Yoga for Life

Support for those who are grieving

Yoga for LifeThe experience of loss is always about change – struggling with and finally accepting change on many levels. Yoga, as a discipline and a philosophy, is also about acceptance of what is – of who we are, of the situation we are in, and of the circumstances that brought us to this point. Through the physical and mental practice that is yoga we can learn to apply principles of acceptance to all areas of life.

This five session series of gentle yoga will provide a safe space in which participants can begin to make peace with both the pain and the changes that loss contains. All levels of physical ability will be welcome in the group.

Thursdays, September 5-October 3, 2013, 2:00-3:30 pm
TMC: wellness through movement
2134 N. 2nd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Facilitated by:
Jennilu King, Grief Counselor
Elizabeth Terry, Yoga Teacher

Cost: $35 for the course.
Participants will need to have a yoga mat.
Contact Elizabeth Terry at 717-645-0067 or e-mail eterryyoga@gmail.com for more information or to register.

“Making peace with change is at the heart of every journey…”
– Paula D’Arcy

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PTSD and Yoga Therapy

PTSD and Yoga TherapyIn my Wednesday night Discovery Yoga class, one of my students told me about a program she had heard on NPR that talked about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the use of yoga as a therapy in treatment. It turns out that the program was Krista Tippett’s “On Being,” a wonderful show of interviews that can be heard locally on Sunday morning from 7-8 am.

Ms. Tippett was interviewing the psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk on her July 11, 2013 program. Dr. van der Kolk is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and Medical Director in a community-based trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts. He has spent much of his life researching traumatic stress and treating people suffering from PTSD.

In his work and research, Dr. van der Kolk found that people suffering from traumatic stress live with the “images or sounds or physical sensations” of the experience – they don’t go away. As a result, something changes in the brain so that the body in a traumatized state experiences the world as unsafe, frightening, even terrifying, even long after the original trauma.

The person with PTSD experiences these fearful emotions in his body. It is not surprising then to hear that such a person often lives out of touch with what is going on in his body; the strategy becomes a coping mechanism to deal with the emotions he feels. That was exactly what Dr. van der Kolk and his colleagues observed in people coming for treatment for PTSD – they were largely disconnected from their bodies.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Dr. van der Kolk began to see it was critical to help people reconnect to their bodies, “to help people … to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies.” That led to yoga programs for people suffering traumatic stress. He found that yoga, which seeks to connect mind and body, was “an important component of an overall healing program.” He went on to say that other activities, such as qigong or martial arts, might have a similar effect. What is needed is “something that engages your body in a very mindful and purposeful way – with a lot of attention to breathing in particular…” This kind of practice seemed to have the effect of resetting “some critical brain areas that get very disturbed by trauma.”

Any of you who do yoga have most likely observed the calming, balancing effect of a good practice. This research documents the profound and transformational effects possible with the kind of engagement yoga demands. For the Western mind in the 21st century, this kind of research adds credibility to the insights of the ancients who always saw yoga as a tool for healing suffering.

This is just a short summary of this interview. If you would like to know more, the full transcript of this interview and the podcast can be found at OnBeing.org.

Please leave any comments, insights, or thoughts you have on this subject.

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Vulnerabilities

Santa Fe earth and skyThe greatest gifts of yoga for me have been the reduction of suffering in my life and the ability to experience joy. On a physical level, I have experienced pain from problems with my spine, which my yoga practices have helped me to manage so they do not debilitate me. But my greatest vulnerability has been a susceptibility to anxiety and depression. At its worst, I experienced panic attacks and debilitating depression.

After I began practicing yoga, about twenty years ago, I started noticing a change. As I continued with yoga, the panic attacks went away. At the time, this amazed me. Of course, now I know that yoga can induce the relaxation response, the body’s natural way of counteracting the stress response, which is at the heart of panic attacks. But while the panic attacks disappeared, I still experienced free-floating anxiety and cycles of depression.

Over the last ten years, as I have worked with my teachers, done a regular yoga practice, and studied the teachings of yoga, I have experienced a more profound healing. It is not that everything has disappeared. Instead, I have become more aware, and, with this awareness, I have had insights into the patterns of thinking that led me to feeling anxious and depressed. My teacher has taught me tools from yoga that helped me to move my mind to a more positive space when I was worried or felt myself in a negative or fearful spiral of thinking. As I have continued to study, my insights and understanding have grown, and so has my ability to make changes in old negative patterns and to create new positive patterns that support my life.

The teachings of yoga guide my life. The Yoga Sutra, yoga’s most important text, has helped me understand how the mind works, and that has helped me greatly with self-understanding and acceptance. As well as insight, the Yoga Sutra also gives me answers – how I can change from where I am to a place of greater clarity and peace, which ultimately is the source of joy.

We all have vulnerabilities. For some of us, it is a physical issue, like back pain or neck strain that reoccurs; for some it may be asthma, for others high blood pressure, migraines, anxiety, or an eating disorder. While yoga does not claim to cure all these maladies, it offers many tools to support our healing. As we practice regularly, over time, with the guidance of a teacher, we can find our suffering reduced and our hearts open to the joy that lies within us.

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Stress, Meditation, and the Heart

In a recent blog I wrote about stress and how yoga offers us the possibility of moving from a place of tension and constriction, when the stress response is activated, to a place of spaciousness, ease, and calm.

Most of us have heard of the litany of ailments that are stress-related – everything from asthma to high blood pressure to depression and anxiety to heart disease to irritable bowel to reduced immune function. Some of us may even experience a stress-related condition.

As heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, the medical community has been looking at whether the practice of meditation can reduce the risk of death, heart attack, and stroke. The results of a study published this month in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes indicated that, indeed, it can. The heart disease study directed participants to meditate twice a day for twenty minutes and followed them for up to nine years. Study participants practicing a form of meditation known as Transcendental Meditation decreased their risk of death, heart attack, and stroke by 48%. For those participants who followed the meditation guidelines strictly the result was even more dramatic – risk was reduced by 66%. If you have a family history of heart disease, as I do, this is important and encouraging information.

While recognizing the benefits, the medical community is not yet able to explain how meditation works. But yoga, ancient as it is, has recognized the role the mind plays in what our physical body experiences. Meditation is about moving the mind from agitation to a focused state. When the mind become focused and quiet, the body relaxes, blood pressure is lowered, muscle tension releases, breathing is slowed, heart rate slows. And, as those of you who practice yoga most likely notice, the focus required to coordinate breath and movement in yoga postures, to do a breathing practice, to chant, all of these quiet and calm the mind as well. The whole practice is a meditation leading to a sense of well-being. Our whole system responds.

The focus, calm, and sense of well-being the yoga practice supports requires our attention and dedication. It requires that we have a “correct practice” which we follow consistently over a long period of time and with a positive attitude about our success. While it requires discipline, our yoga practice offers the possibility of a wonderful journey. A journey that is more than caring for our physical bodies.. In the quiet created in the mind by our practice, we have the space to see ourselves and our relationships more clearly, and to come to ultimately find a compassionate, “settled heart.”

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