Category Archives: Therapeutic Yoga

Six Considerations When Choosing a Yoga Teacher Training Program

Note from Tracy:  If you live in the Seattle area, Whole Life Yoga’s next yoga teacher training begins September 25.  Early registration discount ends July 31. E-mail me at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com to set up an information session.  Detailed information about the program is at this link.

Although I’m truly fond of the yoga teacher training program at Whole Life Yoga, Seattle yogis have a wide variety of excellent programs to choose from. So how do you decide? Reflecting on the questions below may help.

  1. What style of yoga meets your needs and the needs of your students? Consider the style of yoga you personally like to practice, as well as the style that serves the audience you want to teach. Some programs (including Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program) adhere rigorously to a given lineage. Others offer a blended approach.  Either way, it’s important that you understand and can support the style(s) of yoga you will be studying. Never enroll in a teacher training program if you don’t appreciate what you will be learning.
  2. What are the  physical requirements of the program? Some yoga teacher training programs  require that their graduates be able to perform a wide range of vigorous yoga poses.  Others, like the program at Whole Life Yoga, embrace all practitioners, regardless of physical capability.  Can your body safely meet the requirements of the training?  If not, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
  3. Does the structure of the program meet your learning style? Some students learn yoga best when they are removed from the demands of daily life. This happens most effectively in residential trainings. Others do better with what I call a trickle approach, in which bite-sized pieces of information are provided consistently over a longer period of time. I designed Whole Life Yoga’s training utilizing the trickle approach.  We meet Monday evenings and one Sunday afternoon a month for 11 months, which gives students plenty of time to absorb what they are learning.
  4. Can you realistically meet the program’s requirements? Ask about the the program’s complete costs, time investments, and other commitments.  Cost calculations should include any extra classes you’ll be required to attend, mentoring costs, materials, registration fees, and lodging. When you’re budgeting time, include the hours you will actually spend in yoga teacher training classes, personal practice, teaching time, and written homework. Whole Life Yoga’s program has significant homework requirements, though we liberally extend deadlines and work individually with students who need extra help.  Be honest with yourself. Choose a program that has the flexibility you need while still offering a rigorous learning experience.
  5. Are you drawn to the primary teacher(s) of the program? Some teacher training programs are led almost exclusively by a single teacher; others use a panel of instructors, each of whom leads classes on different topics. If you’ll be studying with multiple teachers, who will be responsible for helping facilitate your success? If there is a primary teacher, do you respect them? Do you trust them? At a minimum, you’ll spend 200 to 500 hours of your life with this person. Make sure the student/teacher fit is a good one.
  6. Do you want/need a certification that is nationally recognized? What other licensing requirements are important to you? Yoga Alliance is currently the only nationally-recognized regulatory body in the yoga teacher community. If your program is registered with Yoga Alliance, you may have career opportunities that others do not. In Washington State, a handful of yoga programs (including Whole Life Yoga’s) are licensed as private vocational centers.  In addition to Yoga Alliance’s quality requirements, licensed vocational centers pass rigorous tests of financial stability, longevity, and contractual fairness.  Additionally, every employee of a WA state licensed vocational center passes in-depth background checks. How important is certification and licensing to you?

As with most questions in life, there are no right answers, only answers that are right for you. If you’re interested in learning more about Whole Life Yoga’s program, I’d be happy to meet and discuss our program in detail.  Email me at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com to set up a time.

Best of luck to you in your yoga journey!

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Benefits of Yoga for Chronic Pain: A Practice of Conscious Movement, Breath, and Meditation

Please welcome Whole Life Yoga instructor Katie West to the blog today!  Katie is such an inspiration to me and her students. Yoga is an incredible tool to help manage chronic pain, and I’m delighted to offer a new drop-in Yoga for Chronic Pain class by Katie on Thursdays at noon starting May 4.  Please join us!

The Body (movement/asana):

When living with chronic pain, one often develops a negative relationship with the body. If the body is limited and causing distress, frustrations, depression, or anxiety, the natural reaction is to disconnect from it. Many people want to suppress those emotions that are provoked by a chronic condition, so one might try to silence it, when all that is needed is to listen and respond with compassion.

