News & Events News & Announcements 2014 Bringing peace and balance through yoga

Bringing peace and balance through yoga

Yogis, yoga instructors, and yoga practitioners across Ontario gathered for the Peace of Minds Yogathon to improve their practice while supporting the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario’s (SSO) mission to improve the lives of people living with schizophrenia and psychosis. The 9th annual fundraiser featured flagship events in Toronto and Oakville with karma classes taking place in studios throughout the province.

The mood was upbeat as guest instructors from various studios led classes in styles ranging from Hatha to Power Vinyasa. The positive impact that physical activity and meditation can have on mental health is well-established. This is especially true in the experience of SSO client and event host, Jesse Bigelow.

Jesse was first diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19. When the symptoms began, Jesse believed that voices were talking to him through the television and delusions caused him to behave erratically in public.
Jesse’s family did the best they could to find help on their own, but struggled to get him the treatment he needed. Eventually, his family connected with a counsellor at SSO, who helped him and his family access the right treatment and supports. SSO is also where Jesse was introduced to yoga and meditation. Yogi Tambiraja - an SSO volunteer who started the Peace of Minds Yogathon – was the one who encouraged Jesse to start his yoga practice.    

“When I first started taking classes it was difficult and a bit intimidating,” says Jesse. “I’m a tall person and wasn’t the most flexible, but I slowly built my skills, and now yoga is a part of my daily life. It has become an integral part of my treatment program and really helps me cope with stress and challenges.”

Jesse says that his yoga practice helps him focus, recharge and be part of a community working to balance mind and body.

As one of SSO’s signature events, it is not only a time to practice yoga and raise funds, it’s also an opportunity to educate. “Through events like this we hope to make more people aware of schizophrenia and psychosis because when people aren’t aware, it makes it easy for them to ignore the issue,” said Mary Alberti, CEO, SSO.  “All too often stigma and discrimination keeps people with mental illness from seeking help, which can have very negative effects on their ability to live full lives. This is slowly changing, but when it comes to severe mental illness, we still have a long way to go.”

The event was attended by 200 participants and featured classes led by guest instructors from 12 yoga studios from across the province. The growth of the event is something that Marina Sue-Ping, SSO Family and Community Coordinator in Oakville, has seen over the past five years and is encouraged by how the event brings the community together.

“It’s great to see both new and long-time supporters from the community here today,” said Marina, who coordinated the event in Oakville. “Mental health services can be difficult for people to access so it’s inspiring to see the community come together to address this need and enable us to provide services to individuals and families when they need it.”

This year’s Yogathon raised $30,000 and will fund programs and services for individuals and families living with schizophrenia and psychosis.