Tag Archives: Yoga

National Presentation Campaign at ALTCON2015: Bringing Trauma-Informed Yoga-Based Practices to the Top

Yoga, Mental Illness and Summertime Fun

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“Mental illness” is not my favorite term to use as a Yoga therapist or as a peer in recovery. I prefer “behavioral health,” “mental health issues,” “mental health” or “mental wellness.” Affirmations are powerful medicine, and a fundamental pranayama practice. Thoughts are energy, and every little bit adds up.

People identify with the term “mental illness” in our culture, as a label and as something to fear. As I move through the world as an advocate, researcher, teacher and friend, I recognize more and more that mental illnesses are the norm, and that behavioral health issues affect everyone. Values, ethics and relationships define our behavior. We need models, and Yoga and 12-Step Recovery offer structure, community and best practices to improve our health and our lives.

As a presenter at The International Association of Yoga Therapist’s Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research last month, I was moved to receive feedback all weekend on the impact of my twenty-minute talk. Over and over, people approached me and said, “My mother…”, “My son…”, “My father…” Mental health affects us all.

Other take-aways from the conference:

  • Yoga is strong, slow medicine.
  • I will likely be going to India to understand the full context of Yoga Therapy, to continue mental health research for bipolar disorder and personality disorders
  • Even famous Yoga therapists are people, too
  • Friendship happens when vulnerability trumps ego

The name “Genevieve Yellin” kept surfacing at the conference as I spoke of developing a Yoga Therapy for Bipolar Disorder program to other participants. She has spearheaded the Overcome Anxiety Project, incorporating Yoga and mindfulness into an online program accessible to anyone for mental health relief. I was able to speak to Genevieve last week. She was very generous with her experience, with business information on how her programs have achieved success and with encouragement – because pioneering this field is overwhelming due to the sheer need for services. I love my colleagues who run with me in the spirit of collaboration. It takes sincere self-study to not feel threatened by our peers. We must continue our personal practices to be able to embrace one another with integrity for the greatest good of all.

Tomorrow, I leave for Southern California to attend Part 2B of Warriors At Ease Training for Yoga and Meditation Teachers in Military Communities. I will be graciously hosted by the owner of the studio where training is to be held, at jabulaniyoga, Jill Manly. Our trainer and facilitator, founder of Exalted Warrior Foundation Annie Okerlin, and a woman flying over from Okinawa, Japan named Faith will also be boarding at Jill’s. This promises to be a rich weekend.

I continue to teach classes, workshops and individual clients in private practice this summer. Jumping on the momentum post-SYTAR,  I have written the editor of Yoga Therapy Today to summarize my IAYT SYTAR presentation; I am communicating with The County of San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health Program Director, Judy Vick, to promote further Yoga programming for mental illness recovery, behavioral health wellness and research; I applied as a presenter to The Alternatives Conference in Memphis in October, 2015; and I continue to practice self-care in the face of personal health issues and relationships with others who live with and without mental health diagnoses and symptoms.

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The “Fare Thee Well” Grateful Dead concerts this Independence Day week were moving for me. My sister, D’Arcy, and I loved The Grateful Dead and I am sure that she was singing along over the rainbow with hundreds of thousands of Dead fans, here and beyond, who appreciate peace, love, colors, roses and sound therapy. I danced next to a gentleman who works at Atascadero State Hospital, and he gave me names of a psychologist and a psychiatrist interested in mindfulness therapies. You never know who you might meet on Shakedown Street.

AUM

Certified Yoga Therapist! International Presenter! Archangels!

Door to St. Francis Chapel, Crystal Hermitage, Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA. Photo Brooke West

Door to St. Francis Chapel, Crystal Hermitage, Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA. Photo Brooke West

I have been certified as an Ananda Yoga® Therapist, the fifth student of one of only a few schools on the globe accredited by The International Association of Yoga Therapists to train Yoga therapists under strict standards.

