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How Yoga is Changing Lives at Pioneer Clubhouse

By Vicky Fisher

For the past two years Manly Yoga has been funding a free weekly yoga class for those recovering from mental illness at Pioneer Clubhouse in Balgowlah.  From 2016 the class was also made available to clients from the East Wing of Manly Hospital. 


These classes started as a pilot scheme of the Manly Yoga initiative Give Yoga, and donations from the monthly havan and kirtan have enabled Manly Yoga to sponsor the class. In addition to these donations, Manly Yoga is also funding teachers for Give Yoga.


A key focus of Give Yoga is the development of sustainable Yoga programs in the community for people who do not have easy access to classes; those who are disadvantaged. 


The weekly Thursday Yoga classes at Pioneer Clubhouse are proving very popular. Jason Kioko, the manager at Pioneer Clubhouse, says they are ‘valuable and the benefits are immediately visible.’ He has noticed that the atmosphere in the Clubhouse after each class is calmer and everything seems to settle down.


Rex Norman, a Recovery Network Supporter at the Clubhouse, notes that the classes are an ‘enormous success’ and that members and staff look forward to the weekly sessions and are all in agreement that the gentle stretching and relaxation are great for relieving stress and anxiety.


The staff at the Clubhouse and from East Wing are also welcome to join the class at any time. One of the occupational therapists found the class re-energised her. ‘I found my inner peace and it calmed my anxiety’.


On a cold and dreary Thursday in early July, I was able to be part of a class. There were 11 students that day (6 men and 5 women, including 4 from East Wing). Their focus and sense of being present was humbling. The concentration in the room was palpable.


Amara leads the classes and she says she has found the experience ‘inspiring and joyful’. She includes movements to destress the body and calm the mind, aiming to increase concentration. She asks the students to feel what is happening in their body and to notice their breath.


“They are vocal and definitely not self-conscious’, she noted. “They love the wood-chopper and roaring lion!’


Jason Kioko points out how vital physical exercise is for people living with mental illness who often experience poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle and metabolic syndromes which can lead to weight issues. The gentle, graduated movements in the yoga class are designed to encourage the body to open and to align the spine. The students can often feel the benefits even after one class.


For the Pioneer Members who regularly attend Amara’s class the benefits are many:


‘Aids my recovery in mental health. Helps me to switch off and decrease anxiety.’

Chris (age 62)


‘Calms me, helps me to be flexible, improves my mental health: less anxiety and greater concentration.’

Joanna (age 64)


‘It’s pretty amazing when you get into “the zone”– total enjoyment of the present moment.’

Sally (age 43)



Brandon (age 38)


‘More peace and relaxation, a settled feeling’

Janet (age 46)


As a result of the success of this pilot program Give Yoga is reviewing the feasibility of introducing yoga classes in other organisations. A very important element of the Manly Yoga vision as a community-based not-for-profit is to ensure that those who are suffering or disadvantaged have the opportunity to experience the wonderful benefits that the teachings Manly Yoga and their tradition has to offer. 


Manly Yoga is in the process of establishing Give Yoga as a registered charity.


Keep community classes like these going by donating here.


About Vicky Fisher

Originally from the UK, Vicky has called Manly home for more than a decade. She works as an editor, proofreader and yoga teacher.Vicky takes delight in practising and teaching yoga. In her words 'It frames my life. It is the scaffold around which I grow. It supports and nurtures me. When I get on my yoga mat I usually feel that it is where I am meant to be. And I love teaching it.'