When local yoga teacher Annie Martinello was five years old, her mom asked her what she wanted to do as a grownup. “I’m not sure exactly, but I do know that I want to help others find happiness and peace in their lives,” she recalls saying.
Happiness—and the peace that comes with it—was the driving force behind a new program by the Sea to Sky Hospice. Guided and helmed by Annie Martinello, the yoga program began as a Compassionate Community initiative to support nurses and other caregivers in taking time for self-care. Hospice offered an online and in-person Lunch Break Yoga program for hospice staff and those with a family in the hospice, said Diana Gunstone, a program and volunteer coordinator with the Sea to Sky Hospice.
Diana was familiar with the work of Annie Martinello, a certified yoga therapist who has run Sacred Light Yoga in Squamish for over a decade. But Annie was far more than just a detached professional.
As someone who cares for her failing father, she could empathize with the nurses at the Sea to Sky hospice. Her professional work as a yoga therapist and her experience as a daughter agree. She knows from her personal experience that caregivers will give and give and give till they are emotionally and psychologically depleted.
“When we are caregiving, giving a lot of our time and support, we will be depleted. My dad has cancer, and I can tell that my mom is exhausted from caregiving,” she says.
Yoga therapy can give caregivers the tools they can use daily to find balance. Annie’s lunch break sessions last November showed nurses how to use breathwork and gentle body moments to relax the mind and body for balance. “We worked on breathing practices that bring that relaxation response in their body, and then we did some movements that were slow and gentle and focused on certain areas where they were holding the tension,” she explains. “You can see right away the moment they sit down, and you can tell that they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m getting taken care of,’ which I think is the biggest piece of the practices. That’s what I try to stress to people: this is self-care; it’s taking care of yourself.”
Support workers, Annie says, enjoyed the program as it gave them time to rest and rejuvenate. The way her students reacted physically also told her it was working.
“For me, it’s when I see the student’s body language during class when they let go and find rest and comfort. You can usually see this in the area of the shoulders when they drop down from the ears or soften towards the floor when lying down. You can also witness it in their faces when they are in a relaxing pose, and their face softens. These moments make me grateful that they are relaxing into their true nature and enjoying some self-connection time without any outer distractions,” Annie says.
Coordinator Diana Gunstone says the Sea to Sky Hospice plans to collaborate again with Annie in the Spring and Fall. “Compassion is at the heart of all we do for the community we serve,” she says. “We are growing our community by listening to individual needs and keeping them front of mind for all times.”