I traveled north to teach classes at Dev Prayag Yoga Therapy in Nevada City, California and to visit Ananda and meet with a couple of my teachers, including Mangala Loper-Powers, the Director of Ananda Yoga Therapy program at The Ananda School of Yoga Meditation. I had no idea that I would be certified, but I should have when my car broke down on I-5 on my journey north.

Premonitions told me to buy Jesus stickers from the 50 cent machine at the Mexican restaurant and put them on my eighteen-year old car as protection and prayer for this trip. I had Doreen Virtue’s Archangels and Ascended Masters book on my passenger seat. One thousand yards from the off ramp at Westley, a town where I like to gas up because Sikhs live there and they sparkle at me when I stop in the Chevron, the radio blinked off, then the Check Engine light went out – for the first time in two years, a very bad sign – then the air conditioned turned warm and humid, and my car began to lose power. Then the phone rang. My friend, Francis. He stayed on the phone with me. The hazard button was useless, and I rolled off the highway to the Chevron station. I mindfully kept the engine running, was sent to the Truck Stop Tire place, who’s Sikhs sent me to Precision Diesel, a ramshackle junkyard with a pit bull and a Rott.

There, after getting off the phone with Francis and being first shooed away and then charmed by my Yoga calm, my car was inspected, an alternator was ordered and, for the cost of the part plus thirty bucks labor, my car was served by the dirtiest, oilyest men in the grittiest wind tunnel above Interstate 5 that you have never, ever noticed. Angels work there.

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Hands of Sam, Angel Mechanic. Westley, CA. Photo Brooke West

I have been ushered toward the acts and practices of becoming a Certified Ananda Yoga Therapist in myriad, miracle ways. This latest folly was only a reminder that there is a bigger force working through me to bring healing energy and light by way of Yoga to the world. All I need to do is my part: have faith, keep meditating, and don’t give up.

That was Thursday.

On Sunday morning, I awoke among the pines in Nevada City to an email from The International Association of Yoga Therapists:

Dear Brooke,
One of the presenters in Common Interest Community (CIC), session 2, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health, is unable to attend the conference. As the second alternate for this session, I would like to offer you the opportunity to present the talk you submitted.

I immediately walked down to the road where cell reception was better, and accepted! I am so thrilled, this is the culmination of four years of efforts. Presenting at The Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research is a privilege and an honor.

Then later that day, Mangala scurried me off to the new St. Francis Yoga Therapy Center at The Expanding Light at Ananda Village, hashed out two hours of my unfinished homeworks and cut me a certificate with modest, but sincere, pomp and circumstance.

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Iris and tulip, Crystal Hermitage. Photo Brooke West

On my way south, I stopped at Precision Diesel. Sam wasn’t around, but I left him a gift: one of those seven-day Jesus votives with the image of Archangel Raphael, protector of travelers, on it and a copy of The Autobiograpy of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. Sam looked quite like the angel on the candle, actually…

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International Bipolar Foundation Original Blog: Yoga Philosophy for Bipolar Disorder 101: Part 2, Satya

Please visit The International Bipolar Foundation to read the second installment of my series of blogs on the Yamas and Niyamas.Honesty

Check out World Bipolar Day on March 30 and look for my picture and meme!

http://ibpf.org/blog/yoga-philosophy-bipolar-disorder-101-part-2-satya

…may I ask what you experience while teaching?

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Credit Maxfield Parrish

From an email received March 1, 2015:

