by Jennifer Henius, LCSW, RYT June 2021
Jennifer Henius, LCSW, RYT, uses her passion for yoga to advocate for and support the health and wellbeing of caregivers. Family caregivers, often referred to as “informal caregivers,” are unpaid individuals such as a significant other, relative, friend, or neighbor who provides care and support for someone in need of assistance due to a disabling condition. “Formal caregivers” are paid health care professionals.
Jennifer began practicing yoga in 2016 and completed a 200-hour Hatha Yoga Teacher Training in 2019 at “A Yoga Village” in Clearwater, Florida. Her focus these days is to help improve the health and wellbeing of caregivers through an international Seva project called Yoga4Caregivers that she created at the onset of COVID-19. I had a chance to connect with Jennifer online and here is her story.
I am the Founder of Yoga4Caregivers, a new Caregiver Kula, or intentional community of the heart, aimed at empowering family caregivers to explore yoga, meditation, and mindful movement as self-care practices to add to their toolbox in support of their overall health and wellbeing. I was prompted to develop this community as my personal response to the pandemic. I was in search of a way to support family caregivers serving on the front lines of COVID-19.
I have newly created the Caregiver Wellness Collective (CWC) to serve as the home for this new program as well as to serve as the national Caregiver Wellness Alliance bringing together key stakeholders from the government, business, and civic sectors to increase attention to and awareness of Caregiver wellness needs, supports, and resources. The CWC also provides direct education and whole health programming in support of informal and formal caregiver health, mental health, and wellbeing.
Caregiving is widely recognized as an increasing public health concern with an estimated 53 million caregivers in the United States currently and the number is growing exponentially due to COVID-19. There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers. People of color are already overrepresented within the caregiving population and have also been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
In my yoga practice, I found that slow mindful movement was helpful in managing my work-life stressors. Regular practice allowed me to improve my own capacity for self-regulation of my nervous system and decrease some of my anxiety and stress and also increase my mind-body connection and sense of interoception. The benefits of this slow mindful practice are what inspired me to become a teacher. I realized that sharing some basic yogic relaxation techniques could be helpful to caregivers who weren’t familiar with yoga, meditation, or mindful movement.
Yoga4Caregivers, a grassroots movement, is entirely supported by volunteer yoga teachers and mindfulness educators who share in my passion for supporting these hidden heroes in our communities selflessly caring for others. Together, we are making yoga accessible through yoga classes and videos on mindful breathing for caregivers in crisis and at home through our online community.
Many of the volunteers are current or former caregivers, or have experienced caregiving in some way; however, this is not a requirement to volunteer. I am continually inspired by how compassionate and giving our community is even in these really challenging times and I am grateful for our volunteers.
Caregivers commonly experience isolation, anxiety, and depression and face an increased risk of poor health and psychosocial outcomes due to a tendency to put off their own health care needs. The pandemic has further increased their risk for health and mental health concerns. The Centers for Disease Control have reported that caregivers have expressed increased suicidal ideation due to the pandemic. Together, we are making yoga accessible through yoga classes and videos on mindful breathing for caregivers in crisis and at home through our online community.
In our community, we offer slow, mindful yoga sessions that are short and accessible for caregivers who don’t have a lot of time. We also offer short videos on mindful breathing techniques. We have a range of classes in our community that vary in length of time, and we enable replays so that caregivers can watch at their convenience. We are working to develop a curriculum.
Here is what one caregiver in our community had to say about Yoga4Caregivers:
My husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease about three years ago. The ALZ support groups seem to have horror story after horror story, which I have accepted but do not need to read. This Support Group seems to have something I’m desperately needing …. ten minute stretches, meditation suggestions. I can’t leave him to go to yoga classes, but I was able to take a (Yoga4Caregivers) class this morning and it was very helpful. My mantra is, “just for today. I am able to make it just for today.” Thank you!
I believe caregivers are a unique, at-risk group for whom we can make yoga more accessible and offer meaningful solutions as a community to address this emerging public health crisis. This new effort is offering community care to caregivers and is making a meaningful impact.
Jennifer Henius is a 200-hr Yoga Teacher and a Member of the Yoga Alliance. Jennifer is the Founder and Executive Director of the Caregiver Wellness Collective, a new national resource that serves as a caregiver wellness alliance bringing together key stakeholders from the government, business, and civic sectors, and of the Seva Project Yoga4Caregivers. She’s also a Senior Healthcare Consultant and Licensed Clinical Social Worker with nearly 20 years supporting Veterans, their families and caregivers.
Jennifer recently served on a team in Washington, D.C. to implement and oversee the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Caregiver Support Program. Jennifer can be reached at email@example.com Those interested in volunteering should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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