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What is Trauma? And Why is It Important to Know for a Yoga Teacher?

By Katia Shulga for Yoga Medicine®.

When I started researching trauma in literature over 10 years ago, I had no idea how wide-spread the concept of trauma would become, and I didn’t think much about its influence on my yoga teaching and practice either. To me, it was just something that belonged to psychology research and cultural studies. This has all changed in recent years. We have seen a steady increase in books, articles, talks, workshops and trainings on yoga and trauma. There is trauma- sensitive yoga, trauma informed yoga, yoga for PTSD and so forth. It is becoming as important for a yoga teacher to be aware of trauma as of hypermobility or joint issues. This is great, but also complex, because it is easy to think that trauma is one thing and one thing only, when in fact it’s unique to each person and each experience. This makes it harder to say what yoga for trauma should look like. On the other hand, we also know that not all hypermobility is addressed with the same pose adjustments, so perhaps it’s the same approach we need to apply here.

So, what exactly is trauma? We can simplify trauma to say that it’s an experience, or a collection of experiences, that impact our nervous system, so that it becomes trapped in a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Bessel van der Kolk explains it as: “something that overwhelms your coping capacities”, Peter Levine defines it as: “an overwhelm of our natural defensive responses that creates something like an injury in our autonomic nervous system, which affects its ability to self-regulate”, and Judith Herman says: “Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life”.

A good example to think of is how animals in nature respond to danger, attacking their predator, freezing so that they become unseen or running away. Animals tend to release these events from their bodies relatively quickly afterwards by shaking, but if the danger persists, they become traumatized in the same way as people do. Think of a dog that has been neglected or abused, what’s its body language like? How will it respond to a stranger coming over to it? How would you approach it? This is similar for people who have experienced trauma, but it’s often less overt. Sometimes, they may not be aware of it themselves, or that their reactions are anything out of the ordinary. This is why it is important for yoga teachers to be aware of the many ways in which trauma manifests in people’s bodies and minds, especially if we do hands on assists.

The difficulty with trauma is that it is experienced in different ways by different people, not one singular event is inherently traumatizing. As Dr Gabor Mate suggests, “Something bad has happened to you, or not enough good things have happened to you.” Some people come away from a terrifying accident completely unharmed, others carry the event within them, unable to process it. Therefore, we shouldn’t assume that trauma is expressed the same way by different people. Cultural, generational, and gender issues impact this as well, adding to the complexity. Knowing this, it becomes apparent that there isn’t one way of approaching trauma in the context of yoga – what may be soothing to one nervous system, may not be for another. Restorative yoga may be healing for some but triggering for others, same for any style of yoga. So what can we do?

Well, there are some simple things that can make any yoga class more conducive to trauma healing. The teaching space has to be one of exploration of connection, but within a safe structure. This may seem paradoxical, but the most important thing we can create in a yoga space is a sense of safety so that the nervous system can start to let go of some of its hypervigilance, and therefore start to explore what it’s like to be in the body. Simple ways to establish safety is being clear about what you will do in the class, what the sequence is, where you will place yourself in the room, whether you will turn the lights off or not during Savasana and why you may look at someone’s pose. All it takes is a couple of words stating: “We will do X, I will be walking around making sure your practice is anatomically safe, and during Savasana I will play some music/turn off lights etc.” And it’s paramount to be clear about time, always being on time and finishing on time is an underestimated technique for creating safety. It develops trust that you will do, what you say you will do.

Some other aspects of yoga may be both more triggering and more healing, and it’s a fine line to walk, knowing that we all may get it wrong from time to time. This is where it gets more complicated. One of the profoundly healing qualities of yoga is its ability to cultivate a connection between body and mind. Often, trauma separates the connection to the body, or makes the body an unsafe place to be, for a variety of reasons. As van der Kolk explains, “Trauma is actually NOT the story of what happened a long time ago; trauma is residue that’s living inside of you now; trauma lives inside of you in horrible sensations, panic reactions, uptightness, explosions, and impulses. Because trauma lives inside of you, getting to know yourself can be the scariest thing to do.” The invitation to experience the practice from within, is where the experimentation and exploration part comes in. As a teacher, you are slowly coaxing and inviting the person to connect to what it may be like to sense the body.

This doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact, it may be very simple, yet profound. Some embodiment practices that we may want to incorporate, and that we may already use, are as simple as feeling the breath and the movement of ribs, with hands on ribs. This combination of interoception (feeling from the inside) and proprioception (feeling from the outside) is a simple link that can bring the person back to the sensation of being in their body. Deep breaths are always good as well! Feeling feet on the floor, inviting the students to touch their own skin to feel the boundaries of their bodies, feeling the sensations of hands pressing into each other, all of these small things can be some of manageable and digestible moments of when a person returns to their body and is able to experience the union of body and mind.

One thing that we must be aware of with trauma, beyond anything else or any training that we do, is our own traumas and how we harbor them in our bodies. Working with our own traumas as teachers, is probably the best thing we can do to provide a safe space for our students. Seeking support in holding space for our own trauma will help us in holding space for other people’s traumas.

How Does Yoga Affect the Different Systems in the Body?

How does yoga affect the different systems in the body?

When we look at the research and breakdown how yoga can be helpful, we’re still really just barely touching the tip of the iceberg when we talk about being able to explain it.