Yogini Rishi,  much appreciation for illustrating the practice of Ahimsa…My thirst for this practice at an experiential level is being quenched.
I am experiencing cumulative benefits from practicing while you guide your classes,,.As I should be;-)))
…may I ask what you experience while teaching?
I am asking because I have yet to teach an active meditation. (Obviously:-)) I know each of us have unique experiences and the whole of the practice is still unified.
As teachers, we understand and appreciate the vital benefits of regular yogic group practice.Therein lies the pathway for individuals to comfortably integrate deeper levels of consciousness into their unique personal daily activity.
Equally interesting is the exponential effect of group meditation with it’s ability to raise the level of collective consciousness within societies.
When we gather together in a group meditation that practice alone, and in and of itself, contributes to the elevation of collective consciousness. This in turn opens the door for all to play within the field of all possibilities.
  -Om Namaste
-MJB
 ~~~~~
Thank you for your beautiful interpretation from the mat, MJB.

It is difficult – impossible, really, to describe what it is like for me to teach meditation.

You know when you speak to an innocent 5-year old child and they ask, “What does that word mean?” and you are able to give them a very good description of what the word means, from your own heart, knowing that eventually they will come up with their own personal context and interpretation with time and experience? It is from that same wisdom, humility, surrender and joy that I teach meditation.

Without my own teachers and practice, I would not be able to guide students.

There is a releasing effort (which is a paradox) when I teach. Some call it “becoming a channel,” a practice of getting “out of the way” to let the Higher thing through, without attachment, with moderation (bramacharya) while doing my very best, staying focused and wanting to lead people through the Yamas and Niyamas to get to the final Niyama, ishwara pranidana: Surrender to the Divine.

You are Divine. Once you are comfortable, you can remember (smriti) your oneness with Divinity, including peace and wisdom and calmness and joy and love and be that in a state of relaxed awareness of those aspects of God. Ahimsa (non-animosity) and satya (truthfulness) are the foundations to ultimately achieve ishwara pranidana.

My classes have an intended pace. I believe that the way that I speak (my tone and choice of words) and the rhythm with which I instruct affects the heart rate in a therapeutic way. The group becomes unified on a physiological level – much like they would in a more actively physical and synchronized group Yoga class. This style of Yoga that I teach (Raja Yoga) is effective on a more subtle level than the average group Yoga class. This brings us to “meditation,” having withdrawn our senses from the world with the lead-up techniques that I impart.

Teaching Yoga and meditation is a personal practice – though not my sole or primary practice – which I take seriously. My entire lifestyle aims to support the focus that I bring to each class to guide chelas (students) in their own practice. When I eat, what I eat, my sleep hygiene and the quality of my personal relationships all have an effect on how well I can guide students to calmness.

Yoga is fractal experience and everyone benefits from meditation in groups with those less practiced and more practiced than them. In this way, we evolve one another.
This email has encouraged me to pursue teaching healthy meditation more regularly. Thank you for the inspiration!
In Joy

“But in the end, yoga must be personally experienced to be understood.”

Yoga is Confusing

Written by Doug Andrews, E-RYT 500. He is the founder and director of Ananda Scotts Valley in California.

doug-readingIn the exchange of personal information that characterizes first encounters between humans, one of the usual first questions is, “What do you do for a living?” My short answer is that I am a teacher. If the person asking is interested she might pursue my answer to the next level and say, “What do you teach?” At that point I must calculate in the moment whether I am feeling predominantly a science teacher or a yoga teacher? In fact I play both roles. Science is simple, everyone knows what science is. Yoga however is a bit more problematic because most people, even if they’ve never taken a yoga class, have an impression of yoga that is by and large off the mark or, at best, incomplete. And for those who have taken a yoga class the chances are pretty good that they did so in a gym where the only focus was on stretching.

In the beginning…at least for most folks I’ve met…yoga is simple enough. They join a gym, walk the treadmill, take a Zumba class and decide to stay for what is called yoga. After all, stretching is good, right? And so they stretch. Walk, Zumba, Stretch. Repeat regularly until their schedule changes or their will power wanes and they are are left with a memory of feeling good and a recurring whispered thought, “Shouldn’t I get back to the gym?” Maybe even the thought, “I really liked how I felt after the yoga class.” But is stretching all there is to yoga? The short answer to that question is, “Stretching is good but it alone is not yoga.” At least it is not very much of yoga. So if stretching is not yoga then it is easy to become confused. What is yoga?

