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2020 Monthly Film Viewing and Reviewing Parties

Come join the party on the last Sunday of each month starting in February, 2020!

Doors will open at 6:30 pm so that you can get some popcorn and hot tea before the movie starts.  Doors will close when the movie starts at 7 pm.

After each movie, a discussion will be facilitated so consider bringing a journal to take note of what you took away from the film or what you learned from other film critics.

Might integrating trauma-informed yoga into group psychotherapy be helpful in healing and health?

As a trauma-informed yoga teacher and holistic psychotherapist, I’m always on the outlook for new ways to integrate these two (East meets West) healing modalities, better supporting the alignment of the body, mind and soul (think spirituality).  Research continues to emerge in support of integrating both with positive effects.  As we continue to expand our understanding, we are learning that treating the mind (psychotherapy) separately from the body (yoga) limits the healing benefits.  Just as we are learning that treating the body (medical health) without considering the mind (mental, emotional health) limits healing.  Yet, as I have written about in a previous Blog, there are many yoga style options.

What makes trauma-informed yoga different?  A central tenet of such an approach is choice.  As such, the language used to guide students is specific to creating a choice-based environment and reminds them that they are always in control of their practice.  Certain words are used to empower participants to make choices that feel comfortable and invite a more gentle compassionate approach.  The teacher’s role is to be a supportive and non-judgmental presence.  They are aware of how their own movements and interactions are perceived, demonstrating predictability and consistency to create and maintain safety.  In maintaining such healthy boundaries, they model those boundaries, which includes no physical assisting as such assisting may be triggering to someone recovering from trauma.  Trauma-informed teachers ‘invite’ participants to draw their awareness to the sensations in their bodies to guide them in their choices of shapes and timing of their movements, not ‘tell’ them what to do and when.  Even the guidance around how to breathe in such a class is a suggestion to find a supportive breath that invites comfort.  So no focus on holding the breath is offered.  If you are interested in reading more about trauma-informed yoga, I would suggest checking out Zabie Yamasaki’s website here.

Trauma-informed yoga is new.  In fact, in 2017 the Trauma Center’s trauma sensitive yoga (TCTSY) became the first dedicated yoga program in the world to be listed as an evidence-based program/practice of psychological trauma.  So how excited was I to read the emerging research on integrating trauma-sensitive yoga into group psychotherapy for at-risk groups, such as survivors of intimate partner violence.

What this research suggests is that it may not only have positive effects for clients in Group Therapy, but also for the care providers!  If you would like to read more about this research, click the box below:

Is direct neurofeedback safe and effective for depression when pregnant?

I believe most of us want to do what is best for our health, such as eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and staying connected with friends and family and I imagine maintaining our health and wellbeing takes another step up on our list of priorities when we think about getting (or are) pregnant.  If we smoke, we might consider stopping.  If we drink alcohol, we again might consider stopping.  However, if we experience a mood imbalance (think anxious and/or depressive symptoms), do we consider stopping any medications we are taking that are currently supporting our experience of more balance in our moods?  And what happens if we begin to experience some of these symptoms for the first time during our pregnancy, do we consider taking medications while pregnant or try to tough it out?

It is not uncommon for physicians to encourage women to stop such mood management medications as the side effects can be premature birth and low birth weight, similar to the impacts of smoking and drinking during pregnancy.  Where does this leave moms-to-be that are either taking such medications or might experience antenatal anxiety and/or depression?  There is research that shows babies have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol when moms experience untreated depression, which increases the risk of that baby developing anxiety, depression, and other mental and behavioral challenges later in life.  So it is well known that depression in pregnancy negatively affects both mom’s and her baby’s health, so is there any other option?

A recent pilot randomized controlled research trial shows hope for a non-invasive, non-medication brain stimulation treatment option, specifically transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), also referred to as direct neurofeedback.  The results of this trial reflect the feasibility and acceptability of such an option along with encouraging preliminary effectiveness and no serious adverse (i.e., side) effects in this under-treated population.  The effects even lasted a month after delivery!  The results of this pilot study supported the next step to a definitive random controlled trial to evaluate tDCS for antenatal depression.

If you might be interested in reading more about this treatment option, either for yourself or someone you know that is struggling with such a decision, please click on the link below to learn more:

Do emotions have a role in healing childhood trauma?

I sense that most of us are aware that our brain, especially the rational part (i.e., prefrontal cortex) does not reach full development until age 25 or so, which implies, by default that until that age, we tend to operate more from the emotional parts, such as the amygdala.  And, as our brains develop, the connections between the two (emotional and rational) centers are still developing as well.  What we may not be so aware of is the impact of childhood trauma on such connections.  We also may not be fully aware of many of the situations that are now understood to be traumatizing to children.

