Meet Local Love – Hugh Lee
by twosixmag October 5, 2015
Meet Local Love – Yin Yoga teacher Hugh Lee, his journey to wellness is both honest and inspiring, Here he shares his intimate struggle with mental health and tells of the power of his yoga and meditation practice and why he chooses to fuse Chinese medicine, personal development and the philosophy of yoga when teaching.
Can you tell us a little about you and your journey to wellness?
I have suffered from depression and anxiety most of my life. My interest in health and wellbeing started when my depression bouts started to become more severe about 7 years ago and I started taking anti-depressants but found them to be quite harsh on my body so stopped medication and started getting acupuncture to replenish and heal my body and mind.
I have been practicing Yoga for about 14 years and the last 7 years I committed to a daily Meditation practice to help heal myself.
I do not have depression bouts anymore. I still experience anxiety and now I manage anxiety with both Yin Yoga and Meditation.
This lead to me to Yoga teacher training as my aspiration is to share the beauty and healing power of Yoga and Meditation. I been teaching Yoga for about 5 years now, it’s the most rewarding career I have ever discovered.
Have you always been conscious of your own health and wellbeing?
I have not always been health conscious, during my early twenties I went travelling based myself in London and partied it up thinking my body was invincible. The traveling and partying was also my way of covering up and ignoring my mental illness. The change happened when I started to have emotional break downs and I admitted to myself I suffered at the time from depression and anxiety, I made a change to look after myself more.
If you don’t mind can you share with our readers some of the challenges you have faced and how they have influenced your current choices?
I experienced trauma when I was 19 years old, my dad passed away in a sudden accident. The traumatic event was one of many contributing factors to my mental illness. I think depression and anxiety is something I’ve found immensely challenging.
Depression, anxiety and trauma has helped me to realise my mental and emotional health and wellbeing comes first and to prioritise it in my life. I do not know where I would be without my daily Meditation and Yin Yoga practice and recently I’ve included Qi Gong Internal Martial Arts to support my healing and wellbeing.
Can you tell our readers a little about Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is the other half of a Yoga practice that has been missing for a long time. In the West, the most popular style of Yoga is more Yang, the more vigorous work-out type style that focuses mainly to strengthen the muscles.
Yin is well, more Yin it’s passive long deep holds help to open up our joints and fascia (deep connective tissues). Yin Yoga poses are held from 3mins sometimes 10 mins. When we open up our joints and fascia in a Yin way (long deep and slow), it will release and eases a lot of stored up tension deep in our bodies. This induces a deep relaxation effect mentally, emotionally and physically.
Your classes are wonderful for many reasons but for both Emma and I we love how you fuse Chinese medicine, personal development and the philosophy of yoga– can you tell us why they work so well together?
I believe in a holistic approach, in that Yoga is a tool for healing and balance on all levels not just physical but also mental, emotional and spiritual. Although some students come just to stretch, and that is great but I make it clear in class that Yin Yoga is much more than just a “Stretch” session. It’s a life tool for balancing out such a Yang obsessed culture. Living fast paced stressful hectic lives will eventually take its toll on the body and Yin combined with Chinese Medicine focus helps to maintain balance and harmony within the body and mind.
To me Traditional Chinese Medicine has been a practical tool that has helped to heal me and it makes sense to me. I am very passionate about learning as much as I can about Chinese Medicine and I get regular mentoring from my Chinese Medicine practitioner Becky Andrews of Cloud Gate Therapeutics. Yin and Chinese Medicine work well together as the long deep slow holds in Yin poses cultivates chi (energy) flow by stimulating meridians (energy channels) helping to create smooth unblocked chi flow to nourish organs to bring about balance and replenishment. I’m deeply passionate about providing tools for students, not just to benefit their physical health but their mental and emotional healing and well-being.
Emma and I have found there is a huge focus on the physical, that most of us want to look fit and healthy, and yet we seem to have neglected the health of our mind. There is an enormous increase in mental illness particularly amongst young professional people.
What do you believe is happening? Is it social media? Is it societies expectations?
Having suffered and recovered from a mental illness myself. I believe there are many contributing factors to mental illness.
I believe it’s a step in the positive direction working on looking after the physical body to keep it fit and healthy. People are realising how important it is to look after their body and when they get used to looking after themselves then eventually it could lead them to finding ways to look after their mental well-being also.
I think one of the biggest contribution to mental illness is our culture does not make any room/space for “Vulnerability”.
In this day and age still it is taboo to express our emotions and feelings when you are feeling down and/or experiencing anxiety. We live in a culture where we have to always “tough” it out and show we are invincible. But I find this is damaging to our mental health as we end up suppressing a lot of our emotions and it gets stored deep in our bodies, eventually causing dis-ease. Yin Yoga can help release a lot of deeply stored emotions in the body – but I can write about that in another article. To me vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. But society doesn’t see it that way and many people hide their vulnerability behind masks and pretend everything is fine but there’s a lot of suffering going on inside.
Social media could be one factor contributing to mental illness. Social media is a great way to share and connect but what I’m seeing is a lot of young people compare and measure their self worth with others. When we see photos and images on social media of “selfies” having exotic holidays, marriage engagements, showing off their six pack abs… this can potentially cause jealousy and feelings of insecurity and low self worth wondering why they are not living such an amazing life…however, we are only seeing one part of their lives. We are not seeing reality. We don’t see photos of their real life when they are frustrated, stressed and dealing with problems.
I feel looking after our mental health is just as important as looking after our body. I think more meditation classes/practices and more guidance on how to meditate would definitely help. Recently there has been the launch of a handful of really useful practical meditation Apps that you can easily download on your phone and meditate, I feel we are moving towards positive steps in placing more importance towards our mental health and wellbeing.
Do you find men in particular struggle to see the connection between their physical and mental health?
Yes for sure. As it is still seen as taboo for men to talk about their mental health issues, feelings and concerns. So men will often try to forget or suppress their mental health issues. But however, I’m seeing more and more men turn up to Yoga classes and also making an effort to meditate and look after their mental health. So things are starting to change in positive ways.
What do you want your students to take away from their practice with you?
Yin Yoga and Meditation are powerful life tools. These tools can help to support your physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual health and wellbeing. To be empowered to be able to use these life tools and also to be grateful for such amazing life changing practices.
When do you feel most balanced?
After my daily & evening meditation, after a soothing Yin practice, after an Internal Martial Arts session with my Sifu (teacher), after a beautiful healing acupuncture treatment.
Who has been an important influence in your life?
My first Yoga Teacher Andrew Mournehis. He mentored me, I assisted him co-teaching on Yoga retreats around the world and he continues to be an inspiration.
My wife Lesley. It was love at first meeting. We got engaged 3 weeks after we met in a Yoga class and married 6 months later. She continues to influence me to always follow and live from my heart. She continues to be an inspiration each day.
What do you believe is the most meaningful change people should make if they want to be kinder to themselves?
Love. It always will and always has been the answer. Self love and compassion. It starts by being loving and compassionate in our own self-dialogue, as many people tend to be their own worst critic and judge, start by changing our self talk then this leads to treating ourselves kinder.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Surf. I head down to surf coast every week. It’s a ritual to cleanse, to have fun and it’s very spiritual and meditative connecting with Mother Nature’s ocean.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?
We must love ourselves first unconditionally to be of benefit to ourselves and others.