Category Archives: Therapeutic Yoga

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.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

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

Five Tips to Prevent Dizziness in Yoga

3D dizzy guy

Getting a little woozy while practicing yoga isn’t uncommon. The sensation can vary from an almost pleasant, slightly intoxicated feeling (like the rush after the first swallow of a good glass of champagne) to nausea accompanied by a frightening feeling that the room is spinning out of control. In severe cases, students can even pass out.

Although occasional wooziness while practicing yoga is no cause for alarm, if you regularly experience lightheadedness—during yoga or not—check with your doctor. If she gives you the green light to continue practicing, here are five strategies that may help.

  1. Eat a small meal before class. Yoga teachers generally recommend that students not eat for three hours before practicing asana. It’s not bad advice, as long as you’re not hypoglycemic. If your blood sugar tends to be on the low side, eating a light meal or a protein bar before class may make a world of difference.
  2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. People who get woozy when they stand up or when they move their head from below to above their heart often suffer from postural hypotension. Drinking lots of water before class helps pump up the blood volume and seems to keep blood pressure more stable.
  3. Practice in the afternoon or evening. Many of my clients with dizziness issues have significantly fewer problems if they practice later in the day. I can’t fully explain why, other than that increased food, fluid, and daily activity all probably contribute.
  4. Move slowly. Sudden transitions result in lightheadedness. Coming out of a forward bend, moving from the floor to standing, even sitting up from Savasana. Make each transition slow, mindful, and focused on the breath.
  5. Keep your head above your heart. This one is tougher, because it involves modifying the postures. Instead of going fully into a forward bend, try going halfway or keeping your chin slightly lifted. Sometimes a small change in form fixes the problem.

There are many causes for lightheadedness, including medication side effects, inner ear issues, low blood pressure, and low blood sugar. Some of them are much trickier to deal with than others. Remember: always check with your doctor if you have a health-related concern in yoga class.   Once your health care provider says all is well, try one of these five tips. They have helped many of my clients continue their practice with comfort and ease. I hope they help you, too.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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! 

Yoga for Health Fact Sheet and Yoga Research

I haven’t written much about yoga research lately, mainly because I’ve been heads-down in the book launch events for my second novel. But recently I stumbled across a fact sheet from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health that was too good not to pass on.

The article summarizes key facts about yoga, including side effects and risks, recent scientific research, and key points to keep in mind if you are considering starting a yoga practice. As a side bonus, there’s a detailed bibliography of additional articles and links to three videos, one of which includes a list of “dos and don’ts.”

Here are some of my key takeaways:

A carefully designed yoga practice has been proven to:

  • Decrease back pain
  • Increase range of motion
  • Decrease heart rate and blood pressure
  • Relieve symptoms of both anxiety and depression
  • Improve quality of life and reduce stress
  • Reduce insomnia
  • Improve overall physical fitness, strength and flexibility
  • Be safe for healthy individuals when practiced under the guidance of a well trained-instructor

And a couple of surprises:

  • Studies done thus far have not found yoga to be helpful for asthma. (Side note: I wonder how much pranayama—if any—was included. I’d have to look at the full study to weigh in on this.)
  • The benefits of yoga for arthritis are equivocal. (Some studies find it helpful, some do not.) Future research is ongoing to see if yoga has different benefits for patients with rheumatoid arthritis versus osteoarthritis. Scientists are also trying to decide if yoga practice may be more helpful for some joints than others.

This sentence, taken directly from the article, almost made my heart sing: “Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities.” This is, of course, the hallmark of Viniyoga. How could I not agree?

Future studies are planned to determine yoga’s effects on a variety of other health conditions, including immune function, diabetes risk, PTSD, and HIV. I can’t wait to see the results!

If you’re at all interested in learning more about yoga, particularly its therapeutic effects, I highly recommend you check out this article. Lots of great information packed into eight very readable pages. Let me know what you think!

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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! 

