Team Mindful Yoga Therapy is expanding our tool box so that we can reach additional populations who will benefit from our program.Read More
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
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
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.
The principle of support preceding action states that if we want to feel connected and integrated in our movement, we need to know where our support is coming from before we engage in any action. For example, in Mindful Yoga Therapy we learn to recognize the earth firmly beneath us in order to allow ourselves to receive its support. Knowing we have the support we need before we make any move forward, take our next step in life, or even simply move into a yoga posture is essential. In other words: Support Precedes Everything
Maintaining your own practices and keeping your body and nervous system healthy are of utmost importance. Your personal yoga practices are as important as what you are teaching. Your Pranayama, Asana, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude should not be neglected.
The grounding connection to earth lets us know that we have the support we need to move forward safely and with stability. This earthy, grounded feeling provides a calm presence, steadiness, and sense of ease.
With continued practice, our students may find new sensations of having support under them in many different areas of their bodies. They may begin to spontaneously initiate movement from those supports. When our students know where their support is coming from, they find more comfort. Finding this connection and relationship with earth may help our students begin to find a renewed relationship with themselves as well. Finding and nurturing this relationship with the self, and feeling fully supported by the earth, allows them to begin to explore their relationships with others.
One of the 6 supports
Connecting to Earth
Connecting to earth, or grounding, is one the earliest supports we begin to explore and this creates an active relationship between earth and us. Planting our feet or hands on the earth is the primary foundation for nurturing an understanding of what it is to be in relationship. By yielding into the earth, we are better able to receive its support and stay grounded in the present moment. This process teaches us to be in relationship with ourselves as well as with the earth on which we stand or rest.
We ask students to imagine being able to walk through life feeling fully connected to earth and to themselves. Developing a conscious relationship between self and earth fosters an ability to trust the support beneath you. This trust may lead to a sense of ease in relationships with others as well. There are many free resources available to help you find support. You can find them HERE!
MYT's Anthony Scaletta was interviewed on Reload Radio. Listen to the full interview here.
Anthony, Mindful Yoga Therapy's Outreach Coordinator for Veterans and a graduate of our 100 hour certification program, served as a US Navy Special Warfare Combatant Crewman (SWCC) with Naval Special Warfare Group 1 out of San Diego, California from 1998-2003. He was an 11 Meter RHIB operator and did two deployments to the Northern Arabian Gulf region conducting Maritime Interdiction Operations and reconnaissance missions.
As a result of his service he was diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety, Depression and OCD. He also suffered chronic pain and underwent spinal fusion surgery. It was through these “opportunities,” which he used to call obstacles, that yoga found Anthony--and it immediately resonated with him as the way to heal and reintegrate after his military service.
Meet Anthony and learn more about his Mindful Yoga Therapy mission.
In August, 2014, twenty-two yoga teachers embarked on a yoga teacher training journey which would forever change their lives and the lives of those they came in contact with. One weekend a month they would travel to Newington, CT from various parts of the U.S. - Rhode Island, Ohio, Florida - to learn the set of tools that have been developed over the past seven years to help Veterans who suffer from PTSD "to find a calm and steady body/mind to continue productive and peaceful lives through the support of the mindful practices of yoga." Five months later, they would meet one last time and, in the end, graduate with their certifications to bring the practice of into the world.
We'd like to congratulate the graduates of Mindful Yoga Therapy's first 100 hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. We are SO grateful for your dedication and are honored to have been able to work with every one of you. We look forward to hearing from you all and can't wait until our reunion in 2016.
Are you a certified yoga instructor interested in taking our next 100 hour course? Join us in Virginia Beach on July 10th for the first session of our second certification course.
Some New Year's Eve thoughts from Chris Eder, Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Director of Communications.
Happy New Year's Eve! I'd like to be the first to welcome you to 2014, albeit a few hours early. As 2013 draws to a close and 2014 is right on its tail...surely most of us are looking back on 2013...and possibly more importantly (at this moment) looking forward to 2014. Why do we do this? What is so significant about this one day? Read the full article.