Self-compassion is paramount when it comes to yoga and chronic pain. To be able to look at our own dysfunctional body, feel and nourish it, takes great courage and persistence. Our normal is a different kind of normal from those who do not have physical limitations. It is more delicate and special in that way. It is important to see this, to create a baseline for yourself and adapt from there. What differentiates Viniyoga from other lineages is its adaptability for different bodies and conditions. Correct movement for your body helps manage and minimize chronic pains, change old movement patterns, and build a more positive connection to your body. Viniyoga practices breath-centric movement where the breath is the core of conscious movement and builds a deeper connection to the body.

The Breath (pranayama)

One evening, I was on my side in the middle of the living room floor in crippling pain. Just a typical Friday evening. I began to focus my awareness on the expansion and release of my breath. I felt the warmth and vibrations of my breath within my body and the subtle contraction and relaxation of my muscles as I directed gentle awareness to achy areas. My exhale made my body feel at ease, and the control I had over the expansion in my body through my inhales left me feeling empowered. I slowly breathed life back into my body and realized I have the power to change my responses to what I had been labeling as negative physical sensations. Rather than wallowing in pity and complaining about my physical problems, I just breathed with intention and control, easing my achy joints and busy mind.

To breathe is to live. To consciously breathe is a persistent practice and affects our systems and energy on different levels based on the conscious control of the lengths, segments, pauses, and accentuation of the breath.

The Mind (meditation):

The mind is the control room, reigning over breath and body. Meditation can provide tools to change your thoughts, emotions, behavior, and habitual patterns allowing you to control your mind’s process.  If you choose to focus your attention fully on something, and catch your mind as it is wandering, the act of bringing your attention back to that original focal point is the practice of meditation. If you choose to focus on more positive things such as building a more positive relationship with your body, it will begin to become a habitual pattern. The same goes for negative habitual thought. Meditation teaches us how to listen and respond to the patterns in our mind and change them if desired.

The combination of correct gentle movement, conscious breathing, and focused intention or visualization creates an empowering practice for those with chronic pain.

Katie West has completed 500 hours of yoga teacher training via Whole Life Yoga (WLY) and continued as a TA for WLY’s 200 hour training. She believes yoga is a gift to share with all, having found Viniyoga after years of chronic conditions stemming from structural and muscular issues.The lineage’s teachings yielded the tools to begin her journey of reintegrating body, breath, and mind. This exploration of connection helped minimize and manage her chronic pain and revealed a constant practice of balance to life as a whole. Her teaching style highlights the accessibility, therapeutic, and rehabilitative aspects of yoga. Katie honors the Viniyoga lineage as an instructor and finds any way for students to integrate yoga into their daily lives. She holds that yoga is for everybody and adaptable to all.

 

Research Proves It: Yoga Is Good for Your Heart!

Those of us who practice yoga know first-hand its wide-ranging benefits: from increased mindfulness, to decreased stress, to reduction in pain, to weight loss. Western medical research is finally catching up.

A review of thirty-seven studies appeared in the December 16, 2014 issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The report was co-authored by Dr. Gloria Yeh, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The effect of yoga practice on heart disease risk factors was impressive. On average, study participants who practiced yoga:

  • Lost five pounds
  • Decreased blood pressure by 5 points
  • Lowered their LDL cholesterol levels 12 points.

Researchers also noted the benefits of breath work and meditation, two often-overlooked yoga tools. Participants varied in age and ranged from physically healthy individuals to those with significant health conditions. The styles of yoga practiced were diverse, though researchers recommend styles that allow for modification. Yoga was also found to be a powerful tool in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

More information on the study can be found the February 28, 2017 article in the Harvard Health Publications blog.

Continue practicing, and go yoga!

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Research Proves It: Yoga Works to Reduce Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome!

IBS Letter on Brick Wall in the Back

I love learning about new research into the benefits of a consistent yoga practice, so I was delighted when a Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate (and practicing Medical Doctor) sent me an article from the December 1, 2016 edition Family Practice News  outlining the benefits of yoga for individuals suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  IBS is a sometimes-incapacitating digestive disorder that impacts between twenty-five and forty-five million adults in the United States, nearly two-thirds of which are female.  IBS isn’t believed to be caused by stress, but stress can significantly worsen its symptoms.

Yoga, it would seem, is the perfect tool to help.

