Season's Greetings

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

Sthira: Stable

Sukham: Comfortable

Asanam: 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…..

xo Suzanne

Celebrate All Who Made Sacrafices

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.

 

_()_ Namaste,

Chris

Retired Air Force (1990-2013)

I'm so lonely...is that OK?

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).”

_()_ Namaste,

Chris

Veteran Yoga Teachers

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.

The results are in...

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.

Ch Ch Ch Changes...

David Bowie - Changes 115908378I 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:

Desert Camo

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.

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Anthony will be teaching at the White Lotus Wellness Center in College Park Maryland March 10-12. You can register here for this training.

Did Yoga Find You...or Did Yoga Find You?

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.

Pearl Harbor

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!

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