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Yoga, Mental Health and Healing: An Interview With A Yoga Instructor

Sometimes the things that look so simple, bring the most benefits to our lives. If you have been curious about yoga and wonder why people get hooked on it, this article can definitely help!

When we’re looking at restructuring our overall wellness, there are many healing activities that can incorporate your mind and body. I sat with a fellow mental health therapist, blogger, Podcaster and registered yoga teacher, Davia Roberts, and asked her to help us understand how yoga can change lives.

Davia was first introduced to yoga in her teens and she practiced it on and off throughout college. Fast forward a few years and in 2017 she decided to take the leap and become a registered yoga teacher. She spent three weeks in Costa Rica in September 2017 and acquired 200 hours of hatha yoga training.

Here are some highlights of our discussion:

“What surprises did you learn about yourself after the training program and what changes have you made since then?

Davia states that she learned how much of an introvert she really is. She realized how sensitive she is to people’s energy. As a therapist she listens to, and sometimes carries, other people’s wounds. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with this baggage. A fellow student in her training was impressed at how Davia was able to separate herself from uncomfortable energy. Davia realized how confident she really is because of this.

In yoga practice, there isn’t a focus on poses. The focus is on the feeling. Pinpointing where in your body you feel tension and discomfort. Davia can now pinpoint where she holds certain feelings and is more conscious about what she does with that energy. She is now changing how she handles stress, is open to asking for help from her “team” and prioritizing more quiet time to help her recharge. She emphasized that she is now more “proactive” instead of “reactive.”

Sidenote: If you’re a beginner to yoga but are serious about reducing your trauma or mental health symptoms, you don’t have to become an instructor to enjoy these benefits. Personally, I use yoga to help with fibromyalgia and as a stress reliever. Despite my aches and pains, I walk away from an hour-long session feeling like I got a massage. It loosens my tight, anxious and under used muscles and gives me one hour where I’m not thinking about anything but breathing and keeping my balance.

“Therapeutically, what benefits does yoga provide?”

Although yoga isn’t a cure-all for everything, it can provide relief from symptoms of anxiety. She added that anxiety can be wrapped up in many other diagnoses or ailments and having healthy anxiety reduction skills is crucial. Yoga can help you slow down and be present, regulate your breathing, slow your heart rate and quiet racing thoughts. Becoming more aware of your body can help you before your next anxiety attack. You understand how to ask yourself, “How can I slow down so I don’t have an attack.”

In addition, research now shows that certain yoga poses can help with depression. It helps reduce inflammation in the body, which can contribute to chronic pain issues. She also mentioned that for trauma sufferers, it is important to tell your yoga instructor that you don’t like to be touched. I have personally been in classes where an instructor may come by and assist you with stretches or correct your form. This isn’t always the case, but it’s worth noting.

Davia says she will soon begin yoga classes in collaboration with a mindfulness teacher in the women’s correctional system. Yoga stretches and breathing exercises are low maintenance and easily accessible tools for healing trauma and managing stress.

  “How does healing the body relate to healing the mind?”

Davia shared that therapy is now treating trauma as a physiological issue, and not just a mental health issue. Research is now showing how trauma gets “stuck” in our bodies and many people don’t know how to let go of it. Certain yoga poses have been shown to help with depression and stimulate parts of the body that may have trapped energy.

She emphasized that someone with trauma and/or mental health issues shouldn’t get forced into thinking their only solution is psychotropic medications or talk therapy. Therapists are moving away from traditional treatments and can now use free tools like yoga and mindfulness to help people manage their symptoms.

For further resources on mental health and wellness, check out Davia’s website, Redefine Enough. She hosts a biweekly podcast called Affirm (you can find me chatting on Episode 18 about Domestic Violence and Relationships) and will be hosting a webinar on February 15th called, Mental Health Maintenance For Creatives. Register here

How are you incorporating overall wellness into your routine this year? How could yoga help you or a loved one?

How To Navigate Your Way Out Of A Shame Storm

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

As a therapist and self-care blogger, I am a huge fan of Brené Brown’s books and seminars on shame, imperfection and courage. I recently watched a webinar on shame and was blown away.