A review of six randomized controlled trials published in the December issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology agrees. In the 273 patients with IBS studied, practicing yoga for four to twelve weeks had a similar effect as pharmacological therapies in terms of bowel symptoms, anxiety, and quality of life. More work needs to be done, but these initial results are promising.

Go yoga!

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Chair Yoga for Readers

Yoga is truly for everyone, but especially for readers, who tend to sit in slouched, hunched positions for hours at a time. I teach this class at library events and book signings, but even those of you too far away to attend my in-person events can benefit from the practice.

1.  Sit in the middle of your chair with both feet planted firmly on the floor and your head extended up to the ceiling. Notice your body. Are there any areas that feel tight or achy? How do the sensations in your body reflect the stress or relaxation of your day?

2.  Progressively lengthen your breath. As you inhale, lengthen your spine and feel the crown of your head extend up toward the ceiling. Gently contract your abdominal muscles with each exhale, which will gently flatten your low back.  Allow the abdominal muscles to relax with each inhale. Take 6 – 10 breaths in this manner.

3.  As you inhale, sweep both arms to the side and overhead, with the palms facing inward, toward the ears. As you exhale, sweep your arms back to your side and gently tilt the chin  toward the pit of your throat. Do this 4 – 6 times.

4.  Grasp the sides of the back of your chair with the palms facing inward. On inhale, gently squeeze the shoulder blades together as you lean your rib cage forward and away from the chair. This should have a gentle back bend quality.  On exhale, release back up to sitting. Do this 6 times, then stay leaning forward for 4 breaths, lifting the ribs with each inhale.

5.  Starting from your original seated position in posture 1, bring your palms to the tops of your thighs. On inhale, extend the crown of your head to the ceiling. On exhale, slide the hands down your legs and bend forward.  Each subsequent inhale, use the hands to help you lift the ribs and come through a flattened back up to sitting again. Do this 6 – 8 times.

6.  From your original seated position in posture 1, on inhale sweep both arms to the side and up to the ceiling, lacing the fingers together and pressing the palms up toward the ceiling. On exhale, lean toward the side, stretching the rib cage. Keep your belly lightly contracted and try to keep the shoulders directly in line with each other. On inhale, bring the torso back to the center and exhale to the opposite side. Do this 4 times each side, alternating sides.

7.  Repeat posture number 5, but this time on inhale, sweep both arms to the side and up to the ceiling on inhale, and sweep the arms to the side as you fold forward on exhale.  After 6 repetitions, stay folded forward for 6 breaths. Totally relax any tension in your body. On inhale, return to sitting.

8.  Come back to the comfortable seated position in posture number 1, with both feet planted firmly on the floor and the crown of your head extended up to the ceiling.   Notice your body again, without judgment.  What were the effects of these movements on your body, your breath, your emotional state, your sense of focus?

Enjoy the practice and let me know what you think!

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

A Fatal Twist launched January 8!

 

Research Proves It! Yoga Improves Bone Density

Skeleton of the man. 3D the image of a man's skeleton under a transparent skin

I became interested in methods to build bone health in my early thirties.  Not coincidentally, it was the same day my first DEXA scan showed that I already had osteoporosis, likely due to excessively low estrogen levels in spite of estrogen replacement therapy.

I’ve long believed that yoga could safely help build bones, as has my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. It makes sense. After all, yoga is a low impact, weight-bearing exercise that strengthens the muscles supporting the spine, wrist, and hip, which are at particularly high fracture risk in individuals with osteoporosis.  Anecdotally, I also know that my own bone density increased from moderate osteoporosis and osteopenia (depending on the bone) to “low normal.” The increases began after I started practicing yoga–in spite of the fact that the doctor took me off of bone-building medication.

Finally, we have some research that backs us up.

The ten-year study done by Dr. Loren M. Fishman—a physiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine—involved Iyengar postures, but I have every reason to believe Viniyoga (which uses repetition as well as “staying” in poses to build strength) would have results that are as good, if not better.

Study practitioners performed yoga poses for twelve minutes every day (or at least every other day) for ten years. The time period is important:  Bone density builds slowly. It can take years to find measurable change. According to a December 21 New York Times article:

“The findings, as reported last month in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation, showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants who were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.

Improvements were seen in bone density in the hip as well, but they were not statistically significant.”

