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UM Student Uses Yoga to Help End Stigma of Mental Illness

By Keevie Smith
Hottytoddy.com intern

Scientific research has proven that yoga yields positive benefits for mental health, including anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Victoria Bressler said she uses yoga as a way to improve her mental health. She wants to open her own studio one day. Photo by Sarah Byron.

Victoria Bressler, a junior at the University of Mississippi, says yoga helped improve her mental health. Growing up in Orlando, Florida, Bressler started practicing yoga in high school, completed her teacher training last year and now teaches or practices almost every day at different studios in Oxford.

She was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD in 10th grade due to childhood stress that stemmed from her dad’s suicide that occurred when she was in the third grade. 

“Yoga helps me to breathe,” Bressler said. “I think part of the reason why I was able to stop taking my medicine two months ago was because of yoga. It helps me sort things in my brain so they aren’t as overwhelming. I can just focus on my breath and that is all that matters.”

Going through yoga teacher training last year is what gave Bressler the confidence and freedom to own her story and share it with others, she said. Since then, she has used the University of Mississippi Active Minds chapter as one of her platforms to open up to the community.

Active Minds was founded in 2003 at the University of Pennsylvania and has since grown into over 450 chapters on different college and high school campuses internationally. The organization’s mission is to change the conversation surrounding mental health. While Bressler does not hold an executive position in Active Minds, she regularly shares their posts and supports their event “Humans of Ole Miss.”

“I support Active Minds because I think what they are doing on campus is powerful,” Bressler said. “The stigmas surrounding mental health need to be stopped, and in order for this to happen people need to be educated on mental health. Active Minds strives to achieve this.”

Active Minds gave Bressler a platform, but it was her yoga teachers and friends who have supported her over the years and allowed her to take steps forward to embrace her story. One of her yoga mentors and teachers, Hollon Beasley, has seen Bressler grow since she first started her practice in high school.

“Victoria is such a bright soul,” Beasley said. “I have watched her from the beginning, and she has always been a healer and a comforter. She has grown so much as a person since she began practicing, and yoga has allowed her to confront her anxiety and process life better.”

Bressler has taken what her mentors have poured into her and turned it into her own practice. She is now able to give back to others through teaching. One student, Allie Herbert, said she has learned a lot from Bressler.

“Victoria teaches with confidence and teaches me how to really focus on simply breathing,” Herbert said. “I love taking her class because she is someone I can look up to and who shows me what it looks like to be unapologetically yourself.”

Bressler has had a positive impact on yoga students in Oxford, and she has big plans for expanding her area of influence, she said. As a speech pathology major, she wants to use her education and yoga practice in hopes to eventually open a studio that combines the two.

“I want to try and find a way to incorporate yoga and speech pathology with kids, because I think that when kids are in speech therapy they get frustrated when they can’t say something correctly which produces anger and anxiety,” Bressler said. “I think yoga can give them the ability to work through their speech disability in a healthy way. It may even be able to help them reach their goals faster because of the mind-body connection yoga provides.”

Bressler said she will continue to use yoga as a way to deal with her emotions and mental health in a positive way.

“Yoga has helped heal and continues to heal many wounds in my life,” she said. “It has shown me that I am not alone in my struggles. I would encourage anyone and everyone to try a yoga class. Just walk in with an open mind, find your space and breathe.”

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