Team Mindful Yoga Therapy is expanding our tool box so that we can reach additional populations who will benefit from our program.Read More
I am currently taking the 100 hour Mindful Yoga Teacher training and am so extremely grateful for the scholarship I am receiving to be able to do so. I had been doing yoga for about 10 years, off and on, but it has really only been in the past year or so that my personal practice has taken on deeper and more spiritual meaning and intensity.I served in the U.S. Coast Guard for five years, in the early 1990’s, at a time when there were a lot of migrants trying to reach our shores for economic and political asylum. It was through my time served on a large cutter home-ported in Virginia that I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti, among other Caribbean nations. It was there that I saw such poverty and extreme living conditions, that I vowed to return one day and make a small difference in the lives of the people of that beautiful country. In 2011, I made that vow a reality and traveled for the first of many times to Haiti with a group from my church in Southbury, CT. I have been going down to Haiti every year since the earthquake and will continue to do so, leading groups as the immersion trip leader. In 2017 our small ministry grew into a non-profit corporation called Seeds of Hope for Haiti, Inc., with me serving on the board of directors. If it was not for the experiences I had in the Coast Guard to drive my passion and vision, I don’t think that this would have ever become a reality. In 2014 I had the honor to present my son Matt with his graduation certificate when he graduated from U.S. Coast Guard Boot Camp, in my uniform! I have always had and will always have such a sweet spot in my heart for service members and veterans. That is why I am excited to bring my 200 hour yoga teacher training that I have had through VETOGA, (founder Justin Blazejewski is also a MYT grad) and this 100 hour training with MYT, to veterans, active duty and their family members in Connecticut. I am currently starting work on bringing programs to various military installations in the state, along with the help and expertise of another MYT trained instructor. I hope to see this take off and become a regular offering to the service members stationed there and their families. Before I even started my yoga teacher training, I studied about trauma and how it affects the brain and how the “issues live in the tissues”. I attended the Yoga of Twelve Steps of Recovery leadership training in January in Surf City, NC. I started leading Y12SR meetings in my area in February of 2018, even before becoming a certified yoga instructor! (I had a partner who was certified who led the practice and I led the meeting.) I did not know if I would eventually become certified at first, but a few months after I had led a few sessions of Y12SR, I started looking into affordable ways that I could get my 200 hour certification. (I work full time at a local non- profit agency and do not have the financial means to be able to spend $2,000 to $3,000 on teacher training.) Through a Google search, I found VETOGA, Inc., a nonprofit run by a veteran who offers 200 hour teacher training's to other veterans, so that they could teach yoga in their communities to other military and vets. In order to gain a spot in this training, participants have to raise a certain level of funds. I set out to raise money for this organization in order to be included in the Spring 2018 class. With some hard work, and putting forth some money of my own, I was successful and headed to Alexandria, VA for training in May. It was in this training that we spent one afternoon talking about next steps, how we might partner with other similar organizations that bring yoga to veterans, or to take advantage of more training's that are in line with VETOGA's mission. Mindful Yoga Therapy was mentioned several times as the # 1 way to continue with more training in working with trauma. I was instantly curious because this was what I wanted to do from the very beginning, bring trauma -informed yoga to others. It was only natural that I seek it out after hearing from a friend that I should attend the 100 hour training, and it was starting very soon, in July of this summer. He set me up with Suzanne who offered me a scholarship and after filling out the application, I was in! Talk about timing and dharma, I felt this was the next right thing for me. I am particularly interested in what I have been learning from Suzanne at the Mindful Yoga Center. Her knowledge of working with veterans with PTSD is something that I feel can really benefit from personally, as I deal with anxiety and stress in my own life, it is a great tool in my toolbox that I can take to others. I can see myself working with others affected by traumatic stress, such as those who survived the terrible earthquake in Haiti in 2010, or just the stress and adverse experiences that are present where poverty exists. I feel strongly that yoga would benefit so many, and perhaps one day I will bring yoga and meditation to people in Haiti. This past summer on a recent trip, our group took a yoga class on a mountaintop there, and it was such a surreal experience. The clouds surrounded us, it was literally yoga in the clouds. I would love to offer more classes like that one day. Ever thankful for the opportunity to train with Suzanne and Mindful Yoga Therapy, I hope to pay it forward by carrying the tools of yoga, meditation and yoga nidra to the people in my community and abroad. Namaste, Christine
Hello my name is Jacki Alessio and I came to know the 100 Hour Mindful Yoga Therapy program through my home studio director Suzanne Manafort. I have to first of all express my gratitude to Suzanne and my fellow student peers who have honored my brief service to the Connecticut Army National Guard (August 2017-February 2018). I truly believe I've arrived in a unique niche of the yoga community and thus my experience thus far in this training has been a transformative one.Personally,I've sought out psychotherapy for 20 years for relief from anxiety, seasonal and grief related depression, addictions and codependency, and from automatic responses as a result of interpersonal violent traumas. Professionally, I've worked in the field of mental health/social work for 10 years; empowering survivors of abuse and neglect, advocating for civil liberties at the local and state level, taking care of the elderly and those with physical disabilities/ABI's/TBI's and providing clinical support to those involved in the criminal justice system.
Those of us who practice yoga and meditation on a regular basis often notice changes in ourselves that can be hard to put into words. Perhaps we find ourselves less prone to stress or anger. Maybe we are calmer when faced with challenges which historically would have thrown us into a swirl of negative emotions. It can almost seem like the simple act of practicing works some unseen magic on the mind itself.