Even more encouraging, there were no fractures or significant injuries among any of the participants in the study—indicating that yoga is a safe activity even for older individuals with significant bone loss. And unlike bone-building drugs, which come with a host of gastrointestinal and other side effects, yoga gives increased strength, better posture and improved mental health.

Go forth and practice! Your body, breath, mind, and bones will thank you!

Tracy

books available

PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

Three Key Ways a Yoga Practice Can Support Trauma Recovery

Please help me welcome Lisa Danylchuk to the Whole Life Yoga blog today.  Lisa’s acclaimed book, Embodied Healing shares her learnings about yoga and how it can help people who are rebuilding their lives after trauma. And who among us hasn’t experienced trauma?  Lisa, can you please tell my readers how yoga–and its teachers–can help students overcome trauma?

EmbodiedHealing

As yoga’s popularity continues to increase, yoga teachers, mental health providers and researchers are all becoming more clear on the depths of its benefits. As a yoga teacher and trauma therapist, I have seen a myriad of ways that mindfulness and movement help clients, whether they are doing a traditional hatha practice or applying yoga philosophy to their healing journey. Here are three ways that yoga teachers and healthcare providers can help clients and students who are navigating trauma recovery.

Grounding

Grounding is the act of connecting to the earth, and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The most common ways to ground are to feel your feet on the floor, as we do in tadasana, or to feel the sit bones grounding to the earth, as we do in many seated postures. Often, people who are experiencing anxiety and extreme stress report feeling a spinning or rising sensation; this conscious effort to ground can counteract the pull of energy away from the body,, bringing attention back to the safety of the current moment. If you are teaching to a group of people who have experienced trauma, offer grounding cues repeatedly throughout class. Not only is it helpful in building a physical foundation for a pose, it can also have psychological benefits.

Present moment attention

Intrusive thoughts and feelings from past trauma can show up in the present and memories can even pull us away from our current surroundings. Getting connected to present moment time – right here, right now – is one way to distance from the intensity of a past trauma in a helpful way. Yogis are familiar with the practice of cultivating presence, and it is important to find ways to describe how to practice presence, rather than simply instruct participants to “be present.” Consider guiding attention to a specific place in the room, a lamp on the wall or the corner of a mat. Consider instructing participants to follow the sound of your voice, or to listen to the sound of a bell as it fades. While, due to sensitivities, we can’t always use smells in the yoga room, think of these present moment attention practices as smelling salts, bringing students more fully  into present time and space.

Compassion towards self

In the aftermath of trauma it can become easy to struggle with oneself, wondering why something is still upsetting or feeling there is some defectiveness of self that allows the bad feelings to persist. By definition, something traumatic is too much to process all at once and approaching the feelings with tenderness can facilitate healing, rather than self-criticism or judgement. Recall that the word yoga means union, so we are looking to unite the parts of ourselves that need healing, rather than cut them off. Practicing curiosity and compassion facilitates the gentle approach our psyches need – just as you would not shout at a plant to help it grow, criticizing ourselves does not foster healing. Encourage compassion instead.

Questions, thoughts? Post a comment below or go to www.howwecanheal.com to contact Lisa.

Headshot.L.DanylchukLisa Danylchuk teaches internationally on integrating yoga and mental health treatment. As a licensed psychotherapist and Yogaworks certified yoga instructor, she has provided counseling and yoga classes in prisons, schools, non-profits and community programs across the US. Lisa holds degrees from both UCLA and Harvard University and is the author of the bestselling book Embodied Healing: Using Yoga to Recover from Trauma and Extreme Stress. She is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she hosts the Yoga for Trauma (Y4T) online training program, accessible world-wide. More information at: www.howwecanheal.com/y4t.

 

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Research on Viniyoga for Cystic Fibrosis

Woman holding tablet pc. Conept: X-ray with lungs. Isolated on white.

I co-authored a research paper!

The paper, “Yoga as a Therapy for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cystic Fibrosis: A Pilot Study,” was published in the November, 2015 issue of Global Advances in Health and Medicine.  The study was (at least as far as we know) the first to look at the safety of Yoga for individuals with Cystic Fibrosis.

The goal of this pilot study, led by Jennifer Ruddy, MD and conducted at Seattle Children’s Hospital, was to evaluate the safety and tolerability of yoga for patients with Cystic Fibrosis.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a life-shortening genetic disease that thickens secretions in the lungs, which leads to lung infections and decreases the patient’s ability to breathe. CF secretions also limit the pancreas’s ability to release digestive enzymes. As a result, patients with CF often have difficulty digesting food. (Not unlike my German shepherd, Tasha, who has Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency.)

