A Personal Connection

Specializing in helping people struggling with mental illnesses and addiction,
a yoga instructor takes aim at workplace health

Photo: Evonne Sullivan

AS A PERSON in long-term recovery from alcohol addiction, and a person who has also dealt with mental health challenges, Evonne Sullivan has tried a number of strategies for maintaining mental wellness.

What has worked best for her—yoga, breath, meditation and mindfulness—may not work for everyone. But Sullivan has struck a chord with enough people that she is now delivering ­workshops, running specialized yoga classes, speaking at conferences and doing advocacy work, all related to mental health and addiction.

“I believe in a holistic approach to recovery and the management of stress, anxiety and depression,” says Sullivan. “I’m tuned in to the mind-body connection. There is sound evidence that using breath or exercises to ease tensions and stress in the body helps with mental health as well as relapse prevention.

Sullivan with student Angie Christopher

“I combine lived-experience with specialized trainings I have taken to teach mindfulness and yoga, and to speak about mental health and addictions recovery. I also created my own teaching program called Yoga for Wellness & Recovery, which I teach at events, workshops and in the community.”

She currently teaches two community classes each week in London, one focused on addiction recovery and one focused on mental health and wellness. Both classes are open to people who are struggling with addictions and recovery and with mental wellness, and to their family and friends, as well as people who work in those fields.

Sullivan has presented at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s annual conference, led yoga classes at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s community and youth centre and ­spoken at Addiction Services of Thames Valley’s annual Recovery Week London events.

She is also one of 72 instructors from across Canada who will be ­delivering training sessions this month at the 2018 Yoga Conference Show in Toronto. It’s quite an honour to be invited, she says, and it came about because her social media presence captured the attention of event organizers. She has a significant presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and has also been a guest on mainstream radio and television shows.

Sullivan’s formal training is in HR (she is a certified human resources leader), and she has seen first-hand the importance of mental wellness in the workplace. One developing part of her business, she says, is an increased focus on businesses that would benefit by offering training sessions about mindfulness to their employees. A growing body of research suggests that even a few minutes of a daily mindfulness practice is linked to lower stress levels, more positivity, better focus and creativity.

“Western culture tends to focus on cognitive approaches, but it is ­important to recognize that there is no separation between mind and body,” she says. “I focus on solution-based tools, and am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and helping to break the stigma surrounding addiction.”  Kym Wolfe