Not surprisingly, there have been myriad neuro-scientific studies on this topic, specifically where the practice of meditation is concerned. The amygdala, the brain-center for our emotions, ‘lights up’ when we feel intense emotional responses to difficult, frightening, or stressful situations. Studies show that practitioners of meditation exhibit reduced amygdala activity, and are therefore more able to regulate their emotions. Physiological testing indicates that those who develop mindfulness-based practices (like meditation) feel negative emotions with less intensity, are less prone to anxiety, and adapt well to stressful situations [Desbordes, G. et al.]. These studies indicate that meditative practices really do create enduring, positive changes in the function of the brain.
Mindfulness practices like yoga (which many consider a form of moving meditation) have also been shown to positively affect practitioners’ attitudes toward their own experiences in life [Keng, S. et al.]. For example, we may be more apt to approach situations from a place of curiosity and openness, rather than reacting with fear or judgement. This makes it easier for us to cope with the changes that life inevitably brings.
The data is pretty undeniable: If you find yourself facing life’s constant changes and challenges with a little more equanimity, you really can thank your yoga and meditation practice!
Peace and Love,
P.S. If you’d like to read these studies (and many others like them) in more depth, check out the Research link on the MYT website.
Desbordes, G. et al. (2012 Nov 01). Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 6: 292. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00292.
Keng, S. et al. (2011 Aug). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 31(6): 1041–1056. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006.
COMING UP: NATIONAL STRESS AWARENESS DAY
April 16th is National Stress Awareness Day...#MYTStressAwareness | We are looking for 2-3 yogis to share their experiences on how yoga & meditation have helped them deal with stress. If you're interested, please send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
All this week, we’re going to highlight the benefits of Yoga Nidra as a form of yogic sleep. Yoga Nidra is one of Mindful Yoga Therapy’s five tools in our toolbox. The other four include: Pranayama, Asana, Meditation, and Gratitude. What makes Yoga Nidra so special is that it can be a more effective and efficient form of rest and rejuvenation than conventional sleep. The total relaxation achieved in a Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to hours of ordinary sleep. We reached out to our MYT graduates to see what their thoughts are about this ancient practice. Here are Ben King's thoughts on Yoga Nidra.
My first experience with yoga nidra was at the Washington DC VA.
I hadn’t slept through the night in weeks and when I was invited to try the class out at the I figured I had nothing to lose. The first thing that made me feel comfortable was being called New Guy by and old gnarly looking Vietnam Veteran. I like him immediately. When I asked him what this stuff was like he said, “well you ain’t awake, but you ain’t asleep either."
The teacher began the guidance by getting us focused on our breath. We did five minutes of alternate nostril breathing. Then she invited us to think about a place that we really like. A place that felt safe and secure. An internal recourse the teacher called it. I immediately thought about the lake house by grandparents built back in the 50s. Right on the lake in south western Virginia, I immediately let my thoughts go back there. The smell the sounds of the crows in the morning and the boats on the water. Then the teacher guided us to pay attention to different parts of our body. Starting at our feet she would say, now focus your attention on you left big toe, now the second toe and on and on she would literally just call out body parts for us to focus on and before I knew it everything slowed way down.
Like the Vietnam vet said I wasn’t asleep but I wasn’t awake either. It was like I was riding in a boat and my thoughts where the calm water beneath me. My thoughts seemed serene and calm and my awareness of them was easy and fluid. I had choice in what came to mind but my thoughts where so light that it was just easier to just let them float up and away.
The 45-minute class was over well before I thought it would be. After a few minutes of not wanting to leave my chair I thanked the teacher, said see you next week to the other vets, and walked back to my car. As I walked feeling better and more rested than I had felt in a long time I couldn’t help but think how much different my life would have been had I had this tool when I returned home from Iraq. Man I thought, years of self-medicating with booze and sleeping pills to fall asleep, what a waste. I didn’t lament my past for long. I had found a new tool and I planned on using it to the fullest. I went back to that class for 8-months straight and ended up getting certified in the iRest yoga nidra style. The practice changed my understanding of what tools were out there to deal with transition stress and PTSD. So my advice to any vet trying to manage transition is don’t create a tool box without yoga nidra in it. It ain’t sleep, but you ain’t awake either.
We would love to hear about how you use yoga nidra, meditation, yoga etc…to help you sleep. You can either use the hashtag #MYTYogaNidra, tag us in your post and/or send us an email (email@example.com) and we’ll add it to our blog.
TODAY kicks off the National Sleep Awareness Week.
We're going to highlight the benefits of Yoga Nidra as a form of yogic sleep. Yoga Nidra is one of Mindful Yoga Therapy's five tools in our toolbox. The other four include: Pranayama, Asana, Meditation, and Gratitude. What makes Yoga Nidra so special is that it can be a more effective and efficient form of rest and rejuvenation than conventional sleep. The total relaxation achieved in a Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to hours of ordinary sleep.
We reached out to our MYT graduates to see what their thoughts are about this ancient practice. Here are Jennie G's thoughts on Yoga Nidra.
What is Yoga Nidra? Translated literally from the Sanskrit, we arrive at the term “yogic sleep,” yet the practice of Yoga Nidra is not sleep. Though it is extremely relaxing, it holds so much more for us than simple stress relief. So, what exactly is this practice, and how can it help us reach our inner potential to live calm, joyful, and contented lives?