I have a hard time remembering things. I’m easily startled by my actions. I believe my doctor is either the world’s worst doctor or the most brilliant doctor. I sweat and sweat and sweat, and sleep with a mouthpiece, which I hate.
I’m a 23-year Air Force Veteran, a combat correspondent/broadcast journalist. My list of ailments reads like a novel: Attention Deficit Disorder, PTSD, sleep apnea, anxiety and general depression. Add my memory problems to this list. If that weren’t enough, the doctors have found a growth on my brain. (The good news is it is NOT cancer.) I absolutely hate taking medications because my body has a tough time with them. With that said, I firmly understand there is a time and place for meds and currently, I’m taking several.
Did I mention I’m also a yoga instructor?
I began practicing yoga back in 1999 and got hooked! I’ve studied and trained with experts in areas like trauma sensitive yoga, Veterans yoga, yoga for Vets with PTSD, mindfulness and meditation. In 2007, I began teaching yoga while deployed to Baghdad. Then I transferred to Vicenza, Italy, where I taught yoga twice a week. I was able to stop taking ADD meds for several years because of my practice.
The problem is I got so wrapped up in being a care provider that I neglected to notice “I” needed some of the “medicine” I was sharing with others. To make matters worse, I was no longer comfortable in my own “seat,” with who I was. In other words, when I lead a yoga or meditation practice, everything is great. But when alone with my thoughts, it is often a nightmare.
I struggle every day with so many different questions. How could I have PTSD? I’m not an infantryman! Why is my meditation not as good as it used to be? Why can’t I sit? I know how to, but I can’t meditate. I know the benefits of food, movement, mindfulness and meditation. So why can’t I practice aparigraha – non-possessiveness – and just let go, and use my military and yoga discipline and do what I know needs to be done?
The answer is much simpler than the solution: Santosha, or acceptance, contentment. I can’t find my seat because I’m still looking for my old seat … and it turns out, that’s not mine anymore. Clearly, I’m not the same person I once was; simple logic concludes that my seat isn’t the same either.
The problem is my wounds and injuries are all invisible. When I look at myself in the mirror – minus the wrinkles, hair loss, etc. – I still see a very able person who rightly should be able to do anything, to include being the same “me” I once was. But I can’t, so my challenge is how can I accept and be content with who I am now.
I found my answer in two different locations.
My friend JT is a wildly successful military photojournalist. I heard him talking to a class of brand-new photojournalists about a mistake he made as a young photojournalist. Turns out, he was constantly in friendly competition with another photojournalist who aspired to be just like Joe McNally, an established photographer. But after JT saw the work of another military photojournalist whose work he admired, he realized he needed to stop worrying about what others were doing and find what made himself special. Once JT found his “seat” in photography, he began to take some incredible images. Today, he is the reigning Military Photojournalist of the Year, an award he has won an unprecedented seven times.
The second place that I found my answer was within me. As a yoga instructor, I find myself spending a lot of time doing three things.
First, I’m always looking for new ways to say the same thing in as many different ways as possible, as it’s important that I can relate to my students who have different points of reference. Second, I make sure everyone knows that everybody’s body is different. Don’t worry about what the yogi to your left or right looks like in pose or what others can do that looks better than you – focus on your body and your pose, and commit to giving yourself your best.
Finally, I’m always encouraging my students to be the best they can be for themselves.
What I’ve come to realize is that I need to do those things, too. I need to focus on who I am now and become comfortable with that person. When I start to feel good, I know I have to keep consistent focus on myself to make sure I keep that good feeling going, because yoga and meditation are cumulative.
Most importantly, my body is not your body. Heck, my body is no longer the body I had before. There is no need for me – or you – to beat ourselves up to be someone, or something we no longer are. Just be the best you you can be. If that “you” changes, that’s okay – adjust and find your new “seat.”
Our first Google Hangout was on September 19.
Here, Give Back Yoga Foundation Executive Director Rob Schware and Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans founder and Director Suzanne Manafort were joined by four Veterans. A mix of experienced and aspiring yoga teachers, the group of graduates of the Mindful Yoga Therapy program engage in a lively discussion of the benefits of the program from several perspectives.
