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Downward dog, upward wellbeing

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When Chloe Hannigan experienced a tough time during her veterinary training, she turned to yoga to help her cope – as Claire Read explains.

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The first time Chloe Hannigan tried yoga, she wasn’t impressed. ‘I actually hated it,’ she admits now with a laugh. ‘I was 16 and found it all really boring – I played for all different sports teams at the time, so thought how is this even a workout? I found I couldn’t turn my brain off, and just thought it was a waste of time.’

That Chloe now works as a yoga teacher as well as a locum vet will tell you that her opinion of yoga – which focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing with the aim of bolstering both physical and mental wellbeing – is now somewhat different.

This section is supported by the VDS and is aimed at improving the efficiency and wellbeing of vets. Encouraging you to have a more balanced life outside of work.

The change came in her third year as a vet student. ‘I had a moment where I thought I didn’t want to be a vet any more. Which was very hard to deal with, when all I’d wanted to be since I was six years old was a vet.’

She was actively seeking something that might help her cope with this ‘down period’ and yoga proved to be it.

‘I decided to give it another go and it was a different experience for me.

‘I think I was in a place to be more receptive to it. When I was 16 I didn’t need it in the same way – I hadn’t experienced any mental health issues back then, and most 16 year olds can bounce back from most things. Whereas when I was 21, I was actively looking for something that could help, and it did.’

While it is fair to say that the quality of research on yoga varies, there are studies which suggest it is beneficial for health – including mental wellbeing. For Chloe, its main benefit is time away from being a vet and the opportunity for some perspective.

‘It gives me time to switch my thoughts off and see how I actually feel about things, rather than just getting swept along in the general stress of it all.’

Yoga and meditation can really help with resilience if a change of scene isn’t possible

Through her teaching, this is something she now tries hard to pass on to others who are working in the profession – in any capacity. ‘My yoga and meditation classes aren’t just for vets,’ Chloe emphasises. ‘They’re for nurses, receptionists, vets’ partners, anyone really.’

The aim, she says, is to make her veterinary colleagues’ yoga mats ‘a little space of refuge’.

‘I know if you’re in a down patch at work, and you know things aren’t going to change for a while, it can be really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But yoga and meditation can really help with resilience if a change of scene isn’t possible.

‘The years I’ve been practising yoga regularly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I just love being a vet again,’ she reflects. ‘I have the tools to deal with the downsides of the job now.’

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