Staff at Ysbyty Gwynedd’s Hergest Unit are using the power of yoga to help lift patients out of depression.

Mental health patients on Hergest Unit are being encouraged to take part in the yoga sessions of regular light physical exercise and relaxation to combat a ‘vicious circle’ of mental health problems and inactivity.

The sessions have been credited with lifting the mood of patients with depression and reducing their stress and anxiety whilst in the hospital.

Rakesh Kumar, a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist at the unit, says that the exercise sessions are part of a wider effort to address the physical health needs of people with mental health problems.

“Everyone feels ‘blue’ from time to time, but when depression or any other mental health problem deepens or persists for a long period of time, it can suppress the energy for living,” he explained.

“Often the first thing a person with depression stops doing is moving as regular exercise becomes intolerable. This makes them more vulnerable to poor physical health and it can exacerbate their depression.

“The exercises and breathing techniques we encourage our patients to adopt can help to lift the heavy unmoving feeling of depression.

“Breathing typically becomes distorted in people who are depressed, and this exacerbates the condition, causing anxiety, deeper depression, stress or fear. The physical postures and breathing exercises are designed to encourage deeper and more natural breathing.”

Rakesh runs regular weekly sessions on the unit with the help of activity nurses. Patients are encouraged to continue to use the exercise and breathing techniques once they have been discharged from hospital in order to continue to look after their mental health.

It is estimated that more than 50,000 people in North Wales will experience depression every year, and evidence indicates that depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2030.

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board has made improving the physical health of people with mental health problems one of its key priorities over the next four years.

The Health Board’s recent strategy on the future of its mental health services outlined an intention to move towards a ‘whole person’ model of care that addresses both the physical and mental health needs of patients.

“When we think about mental health issues we often talk about the mind and body as though they are completely separate – but they aren’t,” explained Rakesh.

“The mind can’t function unless your body is working properly – but it also works the other way. The state of your mind affects your body.”