Yoga Nidra is a tantric practice based upon the knowledge of the channels (nadis) between the body and the brain. Using pratyahara (sense withdrawal), the deeper recesses of the mind may be accessed via sushumna nadi (the central channel). These depths house the root of our habitual thoughts and behaviors, from which grows the very framework of our minds. In this way, the practice holds undeniable potential to affect positive change.
In Yoga Nidra, the practitioner is guided along a path of progressive awareness, moving from one body part to another, in a sequence proven to calm the body. The act of calming the body also quiets the mind and opens a space of stillness between consciousness and sleep. In this space, our minds are much more receptive to our chosen intention or resolve (sankalpa), which we set in place at the beginning of each session.
The practice of Yoga Nidra makes it possible for us to correct patterns in the brain which do not serve us on our journey through life. By spending time in the fertile threshold between waking and sleeping, we begin to remove obstructions from our minds, allowing freedom and growth to occur. Through this practice, we begin to truly live in harmony with our ideals.
During National Sleep Awareness Week, why not see what Yoga Nidra can bring to your life?
Peace and Love,
We would love to hear about how you use yoga nidra, meditation, yoga etc...to help you sleep. You can either use the hashtag #MYTYogaNidra, tag us in your post and/or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll add it to our blog.
UPCOMING TRAINING PROGRAMS:
The Yamas and the Niyamas
The Yamas and the Niyamas are ethical practices laid out for us in Patanjali’s 8-limb path presented in the yoga sutras. I like to think of them as a road map, guiding us in the right direction.
The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-excess
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed.
The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include:
- Saucha: purity
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses
- Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration
- Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to a higher power
The Yamas and Niyamas are often seen as ‘moral codes’, or ways of living life to your full potential. To be ‘moral’ can be difficult at times, which is why this is considered a very important practice of yoga.
If we are to really benefit from a yoga practice, it has to expand beyond the mat and into life, so that we can move closer toward unity and wholeness. We are not only strengthening our bodies, but our minds and our hearts. The practice of yoga is realization that we are all one.
This month on February 17th we celebrate random acts of kindness. Frankly, our world needs more kindness. See how many times this month you can surprise someone with an act of kindness.
Lets make this a movement, maybe it will catch on………
Show the world that love matters.
xo - Suzanne
Santosha | Acceptance, but not without action
Your yoga practice will help you learn to practice Santosha or Acceptance of what is, and where we actually are—in our mind and body—at each new moment and each new day and an important principle in our yoga practice.
But it isn’t always easy! This doesn’t mean we surrender or that we don’t take action.
In my last message, I mentioned that I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions because they always make us feel as if we failed when we veer away, and we do veer away! However, if we make a conscious effort to make small changes and continue to find our way back to them, we find a way to treat ourselves with kindness. If we can treat ourselves with kindness, we can learn to treat others the same way.
Small steps….Big changes!
You may step on your yoga mat today and have an amazing practice that feels so good that you can’t wait to do it again tomorrow. When tomorrow arrives, you may have an entirely different experience. You may have physical limitations that don’t allow you to do the full expression of the posture. You may be tired, or just not feeling good. In practicing acceptance of how we actually are and feel each day, we just proceed on with our practice. We notice and then continue on. Santosha does not mean stopping or giving up! It means that you accept your practice is different each day and you continue on. You keep practicing. You accept you have some limitations, but you don’t let them stop you.
While this acceptance starts on your yoga mat, it will enter other areas of your life. There is freedom in discerning what you can change, what you can’t, and moving forward with that knowledge.
New Year…Best You…but how?
January 1st…the beginning of the year. A renewal. A day to start anew! A time to once again…be the best you…again! Of course, I could suggest that the best you is already in you…or that in order for you to be the best you…all you need to do is give yourself permission to do so. Regardless…many of us will use the beginning of the year as a launching point for the rest of the year. Some of us will call them resolutions, others goals…and even some of us will call them intentions. For me…I resolve to allow my intentions help me achieve my goals.
As practicing yogis…we all sort of share some common ideals. Compassion and kindness to one-self and others are certainly some of those shared ideals. So too is Santosha…or acceptance. So how can we better ourselves in a manner that is both compassionate and kind…all while accepting (santosha) that I am already all that I need?
I heard a perfect analogy for those of us looking to #MYTKickStart the new year. I was listening to the Tim Ferriss interview with LearnVest CEO Alexa Von Tobel. She suggested there were two types of people. Achievers and Competitors. I think this is the solution! We can better ourselves…we can allow ourselves be the best versions of ourselves…and we can do it with compassion and kindness. According to Von Tobel, it all boils down to whether you’re an achiever or competitor. Let me explain.
Von Tobel suggests that when an achiever (read yogi) wakes up, they make a list of goals, tasks, resolutions, intentions that they plan to achieve/accomplish. They then set out to do just that. Pretty simple…make a list…complete it…feel good! Conversely, a competitor will see the achiever making all of these great strides and think to themselves, “how can beat them…and be better than them?” The difference is stark! The achiever wants to be the best possible version of themselves…whereas the competitor simply wants to be better than you.
So…if you are going to, or desire to #MYTKickStart your year, be compassionate and kind to yourself. Allow yourself to achieve your goals and don’t allow yourself to compete…especially against yourself. #santosha
If we are going to make a change in this world, we need to start with ourselves.