In the video, you'll meet (shown across the bottom of the video, from left to right) Chris Eder, Ellen Magnifico, Emily McFaul, Michael Riley, Rob Schware and Suzanne Manafort.
Some notes and highlights:
- In 2010, in response to statistics showing over 800,000 men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with some trauma, the Give Back Yoga Foundation began looking for ways to help. This resulted in the production of a toolkit, which was provided free to over 8000 Veterans and 40 hospitals.
- At next year's Sedona Yoga Festival, a two-day pre-festival intensive will expand the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans program to hundreds of yoga teachers
- Mindful Yoga Therapy started with asana, and evolved as breath, Yoga Nidra and meditation were added to round out what became the "toolbox." Veterans helped fine tune the program.
And some quotes:
"Mindful Yoga Therapy...struck a chord in my heart and I knew it was where I needed to be." ~Ellen
"...I'd love to take this to other vets to see if I can help them find the kind of peace that I've found in the last year and a half since I've been practicing." ~Michael
"...I figured yoga was a woman in a leotard in the background while somebody tried to sell yogurt...yoga is the single thing that helps me mitigate my symptoms more than anything else." ~Paul
"What sets Mindful Yoga Therapy apart is is number of Veterans associated with the program." ~Chris
Hello, and welcome to our new site. Please explore and let us know if you have comments or questions.
We're just getting started, and look forward to seeing you soon!
In the preface to the Mindful Yoga Therapy Practice Guide, Dulia Mora-Turner, RYT500 Yoga Teacher and Captain, United States Air Force, gives her perspective on Mindful Yoga Therapy. Meet Dui, a member of our faculty, in our team section.
Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans is a powerful tool to promote tranquility and healing for the body. In this succinct manual, my dear friend Suzanne Manafort introduces the practice of Yoga to our heroes. The wisdom contained in this book is now a significant part of my personal and professional life.
Throughout the years, I have combined my military career with a fulfilling yoga practice. My warrior quests have taken me all over the world. I have served in two major armed conflicts and worked at the largest center for military strategy, the Pentagon. Despite my triumphs and adventures, I have also experienced a few downfalls. Due to the high demands of my military service, I too, have found myself depressed and stressed for periods of time. Additionally, I have seen the reality of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) up close and personally: in friends, co-workers, and my brothers and sisters in uniform. It is not easy when someone you love falls into a dark place of isolation, anxiety, and despair.
As a yoga teacher and a military veteran, I wanted to connect the dots and develop my own conclusions for what I believe to be an effective, accepted, and comfortable yoga approach to support our veterans and their families. While working on my advanced yoga certification, I decided to write my final thesis on “Yoga for Veterans Coping with PTS.” As I embarked on this journey, I met wonderful teachers, and learned and experienced different methods. I have no doubt that Mindful Yoga Therapy is by far the soundest approach available to the veteran community. The combination of intentional practices of breathing, asana, yoga nidra, meditation, and gratitude offer a wide range of possibilities to teachers and veteran practitioners. Moreover, I admire Suzanne’s efforts to promote the program at minimal or no cost to veterans. Her love for our heroes, dedication, and hard work in partnership with the Give Back Yoga Foundation has made the program widely accessible to our community.
I am happy to say that I have successfully included Mindful Yoga Therapy principles in the yoga classes I teach at the Pentagon Athletic Center and at various workshops and Wounded Warrior Camps. For a teacher, there is nothing more rewarding than completing a hero’s yoga practice and feeling the joy and tranquility permeating the space. As a veteran practicing yoga, the feeling of connection to other warriors, and the sense of being safe and grounded while nurturing rest and healing, are priceless. Mindful Yoga Therapy focuses on supporting veterans, but I truly believe this approach also serves as a physical and mental resilience-building tool for people from all walks of life. By applying Suzanne’s “toolbox” while cultivating a steady yoga practice, you will experience a wonderful and positive transformation for living well and better! It is my honor to present it to you.
Dulia Mora-Turner RYT500 Yoga Teacher Captain, United States Air Force