The Nervous System

The effects of yoga on sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation and circulation are a big part of the effects of a yoga practice that we can explain right now. Our capacity to efficiently & effectively regulate stress and recalibrate the nervous system responses and increase blood flow. Interestingly enough a large number of pharmaceuticals target the nervous system to create their responses and yet we actually still know very little about the nervous system and the brain.

Then there’s the flip-side. The sympathetic also gets a bad rep. New research also shows that the power of stressing the system is really important to our health & longevity, with things like intermittent fasting and athletic training being examples. What’s important is that we can rise to the challenge and then smoothly transition back to a more parasympathetic dominant state. With such a diversity of movement and more introspective practices, yoga is an excellent way to train these shifts in the nervous system.

The Brain

The mind & mental health are a huge part of the effects we see from a regular yoga practice. In fact one the things that makes researching yoga so difficult is that so often prompts positive lifestyle changes from these mental shifts. A regular yoga practice changes the lens through which we see the world by creating a more nonjudgmental appreciation for what’s within & around us. It allows us moments to sit in the middle and watch the waves of our lives around us, which is a big part of its use in stress reduction.

It’s fascinating to look at the placebo studies coming out of Harvard and how we look at placebo as a negative outcome rather than the power of the mind. The importance of our perspective, our mindset, our purpose, setting an intention with practice, all these really simple things are also a big part of what’s shaping the effects of our practice. We’re learning so much more about the brain and how powerful it is in regulating so many things, including pain and our experience in the world.

The Immune System

With all the super bugs and viruses right now, the immune and lymphatic impacts of a yoga practice are precious modalities. There are so many great ways to support the immune system with yoga. Simple stress reduction, pranayama and gentle flow for lymphatic circulation; or more specific movements to target the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes intelligently congregate around the joints and rely on changes in pressure to pump lymphatic fluid through them. Movements targeted to these areas help to pump fluids through the lymph nodes and the lymph flow through the nodes is an important part of our immune function.

I love seeing how new research supports these things and the implications of how important the flow of the lymphatic fluid is to supporting the immune system. It just comes down to digging in a little deeper to understand how it all works in order to create a purposeful practice to support lymphatics.

The Connective Tissue

Connective tissue research is teaching us a lot and much of that information can be applied to a yoga practice. I believe the next wave of sports medicine will build off of this new info.

There are so many implications to support the connective tissue in yoga. We find simple things like eccentric contractions, slow flow and held passive stretches as a great way to apply a healthy stress to the connective tissues which help hydrate the connective tissue and stimulates the cells to lay down more collagen, making the tissues stronger & more resilient.

There’s some interesting research on the impacts we can have on the connective tissue and the implications in yoga. Yin yoga has some interesting applications in particular. Imagine the connective tissue right under the skin like a sponge. If you think about pulling that sponge from both ends—and they’ve done studies on this—the fluid content of the fascia goes down right away. Then as you come out, once you’ve stayed in for two minutes or longer, the fluids come back into the connective tissue, to where they were and then keep increasing beyond that for up to three hours afterwards.

There’s a whole lot more to the connective tissue, but that gives you a quick peek into one area of research. Yoga is such a big part of this and since the connective tissue is a sensory organ and a key part of our proprioception and interoception there are many more connections to how yoga can benefit the connective tissues.

Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!

What is Pain Education and How Can Yoga Help Us Understand Our Pain?

What is pain education and how can yoga help us understand our pain?

There’s some interesting research out of Australia with Professor Lorimer Moseley and Professor David Butler on how pain education changes pain. I think teaching mindfulness is such an important foundation when working with pain as it allows us to peel away the filters of our past experiences as we shift to this nonjudgmental attention.

We actually don’t have pain receptors in our tissues, we have nociceptors, which are basically just sensing extreme changes in pressure, temperature & chemicals, and relaying that information back to our brain. Our brain is then filtering that against all of its past experiences, emotions and beliefs about pain or fear of pain. It’s filtering all these things and then predicting whether there is an inherent danger to the system. So ultimately the nerves are actually danger receptors, protecting us from harm to our tissues.

The interesting thing about that is that our brain is always going to air on the side of safety and protection. The feelings that we feel don’t always match up with the threat to the tissues, especially in chronic pain when the mechanical issues are long gone. For me, this is where yoga becomes such a really important tool; being able to slow down and peel away the filters of our emotional body & past experiences to sit with the experience (safely of course). Is there actually a threat or danger? Can I relax here and see if it’s still there?

Pain is in some ways our greatest teacher. If something is painful, can I go slower and allow it to shift? If I go slower and it’s still there, what is it trying to teach me? Maybe I shouldn’t be moving there. Maybe not every day. Maybe that changes tomorrow. The idea of being able to look and take away the judgment, take away the reactions, the emotional reactivity of it, and really look at this experience and remind ourselves of the fact that we all experience stress. We all suffer. We all experience pain.

Empowering our students to understand their bodies rather than be afraid of it, is really an important & empowering part of our practice.

Fear-based approaches never benefit anyone. “Don’t do this or you’re going to hurt this.” We need to empower our students to be advocates of their health and empower them to appreciate pain as a learning opportunity. To respect it by slowing down enough to listen and adapt rather than pushing through.

Pain is a precious signal and a brilliant and intelligent system that is constantly adapting. Pain education is an interesting field that we’re still learning so much about.

Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!

How do Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yoga Complement Each Other?

How do Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga complement each other, and how does it inform you as a yoga teacher?
 

For me, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) really helps to decode the individual I’m working with. We often talk about it as the root and the branches. The root is someone’s unique individual makeup, their constitution, versus the branches being the symptoms.

