Monthly Archives: September 2013

Aware To Be Well

Yoga pants, sex scandals, unusual contortions, super-toned bodies and words like “guru”  can misrepresent or mask the potential of Yoga for mindfulness and mood management. The Yogic “prescription” for alleviating mood disorders isn’t about yoga pants or even physique. In my experience, it is about cultivating individual well-being, which expands outward into the community because of one’s practice.

Yoga is medicine for many disorders. (See Yoga As Medicine by Timothy McCall, M.D.).

Postures, breathing, meditation and lifestyle choices, Yoga in all it’s forms, relies on the habit of awareness to be done well and with the greatest efficacy.                            Simply stated, calmness, harmonizing with our peers and attuning to our environment can be more easily achieved by practicing the discipline of awareness. This is fundamental to one’s well-being. “What you think becomes your reality.” This technique can be helpful for symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar spectrum disorder.

Awareness can be an especially rewarding practice, both by pacifying symptoms and enriching one’s quality of life.

This is where the practice of Yoga comes in.

Our intuitive, “feeling” capacity is vital to all of us. It is through the refinement of this “feeling” that we are able to discern, and then to neutralize, agitation. Neutralizing agitation relieves symptoms that promote illness and discomfort in ALL  brains, including the bipolar brain. Achieving a neutralization of feeling takes practice and offers freedom for the bipolar brain. Practice – of anything – requires a certain non-attachment. You win some, you lose some – right? – but you get back on the horse. You try again. That is practice. There is a sense of letting go and moving on, be it in sport or love or in observation of breath, for example. This practice can be life-blood for someone living with a brain disorder.

Yoga Practice #1: Become Aware!

Refinement of Emotions, Thoughts, Body, Breath

We may begin with the BODY and so we check out the body!

How are we feeling? Sitting/standing? Points of tension? Points of ease?  Observe sensations of emotions in the body, as well. Perhaps scan the body from the feet upward. Just do your best right, whatever that is, right now. Any other observations? Take your time with this. This is you. Observe for any distractions from your maximum sense of comfort… to be well. Make any adjustments to get comfortable.

Then, we check out the BREATH.

Take a few breaths to observe before concluding anything. Irregularly breathing? Shallow? Comfortable? Gripping? Withholding? Through the mouth or nose?  Any other observations? Take your time with this. This is one source of free, balanced medicine appropriate for everyone: oxygen. Observe the breath for any distractions or hitches within the rhythm of the breath – out, pause, in, pause  – and find comfort, if just for a moment, breathing, to be well. Allow yourself to explore deepening the exhalations and the pauses, so that you might more easily inhale. Let yourself get comfortable with this, moving around or being still, sitting, standing or lying down.

And to the MIND, the emotions and thoughts.

Observe. Take your time. Lack of concentration? Sluggish thoughts? Depressed thoughts? Anxious thoughts? Any other observations? Take your time with this. Be gentle, non-judging, with whatever you discover right now. Observe any distractions: every sense, feeling, heartbreak, habitual thought, chore or errand you need to do… To get to your maximum comfort to be well, let your awareness be your medicine today.

Then make yourself comfortable again, in body and breath, and re-observe the mind.

Then back to the body, and a long, slow out-breath, if you like, with ease and comfort, and gentle awareness, and without judgement, to the emotions and thoughts. Observe objectively. A long, slow out-breath can promote the relaxation response.

  • Practice for as long as you like, in any order of awareness of the body, mind and breath. Each time may be different.
  • Be soft with yourself, gentle, whatever you may find. Kindness and compassion with yourself, through practice, will expand outward to the world around you, with practice.
  • This journey is daily, and the “prescription” is life-long.

The key is becoming comfortable in body, mind and breath, using each to ease the other by awareness of it.

This is one of the prescriptions that I carry with me at all times.

I check in and I can change my body, breath and mind, over and over and over and over. This simple practice has helped me to control my brain, heart and breath, to develop a better quality of life for myself and my family and has helped me to become a contributing member of society in an increasingly positive way.

I never tire of practicing this because it brings me extraordinary insight, empowerment, peace and perseverance to my life. It is medicine that works.

May this appeal to you as good and be good medicine for you and your community.

Acknowledgment to Ananda Yoga Teacher Training Manual, 2008, Section 7a, The Essence of the Yoga Sutras, © Ananda Church of Self-Realization, used for reference.

An Email from the Director of The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

August 27, 2013
Dear Dr. Insel,

My name is Brooke West and I am a Yoga and meditation instructor. I work as a Yoga therapist. My interest is in teaching Yoga therapy as adjunctive treatment for bipolar disorder and the research of that.

Recently, your TED talk came across my screen and I was impressed by your tone and compassion, potentially changing the stigmatizing term “mental illness” to a more objective “brain disorder.”
This weekend, you appeared on my computer screen again as I watched a Charlie Rose episode that aired in July on the Brain Initiative.

I thank you for your work, your calm demeanor and for your time.

I am moved to write to you because of the dearth of research in this field.
In my experience, for this population, medication works best in conjunction with lifestyle, breath and movement modifications. My experience is both personal and professional.

Yoga, meditation and any repetitive movement with breath (including Tai Chi, Qi Gong, rosary prayers and exercise)  show changes in neurological activity. This can, consequently, affect one’s behavior, interpersonal relationships, one’s community and society as a whole. I have seen it in my work, in which I include Yoga postures and other techniques from the breadth of the Yoga philosophy.

I will continue my teaching and counseling.
With regard to academic researchers interested in this sort of work, or in collaboration, including individuals or boards furthering their humanitarian missions of easing the effects brain disorders through any means that works, or any other suggestions from your end of the spectrum, I would most appreciate you keeping me – and this approach – in mind.

Brooke West BS
Ananda Yoga® teacher, Ananda Meditation® teacher
Member, International Association of Yoga Therapists

Aug 27

Dear Ms West,

Thanks for your note.  NIMH has been interested in meditation and mindfulness for some time.  Agree that the combination of approaches will be important, giving people many options for what works best.  Our research portfolio includes a range of studies, from Richie Davidson’s work on meditation and the brain to more applied studies of mindfulness as an adjunct to biomedical approaches.  I encourage you to continue your own journey in this area.  While we have 50 years of experience with biomedical treatments, the tradition of meditation goes back many hundreds of years, with benefits that have been known for centuries.
Tom Insel
Thomas R. Insel, MD
Bethesda, MD 20892
301-443-3673 (ph)