How to breathe through Brexit

Londoners are turning to yoga to tackle growing Br-anxiety, finds Miranda Taylor for the Evening Standard.

By Miranda Taylor in the Evening Standard, Monday 23 September 2019.

Shutterstock / George Rudy

Shutterstock / George Rudy

Just last week Dr Fiona Macandry met up with some other GP colleagues and they all agreed they had experienced the busiest surgeries of any summer in a long time. “I definitely think the uncertainty of our times through Brexit are making us all more anxious,” Macandry admits. “I certainly feel it myself and since doing a yoga therapy breathing course use the breathing daily — even as I’m walking down the streets in London. It really helps to reduce stress.” The GP regularly refers her patients to a yoga therapist to learning breathing and body techniques.

Given that most of the drugs patients are taking for anxiety, bipolar disorder of depression are 30 years old and science hasn’t come up with much that is newer or better — other approaches are gaining mainstream support. 

Macandry agrees, and adds: “Sometimes talking therapies and antidepressants are not the best and only way for patients. Often we see the problems turning up as pain in the body — yoga can be really good — sometimes even better than what the doctors are doing.’ 

According to the Mental Health Foundation’s latest UK study, undertaken last year, 74 per cent of us have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope; 46 per cent reported eating unhealthily or too much due to stress; 29 per cent  reported starting or increasing their alcohol intake; and 16 per cent reported starting or increasing their smoking. As a result many disciplines are getting in on the yoga therapy act, and medics, athletes, celebrities and schools are all talking up the benefits as a way of to dealing with unwanted stress.

Maureen Cronk, a London-based psychotherapist and specialist in addiction, also emphasises that yoga works better than most medication. “I use the yoga breathing to relax and sleep, and when clients are stressed I urge them to use it with walking as a mobiliser. You can mobilise yourself. So from the recovering addict to a stressed-out executive, yoga can help a person move from the worry in their head to being back in their body.’

Nichola Foy, an English teacher in a central London school, attends the staff yoga class weekly. “It’s the beacon in our week, the one time we know that it will be calm and we can recalibrate and stretch and breathe.” She is quick to emphasise that a teacher’s working day is non-stop: “We don’t have a lunch break, sometimes it’s hard to even get to the loo and literally there is no time to breathe.”

Yoga has helped her find compassion and good strategies for herself and for students who might struggle with understanding or completing tasks. “It’s easy to find oneself thinking ‘I’m too stiff, Help! Why can’t I focus? Why is my breathing so tight?’ The children too say that it’s the one relaxing time in their frenetic day.” 

The Mental Health Foundation also found that young people had higher stress related to the pressure to succeed. One third of 18- to 25-year-olds reported feeling stress compared with 22 per cent of 45 to 54-year-olds and  just seven per cent for over-55s. Slow deep breathing has been proved to reduce anxiety and help with a range of illnesses and sleep problems by working with the nervous system and the mind.

Colin Dunsmuir, director of the London Yoga Festival, agrees. “Yoga is also about getting a perspective and distance from our lives and the right guidance we need to deal with the ups and downs in our society at the moment.” 

The London Yoga Festival, October 12-13,

Ruby Reed