Maybe someone has headaches, indigestion & back pain, but underneath it, in Chinese medicine, we’re looking at the root diagnosis of what’s driving those symptoms. I always compare it to a game of Connect The Dots. When someone comes to you as a yoga teacher and they say “I have back pain, what should I do?” I always joke in our trainings that that’s just one dot, it’s just one piece of information that doesn’t tell me that much about the person and what’s really going on.

In some ways it’s harder when teachers leave our trainings because now they have so much information swimming on their head. We can give general things that can be generally helpful, but without knowing someone, without getting more dots, I don’t really know who this person is to build or draw the picture of what’s going on and what might be most helpful to them as a whole person.

For instance, you might have 20 people coming with headaches in Chinese medicine, but will potentially have a different cause and a different approach needed. With headaches, some people find inversions make their headaches better, some find that makes it terribly worse. Some find that movement helps or makes it worse. There are so many things to adjust.

Rather than starting from scratch and trying all of those options, I can collect information from the person and sketch a picture in my head to support them more uniquely & three dimensionally.

Then of course, like anything, I have to start to move forward and, err on the safer side so that I don’t make things worse, experiment and see what helps. Even the best theory, whether that’s western medicine or eastern medicine, still has to be tested out. Not everyone’s going to respond in a perfect way.

The great thing about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that the meridians tie into this to give us more physical access points to work with in the practice and the asana. It’s really helpful.

I feel like for those in yoga, so many of the yogic books are a great reference for “do this for headaches or do this for this.” But it’s not that straightforward, so I really like teaching yoga teachers how to decode and individualize their work to the student in front of them to make what they do really potent.

Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!

Growing Mindful Partnerships in the Midst of Mayhem

Actionable steps we can all take now to come out of chaos stronger.

How extreme are these times? We are urged to physically distance ourselves in public and yet many of us find ourselves at home in close proximity to our partners and children. We are disconnected from our local community and extended family, but technology provides an extended sense of community outside of our walls. Life and routine is interrupted. 

Within our home, the stress and closeness can literally bring us together or exacerbate any underlying issues that our relationships might have been hiding. Globally, divorce rates and domestic abuse have spiked worldwide since Coronavirus appeared. On the flip side, experts predict an increase child births in the next 7-9 months.

“This pandemic is not treating everyone equally,” says Atlanta-based family and marriage therapist Sadé Ferrier. “Some couples are feeling the walls close in as pre-existing friction intensifies while others are relieved to slow down, talk more, and gaze into one another’s eyes.”

Ferrier says the one thing we have is common is that we are now faced with the current core temperature of our relationship. 

“Most distractions have been stripped away, making the status of your relationship more evident,” says the intimacy expert. “It’s a good thing. Whether you realize you need to address years of hidden wounds, or you realize that you truly do enjoy one another and need to make more space for reconnection.”

Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel suggests that we use this time “cocooning” to hone in on the people who really matter to you. Instead of bracing for the worst, we can embrace this opportunity in close quarters to build connection. Here are some ways to get started:

Set a Relationship Meeting

The idea of a meeting may sound tedious, but setting aside time for it is important. Often our mundane business of marriage, family or relationship infiltrates our day-to-day living. And now with this pandemic, it’s even more important to have a check in. 

You and your partner should schedule an agreed time once a week to discuss schedules, finances, home maintenance, planning, etc. Keep to an agenda for the meeting and keep it to a set time. This opens up your other time together for just fun and more effective ways of getting closer and building rapport. We actually have two meetings in our family — our marriage meeting and our weekly family meeting. The latter always ends in us playing some game or activity together. 

Make it Last

Collectively, our kisses and hugs are just too fleeting to have an impact on our brain and hormonal system. Science suggests a 6-second kiss, lips to lips. And for hugs, a full-on 20-second hug with each person supporting their own weight. The benefits are numerous from heart health and stronger immune system to the release of positive feel good hormones throughout the body.

Renown family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”  In our marriage, we take this literally. My husband and I run a business together and on especially stressful days, we make it a game to stop and get a hug and reach our twelve. 

Give Each Other Space

All this togetherness, can be too much togetherness! Take time out for yourself and use it to set your own personal goals and daydream about your aspirations. Maybe even try journaling. The key is that you know yourself intimately. Ask yourself questions about who you want to be? And what do you want to do with your life that is fulfilling? Find a way to connect and express yourself. 

I highly recommend listening to Perel’s new four part workshop to help you learn how to navigate this time for yourself and your relationship with others. 

Intimacy Challenge

About a year ago, our trusted marriage adviser Dr. Mike issued us an intimacy challenge.

The goal: aim for 30 minutes a day cuddling, two times a week make out sessions that never ended in intercourse. In fact, we had to wait after 24 hours after a make out session to have sex! My husband and I had to set clear, ahem, rules of engagement. I definitely thought to myself that we would nail this challenge but we have found it challenging. And to this date, we have fun trying, and sometimes failing, to hit our goals. 

Seek Out the Different, Fun and Funny 

Even though we find ourselves limited in resources right now, try to be creative. Set up a picnic, dress up more than usual, arrange a dance party, or dinner by candlelight. 

Ferrier tells her clients to be sure to “add the element of playfulness. Touch should be fun – whether that be the fun of passion and intensity, or the fun of giggling and tickle fights.”

Lastly, don’t be afraid to laugh. Watch a funny movie, play a family game, but just find a way to laugh with each other.

Seek Outside Help 

Not everyone is experiencing harmony at home, and some of these tactics may be met with resistance or unable to get started. Or it is possible that a partner is too triggered with anxiety to reciprocate. It might be time to reach out virtually to a marriage counselor who can help you come to an understanding. 

Visit websites like BetterHelp and Psychology Today to screen counselors’ profiles. 

Ferrier recommends that couples should ask therapists what percentage of their clients are couples and what their specialities are. “Online counseling has unique differences, and you’ll have more success navigating this as a couple if your counselor is already skilled in couples counseling,” she adds.

Ayurveda In 2020: Why This 5,000-Year-Old Practice Is Still As Relevant As Ever

By Julia Guerra for MindBodyGreen.

If you’re an avid yogi, swear by oil pulling, practice intermittent fasting, or sip warm lemon water first thing in the morning, you’re one of many people subscribing to the ancient practices of ayurveda

Ayurvedic values can be applied to every aspect of life—from physical health to mental well-being, beauty rituals, and diet. “The literal definition of ayur is ‘life’ and veda is ‘knowledge,'” ayurvedic health counselor and Yoga Medicine instructor Cristina Kuhn tells mbg. “[It] is the knowledge of life or the knowledge of how to maintain health in daily life and therefore support longevity.” 

And it’s hardly a recent development. Ayurvedic expert Shrankhla Holecek, MBA, tells mbg that the first teachings of ayurveda are documented in the vedas—Indian scriptures on spirituality and life that trace back over 5,000 years. They describe what modern medicine is just beginning to grasp: That the mind and body are intricately connected, and one of the most effective ways to heal and transform the body is through the mind.

Here are 10 modern well-being practices that actually stem from this ancient mind-body medicine.

10 Practices That Have Roots in Ayurveda:

 

1. Oil Pulling

You know the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul”? Well, according to ancient Indian practices, the mouth is the mirror that reflects a person’s general health, which is where oil pulling comes in. Cited in ancient ayurvedic texts Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, oil pulling is the act of swishing oil in the mouth to promote oral cleanliness.

“[Oil pulling can help with] ridding the mouth of ama (excess impurities and toxins), freshening breath, and even whitening the teeth,” explains Holecek. “It can also feel like a massage on the gums and tongue.” It’s recommended that oil pulling be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, for up to (ideally) 20 minutes straight. 

There isn’t enough scientific evidence to definitively say that oil pulling is beneficial for oral hygiene, but the morning ritual has nonetheless affected Western culture. Even celebrities like Ashley Benson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Miranda Kerr swear by the practice.

2. Drinking Water at Room Temperature

According to ayurvedic protocol, gulping down ice water is a no-go. “Ayurveda does recommend sipping water during meals,” Holecek says, adding that the temperature of that water depends on your dosha, or energetic type—preferably warm for kaphas and vatas, room temperature water for pittas. “[But] sipping is the operative word here as the ideal state of your stomach post-consumption of a meal should be a third each of water, air, and food.”

The healthy habit of drinking lemon water first thing in the morning is also rooted in ayurveda. The nutrients in the lemon are thought to help stimulate stomach acid and aid in digestion.

3. Tongue Scraping

Unlike oil pulling, the benefits of jiwa prakshalana, or tongue scraping, are backed by scientific evidence and encouraged by health experts. 

“When we sleep, our digestive system remains awake, removing toxins from our body by depositing them onto the surface of our tongue,” Gillian Mandich, M.S., Ph.D., previously told mbg. The benefits of tongue scraping include preventing halitosis (aka bad breath), boosting your immunity, improving your dental health overall, and enhancing your sense of taste. If you don’t scrape away these toxins, however, “they get reabsorbed by the body and can lead to respiratory difficulties, digestive problems, and a compromised immune system,” Mandich warns.

4. Eating a Balanced Diet

Eating an abundance of whole foods is one of the most foundational elements of ayurveda. However, unlike most ways of eating, ayurveda’s system focuses on not only what we eat but how we eat it.

“Ayurveda teaches us that not only is the quality of the food we consume essential for health, but how we connect with food is just as important to our well-being,” explains clinical herbalist Lindsay Kluge, M.S., CNS, LDN. Cooking, working with fresh ingredients, sharing meals with loved ones, and eating mindfully (chewing slowly, identifying the different flavors, smelling what’s on your plate, etc.) all help make food so medicinal in ayurveda.

5. Intermittent Fasting 

Those practicing ayurveda try to live in alignment with their circadian rhythm. This internal clock tells us when to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, and it cues us to eat our first and last meals of the day.  

“[According to ayurveda,] we are best served to align our daily routines, as well as modern wellness strategies to leverage these default functions,” certified yoga and ayurveda health coach Carly Banks tells mbg. One of these strategies is intermittent fasting, which requires eating during a time-restricted window. (You could eat for eight hours, then fast for 16, for example.) Recently, Western culture especially has embraced this way of eating as a tool for weight loss, glucose tolerance, immune system support, and brain functionality.  

“What has long been theorized in ayurveda and is now proven by modern science is when the sun is highest in the sky, our digestion is at its strongest,” Banks explains. “When aligning this approach to ayurveda and circadian living, that eight-hour window specifically becomes 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the largest meal being taken at noon.”