Yoga Sutra 2:46 Sthira Sukha Asanam
This sutra is most commonly translated as:
Stable and Comfortable Posture
The ability to find this stable and comfortable space in our body-mind helps us to abide in a good space and is only possible when our prana is healthy. Prana is our life force, the power or shakti that enlivens the body, the mind and the soul. Cultivating healthy prana is a process that reaches far beyond our yoga mats and into every aspect of our lives. We start with our relationships, diet and lifestyle as we begin the process of creating balance in our own lives.
Our fast-paced lives and the prevalence for stress related illness seems to come from our constant over-stimulation. We work long hours and juggle many demands; all of this depletes and destabilizes our nervous system and life force or prana. Most look for a quick fix for this. Creating balance takes time and we must show up every day.
Making a change a in the world starts with creating balance (Sthira and Sukham) in our own body-mind first. Breathing practices, asana and meditation help us to create balance. However, stepping on our yoga mat is only a part of this process. Nourishing the body with healthy food and the mind with a healthy lifestyle are just as important. How we move through the world matters.
I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions because they always make us feel as if we failed when we veer away and we do veer away! However, if we make a conscious effort to make small changes and continue to find our way back to them, we find a way to treat ourselves with kindness. If we can treat ourselves with kindness, we can learn to treat others the same way.
And this is how the shift begins…..
For the better part of last week and most of this week, I have been looking at all of the different offers I can take advantage of this Veterans Day. Everything from discounts and free meals at some of my favorite places like Tijuana Flats...to free lifetime membership at Top Flight. There are no fewer than three free yoga classes within an hour of my home too. I'm pretty sure I could spend the entire day driving around enjoying all of these perks offered to me because I served.
However...I did notice something.
While I am very appreciative...and to be totally honest...I do love a free meal/shirt...I noticed very few actually included everyone who made a sacrifice. In other words, the majority of these salutes to Veterans left out the extended family. Sons and daughters...husbands and wives of the Veteran. I can tell you first hand they equally served and equally shoulder the sacrifice.
So this Veterans Day...all of us here at Mindful Yoga Therapy want to honor all those who served...including those who didn't wear a uniform...but instead wore a cape...or some other super-hero outfit. We ask that you do the same. While you're out and about this weekend (or anytime) and you see a Veteran...take an extra moment and acknowledge their family members too.
Retired Air Force (1990-2013)
In November of 1978, English rock band, The Police released their debut album, …which we could argue could have been titled, The Police-Greatest Hits Volume 1. One of the songs on this album is titled “So Lonely!” It is perhaps the happiest song about being completely alone. The Police were HUGE…MEGASTARS…ON TOP OF THE WORLD. Yet, Sting the lead singer of The Police (in case you live under a rock), felt empty, “being surrounded by all this attention and yet experiencing the worst lonely feeling.” You wouldn’t have guessed it by the upbeat rhythm of the song, but by all accounts…Sting was suffering from depression. This song really peaked my interest. Why did it seem Sting was on top of the world…even though he seemingly and albeit joyfully reaching out for help? Two questions came to mind: 1) Does your individual perception of depression control the effects of depression and 2) Is it OK to be depressed?
According to a recent study, depression can be subdivided into four neurophysiological subtypes (‘biotypes’) defined by distinct patterns of dysfunctional connectivity in limbic and frontostriatal networks. This study suggests that depression is another spectrum issue that presents itself differently in every case. Jeff Masters is a yoga therapist, teacher, and author. Masters has been researching consciousness and the human energy field for over 30 years. He describes depression is a multi-phasic progression which needs to be addressed individually. It can be viewed through the lens of the Gunas as being of the nature of stagnation (Tamas) or exhaustion (Rajas). Perhaps in Sting’s case…he was exhausted by all of the attention, but felt like he had to keep doing whatever needed to be done in order to promote the album and the band. Masters adds that regardless to the source, depression requires mindful engagement…not avoidance.
Question 1: Does your individual perception of depression control the effects of depression?
Jeff Masters has been a somatic therapist and clinician for more than 30-years. He suggests, past experiences which inform your perception of reality, and impact your reaction to similar triggers, begin to unwind and arise into your consciousness. As this occurs your discerning mind (still unconscious) is activated and, if you haven’t yet done the work within the Yamas and Niyamas, will trigger your limbic system - the seat of your emotions. Which means your past impressions are experienced as occurring in the moment as opposed to being relegated to the past.
Depression triggers the hippocampus and the amygdala to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Masters says when this happens, “We have an on-load of stress hormones into the system. This can be of an acute level - causing anxiety, panic, fear, or anger. Or it can be sub-acute causing "feelings" of unease or insecurity.”
This is a cool point! In 1978, Sting, whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, was just an English rockstar struggling with success. However, in 1990 he began his yogic journey and has ever since had a very strong yoga and meditation practice. Interestingly…there also have not been any songs like “So Lonely.” Perhaps, yoga and meditation work? Perhaps Sting…who could easily still suffer from depression from time to time…has done the work…and now his perception has changed, thus the way he presents it to the world has changed?
Question 2: Is it OK to be depressed?