Overcoming Eating Disorders with Yoga

Marlisa and her daughter

Marlisa and her daughter

Please welcome today’s guest, Marlisa Papp.  Marlisa has a powerful message about how yoga can help overcome eating disorders and other additions.  Please read my comment at the end, to learn more about her next steps in helping others fighting addiction.

According to NationalEatingDisorder.org, an estimated 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder and 1 out of 5 women struggle with some level of disordered eating. That’s 24 million people I want to help, not only because I feel strongly about it, but because I used to be one of them.

I have suffered from anorexia and bulimia for decades in my own life. I have been admitted to numerous inpatient settings as well as years of counseling. I was spiritually broken and disconnected from many things in life, including myself. I am now in recovery, not because of all the external help I received, but the fact that I was finally able to let go of control and surrender with the guidance of some very special teachers and mentors.

Most people who suffer from addiction state that they use to dull the pain or escape their problems through a detrimental substance or practice. For me, I turned to yoga. It helps me gain insight into how to stay with the pain and heal the underlying reasons. Everyone has pain, but we can choose to not suffer in harmful ways. I dabbled in yoga for many years as part of my own recovery, but did not truly comprehend the powerful transformation one experiences until I let go of what I thought was control and let my practice shape me in a way I never knew existed. What I found from practicing yoga for my own recovery and being dedicated to this practice on a regular basis was learning about limiting beliefs about myself that have kept me in my disordered eating, cultivating acceptance and trust, observing my thoughts and feelings by slowing my breath down, setting healthy boundaries, living in balance, non-judgmental awareness of self and others, and compassion and empathy towards myself and others.

People ask, “What is yoga?” It is a UNION with the body, mind and spirit, or a connection with the self and others. It is about recognizing the Lower self, ego, attachments, self-sabotaging behavior (like alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, workaholism, co-dependency, as well as lying and manipulating), and the Higher self (like the person who loves unconditionally, who has passions and a purpose in life, who is content, grateful, generous and honest). When we are aware of both of these sides in ourselves through slowing down and paying attention, then we have a choice to change. Yoga is a practice in life that brings about change physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually if one can slow down, accept and surrender.

This is the foundation to true freedom from addiction. All the answers come from within not what your family members, friends, community or society thinks you should do to change.

From Tracy: Are you interested in helping with her work?  Marlisa is currently raising funds on DreamFund.com, the circle giving platform for important dreams, to establish a private practice in Montana (which is my home state!) to “help clients on their journey of recovery (alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, co-dependency issues, gambling, workaholism, anxiety and depression).

About Marlisa: I am a Holistic Health Counselor and a Licensed Addiction Counselor and I am currently participating in an Intensive Yoga Certification Program. I have been working for a state agency for years facilitating Outpatient, Intensive Outpatient and Intensive Relapse Prevention groups as well as individual sessions. At times I teach mindfulness, yoga and meditation as part of my patients’ treatment plan. They love it and find a new sense of peace in their recovery as they slow their minds and thoughts down long enough to grasp some of the underlying reasons why they participated in self-harm behavior.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Yoga for Bipolar Disorder—Research Horizons

The results of a recent study on the benefits and risks of Hatha yoga for individuals with bipolar disorder were interesting to me, but not surprising. The study (which was originally published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice) evaluated the survey responses of more than seventy people with bipolar disorder who also practice yoga. The researchers’ goal was to find out if yoga was, at least on the surface, safe and effective for individuals suffering from this disorder.

I’ve only worked therapeutically with a handful of clients with bipolar disorder, but designing appropriate yoga practices for them is tricky, because it involves managing energy that can fluctuate rapidly and severely between two opposite states: rajasic (agitated, stressed, and hyper-aroused) and tamasic (dull, lethargic, and depressed). The yoga tools used to balance those energy states are significantly different.