6. Dry Brushing

Ayurveda educator Salila Sukumaran tells mbg that while dry brushing isn’t directly an ayurveda ritual, it is a Western interpretation of the ayurvedic practice called udwarthanam

Udwarthanam or ubtan is the equivalent [of dry brushing],” says Sukumaran. “It is a massaging of the body with dry powders made of sweet spices and mung pastes, mustard paste, etc., to wash off the excess oils, to soften and reduce cellulite, and to help strengthen the body.”

Udwarthanam is often administered in ayurvedic healing centers, but the practice of dry brushing can also be done at home using a stiff bristle brush.

7. Self-Massage

Self-massages are mentioned in the original ayurvedic texts as rituals that promote both skin and overall health, with abhyanga, or oil massage, being the main attraction. Abhyanga can be done for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, followed by a shower to soap off any excess oil. By massaging sesame oil in the fall/winter and coconut oil in the spring/summer in circular movements along the joints and bones, dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda Erin Casperson tells mbg that the skin will soften and the body will become strong and more resistant to diseases.

8. Acupuncture

Although acupuncture is a kind of alternative medicine rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), experts consider the practice complementary to ayurvedic beliefs. This is because a) acupuncture, like ayurveda, dates back over 5,000 years, and b) TCM is rooted in similar beliefs to ayurveda. 

“Acupuncture believes in the meridian lines throughout the body and [that] when these energy patterns become blocked or imbalanced, this is when medical symptoms may arise,” Samantha Parker, C-IAYT and personal trainer tells mbg. Those who practice ayurveda also believe in the flow of energy, and the interconnectivity of energies, which is where the two systems run parallel: “Both aim to enhance health and overall quality of life by creating balance in the individual rather than focusing on the disease.” 

9. Yoga

This list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of yoga. In Western society, yoga has evolved, expanded, and been re-imagined. Things like drunk yogagoat yogaAcroYoga, and SUP Yoga are all examples of the ways Western culture has put its spin on the practice, for better or worse.

“Yoga [and other meditative practices] has become more commonplace,” says Monisha Bhanote, M.D., FASCP, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician and yoga medicine teacher. “[It] has transformed into different types of practices, most with roots which remain in the original purpose of combining breath and movement.”

10. The Doschic Approach

Sound familiar? The Doschic approach to well-being is a major component of ayurveda that modern companies have jumped on, and mbg called it out as one of its wellness trends to watch back in 2019. Knowing what dosha(s) you’re dominant in is thought to help you build a lifestyle that keeps you feeling balanced and vibrant. Eating for your dosha is thought to be especially important, so it makes sense that we’ve seen ayurvedic foods like ghee and turmeric become more mainstream in Western culture.

What is It About Ayurveda That’s So Timeless?

In a word: nature. 

“Ayurveda is rooted in our connection with nature, and its influence upon us (i.e., how we respond and adapt to our natural world) [is what makes this system so timeless],” Kluge tells mbg. “Simply by being more in touch with and observant of our own environment and habitat around us, we can use that practice to be more attuned to our own body and cultivate a deeper understanding of what we need to live a happy, healthy, joyful, and abundant life.”

The Next 5,000 Years for Ayurveda

Whatever is to come in the next 5,000 years of ayurveda, one thing experts seem to agree on is that it will reflect what we as a society, and as individuals, need from the ayurvedic practices. 

“Ayurveda will see expansion over the globe and each region will discover their own ayurveda from the past,” Sukumaran tells mbg. “This is the ayurveda that will work for the people of that region. While it may benefit a Westerner to incorporate food and supplements that grow in India in abundance, this is not a sustainable practice as each region has its own ancient wisdom, its own plant medicine to rediscover.”

While some ancient practices fade as their culture progresses, ayurvedic practices have withstood the test of time. From spiritual values to well-being rituals, the foods we eat and our relationship with nature, so much of our daily lives are rooted in ayurvedic influence, and it will be exciting to see where these practices take us next.

Insights and Reflections on COVID-19 from a Surgeon

By Dr. Doreen Wiggins for Yoga Medicine®.

The last few weeks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, have been a new frontier in the 28 years that I have practiced medicine. As a breast cancer surgeon, I am often the first caregiver a woman meets when facing a new cancer diagnosis. Me leading the charge, expediting a multidisciplinary plan and moving swiftly to treatment has been a way to help curtail anxiety for my patients. The viral pandemic has created an unseen enemy amidst the delivery of patient care. Moving surgeries, delaying standard treatment for less invasive cancer care, so not to compromise the immune function an individual’s health while awaiting the surge of the pandemic. Nationally and locally, new guidelines for treatment have emerged based on the need for systemic preparation to care for ventilated viral patients had lead to closing operating rooms, furloughing some healthcare providers, reassigning others. Paradigm shifts of uncertainty for all of us, well beyond medicine. Each decision I have made with thoughtfulness and compassion, bears weight for uncharted trajectory of patient care.

Bewildering as our circumstance is, my yoga training has taught me to dive within. To cultivate compassion for myself and others as I settle in to the discomfort of this moment. Realizing we are all connected, and that such immobilizing circumstances can be liberated with mindfulness to quell fear and isolation.

There are many things we can do as the Yoga Medicine Community. Our intentions, thoughts and actions, the sum of our choices can help others during this pandemic. In times of great challenge, is an opportunity to stand witness to uncertainty and fear, yet move beyond to inspire elevation. Inspiring elevation is the embodiment of altruism, connection to all, reaching through suffering to uplift, and create change within ourselves and others. Reach out to others, check in on neighbors and loved ones. Stay connected to your community.