I have been practicing yoga since 1999. Not a very long time in the grand scheme of life…but to be sure…a long enough time to have experienced the joys of relief it brings on so many different levels. I can remember when I first learned about yoga and struggled with my preconceptions. Did I have to wear a black speedo, grow my hair out and never wear a shirt again? (My first experience with yoga was a VHS tape of Rodney Yee. HA! ) Would I have to give up meat? Would I have to speak only of rainbows, unicorns, chakras, and peace? Would I have to completely change who I am? I could go into great length answering these…but I will be short in my answer: I believe yoga makes you the best version of you…regardless of any of the above mentioned thoughts/requirements. You still get to be you…just a much better version of you.
These thoughts however are valid! If yoga and meditation help with depression…then am I…or YOU…allowed to be depressed? According to Masters, there is a deep well of practitioners in Yoga / Self development field who feel like experiencing "negative" emotions is to be avoided. However, the Practice of Yoga (POY) innately accesses the recesses of our consciousness, our body, our energetic matrix which underlies it all. As this occurs and we continue the practice, we will increase the transformative heat within these specific aspects of being. In other words, as we do the work, there is a good chance past trauma can surface and present itself as anger…and over the long-term if not properly addressed…depression.
So…if I am understanding this correctly…YES…it is OK to feel angry and perhaps even depressed! The important aspect is what we do when these feelings arise. Masters says, “Your state of consciousness at the moment that you re-experience these impressions is crucial to denature or down regulate these mental and emotional triggers.” He suggests before these feelings become uncontrollable to set a Boundary of First Resistance, “take a breath and back off slightly. Begin surrounding the practice with the breath and stay as centered as we can in the calm awareness of the Buddhi mind (where the Mind and the Prana are one).”
The practice of Yoga WILL bring things up. Masters says to avoid the artifacts and their echoes that arise, is to “re-embed the traumas.” The goal of yoga/meditation is to assess the breath (prana and the mind), adjust the practice and to take refuge in the sadhana. Additionally, Masters highlights the importance of Self-Awarness and Ahimsa…aka no shame, “if you feel that the experience is too overwhelming to manage, then seek out assistance in the form of Sangha or even professional assistance. When in doubt seek it out (help).”
You may or may not know that Mindful Yoga Therapy came about when Suzanne Manafort, the Founder/Director was looking for a way to "give back to society." It all started one day when she volunteered at the local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. Through trial and error and with input from the Veterans that were in her classes, she fleshed out what didn't work and focused on what did. Today...the things that worked are all part of the "toolbox." Fast-forward a few years...and today Mindful Yoga Therapy offers two different programs for Veterans that focus on post-traumatic growth, the original 15-hour program for yoga teachers, plus a 100-hour program for yoga teachers. These are natural progressions for any company. What we're very excited about...is a progression we didn't think about. Several of the veterans who have completed our programs designed specifically for them...are now yoga teachers themselves.
We just wrapped up a 200-hour Embodyoga teacher training program at our national training center in Newington Connecticut. Embodyoga is a well-rounded, in-depth study of yoga with an emphasis on personal embodiment as the basis for deepening a practice. Among the students were Mike Riley, an Air Force Vet and Sean Weir, a Royal Air Force Vet.
Mike Riley's journey to yoga started when he felt as if he was at whit's end, "my marriage had just ended, nothing was going right for me and I could see the end all I had to do was choose it." Lucky for Mike, a friend mentioned Mindful Yoga Therapy to him after he had tried yoga at a few different places. Today, the former aircraft mechanic has a strong daily practice and is a certified yoga instructor. Mike volunteers at the local VA and talks about the benefits of yoga to just about every veteran he meets, "getting veterans to participate in weekly yoga classes has shown to improve mood and a sense of community in which I participate." Mike also is a valuable member of Team MYT. If you ever sign up for one of our training programs, you might just receive a block of training from him.
Sean Weir came to yoga when he felt he was struggling both physically and mentally. Sean was a first responder in the Royal Air Force and has also served as a fire fighter here in the U.S. For Sean, Yoga Nidra was his gateway to yoga, "it helped me and I want to pass the opportunity on to help others such as veterans, first responders and under served communities such as at risk youth." Sean plans to continue his yoga journey and will be enrolling in an upcoming 100-hour program. Sean is also working with the West Haven Connecticut VA, "I am in the process of communicating with the staff how yoga and mindfulness programs can best serve this community."
You can learn more about our program on our website.
Veterans With PTSD Benefit From Mindful Yoga Therapy
Veterans benefit from yoga - Veterans struggling with the growing problem of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have new hope in helping to alleviate their symptoms with Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT), according to research that finds the specific yoga practices in its protocol can help improve their physical and psychological well-being.
A group of academics from several nationally renowned health centers recently revealed the results of the research that found MYT significantly helped veterans deal with their PTSD, including reductions of almost 30 percent in their scores on the PTSD Checklist -- one of two systems known as the gold standard of assessing whether people are reducing their symptoms of PTSD.
MYT is a therapeutic yoga training program for already certified yoga instructors. In this training, they learn specific practices which are worked into a 12 week protocol that uses yoga to help teach veterans (or other populations who have experienced trauma) how to work through symptoms of PTSD. The advanced (100 hour) MYT training allows instructors to combine this protocol with clinical therapy to help develop veterans' self-control and mindfulness as a strategy to improve their wellbeing. That's critically important at a time when suicide, addiction and substance abuse due to PTSD are increasing among veterans.
The peer-reviewed study, presented at the American Academy of Health Behavior's March conference in Tucson, Arizona, offers promising findings for promoting MYT to help veterans. A group of 17 veterans -- six women and 11 men – took part in the research, attending weekly classes to learn about different yoga practices including Pranayama, Asana, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude, and changes in their well-being were tracked using various scales.