I was both honored and excited to design a series of sessions that would bring Viniyoga to this population of students. After all, Viniyoga’s breath-centered practice is almost uniquely designed to increase lung capacity while integrating movement with breath.

Each participant in the study completed sixteen private Viniyoga sessions taught over a two-month time period. The Viniyoga sessions were designed to be safe for individuals with mild to moderate lung disease and easily modified for the individual.

The four study instructors—Claire Ricci, Roxie Dufour, Beverly Gonyea, and Cynthia Heckman—were all Whole Life Yoga certified yoga teachers who received additional training in Cystic Fibrosis. They were given the specific yoga protocol for this study but allowed to adapt as needed for student safety. Sessions included asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breath practices), and mindful awareness.

The results are encouraging. Ten of the eleven students enrolled in the study were able to complete the two months of practice.  Out of the 160 private sessions represented by those ten students, only two adverse effects were noted that might have been related to yoga: one mild instance of calf pain and one mild headache. Even more encouraging, statistically significant improvements were seen in the CFQ-R respiratory domain score (a measure of respiratory symptoms including cough and difficulty breathing.)

More research clearly needs to be done to see the full benefits of Viniyoga for this population, but these initial results are encouraging and will hopefully pave the way for more research in the future.

One again, research shows it: Viniyoga works!

Tracy Weber

books available

PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

Research Proves It! Viniyoga Helps Kick Eating Disorders

surrealistic picture of an apple reflecting in the mirror

The study discussed in this article by Yoga Dork has special meaning to me, as I was involved in its design. One of our amazing Whole Life Yoga teachers, Liziah Woodruff, was one of the teachers!

The study (which was led by T. Rain Carei, Ph.D. of Seattle Children’s Hospital and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health) included over 50 teens ages 11 – 21, all with diagnosed eating disorders. Half of the teens had been hospitalized due to their eating disorder. Participants were randomized into either a control group that received the “standard care” at Seattle Children’s Hospital or a separate group that received the same standard care plus two hours of Viniyoga a week.

The results? According to the article in Journal of Adolescent Health:

“The Yoga group demonstrated greater decreases in eating disorder symptoms. Specifically, the EDE [Eating Disorder Examination] scores decreased over time in the Yoga group, whereas the No Yoga group showed some initial decline but then returned to baseline EDE levels at week 12. Food preoccupation was measured before and after each yoga session, and decreased significantly after all sessions. Both groups maintained current BMI [Body Mass Index] levels and decreased in anxiety and depression over time.”

More research is needed to see if this work can be replicated in larger groups, but so far Viniyoga seems to be a useful adjunct treatment for individuals with a variety of eating disorders.

Go Viniyoga! And I’m so pleased to have been a part of the design of this study protocol.

Tracy Weber

books available

PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

A Meditation to Find Joy

woman drop leaves in autumn park

We all have within us the ability to experience joy, if only we remember to look for it. The meditation below is one of my favorite tools for clients experiencing anxiety or depression. I recommend keeping a journal nearby, so you can write down thoughts, ideas, and commitments to yourself when you finish.

  • Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up toward the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable.
  • Allow your eyes to close, or if this is too challenging, keep your eyes at “half mast” gazing quietly at a place below and in front of you.
  • Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it. First notice the warmth and coolness of the breath as it enters your nostrils. Notice the movement of your rib cage and belly. How does your spine move with each breath? What other sensations can you feel?
  • After you feel comfortable and relaxed, ask yourself the following question:
    • What brings me joy?
  • Don’t try to audit or evaluate the answers that come to you. You may hear words, see images, feel sensations, or experience emotions. Allow whatever you experience to float across your consciousness.
  • After a few minutes, change the question to:
    • How can I invite more joy into my life?
  • Again, there is no “right” response. Sit quietly with whatever comes to your attention.
  • If your attention wanders at any time during the meditation (and it will!) simply notice it, then invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath. When you feel ready, ask yourself the question again.
  • Continue this meditation for 10 – 15 minutes. Note any thoughts, ideas, or personal commitments in your practice journal.

I hope you enjoy the practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

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Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere