Insights and Professional Expansion – A Student’s Perspective of the Yoga Medicine Mental Health and Wellness Training

By Julianna Vermeys, MA, LPC, LMHC, NCC for Yoga Medicine®.

I recently had the privilege of taking and completing the Yoga Medicine Mental Health and Wellness 55-hour training with Tiffany Cruikshank, Diane Malaspina, and Valerie Knopik. This training is a comprehensive look at the biology, psychology and physiology of mental health and wellness. Each facilitator brings expertise in her area of focus to offer a masterful blend of understanding. In addition to the lecture learning, the practices offered throughout each module were full of opportunities to explore and practice in an embodied way, offering such a rich, holistic training.

Through genetics and neuroscience, Valerie offers attendees a detailed look at how our genes, DNA and epigenetics impact our ability to manage life’s stresses, joys and everything in between. It offers an empowering view of our biology’s role in our health and our ability to thrive. Often, courses that dive into trauma and epigenetics can leave one feeling like our efforts are hopeless, that we are wired this way and that’s all there is to it. In Western culture this leads us to interventions that support us in masking our lived experience. To the contrary,
this information offers a guide to understanding how and why we may respond to things in our environment like we do because of our genetics and then offers insight into how we might utilize blended intervention strategies to help us navigate ways of understanding how to work with students (and frankly, ourselves) to support the body in responding differently to life and cultivating environments and practices that stimulate the balance and health available to us all.

Diane’s extensive work and research in positive psychology and behavioral health blends beautifully with her yoga experience, asana and philosophy. She offers practical and clear paths to understanding how mental health diagnostics can be useful in supporting students in creating practices that heal and cultivate new ways of thinking and being with our feelings. She shares a rare look into the correlations between eastern philosophy and western psychology, braiding together the ways we understand mental health in the west with the Yoga Sutras and the Chakra system. This approach offers a pathway to incorporating a spiritual focus to mental health. In addition, it celebrates the efficacy of positive psychology when combined with an embodied practice such as yoga and meditation.

Tiffany offers an integrative lecture and practice into the elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine, with frameworks that help teachers understand the interconnectedness of our felt experience, our behavior and our physiology. In addition to extensive lecture on the 5 Elements in TCM, Tiffany uses practical applications of acupressure points to support attendees use of this lens as teachers on the mat as well as asana practices to stimulate and support our organs, meridians and overall balance. She is masterful at offering this viewpoint with individualized care that does not pathologize.

All three facilitators legitimize the professional approach to our work as teachers and caregivers through interview, assessment and treatment planning. They incorporate these practical applications into our work as attendees, asking us to use our own lives as a place to begin to understand how these approaches support our practices and our well-being. Valerie’s stress management homework and mindfulness practices, Diane’s Fit Circle approach and Tiffany’s use of accupressure points to support the different organs associated with mental health challenges all offer such rich and effective strategies for self care and for support of our students and patients.

As a trauma and anxiety mindfulness-based specialist in the mental health field, I am so grateful for the ways that this course has helped me fill in the gaps between my trauma informed therapy work and my yoga teaching. For years I have studied the link between the nervous system, somatics and the way humans respond to stress, traumatic events, grief and pain. I have already begun to expand my depth of work with others by incorporating the biological information that Valerie offered and the practical applications Tiffany taught through the TCM lens. Diane’s practices offered me insight into ways of approaching mental health in clear language guiding the practitioner’s focus to emotional balance.

While this course was not intended to offer trauma-informed training, they did a great service to teachers in weaving in understanding the importance of addressing care and practice strategies for students with trauma backgrounds and an overview of the nervous system response.

While already incorporating much of what I’ve learned in this training into my work with individuals, I will continue to weave in what I’ve experienced in the generous and devoted asana practices, meditations and breathwork that Diane, Tiffany and Valerie shared as a part of this training to my own yoga practice in order to support the mental health and wellness of myself and of those I support.

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