Among the findings, the research showed that veterans who took part in MYT over several weeks perceived their own well-being to have improved after each session. For example, one participant who was asked to rank their well-being gave it an initial score of 2.5 at the first session and showed a constant improvement over the course, including a peak of almost 3.5 at the sixth session.
The research also showed that the veterans' perceived levels of their own stress plummeted after taking part in the yoga program, showing a direct connection between MYT and reduced PTSD symptoms. Using a Perceived Stress Scale that ranks participants' belief of their own stress levels from the low of zero to the high of 40, veterans who practiced MYT, overall, recorded a drop from roughly 27 on the scale to about 20 -- a major reduction that promises to help people recovering from PTSD.
The research also indicates that the practices have benefits beyond yoga, because several participants said they used the skills developed during MYT -- such as managing anger and relieving pain -- to better inform other aspects of their life, further helping them cope with their PTSD.
The findings help to show why MYT gets such rave reviews from yoga instructors who have taken the advanced therapeutic trainings. “I had prior training in many of the yoga practices but this training was like the PhD of trauma yoga,” said Mary Beth Ogulewicz, who attended one of the MYT trainings in 2015.
The research was conducted by the REAL Human Performance athletic training facility in collaboration with the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Interact for Health, which awards grants for programs that aim to improve health and well-being. The team's results are so promising that further studies are planned to assess the long-term impact of MYT.
To view the full results from this study, click here.
David Bowie - Changes I still don't know what I was waiting for And my time was running wild A million dead-end streets Every time I thought I'd got it made It seemed the taste was not so sweet So I turned myself to face me But I've never caught a glimpse Of how the others must see the faker I'm much too fast to take that test
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange) Turn and face the strain Ch-ch-Changes
At the most basic level...Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is a natural response to an unnatural event. Of course from this point...there are many jumping off points we can explore which would further define what PTS is. It is safe to say that after a traumatic event, your body and mind...change. The opening lyrics of David Bowie's "Changes," seem so fitting when it comes to describing the changes warriors with PTS go through. For me...I could easily change the lyric: "...and my time was running wild," and replace it with "...and my mind was running wild!" Bowie continues with the lyric, "turn and face the strange." This could very well be the first step in post traumatic growth! In yoga terms we might call this santosha. Santosha has a direct translation to contentment, however, I like to translate it as acceptance. It is often very difficult for those struggling with PTS to feel...to feel comfortable being themselves...to face the stranger that is now them. - Chris Eder | MYT Director of Communication
Mindful Yoga Therapy strives to provide the appropriate tools to help those who suffer from PTS. Additionally, our 15 and 100-hour training programs strive to provide a teaching protocol that will help cultivate not regulate a daily practice for these warriors. Perhaps...even leading to some amazing life changes.
These changes often extend to the yoga teacher as well.
We asked our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta how the 100-hour MYT training changed him! Here is his answer:
The Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT) training pretty much changed everything about my practice. I feel that it took my understanding of yoga much deeper than the physical and into the layers of the subtle, mental and emotional bodies through our in-depth exploration of the nervous system. MYT training asked me to both learn about and then directly experience how the various tools of yoga affect the nervous system. For example, MYT taught me how to use yogic tools such as the breath in relatively simple ways that can have profound results on the practitioner. For those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) we are perpetually stuck in the fight/flight response with our ‘foot on the gas pedal’ and in MYT we learn how to ‘pump the breaks’ and balance out the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic or relaxation response via the yoga practices in the MYT toolkit. As someone with PTSD, I find using the tools of MYT in my yoga practice to be very supportive and grounding. I have found a lot of healing in a regular practice of Yoga Nidra, which MYT training helped me to explore. Perhaps, the most significant change to come from undertaking the MYT training was that it laid the foundation for my formal seated meditation practice. Prior to MYT training I had dabbled with many different forms of meditation but never settled into a formal daily practice. That all changed when MYT Founder and Director, Suzanne Manafort, challenged us to commit to sitting for 40 days straight during our 100 Hour Training Program. If we missed a day, we would simply start again and continue until we strung together 40 consecutive days with a seated meditation. I had a few slips before I completed the challenge but it was highly effective in teaching me the benefits of a daily mediation practice. I have not missed a single day since I completed the challenge and that was over a year ago. Hands down the greatest change in my life and my practice to come out of MYT training has come from the meditation practice that I learned. It has been a total game changer.
In the book, How Yoga Works, by Geshe Michael Roach, a young girl named Friday is arrested when she crosses the boarder with an ancient copy of the Yoga Sutras. While in jail, she notices the Captain is suffering from pain. Over time...and I mean...a long time...Friday teaches the Captain...how yoga works. In this story, yoga found the Captain just at the right time. Over the years, I often ask people, "How did you find yoga?" The answers generally fall into two categories: I found yoga, or yoga found me. I asked this question to our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta this question...here is his answer.
Yoga found me. I believe that’s just how it works – when you are ready (i.e. life’s challenges and experiences have prepared and opened you to receive the teachings) the practice of yoga will find you. It’s a spin on the old maxim that when the student is ready; the teacher appears. Well, I feel that when a person is ready to begin practicing; the yoga appears. The scope and diversity of yoga make it intrinsically adaptable which lets the yoga practice meet someone right where they are in a way that is most useful and meaningful to them at the time. It is in this way I feel that yoga finds you. That’s how yoga found me. I was in a lot of pain mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually and I was seeking to ease my suffering. It provided me (and continues to do so) with many tools to address the various layers of my being while carving out the path toward healing and wholeness. Yoga found me about a year after I separated from active-duty and gave me a way to reconnect to my body and find some support and grounding. In this way it really helped as I struggled to reintegrate into civilian life. I honestly don’t know where I would be if yoga hadn’t found me at such a critical time because I had been on such a destructive path with drugs and alcohol and some really risky behavior. That was over a decade ago and yoga still seems to be finding me in new ways as it continually supports me through all the ups and downs of life. The challenges I face are my teachers and the yoga provides me with the tools to skillfully navigate them. I believe that yoga is truly a gift and I mean it when I say that yoga saved me. That is why I am now so committed to sharing the practice of yoga with others, particularly my fellow brothers and sisters that have served, because I wholeheartedly believe in its transformative powers to heal, empower and inspire people to step into their fullest potential.
Anthony will be leading a 15-hour Mindful Yoga For Trauma Training For Yoga Teachers program at White Lotus Wellness Center, (College Park MD) March 10-12. Space is still available. Register Here!
It's funny...the more I depend on technology to make me more efficient, the more it seems my life is full of things to do. I feel the very same technology I use to keep up in this fast-paced life...the more hectic my life becomes. Sometime to the point where I don't even get to...or more importantly...forget to enjoy it!
Mindfulness in its simplest form breaks down like this: paying attention, on purpose, in this moment, and without judgment. The mindfulness aspect of Mindful Yoga Therapy consists of two primary components:
1. Paying attention to the present moment 2. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment
Today, Suzanne Manafort, MYT Founder, follows-up with Part 2 of Mindfulness which deals with acceptance. Acceptance (Santosha)
Acceptance is an important part of mindfulness, and santosha is a key component of any therapeutic yoga practice. Santosha is the yogic principle of contentment and acceptance of what is actually arising in the body-mind. This acceptance does not at all infer non- action, but rather is the basis for transforming patterns in the body-mind. Santosha involves a degree of “allowing” that can be practiced only when inner support, grounding, and connecting to the earth have been firmly established.
The emphasis on acceptance is especially important for veterans with PTS due to the high incidence of guilt and moral injury that arises from the traumatic events they experience during military service. Many veterans have participated in activities that they later feel intense guilt and shame about. Conversely, other veterans feel a strong sense of guilt and shame about things they did not do or could not prevent. These negative feelings about past events, and the tendency to replay these events in the mind, prevent many veterans from living in the present moment. This negativity is often manifested as anger, restlessness, struggling, and isolation from others. By fostering santosha in our students, we can help them not only feel better about these past events, but also become more comfortable living in the present.
Peace & Love,
When Susann Spilkin first tried yoga during the early 70's, it wasn't to learn the ways of the enlightened, rather it was a way to escape for a night out with her husband. However, it wasn't long before the allure of listening to the Beatles playing in the yoga classes that yoga turned from 'something alternative to try,' to 'joy from being inside her body' in a way she had never been before. Similarly, that is the one of the goals of Mindful Yoga Therapy. The tools provided in the MYT practices are a powerful complement to professional treatment for Post Traumatic Stress. Tools that when used in tandem with professional talk therapy help veterans reconnect to their bodies. Susann's father was in the Air Force Reserves. She recalls a trip to the Detroit VA where she took her father for an appointment. While walking through the hallways she experienced great joy, much like her first yoga experience. She really enjoyed sharing a smile, or even eye contact with the Vets at the VA. Perhaps a felt experience, or perhaps an authentic experience. Susann's Veteran connection begins and ends with her dad, but that doesn't mean she isn't connected. "I may not have experienced anything our vets have experienced in their service, but we are more alike than we are different; we all want the same things….to feel good and to live a life with as much peace and joy as possible."
Susann is in fact spreading peace and joy. She teaches yoga using the MYT principles to veterans at the Detroit VA Medical Center as well as the Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program. Additionally she has presented MYT at the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals Annual Conference in the hopes of introducing MYT into the Michigan Veteran’s Treatment Courts. Rolf Gates often says in his class, "plant good seeds...and good fruit will grow. Well, the seeds have been planted and they are already beginning to grow. Susann has been contacted by the Ann Arbor, Michigan VA Transition Management Team to bring yoga to their post-911 vets; the Detroit VA Medical Center Military Sexual Trauma Department for a women’s only MYT program; and the Macomb County Vet Center wants a MYT program as well. If you think that is a lot of work for one person to handle...you're right! Three of our recent 100-hr graduates are stepping into these opportunities.
A mindful, embodied yoga practice can provide relief from symptoms and develop the supportive skills that veterans need in their everyday lives. Yoga has proven to aid in a veteran’s healing journey. This healing power, or journey is not only for the veteran. It is a two-way path. Susann believes her personal practice has been fortified by her MYT training and teaching. She says the principals were always present but now have a deeper meaning. "The actions and effects that I took for granted truly seem like precious gifts now. Gratitude plays a much bigger role in my own practice/teaching and life. I am more aware than ever of the power of the practice to support a balanced nervous system and can equate that to the yogic quality of sattva."
