Growing number of men in outback mining hub of Mount Isa turning to yoga for mental health

Growing number of men in outback mining hub of Mount Isa turning to yoga for mental health
  • PublishedApril 1, 2024

Perched atop a rocky outcrop in outback Queensland, Shane Butler sits cross-legged, meditating as the sun sets over his home town.

As a burly, bearded underground miner, he is not who people might expect to be the face of yoga in the bush.

Living in the outback Queensland mining centre of Mount Isa, Mr Butler is among many men who spend years working underground, clocking in and out of exhausting 12-hour days.

Fatigued and trying to provide for his family, Mr Butler never spoke about the mental toll of mining in an isolated town.

“The working culture is taxing mentally and physically,” he said.

“It’s an 84-hour week without much break and then you have to balance that with your life, being a good dad, and running a budget — something has to give.”

a miner
Shane Butler says yoga helps him and others wind down after gruelling shift work.(ABC North West Qld: Grace Gilmore)

Statistics show Mr Butler is not alone.

According to suicide prevention group Mates In Mining, suicide rates in the mining and construction industry are higher than the general working population.

That rings true for Mr Butler, who says that for years he struggled to deal with feelings of anxiety.

“There’s a huge stigma when it comes to men and mental health.”

After trying yoga, Mr Butler found it so effective he decided to get his accreditation so he could start running classes for men.

“It was always about getting more men into it, helping to spread the word and share what I have felt. I had to put myself out there in order to gain that trust.”

a man doing a yoga pose
Shane Butler’s yoga program is aimed at breaking down stigmas around men’s mental health.(ABC North West Qld: Emily Dobson)

More men on the mats

Mr Butler’s budding yoga program “naMANste” is growing in popularity as word spreads among other male miners.

Class attendee and fellow underground miner Renata Carlson said it was hard to come to the first session.

“I had made every excuse not to come,” he said.

“The old ‘I can’t be bothered’, or ‘there’ll be too many people and I’ll be out of my comfort zone’ but now that I’ve done it, it’s been really great.”

a group of men smiling in a yoga studio
Men’s yoga is slowly gaining popularity in the mining town.(ABC North West Qld: Emily Dobson)

After spending a decade working underground in the Mount Isa mine, Mr Carlson said he was finally making his mental health a priority.

“I’ll look at this as another tool to help, like exercise and other stuff, this here is another tool in the old belt.”

men do yoga in a studio
The “naMANste” yoga program brings men together to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.(ABC North West Qld: Emily Dobson)

Outback mental health gap

Self-described “knockabout” bloke Tony “Tonka” Toholke has lived in the mining town for almost two decades.

After a personal mental health battle, he became an advocate for empowering other men to get help.

“In personal experience, the existing support for men in the outback is terrible,” he said.

“We need a greater focus on how to help men, and men need to be more open about seeking help.”

a man in hi-vis clothing smiles leaning against a truck
Men’s mental health advocate Tony “Tonka” Toholke has welcomed the yoga program.(ABC North West Qld: Grace Gilmore)

Mr Toholke said outback mining communities needed “all they could get” when it came to mental health services, particularly for men.

“What Shane and the guys are doing is bloody outstanding,” he said.

“I’d encourage anyone to go and have a crack [at yoga]. Have some fun with it and you might meet someone that you’re able to talk with.”


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