Left image credit: Dr. Doreen Wiggins | Right image credit: Dwight S. Williams

Yoga Medicine® is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19. Please check our COVID-19 Resources Page for informational resources and training updates.

How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times with Diane Malaspina

By Beau Henderson for Authority Magazine.

a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Malaspina Ph.D., Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist and Applied Psychologist. Combining yoga tradition and modern science, she teaches evidenced-based methods for healing, stress prevention, and sustainable well-being through yoga sessions, workshops, and teacher training — both locally and across the globe.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

a graduate student, I was burned out and carried a lot of stress, like most grad students, and a friend recommended that I try yoga. My area of study in school was coping with stress and resilience and when I came out of my first yoga class I was completely hooked — I felt like I genuinely tapped into the experience of what I was studying about — a mind-body modality that also helps me feel more connected to life. Through the years I maintained a consistent yoga practice, and later in life, as a psychology professor, I dedicated most of my free time to take as many yoga and meditation workshops and training that I could find, while also teaching yoga on the side. Eventually, I took a deeper look at my life, felt that it was too stressful, with too much pressure, and that I wasn’t able to directly help others like I wanted to — so I left my career and went into business for myself. Along the way, I completed an advanced certification with Yoga Medicine® which brought together my two passions of blending Eastern and Western modalities as therapeutic approaches to healing and well-being, that I incorporate in my work as both an Applied Psychologist and yoga instructor.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I opened a yoga studio and ran it from 2010–2016. In the 2 -year transition from leaving academia to opening the studio, I had a few side jobs to help sustain me financially. When one of the contracted jobs I was working was about to end, I didn’t have a solid plan for what was to come next. So I embarked on a 30 -day meditation practice with the intention of ‘staying open.’ By day 15, it came to me that I wanted to run a yoga studio. On day 17 of the practice, I entered negotiations with a local studio to see if I could buy their business. On day 22 the owners decided not to sell. On day 26 my friend told me her mother’s Pilates studio had a space for rent that could be used as a separate business entity. And on day 29 of my ‘staying open’ meditation, I garnered a business license, started an LLC, and obtained the keys to my first location for a yoga studio! The meditation practice provided me with the space and insight to connect to something that I didn’t even realize was a dream. The experience of owning the studio gave me a lot of teaching experience, pushed me to learn and offer different styles of yoga, create workshops and a teacher training, and provided me with business experience that I still rely on. Five years into owning the studio I went on a 2-week meditation retreat. I found myself very emotional and crying uncontrollably for several days. As I delved into the emotions, I realized I was ready to move on from owning a studio. I uncovered a new vision for my work, eventually closed the studio, and started taking the steps which brought me to my current work as both a Psychologist and yoga teacher trainer (with the perks of international travel)! I have never felt so fulfilled professionally. Again, meditation paved the way for me to connect to my deeper intuition and inspired me into the next phase of growth.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle is a book that I come back to time and time again, and every time I discover something new or relate to a lesson in a different way. One of my favorite passages in the book is the re-telling of a Zen story where two monks are walking and pass a woman who is trying to cross the road, but she can’t get across because there is a deep mud hole, and if she were to go through, she would ruin her kimono. One of the monks picks her up and carries her across the road, sets her down and the two monks continue on their way. Several hours pass, and one monk says: “Why did you carry her across the road? We are not supposed to do that.” The monk who carried her responds: “I put her down hours ago, are you still carrying her?” I love this story because as humans we carry around so many grievances and stories that take us out of the present and block our ability to see clearly, thus creating stress and burden. These thoughts keep us from living in the reality and beauty of the present and affect many aspects of our life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Mindfulness is a practice and like anything that is a practice it needs to be done over and over again. There is no end point. It requires the honing of all of our senses and taking in each experience through the five senses while turning off the internal dialog. It is a state of allowing the mind to be full of the current experience and not full of thoughts. The state of being mindful is the ability to get quiet and apply focus to each moment. I also see it as a place where we can just ‘be’ — versus having to take action or do anything.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Physically, practicing mindfulness reduces stress which has positive effects on the nervous system. When our nervous system is more balanced, we see a variety of health outcomes including enhanced cardiovascular health, immunity, and reduced muscular tension and inflammation which could be related to feeling less pain in the body and lower risk for disease-causing states. There is also evidence that practices reduce cell aging, affecting the integrity of specific proteins (called telomeres), which may be related to enhanced longevity and protection from the effects of aging. Mentally, mindfulness practice is associated with improved focus and executive functioning — which includes better problem-solving and decision making. In addition, mindfulness-based practices minimize activity in an area of the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN) which is where we tend to engage in mind wandering and often times this mind wandering is related to negative thinking. Mindfulness may also slow the cognitive decline associated with aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. Emotional benefits include improved mood, increases in positive emotions, and decreases in anxiety, emotional reactivity, and other stress-related conditions like feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Since mindfulness practice re-directs neural circuity, it takes the patterns away from the emotional centers related to fight or flight and into the areas of the brain where we can process emotions and respond versus react.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Minimize the amount of exposure you have to all media, including television and screen time. Choose a trusted source for news and read articles, versus watching videos or live updates. Stay current on events but limit your news intake to two times per day. I have found that when I mindlessly look at social media or have the television running that there is sensory overload which is highly stimulating and evokes fear responses. We don’t experience the same sensory overwhelm when reading the written word versus seeing and hearing it on a screen.
  2. Spend time outside daily. Look up at the sky and broaden your perspective to take in the landscape around you. Close your eyes and notice the smells, breeze on your skin, and sounds of nature. I live near the ocean and I make a point to spend time on the beach daily (no matter the weather). The sounds, smells, and sights help me to be in the moment and recognize the larger scope of all life as it lives on this planet. My daily world seems less significant when I ponder and expose myself to the vastness of the natural world.
  3. Start your morning reading something inspiring. Avoid looking at a screen for the first 30 minutes of your day. I wake up early enough to read 3–4 pages of an inspirational book to set the tone for my day.
  4. Practice being quiet and still, with the eyes closed and focus on the breath. I do this after I read, but it can be done at any time during the day. Start with 1 minute (you can use a timer). Commit to sitting, eyes closed, quietly observing your breath. When ready, increase to 2 minutes, then 3. You might build up to 10 minutes, but don’t make it a goal. Simply practice sitting quietly and following your breath and naturally, you’ll crave more time doing this.
  5. When you find yourself overwhelmed or in a negative state, write down all of your concerns on a piece of paper or in a journal. Free write without editing, just to get it all out. After writing down concerns, evaluate which ones you could actually have an influence on. Take a moment to reflect, how much time do you spend thinking/worrying about these concerns? Next to the ones that you can do something about, record 1 -2 things that you will do to shift the concern so that it loses its power. Reflect again, wouldn’t it be a better use of your mental time and energy to focus on things you can influence versus the concerns you can’t do much about? Every thought creates a mental map for better or for worse. Spending time in a proactive state vs a reactive state will rewire your mind and prime you toward creative solutions. When we are in a fear state, we activate the parts of the brain that create more stress and worry. When we are in a solution state, we broaden and build our thought repertoires towards creativity, flexible thinking, and inviting social support.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Reach out and let them know you are thinking of them. I just recently went through a hard time and receiving messages from others was really helpful in knowing that I wasn’t alone and that someone took a moment to let me know they care.
  2. Listen empathically. Try not to interject and make the conversation about yourself — allow them to express/vent. Ask: “How can I help?”
  3. Encourage self-care on a regular basis and share ways that you are engaging in self-care, too. This might be a daily exercise, taking a bath, watching a funny movie, or something else that brings joy or relaxation.
  4. Bring attention to what is going well. Right now we are exposed to a lot of negative information and fear. Emphasize areas that are going well and celebrate those successes.
  5. Encourage reaching out for mental health support. Many therapists are offering tele-therapy sessions. I had a Zoom call with my therapist recently and it was really supportive in helping me navigate some grief and anger that I was experiencing.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Awareness is always the first step in starting a new behavior or changing a habit. Taking the time to learn about what mindfulness is and how it is beneficial is a great place to start. There are several yoga and meditation classes offered online for beginners that can be helpful. I personally like YogaGlo as they have a large library and classes that range from 5 minutes up. I also suggest reading articles and books on mindful practices which can bring help with learning new perspectives.

