“Have a clear and simple road map of who to turn to.” With Beau Henderson & Rachel Baer

I believe the government could do so much more for mental health. Increasing funding rather than cutting it, especially in schools, senior centers and low-income areas where stresses are often higher. It would be so helpful for everyone that needs it to know where to look for help, to have a clear and simple road […]

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I believe the government could do so much more for mental health. Increasing funding rather than cutting it, especially in schools, senior centers and low-income areas where stresses are often higher. It would be so helpful for everyone that needs it to know where to look for help, to have a clear and simple road map of who to turn to and how to access mental health support in time of need.

As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Rachel Baer.

Rachel is an E-RYT 200 yoga instructor with many years of experience both practicing and teaching yoga. Amongst other additional trainings she has also completed a 100-hour yoga therapy certification. Rachel trained as a Fitness Instructor in the UK before moving to the US in 2003, her focus is now on Chair Yoga and Fall Prevention for seniors and those with disabilities. Rachel shares how she is constantly amazed at the difference yoga regularly makes in the lives of her senior yogis, many of whom are in their eighties and nineties and are still committed to their yoga practice. Rachel has truly found her calling in life. Rachel’s approach to a healthy lifestyle is based on the belief that each person is unique. We all matter, and she genuinely cares for all her clients and loves what she does. Yoga really is for everyone.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Igrew up in a small rural town in Lincolnshire England. I am the eldest of three children and the only daughter. I enjoy a great relationship with my two wonderful brothers. I married in 1986 to a very supportive and caring husband. We had two boys whilst living in the UK. In 2003 my husband had an opportunity to transfer to the United States, we agreed that we would live adventurously and see where it led us. At the time our boys were aged eight and twelve. They are now aged twenty-five and twenty-nine.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

I am helping to relieve some of the loneliness that my senior yogis must be feeling during this time of quarantine. In providing them the opportunity to take chair yoga with me via Zoom in their own homes, for a short time they get to move with their friends that they usually see during class, they are able to have a brief time to chat and “see” each other before and after class. The other benefit is that they get to move their bodies, I can remind them to keep good posture and remind them of fall prevention tips, especially important as they are spending so much time at home. They are able to practice breath work and mindfulness as well as stretching, strengthening and working on balance.

The second part of the story is that these classes also benefit local food banks around the country. Instead of paying to take the class, if they are able, I ask that they make a donation to Care & Share (our local food bank) or a food bank near them. I have a donate button on my website. As long as the organization they choose is helping to feed people during this difficult and uncertain time that works for me. We are all able to help in a small way to pay it forward to those in need. It’s really quite incredible, pre pandemic I would never have imagined that I would be taking my classes online, something I would never have seriously considered. I love the social interaction of in person classes, however, for now that cannot happen. I now have not just my regular yogis practicing with me but also some of their friends and relatives, some of whom I have never met in states I have never been to, even a couple of people who are first time yogis, some of their husbands are also joining in. This is great news as often the men don’t feel comfortable walking into a class, but with the comparative “safety” of being behind a screen they are happy to join in and experience the benefits of yoga.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I love my seniors, after realizing that this quarantine was going to be much longer than the original two weeks that was first thought I knew I had to do something. For many of my yogis coming to class and taking yoga is their only form of exercise and socialization. I have so many testimonials telling me how much yoga has truly helped them in their lives. Yoga helps keep us all strong and independent, helping relieve anxiety, pain and has many other benefits. They were so excited when I was able to offer up a trial week of classes to see how it would work. It was my first time teaching online, a whole new experience for all of us. As it went over well, I decided to continue.

Watching the news both locally and on a national level I was devastated seeing the long lines at food banks. It was heartbreaking and overwhelming. I felt powerless to help these families who through no fault of their own were suddenly struggling to put food on the table. I felt heavy inside, wanting to help but knowing that the small amount I could give would just be a drop in the ocean. I knew I wanted to help but was not sure how that was possible.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger

Watching the news one afternoon I remembered a quote I had heard; it says something like “You might not be able to change the world, but you can make a difference in your small part of it.” This is not the exact quote, but it did make me think of a pebble being thrown into the water and the ripples reaching out much further than one would ever think. I thought of other people who started small and were able to make a difference in people’s lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I have many amazing stories, mostly about how much my yogis have benefited from chair yoga in various ways. I have one yogi in particular, he is 92 years old, on a dry day he still cycles to class twice a week. He often arrives before me, already setting out the chairs for me. He is kind and welcoming to everyone there, after class he insists on helping to put away the chairs, staying to chat and help other seniors carry their bags if they need it. He still plays tennis during the summer, stays amazingly active and helps with meals on wheels at the local senior center. I believe he also regularly helps at his local church. Right now, I really miss seeing him and other regular participants that do not have access to any type of device to take online classes.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My main cheerleader has been my husband Dave, he has always encouraged me and pushed me to reach further than I feel comfortable with. My two sons Matt & Andrew are also great cheerleaders, often spending many frustrating moments explaining how to do online tasks. I am grateful for their patience as I learn.

There are two women in particular that come to mind as cheerleaders, not just for me but for women in general. An author, coach and friend Karen CL Anderson who has helped so much in how I view and manage my difficult relationship with my mother. Another cheerleader is my therapist of two years, she is always so supportive and not afraid to challenge my way of thinking and to push me past my comfort zones in moving me towards healing.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

I have found this is still such a difficult subject to broach, even with friends. There is so much shame attached to having any type of mental health condition. If you have cancer or a broken bone people will rush to help you. With depression or anxiety there is still a feeling of being judged, that there is “something wrong with me” rather than it being a health condition.

I have only recently shared anything about my struggles with depression, I was so excited to share an article I had written about something mainstream and yet I hesitated for days before sharing an interview I had discussing my struggles with mental health. It’s that feeling of being judged, being less than, needing to be fixed, the fear of people just feeling sorry for me, of being wrong to speak out about it, when really what I need is to be heard and understood. I wanted to give this subject a voice to help make it easier for others to reach out and get the help they need.

Especially coming from England, in general I believe Brits find it so much harder to talk about feelings than a lot of Americans’ do, we were taught to keep it all inside, keep a “stiff upper lip”. It can often still be seen as a weakness to talk about mental health issues. If we were honest, I am sure the majority of us would admit to struggling at some point if not several times in our lives. In this current pandemic situation, I am sure there will be so many more people needing help than before due to loneliness, stress, job loss etc.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

As an individual, look out for your friends and coworkers, as them how they are doing, be a friend, don’t judge, encourage them to reach out for help if they need it. Just being there to listen can make a difference.

I believe the government could do so much more for mental health. Increasing funding rather than cutting it, especially in schools, senior centers and low-income areas where stresses are often higher. It would be so helpful for everyone that needs it to know where to look for help, to have a clear and simple road map of who to turn to and how to access mental health support in time of need.

Insurance companies could do a lot more to help people access help. In the past I actually stopped seeing a therapist because it became too complicated having to fill out all the forms in order to claim back a portion of money already paid out in advance, often waiting months for payments. For people that are already under stress making claims even more challenging is often just too much. A couple of years later I decided to try again with a therapist who does the paperwork for me. It then becomes a lot of extra work for the therapist who often has to keep justifying to the insurance company why her clients still need to keep seeing her. I feel as if the odds are often stacked against so many people who would otherwise seek help if it were easier.

I believe mental health starts at home, however if parents have suffered some kind of trauma they are more likely to pass this stress down to their children, I believe family doctors and teachers could make a lasting impact in their community if they were trained in and could look out for children’s ACE scores and acted accordingly. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own well-being and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

My six top strategies I use to help promote my own well-being both physical and mental, (not in any particular order) are –

1 — My husband and I do our best to spend a couple of evenings and some time at the weekend doing something together, even if it’s just watching a show on Netflix. It’s not always possible with work commitments but we do our best to fit in time together.

2 — I do my best to exercise each day, even if I have to get up really early to take a yoga or cycle class, lift weights or walk outside. There are days I really don’t feel like it, those are the days that I know it’s even more important to stay committed to my health. I never regret taking the time to work out, I always feel good afterwards, even if it’s just so I can check it off my mental to do list.

3 — I make sure I drink lots of water during the day, starting with a glass of warm water with lemon when I wake up. Staying hydrated is key to our health and how we feel.

4 — On most days I get outside, even if just for a few minutes to enjoy the fresh air. Getting in touch with nature is proven to be good for our mental health. I enjoy gentle hiking and love spending time gardening or just sitting down enjoying the sunshine.

5 — I have recently recommitted to meditation and mindfulness; it really does make a difference in helping to manage stressful situations and to staying in the present moment rather than following the train of anxious thoughts that can gather and crowd out my mind. I have found this to be even more helpful whilst living in a pandemic.

6 — Making time for friends and family is so important. I have a small group of girlfriends and friends we see as a couple that are always fun to chat with, share our good times and our struggles with, friends we have known for years. It’s been more challenging lately with quarantine restrictions but with Face Time and Zoom it is surprising how much of a connection we can still manage to have. I have even gone back to using snail mail and writing letters.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I have many favorite books, I love reading. In particular I find all of Brené Brown’s books an inspiration, I have read many of them several times through. Much of what she talks about is so easy to apply to my own life, she’s a real champion. I particularly love her Podcast Unlocking Us, she is never afraid to talk about the hard things in life and challenges me to become a better person.

More recently I have enjoyed Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I love her style of writing, so natural. She is not afraid to challenge thoughts and beliefs that keep us stuck, another inspiring woman.

Finding More on the Mat by Michelle Berman Marchildon, again I love her style of writing and she’s so real about her life, not afraid of hiding any of the challenges she has faced with straight talking and compassion she tells how yoga has helped shape her life, a great read.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro, this book changed my life. I took a DNA test and explored my ancestry after reading this book. Through her story she encouraged me to start writing, in late February of this year I had the pleasure of taking a writing and meditation course with her at Kripalu a yoga training center in Massachusetts. This also inspired me to start a writing group at our local senior center called Chapters of Our Lives which is still currently meeting once a week via Zoom.

On Purpose with Jay Shetty, my son told me about this one about a year ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. Jays purpose is to make wisdom go viral.

Sounds True: Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon interviews spiritual teachers, visionary writers and living luminaries about their newest work and challenges.

The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos. Yale professor Laurie Santos has studied the science of happiness and share surprising and inspiring stories that will change the way you think about happiness.

Dear Adult Daughter with Karen CL Anderson. A bite-sized podcast for women who wish to use the difficult relationship they have with their mothers as a catalyst for growth. Reveal patterns. Heal Shame. Transform legacies.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would listen to what is meaningful to them, what brings you joy? How can you do more of that and turn it into something meaningful that can make a difference. Don’t wait until you feel ready, that will never happen, take a first small step and take it from there, dive in and see where it leads. Start somewhere expecting to make mistakes and to learn from them.

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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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