The confusion around yoga is widespread. Some years ago I attended a performance of Cirque de Soleil with family and friends. The physical flexibility of the acrobats led one of our group to comment, “ Boy, I’ll bet she’s good at yoga!” I replied, diplomatically I hope, that she might indeed be good at yoga. What I did not add at the time is that physical flexibility has next to nothing to do with being good at yoga. But this mis-impression about the nature of yoga is widespread and deeply ingrained in our culture. I remember an article from the foremost yoga magazine, Yoga Journal, in which a reporter who was investigating yoga for his readers, penned a piece entitled, “How Yoga Kicked My Butt.” The article was amusing in its way but unfortunately, it left the reader with the very distinct impression that yoga is a system of exercises that can be very challenging. So if not a system of exercise then the question remains. What is yoga?

Okay, try this. Yoga is:

· A science and an art.
· Union. Of body, mind, breath and Spirit.
· Breathing exercises to control life-force energy.
· Meditation to still the mind and open the heart.
· Training the mind to be supportive or still as required.
· Devotional Chanting, Prayer and Mantra.
· Selfless service to others.
· An inward experience of Joy, Peace, Love or some other Divine quality.
· An expansion of human consciousness beyond ego and into Universal awareness.
· A system of physical exercise that helps accomplish all of the above.

If this were a conversation between you, the reader, and me, the yoga teacher, I might at this point ask, “Is it clear now what Yoga is?” And you might look me clearly in the eye and say, “No. Not one bit.” Okay, fair enough. But here is one challenging thing about yoga: it needs to be experienced. We can read about yoga and that is a good thing to do. We can go to a yoga class and, depending on the quality and consciousness of the instructor, learn bits and pieces about yoga. And that too is a good thing to do. But in the end, yoga must be personally experienced to be understood. And so, when we bring yoga into our lives on a regular basis we call it a yoga practice. We practice bringing our body, mind, breath and awareness into a single, shared moment of experience.

So perhaps it would helpful to ask, “What do I mean by “yoga?” As my friend, Nayaswami Hriman McGilloway writes, “This is a constant and frustrating issue for those who us share the true yoga. The term refers in the common view to the physical exercises, movements and positions of but one branch of yoga: hatha yoga. One might just as properly use the term “meditation” to describe all of the yoga practices and goal. But in fact, the correct term is “yoga!” And “yoga,” which means “yoke” or “union,” refers to both the practice and the goal of that practice: a state of consciousness that is not limited to confinement and identification with the body and ego. It is akin to the state referred to by such words as enlightenment, liberation, moksha, satori, nirvana, samadhi, salvation, cosmic consciousness, oneness, mystical union and on and on. This state is said to be the true state of Being and the only true reality from which all differentiated objects and states of consciousness derive. It is the underlying, primordial “soup” of God-consciousness that wills into manifestation the cosmos and which sustains, maintains, and dissolves the ceaseless flux of thoughts, emotions, and objects.

The practice of yoga includes a wide range of disciplines from the bodily positions of hatha yoga to the advanced meditation techniques of kriya yoga. It is supported by a lifestyle of high ideals, integrity, moderation, and self-control in the form of simple living and includes, by tradition, the practice of vegetarianism. Codified by the sage Patanjali in the renowned Yoga Sutras, yoga is achieved through eight stages of practice and eights levels of ever expanding consciousness.”

If you have a sense that yoga is something that you need in your life, I encourage you to keep your thinking about yoga bigger that just the postures. At Ananda Scotts Valley we offer many classes each week on the practice of Ananda Yoga. On Thursday evenings we offer free meditation instruction. On Sunday mornings we have group meditations and Sunday services to sharing the common yoga teachings of the East and West. We also regularly offer extended and in-depth classes on the various teachings and practices of yoga. So come and join us. Our complete calendar is available at http://www.anandascottsvalley.org.

Blessings and Joy,

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Yoga Philosophy for Bipolar Disorder 101

Check out my latest original blog for The International Bipolar Foundation!

http://www.ibpf.org/blog/yoga-philosophy-bipolar-disorder-101

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The fist of a series of blogs on the Yamas and Niyamas, the “do’s” and “dont’s” of Yoga philosophy.

This one was read by readers in Brazil, New Zealand, Great Britain, Louisiana USA, France…

Enjoy!