Keeping an end of day log of what went well today and what seemed challenging today can enhance reflective capacity and bring awareness to day-to-day living. Once we have an idea of the current state of life, we can start coming up with strategies for doing things differently. I recommend starting with small steps — doing one thing a day differently that will increase being more mindful and feeling more serene. Then, at the end of the day, reflect: how did that make me feel? If it made you feel good, you’ll be more likely to keep doing it as it will become an important part of daily living. As these feel-good strategies start to take up more of our time, it becomes a lifestyle versus one more thing to add to our day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” Oprah Winfrey

I recently experienced the unexpected loss of my beloved dog. It was a tremendously difficult experience as she was very healthy and through the negligence of a vet, her life went from thriving to not surviving. In the course of it all, I was by her side for weeks, praying and doing all that I could in hopes of her getting better. Unfortunately, she did not, and I had to let her go. I experienced deep shock, anger, and loss. I connected back to what my dog’s life taught me, and that was unwavering love. My original reaction was seeped in the negativity of anger, but I shifted my center of gravity toward love and have found a new way to stand. I’ve always been drawn to work that helps others, but now I am even more inspired with a sense of service in the healing power of support and love.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see more awareness around mental health, stress reduction, and ways to live more connected in our bodies and minds start early in life and in school curriculums. Based on my own research and that of others, we can clearly see social and emotional challenges as early as kindergarten. Not enough time is devoted to developing the whole person. I’d love to see a paradigm shift where mind-body education and wellness is an inherent part of our life-long educational system with supports embedded for those who are struggling. This should be a community-wide approach with guidance for students, school personnel, and families. We could be learning effective coping strategies and lifestyle habits throughout our life that prevent anxiety and depression and that enhance overall well-being.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

www.yogamedicine.com

www.dianemalaspina.com

IG: @Yoga_Medicine

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

The Ins and Outs of Yoga and Scoliosis

By Sara Lindberg for Healthline.

When looking for ways to manage scoliosis, many people turn to physical activity. One form of movement that’s gained a lot of followers in the scoliosis community is yoga.

Scoliosis, which causes a sideways curve of the spine, is often associated with children and adolescents, but people of all ages have this disorder. And the spine, like the rest of our bodies, can change over time.

Physical activity, such as a regular yoga practice, is one form of treatment your doctor may recommend to help you deal with the challenges and pain that accompany scoliosis.

That said, there are some things to consider before you flow into a yoga sequence. Here are some tips and moves to get you started.

