This week we caught up with author and yoga teacher, Tania Plahay, in the second in our series of interviews with 2019 FHT Training Congress expert speakers. Tania tells us about her career change from civil service to offering yoga therapy for clients with dementia, and why it is important to do the things you love.
Q. Tell us a bit of background about yourself…
I first got into yoga in my late teens when I was living in London. When I was 18, I moved in with my father to help care for him after he had a stroke. Previously, my father was in a nursing home, where I remember visiting and feeling a deep sense of sadness about the lack of activities and engagement in the home. My father passed away when I was 21, but this sadness has always stayed with me. My grandmother was also living with dementia during the final part of her life.
During my 20s and early 30s, I had a career in the civil service, but continued my yoga practice as a hobby. In 2010, I trained to be a yoga teacher, which increased my knowledge about the wider therapeutic benefits of yoga. After my teacher training, I wanted to spread the joy and grounding I had found to other people. In particular, those that did not have easy access to yoga.
Q. Give us an insight in to your normal day-to-day schedule…
During my research project and when writing my book, Yoga for Dementia, my normal day-to-day schedule would look at little like this:
On a Friday morning I would go and volunteer at my local nursing home. This would involve preparing a class, which could cater for a wide range of clients including those living with dementia, heart conditions, and high blood pressure. This class would last around 40 minutes and we would perform a range of movements and breathing exercises. After the class, I would review any learning points. My afternoons sometimes involved going to another residential home to train some of the activities managers.
My current schedule includes spending time doing my own daily yoga practice, as well as reading about yoga and the latest research into the medical benefits of yoga. I try to keep up to date with the constantly evolving information about dementia and its effects. I am putting together training resources for other people who want to introduce yoga in residential care settings. Some of my regular classes are with older clients in a residential home.
Q. What interests you outside of work?
I have already gone through one complete career change from a civil servant to a yoga teacher and educator. Therefore, my current work, on aging, dementia, yoga and meditation was previously my hobby. In my spare time I still really enjoy delving deeper into these topics. There is a quote that goes something along the lines of ‘choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ Although I still have to do things I consider ‘work’, I consider myself very lucky that I truly love what I do.
As well as yoga I am interested in cross training and functional movement, and I love the great outdoors. I particularly enjoy hiking, running and swimming in the sea.
To relax I love cooking healthy vegetarian food, watching a series on TV, and spending time with my partner and rescue dogs.
Q. What is your Training Congress seminar about?
In the UK there are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. Many complementary, beauty, and sports therapists have the ability to help this group feel well, relax, and practice self-care. However, I believe that many therapists may have reservations about working with those living with dementia or may not know where to start approaching or talking to this client group.
My seminar provides five key tips to working with people living with Dementia. These tips are based on my work in researching and writing my book, Yoga for Dementia.
Q. What is it about your topic that appeals to you and why is it useful for therapists?
According to a new study (November 2018) published in The Lancet Neurology, the number of people living with dementia globally has more than doubled between 1990 and 2016. By 2050 more than 100 million people globally could be living with dementia related diseases. The study also shows that some of these outcomes can be attributed to four key lifestyle related risk factors: being overweight, having high blood sugar, consuming a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, and smoking. Other studies show that stress can increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment.
The 2018 study calls for community-based services that support improved quality of life and function. I believe that many complementary therapists can help enhance the quality of life and function of people living with cognitive impairment. How we feel in our bodies can have a huge impact on our mental well-being. There are many opportunities for therapists to work with those living with dementia and other cognitive impairments. These may include helping clients to use their bodies more effectively, helping people to relax, or helping them to feel well.
The study also explains that dementia develops over at least 20 to 30 years before it is diagnosed. I therefore believe that there is also an advocacy role for therapists working with those at risk of dementia in their middle years. Therapists can provide people with simple tools and self-care practices, such as massage, exercise and dietary advice, to help reduce stress and make better choices.
Q. What will attendees of your seminar expect to come away with?
Attendees of my seminar will come away with five top tips to working with those living with dementia. If you have never worked with anyone living with dementia before, I will provide some information about what you might expect. I will also look at common fears of working with this group, and how we can overcome these. We will explore a little about working within the framework of families, communities, and institutions and how we communicate. After the seminar you will have a better idea about the challenges and opportunities of working with this group.
My intention for those that come to the seminar is that at the end of the seminar they will feel much more confident about expanding their client base to include those living with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment.
Q. Are there any other seminars in the programme which look particularly interesting to you?
Yes, I am very interested in the role complementary therapists can play in holistic wellbeing and how they can work alongside conventional medicine. Therefore, I am interested in Dr Toh Wong’s seminar on ‘Five main reasons why therapists don’t get referrals from GPs and the medical profession’ and Julie Crossman’s on ‘The role of the complementary therapist within the NHS’.
I also use guided meditation, visualisation and yoga nidra a lot in my work, so I’m interested in Anna-Louise Haigh’s seminar on ‘Guided meditation – experience the power to transform’.
Q. What would be your one piece of advice for therapists wanting to grow and develop their therapy practice?
My best piece of advice relates to following your heart and focusing on doing what you love. This might mean thinking outside the box, such as considering if there are underserved population groups in your area. I would recommend reflecting on your expertise, and if you have any particular interests you would like to pursue more.
When we are enthusiastic about something and following our hearts, this enthusiasm can become infectious and others can pick up on this. I would also advise not shying away from social media. I use my Yoga for Dementia Facebook page to share articles and posts I find interesting. It is great as it is an easy reference resource and also helps to develop a community around a topic of interest.
You can purchase a copy of Tania’s book via its publishers, Jessica Kingsley. Use the code PLAHAY for a 20% discount from now until 9 March.
Join us at the 2019 FHT Training Congress from Sunday 19 to Monday 20 May at the Holistic Health Show, NEC Birmingham.
For more details about the talks and to book, visit fht.org.uk/congress
Look out for an article by Tania Plahay in the next issue of International Therapist.