Getting a yoga student to take a teacher training class is pretty easy. Easier still is getting a yoga teacher to take a yoga class. However, it still seems somewhat elusive to get veterans to try yoga. Susann offers this advice. "Remember the old Life cereal advertisement?....'Try it, Mikey likes it!' Ask your buddies who have tried yoga; you are more likely to believe and trust them than me. Those who have tried it are likely to tell you they are sleeping better, have a handle on their anger, that their relationships with their families have improved and they have a level of self-acceptance that they haven’t felt in a long time. You are likely to hear them tell you that they are less often numb or controlled by their emotions and that they are feeling more and in a good way."
Solid advice to be sure. However, what if you don’t have a buddy letting you know how yoga has given them tools to deal with life? Susann suggests grabbing one or two of them and finding out together.
If you're a veteran and are looking to try yoga, but are not sure where to start...contact our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta. If you're a yoga teacher who is interested in taking one of our programs, check out the program schedule for a class near you.
Mindfulness is a major buzzword in today's fast-paced, I want it now world we live in. Slowing down for some seems so far fetched...and perhaps even unachievable. Mindfulness in its simplest form breaks down like this: paying attention, on purpose, in this moment, and without judgment. The mindfulness aspect of Mindful Yoga Therapy consists of two primary components:
1. Paying attention to the present moment 2. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment
Today, I want to talk about how we can pay attention to the present moment in Part 1 of Mindfulness. Present Moment Awareness The cultivation of mindfulness can be very challenging, but it is an important piece of any yoga therapy practice for veterans with PTS. Often they live outside of the present moment, avoiding painful reminders of trauma or actively re-experiencing traumatic events. At other times, people who suffer from PTS are in the present moment, but are there with a great deal of fear and anxiety because they experience elements of their current situation as threatening and unsafe. Avoidance and hyper-vigilance are primary symptoms of PTS. The meaning a person gives to internal physical sensations has enormous implications for physical and psychological health. Often, individuals with PTS interpret internal sensations as abnormal or frightening. As a yoga therapist, you can help your students minimize symptoms by normalizing the sensations experienced, reframing their meaning, and reducing the tendency to catastrophize. In Mindful Yoga Therapy, we are invited to intentionally focus on the sensations in their yoga practice, both to find comfort and to learn to be present and non-reactive to sensations of discomfort. The comfortable sensations then become a source of support, and the uncomfortable sensations become dissociated from fear and anxiety.
Peace & Love,
Amanda Neufeld and Colten Peed own and operate Yoga Studio Satya in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They have a very clear and focused mission statement:
To Bring Joy and Health to the Body and Mind, to Inspire and Love Without Judgment and Create a Community Beyond the Walls in Which we Practice.
And this is exactly what the two of these yogis from "The Springs" are doing. They have already hosted a 15-hour Mindful Yoga Therapy weekend course, as well as a 100-hour teacher training program. Colten and Amanda have also signed up to host another 15-hour course next year.
Colorado Springs is a perfect location to reach out to and serve Veterans. Colorado Springs is home to five military bases so a a good portion of the population is currently serving or has served. When they opened their studio they initially wanted to be a local non-profit that supported yoga in the community...that is how they found The Give Back Yoga Foundation (GBYF). GBYF has several programs for under-served communities...one of which is Mindful Yoga Therapy, which seemed appropriate for their demographic. So, they reached out to Suzanne Manafort to host a 15-hour training. According to Amanda, once they met Suzanne Manafort, "we knew were a part of something really incredible." Of the tools in the the MYT Toolbox, Amanda and Colten (like Suzanne) believe Support Precedes Action is the most important, "we must learn how and be willing to support ourselves. Support Precedes Action...whether this be in body, environment or relationship, there is a willingness to be receptive and aware." According to Colten and Amanda, this MYT principal allows you to return to a natural flow without trying to fix or change yourself.
For Amanda and Colten, what makes the Mindful Yoga Therapy training standout is the educational focus on the nervous system, guided nidra and calming breath practices that are sometimes overlooked in other training programs that are more asana based. Additionally, they believe the training is very helpful in discussing the military culture and language that is appropriate, while understanding PTS and levels of severity and how it effects the health of the individual.
"I think this training was the path I was looking for to deepen my own studies of therapeutics and trauma and I feel much more prepared to meet my clients with the tools we've learned through this training." - Amanda
Getting a Veteran on the mat can sometimes be super easy...and sadly...sometimes hard. Colten and Amanda have a pretty straight-forward idea on how to approach Vets to practice yoga.
"Although yoga can be perceived as fancy foot work, too difficult or it seems too fluffy - I say find a place that seems like a good fit and give it a try! There are several classes around town offered to veterans for free, there are classes at the VA and there are a few studios in town that also work privately if that is a better fit. If you're physical body is in pain or you've had an amputation: yoga can help increase range of motion, build strength and balance and help decrease pain, if you have PTS, anxiety or depression: yoga can help you increase breath capacity which calms the nervous system, if you have a hard time sleeping: yoga nidra can help you find rest without pills. There are many positive benefits of yoga that will meet you where you are."
So far this year, with the help of MYT, GBYF & Gaiam, Yoga Studio Satya has been able to donate yoga mats and tool kits for TAPS & the 127th MP CO. Colten and Amanda believe the MYT program has been so thoughtfully developed and truly cares for each veterans as an individual. More importantly, they say they are grateful to have the opportunity to support such tremendous work these men and women do and offer a way to serve them and their families.
If you are interested in helping serve the Veteran population, or perhaps you own a yoga studio and want to host a MYT event, please send us an email.