Why Yoga is Beneficial for Scoliosis

Yoga can be very helpful for those with scoliosis, particularly given the combination of flexibility and core stabilization needed to perform yoga poses properly, according to Sami Ahmed, DPT, a physical therapist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics.

 

Stretch and Strengthen the Sides of the Body

When practicing yoga, Ahmed says parts of the body are stretched, and others are forced to contract by performing various movement patterns that require a sustained hold of a certain position. This often results in increased mobility of the thoracic spine.

Decrease Pain and Stiffness

“When looking at the spine, especially for those with scoliosis, we think about two concepts regarding its stability: form and force closure,” says Ahmed.

By strengthening the force closure, which is made up of muscles and connective tissue that keep the spine in proper alignment, Ahmed says you can often see a decrease in pain and improvement in overall function.

Physical activity, such as yoga, can help foster the maintenance of a neutral spine or improve the overall alignment.

Maintain or Improve Spinal Position

In fact, one study of 25 patients with scoliosis found that those who performed the Side Plank pose saw improvement in the primary scoliotic curve of the spine (measured as the Cobb angle).

To show improvement, participants practiced the yoga pose for 90 seconds, on an average of 6 days per week, for a little over 6 months.

Potential Benefits of Yoga for Scoliosis
  • stretch areas tightened by spinal curvature
  • strengthen weakened areas affected by the spine’s position
  • strengthen the core overall
  • pain management
  • improve mobility and flexibility
  • maintain or improve spinal position

Introducing Yoga

 

Know Your Scoliosis Type

If you’re interested in trying yoga to reduce pain and correct your curve, Elise Browning Miller, a senior certified Iyengar yoga teacher (CIYT) with an MA in therapeutic recreation, says you first need to understand what your pattern of scoliosis is.

“In other words, they need to picture which way their curve goes from behind and understand the rotation as well because if they don’t know their curve, they won’t understand how to do the poses to correct the curve,” she says.

Begin with Conscious Breathing

When Miller works with students who have scoliosis, she first focuses on yoga breathing with simple poses to bring the breath into the compressed areas, where breathing is compromised.

“If there is the gnawing tightness on the side or sides of the back where the scoliosis laterally and rotationally goes, then stretching that area can relieve the discomfort,” she adds.

“The approach should both involve reducing pain as well as correcting the scoliosis,” says Miller. That said, she does point out that the most important thing is to reduce the pain or discomfort and to keep the curve from getting worse, which can be done with the right approach to yoga.

Accept That Moves Can Be Different for Right and Left Sides

Jenni Tarma, a Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist, says that when using yoga to help manage scoliosis, you should remember that the distribution of tension in the surrounding tissues has become uneven due to the curvature of the spine.

“More specifically, the tissues on the concave side of the curve are shorter and tighter, whereas those on the convex side are in a continually lengthened position, and most likely weaker,” she says.

Stretch or Strengthen Where It’s Needed

Ideally, Tarma says the goal is to reestablish some balance and try to get things more symmetrical with:

  • targeted stretching on the concave or shortened side
  • strengthening on the convex or lengthened side
Skip the Pose, Any Pose

She also reminds students that since there might be significant limitations with range of motion, you should feel comfortable and empowered to skip poses that aren’t feasible or productive. It’s always important to work within your own capacity.

Give the Instructor a Heads-Up

It’s common for instructors to move around during a yoga class and make adjustments to a person’s pose.

“Hands-on adjustments in classes aren’t necessarily off the table,” says Tarma, “but I would definitely recommend making the instructor aware of the specifics before class and absolutely letting them know if you’d prefer not to be adjusted for any reason.”

Practicing Yoga with Scoliosis

As to the method of yoga, Miller prefers Iyengar because it focuses on alignment and postural awareness strengthening, as well as flexibility.
 
“It is a therapeutic approach, and also, mind-consciousness is key to this system (meditation in action) where you stay in the pose long enough to adjust for your scoliosis,” she adds.
 

Yoga Poses for Scoliosis

Yoga poses that Miller recommends for scoliosis include:

  • Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)
  • Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasna) with a belt around a door for traction to lengthen the spine
  • Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha)
  • Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
  • Side-Reclining Leg Lift (Anantasana)
  • Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Other Stretching Exercises for Scoliosis

 

Use Bolsters, Rollers, or Other Accessories to Stretch

Miller adds that supported back opening, such as lying over a bolster, and corrective breathing, such as lying on your side where the apex of the scoliosis curve is, can be beneficial. It opens up the breathing and corrects the curve.

Practice Your Posture

Postural awareness is also key, and Miller says she teaches it between the standing poses, such as in Mountain pose.

Try Gentle Spinal Twists and Side Bends

Simple movements like spinal rotation and side bends can also be very helpful in addressing the imbalance. However, Tarma says that due to the asymmetry, these movements will be noticeably more challenging on one side than the other.

“The goal is to train a better range of motion and function on the weaker side. For example, if twisting to the right is more challenging, that’s the side we would focus on,” she says. You can do twists and side bends in a simple seated posture, either on the floor or in a chair.

Strengthen Your Core

That said, Tarma does point out that at least some of the work should be active, meaning you’re using the core and back muscles to execute the movement, as opposed to using your hands or arms to leverage yourself into the position. “Long-term results require more active strengthening to shift the spine into a more neutral position,” she adds.

Work Towards a Balance, Not Symmetry

And while perfect symmetry may not be attainable or even necessary, Tarma says that working toward it can help mitigate discomfort and improve overall function.

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