reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome? Am I right in saying, you know, that that’s how you work with some clients in terms of they come to you with a particular condition, and you can help them with particular poses that help them address that condition?

Merae Kayrouz 18:36
I, I’d say by just doing the yoga practice, in general, I’d say that, you know, instead of doing a fixed approach to say, okay, you’ve got this, let’s do this posture, I don’t think it works that way. I think the best way is, you know, just doing a well-rounded yoga practice, you start to notice those benefits. And I think the main thing is learning how to breathe. I think oftentimes because we are stressed, so often, we don’t breathe in the correct way. And it’s almost always upper chest breathing. And we don’t know how to really take a full breath. And it sounds really simple, but until you realise, wow, I’m actually been doing it wrong, or I’m carrying too much tension in my body. And I think they’re the things that that over time and with a regular practice start to be linked to okay, this may be helping me in my management of a condition. It’s, you know, it’s not to say that this is the main treatment, you know, medicine plays a really strong role. It’s just as an adjuvant, like an additive that can help to manage and treat that condition better.

Anthony Hartcher 19:45
Okay, so full practice is best. And yeah, because it’s the holistic approach. And it’s is that the way in which yoga was meant to be practiced as a whole practice?

Merae Kayrouz 19:59
Yeah, I think It was it’s always, you know, there’s a whole range of movements and sequences, and having a well-rounded practice of having, you know, doing each of them is what it was traditionally created for.

Anthony Hartcher 20:12
And there are different types of yoga is the one that particular better for a person, you know, the person that’s really wound up with that sort of constitution, and is the one that in particular supportive for that constitution that’s more laid back and, you know, likes to slower. So you recommend a particular type of yoga practice based on a person’s constitution or their end goal. So, you know, maybe, you know, tell us a bit about the different types of styles of practice and who they’re better suited to that would be helpful, I think.

Merae Kayrouz 20:50
Yeah, I’d say, um, like you said, it really depends on what you’re after. So having Yoga is a really great approach to yoga that’s focused on alignment. And getting into an ad of creche postures correctly, it is more of a physical type of yoga, but it is a very traditional and classical form. If you’re after something that will really relax the system, and activate the parasympathetic, sympathetic nervous system for extended periods of time. Yin Yoga is a better approach because you’re staying in postures for a long period of time, but you’re not activating the muscles as much. So you’re able to enter more of a relaxed state. And I’d say probably those two are the main, the main different forms that you can sort of go-to, there’s a whole different range of different types, depending what you’re after. But I guess they’re the two biggest ones to differentiate between.

Anthony Hartcher 21:53
Yeah, so if you’re looking for that, that, I guess that form of yoga to wake you up in the morning, it’s more than half the time. Yes. And then the one to wine you down in the evening. For a nice restful night’s sleep, it’s probably more the flower, the Yin Yin type yoga. Yes, yeah. So you could do and I guess lunchtimes probably going to depend on what state you’re in, if you’re wound up from the morning’s work, you might want to be doing a more Yin practice to, you know, calm the nervous system, or, you know, if you’re falling, maybe falling asleep close to lunch, then maybe, you know, the Hathor would wake you up and figure out you for the, I guess, afternoon. And is there anything else that you’d like to share around yoga and meditation in terms of the benefits or what you’ve noticed or observed through coaching clients through either of them or just any latest research you’d like to share?

Merae Kayrouz 22:54
I’d say that, um, mainstream media, though, I’d say is quite often depicted yoga as this, you know, beautiful postures, and really flexible people doing these things. And you think, Oh, my gosh, I could never do that. And my body just won’t go there. And oftentimes, people say, to me, I can’t do yoga, because I’m not flexible. And it’s, it’s a, it’s a bad way that the media is represented because it doesn’t make it as accessible to a lot of people. And I’d say my ending message would be more so to really give it a shot. And, you know, having a really flexible body is actually more dangerous. Because you can, you know, you don’t have stability in the joints. So it may be perceived in the media, Wow, she’s so flexible, etc. But it’s better to behave a stronger body and build on your flexibility than being too flexible and have no strength. So I’d say if you find the right teacher, and someone that can guide you through, you know how to practice. If you have an injury, and you have someone to sort of tailor something to you, and make it more accessible. I’d say do that because it just be such a pity if you know, you think Oh, no, I can’t do that. Because I’m just not flexible enough. Because like I mentioned earlier that the physical mental benefits and the scientific evidence that shows how beneficial it can be in the long term is so good, it’d be a pity not to experience it. So I guess that that would be that the last thing I’d like to share.

Anthony Hartcher 24:32
Now, that’s a great way to conclude it is that you know, it is for anyone in any shape, any type, it’s because you can modify the, I guess position based on where that person is at, right. There are different levels in each position. And so the yoga instructor can let people know, you know, what level would be ideally suited to where they’re at in their journey. And so that’s, I think, what I really liked about The individualization of yoga is a, you know, accommodates for all people in terms of where they’re at in their journey, whether they’re just starting out or they’re, you know, they’ve done a lot of classes.

Merae Kayrouz 25:13
It’s probably, probably Lastly, it’s, you know, yoga and meditation have worked for me in terms of dealing with, you know, stress, etc. But if you find another way to help you deal with stress over the long term, because oftentimes we associate stress with just with a job or a role that we’re in, but you know, stress can come from a relationship breakup, it can come from losing a loved one, you can come from many different areas throughout a whole lifetime. So if you find something or a way to alleviate stress, and help you manage it over your life, it’s about developing those habits, so that you have something to go through. So it may not be yoga meditation for you, although I thoroughly endorse it and recommend it, but you may find something else that is that you’ll be able to go through with your whole life. So it’s yeah, it’s just about finding what, what works for you.

Anthony Hartcher 26:13
Yeah, that’s perfect. That’s a great way it’s yeah, you what you’re recommending is them finding what works for them around stress management, as opposed to saying that yoga and meditation is the B and an end or for everyone, you know, it’s whatever helps them regulate their stress. Yes, yeah. Yeah. And again, it’s you being very individualised to your client who is in front of you and helping them so you know, people that are looking for that stress management support and, you know, one or something, guide them and get them started on this journey. How can they best get in contact with you?

Merae Kayrouz 26:53
And they can visit my website, it’s called and pharmacies spelt with an F and not a P.

Anthony Hartcher 27:04
Okay, so pharmacy with an F, an absolute delight to have you on Merae, I really love you know, you sharing, I guess, you know, your experience, your journey. you simplify this for us in terms of that understanding of the different types of yoga

when they’re best, most appropriate, you know, in terms of getting started and not getting bogged down with, you know, worrying about that super flexible yoga pose that I see on Instagram. That’s not for me, you know, you said that, obviously, you know, it can cater for anyone, anytime. And the most important thing is to get started. And on top of that, it’s really to find what works for them around stress management, but I guess to find that you need to go on your journey and discover that so it really appreciate that and you know, everything you shared with us around the benefits that yoga and meditation can provide for mental health and the studies that show that so, thanks so much for it. It’s been a delight to have you on and I look forward to having you on again in the future.

Merae Kayrouz 28:15
Thanks so much, Anthony. It’s been great.

Anthony Hartcher 28:18
Awesome. Take care Merae

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