My work team and I were recently invited to attend and speak at a mental health workshop day for the senior students at Brooks Secondary School. There was never any thought of saying no.
What an honour it was to work with kids, and to talk about the job we love.
The benefits of doing exercise and yoga for mental health are common knowledge. But then that was the problem. What unique information would I be able to impart to these students?
They are in an environment where they are being asked to break down the barriers and stigmas around mental health: pretty heavy stuff. And the sum total of what I had ready the day before my session was something to the effect of: Exercise releases endorphins, which makes you happy, so do exercise.
Not much of a page-turner, if I’m honest, but then it struck me. It’s not about what I can say, but what I can do. And what I did was make them laugh. I believe, and know, that movement is medicine. And they say laughter is the best medicine, so it seemed perfect to put the two together.
A cure-all: Doing exercise and laughing. I don’t speak teenager, but I do understand laughter, and our 15-minute session together was a riot. I had them work with a partner to do exercises; one partner would be either an obstacle or the weight.
I’ll be honest, not a lot of muscle or cardiovascular capacity building was accomplished, but perhaps something more important: community. And that is what is best about doing fitness or yoga together. The community, the friendships, the support. We all struggle, so why not struggle together.
In the fitness industry, everyone is trying to come up with and sell the next best thing, whether a workout program or device. But I can say for certain after working with those kids that “the next best thing” is the same as it has always been: friendship, community, movement and laughter.
I did what I could with what I had where I was, and I prioritized the positive. And made sure I laughed. I recommend you do, too.
Melissa Sloos is a certified group fitness instructor, spin instructor and co-owner at Coast Fitness in Powell River.