One of her concepts that blew me away was this:

What happens when you get swept up in a shame storm?

Shame is that feeling that weighs much heavier than guilt. Brown describes guilt as the self-talk that says, “I made a mistake.” Shame, on the other hand, says “I AM a mistake.” Guilt focuses on a particular behavior and shame is more personal.

So what is a shame storm?

It’s that shitty feeling when:

  • Someone ghosts us after dating.

  • Being criticized by someone we respect at work.

  • Being passed over for a promotion, raise or special project.

  • Feeling alienated by family members or friends.

  • Intimate relationships become a struggle.

  • We talk ourselves out of trying something new (job, taking a trip, business risk).

  • Your children disappoint you.

  • A recent medical or mental health diagnosis.

  • Being stuck in a comparison cycle because your friends and family have kids, good paying jobs, fit bodies, education, happy relationships, etc.

Personally, I’ve been through a shame monsoon where self-doubt and anxiety flood my entire being. Every thought and step is bathed in doubt. And no one has to say anything to trigger it. When fibromyalgia floods my cells with a flare, it instantly throws me in a lurch. I don’t want to self-diagnose but I have no shame in describing it as depression. When I suddenly lose energy and motivation to even take a shower, it’s easy for shame to curl up next to me.

In all honesty, a therapist can’t prevent a shame storm. We can sit and listen and help provide solutions to paddle your way out of it though. Knowing what your triggers are could help you weather the storm too. Having the courage to discuss your shameful feelings with a trusted therapist or healer, is an important first step.

Here are some ideas to help:

  • Identify who would listen without judgment. We don’t need that friend or family member who minimizes our pain. Don’t call the person who says, “Oh you have no reason to feel shame!” According to Brown, shame can’t survive in silence. Speaking to someone who will be empathetic decreases shame’s power.
  • Write, write and write. And then toss it. Burn it (safely). Tell the shitty thoughts to leave your head and toss them. Give them a death sentence.
  • Depending on how we react to shame (internalize it, lash out, isolation) we may need to ask for space. Our loved ones don’t need to feel the effects of our hurt and its safest to ask for space. You don’t even have to explain why. Say this: “Uhh I’m having a day today. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Enough said. Set healthy boundaries.
  • If the shame storm soaked you, imagine drying off. Change out of your “wet” clothes, take a soothing shower and start fresh. This could be a good mindfulness exercise in literally washing off the scent of self-doubt. Himalayan salt showers or Epsom salt baths are popular practices. Cleansing our body can be a meditative process and helps mask tears. Crying in the shower is perfectly ok.
  • If alienation or abandonment occurred, remind yourself of who still loves you and appreciates you. Reach out to your Higher Power, identify important and healthy people in your life and tell yourself you are loved. Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” helped me make sense of the phrase, “Don’t take anything personally.” (Hey I’ve written about this! Building Confidence Using The Four Agreements)
  • If you are feeling abandoned, beware of being “vague” on social media. If you’re not speaking clearly about what you’re feeling, people could brush you off or minimize your situation. Thus, you may end up feeling abandoned again. Don’t set yourself up for more sadness.
  • Brené Brown has described shameful experiences as “falling face down in the arena.” I recommend her book, “Rising Strong”, where she describes the rumble before falling down and the revolution that takes place when you are resilient. She provides personal experience as well as therapeutic messages from the perspective of a healer.

As a therapist, I have seen clients become empowered when they identify the source of their shame. Many times adults are carrying around messages of unworthiness from childhood. An absent or distant parent, addicted parent, abusive siblings or generational trauma leave lasting scars.

We are simply containers of emotions and most of us haven’t cleaned out our shelves. Click To Tweet

Working with a therapist or healer can help clean out our dusty crevices, especially if we are steadily drenched in shame storms.

My hope is that shame storms can eventually trickle down to sprinkles of guilt, which encourage us to change our behaviors instead of isolating ourselves in doubtful and discouraging self-talk.

Recommended book:

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