Yoga for vets: in conversation with Dr Chloe Hannigan of VetYogi

In recent years, the demanding and emotionally charged nature of veterinary care has drawn attention to the myriad of mental health challenges faced by professionals in the field. Recognising the need for effective self-care practices within the veterinary community, Dr Chloe Hannigan, a passionate yogi and experienced veterinarian, founded VetYogi

Combining her expertise in veterinary medicine and her love for yoga, Chloe aims to provide veterinary professionals with the tools and support they need to prioritise their mental well-being. 

In this interview, we delve into Chloe Hannigan’s journey, her insights into the benefits of yoga for mental health in the veterinary profession, and her motivations for launching VetYogi.

 What was the inspiration behind VetYogi? 

 “The entire inspiration for my business came from my own needs as a working vet,” Chloe begins.

 “In my role as a locum, I worked at a variety of vet practices with different colleagues from different backgrounds, across a few different countries in the world – and yet I saw the same problems repeat themselves again and again.” 

 When Chloe realised the challenges she was facing professionally were universal to the veterinary community, she was inspired to make a change. 

 How did you get into teaching yoga? 

 Chloe tells us that while she’s been practising yoga for several years, it wasn’t until she moved to Australia that it became a regular feature in her life. 

 “I couldn’t just reach out to family and friends at the end of a rubbish day because it was the middle of the night for them,” she explains.

 As a result, Chloe fell into yoga as a way of coping with the negative aspects of being a vet on the other side of the world. 

 “I also had a back injury fairly early on in my career, so yoga played a key role in helping me return to full health both physically and mentally.” 

 Feeling better than ever, Chloe figured it was only fair to share the benefits of yoga and meditation with the wider veterinary community.

“I wanted to train as a teacher myself because I think it’s important to deliver these sessions in a way that is evidence-based, appealing to scientific minds and most importantly, by someone who directly understands what people who work in veterinary go through daily.” 

 What unique challenges do veterinary professionals face in terms of mental health, and how do you help address those challenges? 

 “Firstly, we can’t lump everyone into one boat,” says Chloe, explaining that the challenges facing veterinary professionals are multifaceted as well as being unique to everyone. 

 “What I can do when talking about challenges as a vet, is relate back to my own experience with confidence; knowing that many of my colleagues have also experienced a lot of the things that I have.” 

 Dr Hannigan flags long working hours, shift work, emotionally charged clients and social media abuse as just a few of the stressors facing veterinary staff. 

 Can you describe the specific techniques or practices you incorporate into your yoga classes to address mental health concerns?

 When asked about technique, Chloe is keen to emphasise that yoga is multivalent and encompasses a variety of different ideas and practices. 

 “You may try one style of yoga which you soon find doesn’t resonate with you, but I can guarantee that there’ll be a style of yoga or meditation out there that suits everybody.”

 She highlights ‘mantra’ as one popular approach amongst her clients which uses chanting (which can be said out loud or repeated silently) to reduce stress and provide mental clarity. 

 From conferences to virtual classes, VetYogi teaches a variety of classes in a variety of different ways to ensure everyone feels engaged and able to participate. 

How do you tailor your yoga classes to accommodate the busy veterinary professional? 

 “VetYogi try to provide content and classes that are accessible for people to do when they most need it. Whilst it’s amazing that people can make time to go to a yoga class or step onto their mats and join an online class for an hour, we know that that is not always possible, both due to time commitments and energy levels.

 “I bloody love yoga, but even I don’t want to do a full class or anything too exerting after doing a 15-hour night shift,” she laughs. 

 “I’m more realistically going to do five to 10 minutes to help wind help wind myself down before I have to try and go to sleep at eight o’clock in the morning or whatever it is.” 

Chloe tells us she is keen to encourage people to participate in short yoga exercises, lasting five minutes or less during their lunch breaks – even if it’s just a breathing technique to help wind down after a bad interaction with a consultant or before a complex procedure. 

