I became a member of the Yoga Service Council this weekend. They meet in late spring every year at The Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York (which I think of as the East Coast’s Esalen or Naropa Institute). I answered a call for presentations for their 2013 Conference on behalf of Yoga/Bipolar Therapy.
This Yoga/Bipolar Therapy project is nascent, is young. Perhaps too young yet to present, in some schools of thought. Really, there’s no non-profit, no incorporated business, no research. There’s just me, and what I do, and what I’ve been doing.
What I have been doing is practicing Yoga and living with bipolar disorder, every minute of every day, for over ten years. I have been grieving the death of my sister, caused by an untimely suicide with drug overdose undertones and untreated bipolar disorder overtones. What I’ve been doing is I have been missing my sister every minute of every day for over ten years. It sounds romantic, but it’s not.
It’s fucking permanent.
Speaking out about bipolar disorder, to create awareness of the powerful destruction it can cause, to create fellowship among survivors, and to offer another therapeutic modality – Yoga – is, for me another way that I practice Yoga. I am practicing pranayama, energy control, when I move the breath from my lungs through my throat to speak out about a misunderstood, scary disease. I am pumping the grief from my heart-center upward as I share the truth and I am transforming that grief from kapha to pitta, from heavy to firey, to serve others. I am affecting my energy in a controlled and positive manner.
It doesn’t matter if I am called to become a presenter at the Yoga Service Council’s 2013 Conference. What matters is that I transmuted my pain and experience to educate, if only the reader of my 500-word abstract. She will hear from me again because this practice, this illness, this grief is permanent. This passion, this knowing, this Yogic management of bipolar moods is too big to muffle.
Pardon my French back there.
Bipolar disorder is an often misunderstood, episodic, chronic brain disorder with significant morbidity and mortality rates causing manic, depressive and mixed mood states that are traumatic and exhausting for the survivor and their caregivers. Bipolar disorder often requires hospitalizations and long-term care. High rates of co-occurring substance abuse, homicide and suicide occur with bipolar disorder with estimated losses of $15.5 million annually. Bipolar disorder is among the most heritable of all medical illnesses, affecting family systems and the community as a whole. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally. It knows no racial barriers. Bipolar disorder is the 6th leading cause of disability in the developed world.
Medication management of the illness is recommended. Bipolar survivors, however, can remain symptomatic whether they are medication-compliant or not. Talk-therapy, to manage commonly occurring addiction, behavior disorders, panic disorders and social phobia, for example, is also recommended. There exist few other resources for wellness.
Yoga and meditation offer a refuge to this under-served sector of the mentally ill.
But while Yoga and meditation have been clinically shown to affect depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disorders – all symptoms of bipolar disorder – currently, no published research exists on Yoga/bipolar therapy.
Yoga and meditation are accessible, affordable, and effective therapeutic modalities for bipolar disorder when applied with care. With instruction, these tools can eventually become clinician-free practices to help practitioners manage bipolar moods. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Yoga can serve as a life-long practice for survivors and for caregivers. Yoga can help to address the long-term needs of consistent mental and physical therapy for people living with this chronic and severe mental illness.
Cost-effectiveness and the ability to practice independently are key when considering therapeutic intervention for this oft disabled and impoverished population.
Brooke West is an Ananda Yoga® and Ananda Meditation® teacher who has been successfully using Yoga as a therapeutic mood management tool for herself personally and for her students living with bipolar disorder for more than a decade. She is representative of, a practitioner of and an advocate for Yoga/Bipolar Therapy.
Born of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system, including asana and pranayama, and guided by basic ayurvedic lifestyle tenets, the Yoga/Bipolar Therapy sequence systematically produces dramatic, relieving effects for the bipolar mind, both immediately and in the long-term, by relieving stress, anxiety, feelings of depression and malaise and by cultivating awareness, comfort, focus and feelings of well-being.
Yogananda’s Energization exercises, asana, pranayama, restorative postures and guided meditation make up this 90-minute bipolar-specific Yoga session designed to relax the body, bring balance to the mind and gently inspire the participant, no matter their diagnosis.
For the therapist: Learn simple Yoga practices to capture the client’s attention and to help the client regain focus both on and off the Yoga mat.
For everyone: Gain a deeper understanding of bipolar mood states and how to affect them.
Please dress warmly, in layers.
Everyone experiences mood changes. Yoga helps.