An energizing, nourishing practice (which is typically what we teach to clients with unipolar depression) may well send a client with bipolar disorder into a manic state. A relaxing practice (which is what we typically teach to clients suffering from anxiety) might send them into a depressive one. Therefore, I often make my practices for bipolar clients more balanced energetically or very slightly sedating.

The results of the study mirrored what I’ve seen in my teaching.  The vast majority of respondents said yoga helped them; some even went so far as to say it saved their lives.  Five of the seventy, however, said that energizing practices did, indeed, agitate them.  Another five individuals said that yoga practices increased their depression. One said a relaxing practice sent him into an almost catatonic state.  As the Viniyoga teachings indicate, effective teaching is all about adapting the yoga practice to the individual.

Obviously, there is more to learn.  These surveys were the first step of a pilot clinical trial that will compare the effects of yoga practice to using a well-regarded workbook for bipolar disorder.  That trial will hopefully set the stage for a larger study.  I firmly believe that yoga, particularly Viniyoga, can be extremely useful when appropriately applied for this condition.  The results of these studies may help us understand how.

Those of you who have experienced depression, anxiety, or suffer from bipolar disorder, what have your experiences been with yoga? I’d love to hear from you.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

It’s a Blogiday Top Five!

Happy Labor Day!

In honor of the holiday, I’m taking a blogiday, of sorts.  I’m dedicating today’s blog to the top five posts on Whole Life Yoga’s blog since its inception almost three and a half years ago!  These are the number of times an individual clicked on the link to that specific post, not counting anyone who arrived at it from the home page.

So…Here they are, for those of you who missed them

The Whole Life Yoga top 5: (Click on the link to read the specific article)

What do I take from this?  People obviously want to reduce their midsection, and as I’ve always said, “knees always win.”  I’m excited that numbers three and four were more esoteric posts that go beyond asana.  And #5?  Well, who doesn’t like Cat Pose?

Thanks for your support the last over three years, keep reading, and I hope the posts have helped you.

If you like the blog, please keep reading and tell your friends.  And send me questions or ideas to write about. I’m finding myself overwhelmed with two weekly blogs (this and Killer Hobbies) and the many guest appearances I do on other blogs.  I do Whole Life Yoga’s blog because I hope it helps people. Help me keep the momentum!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Want to Strengthen Your Core? Start with the Breath

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Most people think of crunches or even Navasana (Boat Pose) as the holy grail of yoga core strengtheners.  But what if you could strengthen your abdominal muscles simply by breathing?

You can!

This simple exercise strengthens the girdling muscles that stabilize the lower back and pelvis. You can do the motion with every breath in your yoga practice, but I like to teach it lying on the floor, where you can more easily feel the motion of the spine and you aren’t distracted by other movements.  Give it a try for 5 minutes each day.  You’ll notice the difference. Your abs may even talk to you the next day!

  1. Lie on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Notice how this position flattens your lower back curve.
  2. Place your palms on your belly.
  3. As you inhale, allow your belly to soften.
  4. As you exhale, imagine that you are closing the zipper on a too-tight pair of jeans. Pull in your belly starting at the bottom (the pubic bone) and contract upward toward the bottom of your ribs. You might feel your belly hollow out and your lower back press toward the floor.
  5. On the following inhale, imagine that you are breathing in from your collar bones down. Keep your belly pulled in strongly for the first half of the inhale, and then slowly allow it to relax in the second half.
  6. With each following exhale, close the zipper again.

Hints:

  • On a scale of 1 – 10, make the abdominal contraction on exhale about a 6.  Strong enough to feel the muscles, not so strong that you feel breathless or tired.
  • Relax the rest of your body.  In particular, notice any tension that builds in your neck, shoulders, jaw, and arms, and consciously release it.
  • Once doing the exercise becomes habitual when lying on your back, try it seated crossed-legged on the floor or in a chair.
  • Once doing the exercise becomes habitual without movement,  integrate it into every breath of your asana practice.

Enjoy, and happy practicing!

Tracy Weber

A Killer RetreatCome 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 is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!