Making meditation and yoga accessible to all members of the community

Mindfulness Without Barriers

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A summary of an evaluation undertaken of a yoga and meditation program aimed at migrant women living in Melbourne’s housing commission estates.

The need for meditation and yoga

Anxiety and depression are among the most common conditions cited by those seeking treatment with complementary and alternative therapies such as meditation and yoga.2 Given three million Australians live with anxiety or depression3, it is no surprise that increasing numbers of Australians regularly practise yoga and meditation. In recent years, more Australia practise yoga than play AFL.4

The level of health and wellbeing of Australians is relatively high compared with other countries although there are significant disparities in the health outcomes of certain population groups within Australia.5 Research indicates that socially-marginalised people – many of which live in public housing or are from a migrant background – have impaired access to health and community services and worse mental health compared with socially well-integrated people.6 The National Mental Health Plan has acknowledged that less than half of people in need of mental health services access them.7 It is widely acknowledged that people from refugee backgrounds experience significant distress related to pre-migration life events and experiences of resettlement. Depression and anxiety are often cited as being experienced in higher rates by these people compared with the majority population.8
Those often most susceptible to mental and physical health issues due to poor diet, unemployment, family breakdown, housing issues, etc – low income earners, people living in public housing, new arrivals to Australia – are the same people who are often unable to access yoga classes and meditation courses.

The need for the Program

The Program began in April 2013 after a local yoga and meditation teacher from Melbourne Mindfulness Foundation, Alana Smith, observed that those in attendance at yoga classes and meditation courses in the community did not represent the cultural and socio-economic diversity of the City of Yarra and Melbourne community. Alana had a particular interest in the health and wellbeing of those living in the public housing estates in Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Flemington, as well as those accessing services from community health organisations and was interested to understand whether yoga and meditation was of interest to them, and if so, why they were not accessing or attending classes and courses.

In early 2013, Alana approached Colin Sneesby, a community development worker with the City of Yarra about running yoga and meditation classes for those living at the Collingwood Housing Estate. During this initial meeting, it became clear that there was a need and interest in such a Program:
1. A growing number of women living at the Collingwood Estate had expressed an interest in improving their health and wellbeing through regular exercise classes
2. Collingwood Housing Estate is home to a high portion of migrants of refugee background who would be unlikely to attend yoga classes and meditation courses offered to the general public because they are too expensive and not culturally appropriate
3. Collingwood Housing Estate has a community gym that does not offer any exercise classes for women.

Commencement of the Program

In April 2013, funding was obtained to run a 6 week pilot women’s Program at the Collingwood Housing Estate. This funding covered the purchase of yoga mats as well as a childcare service for the duration of the class. Given the positive outcomes of this 6 week pilot, the Program continued at the Collingwood Housing Estate until the end of April 2014. based at Carlton Primary School on the Carlton Housing Estate to run the Program. The Program continues to run at Carlton Primary School.

Read the full report here.

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