 “Our whole aim is to make yoga meditation accessible to the vet community.” 

 How do you tailor your yoga classes to accommodate the varying skill levels?

 “I always make sure that people are aware of the overall theme of the session before they come along so that they know what they’re walking into,” Chloe says.

 When browsing the VetYogi Collective website, visitors can decide what kind of class they want to attend; whether that be something fast-paced and physically demanding or a low-intensity class that is going to promote rest and recovery. Each class is tagged as either ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’ level. 

 She also tells us she places great importance on making all of her classes a “judgement-free space” where people of all abilities feel comfortable and supported. 

 Letting go of judgement can be a particular struggle for those in the veterinary sphere, she adds, explaining that veterinary professionals are typically hard-wired to be competitive and self-critical. 

 “Yoga allows us to treat ourselves with a bit of kindness and compassion.” 

 On the launch of the VetYogi Collective 

 “We’ve just launched our new on-demand online yoga meditation service for the vet profession which is called the VetYogi Collective,” Chloe beams. 

 “I’m very proud of it. It’s essentially a big library of yoga classes and meditation of varying styles. We’ve got classes that are less than five minutes, all the way up to 90-minute sessions.” 

The membership level also includes unlimited access to all of VetYogi’s online content, as well as a monthly live yoga meditation class with one of the teachers. 

She tells us that the VetYogi Collective provides bespoke content that is appealing to everyone, so whether you work as a veterinary surgeon, vet nurse, student, or receptionist, you can choose a class tailored to address the specific stressors in your role.  

 With the launch of this virtual platform, Chloe hopes people can start making yoga a habit rather than a “tick box exercise”. 

 What is the format of your classes? 

 Chloe takes us through the format of a standard class, explaining that each session starts with centering and breathwork to help people “arrive” on their yoga mats and let go of the day. 

 “Early poses will definitely be more of a warm-up, it depends on the class really – but there’s always a little bit of time to let your body unwind and register what we are going to prioritise in that session,” she says. 

 The main body of the class then focuses on physical aspects and is rounded off with further breathwork.

 “Matching movement to breath is such a big part of what we do,” Chloe emphasises. 

 Can you explain the connection between the physical and mental aspects of yoga and how it can benefit veterinary professionals in both areas?

 “There are multiple publications that support the various benefits of yoga, meditation, and breathwork in terms of how it can help deal with things like stress, anxiety, insomnia, or poor sleep.” 

 “The list is pretty endless,” says Dr Hannigan, listing improved body awareness, flexibility, and cardiovascular health as further examples. 

 She reminds us that yoga is most valuable when you are open to exploring what you want to get out of it – then you can choose a technique that targets the specific physical problem or mental health challenge you may be dealing with. 

 What kind of results have you seen from veterinary professionals who have participated in your yoga classes?

 While receiving verbal and written feedback is always lovely, Chloe says seeing the difference in her clients from when they arrive to when they finally “give themselves permission to unwind and rest” is the best form of feedback you can hope for as a yoga teacher. 

 “It’s always really rewarding when you hear from people just how much of an impact it’s having on their lives and wellbeing, especially when they might not have considered trying yoga before hearing of us.” 

 What would you say to someone interested in yoga but anxious to get started? 

 “I would encourage them to ask themselves why they might be feeling that anxiety, because that will often give you indications of what you most need to get out of your yoga.” 

 Whether it’s flexibility issues, nerves or emotional trauma from work holding you back, Chloe says identifying the root cause can help you realise which aspects of your life need attention and care.

 “Learning to listen to what your body actually needs and not get tied up in that negative thought loop can be really beneficial,” she concludes. 

 To find out more about joining the VetYogi Collective, make sure to check out the VetYogi website today.

If work is starting to take a toll on your mental well-being, it is crucial to seek advice from a medical professional such as your GP. 

Need someone to talk to? You can call the VetLife helpline at any time on 0303 040 2551 for free and confidential support. Alternatively, register here if you would rather get in touch via email.