Let me start with the latter.  Extensive research has been ongoing since the original group of participants were recruited for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study between 1995 and 1997 in California.  Although the study ended in 1997, most states continue to collect such information through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  The information collected focuses on child abuse and neglect and other household challenges, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse and mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, and if a household member was incarcerated. This research has resulted in the inclusion of a new diagnosis of Complex posttraumatic stress disorder, also referred to as developmental PTSD, within the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition, recently officially endorsed by WHO’s World Health Assembly and set for implementation outside of the US in 2022.

This is a HUGE step forward in identifying the underlying cause of most challenging symptoms to mental health, including anxiety and depression, and how these symptoms link to most chronic physical diseases, such as heart disease and cancer!  I have been known to say we don’t need a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, we simply need The Book of Trauma.  When we all can embrace the idea that there is nothing wrong with us and instead can understand it is what happened to us when we were little that makes it so difficult to live a life full of joy and meaning today, there will no longer be any stigma to seeking support and we can begin the process of healing by shedding the shame and suffering we have been carrying.

Now to expand on the awareness of the impact such developmental PTSD has on the growing connections between the emotional and rational parts of a child’s brain.  When we are little and presented with trauma (as defined above), the emotional input to the brain is overwhelming to the point where we only ‘feel’ and are unable to ‘think’ because the developing rational part of the brain is hijacked by the emotional part, cutting off the connections that encourage a more balanced perspective.  The most familiar and natural fear responses of ‘fight or flight’ in many cases may not be an option for children.  Therefore, the ‘freeze’ response may be the most accessible, especially in young children.  The freeze response is used when the presenting danger cannot be escaped or beaten down, and if either were to be attempted, might actually increase the risk of harm.  The freeze response is a survival response that encourages stillness and silence to avoid being seen and offering a mental escape instead.  What this normal response to danger also does is narrow the range of emotional awareness to flavors of fear and shuts down the development of a more diverse range of emotions, including engagement, joy, comfort, confidence, empowerment and enthusiasm.  When the freeze response helped us to survive the traumas of our childhood, it also stunted our emotional intelligence (aka alexithymia), locking us in a world where danger lurks around every corner, even as adults.

So what can we do to unlock the door to the fear chamber and open it up to a safer, more peaceful existence?  In order to facilitate improvements in trauma-specific symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, dissociation, impulsivity, and interpersonal problems, emotions need to be welcome to express themselves.  Working with a therapist that embraces the intelligence of emotions, through perhaps using Emotionally-focused therapy, can address the emotional challenges associated with alexithymia and thus, begin to resolve issues of childhood trauma.

To read a little more of the research on how working with emotions heals childhood trauma, click on the link below:

 

 

Can Stimulating the Prefrontal Cortex Calm the Default Human Survival Flight/Fight Response?

When humans encounter situations that they perceive as threatening, the parts of the brain responsible for our survival (i.e., amygdala, hippocampus) kick in to determine if running away from the threat is possible, to fight if not, and if neither is possible to stand still, hold our breath to be quiet and ultimately faint.  This flight/fight/freeze/faint response is not only the default position of our brains, it can be so activated over time from trauma and stress that it stays turned on even when we are not in harm’s way.

As someone that grew up in a home that would now be described as chaotic, I found myself in a series of situations that I either ran away from or fought, with a few where I found myself frozen in fear.  As a young child we don’t understand how these experiences are effecting our development, we just do what we have to – anything to survive.  As a young adult, I began to sense the amount of pressure I held in my body and used that energy to drive myself forward, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.

Through several years of psychotherapy, I discovered that the survival response in my brain, when activated (which happened to be most of the time), reduced my access to the parts of my brain that helped me to focus and communicate.  I subsequently learned that this is referred to as ‘amygdala hijacking’ and I describe it as the amygdala literally turning off the light switch leaving it in the dark to fend for itself without being able to see that there is access to support, specifically the prefrontal cortex.  And when you can’t access this part of the brain on a consistent basis, it loses its ability to offer a more balanced perspective of life.  Remember that saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, well it applies here too.

When I discovered yoga, I found a way to keep these two parts of my brain connected and when I did, it reduced the level of anxiety in the moment and began to strengthen the bridge that allows space to response, instead of react.  One of the most powerful tools that I learned from my time on the yoga mat was deep belly breathing, which was the first tool that I took off of the mat and into my everyday experiences.

Research has shown that practicing such breath techniques has neurophysiological impacts through respiratory vagus nerve stimulation.  The vagus nerve is the main part of our parasympathetic autonomic nervous system that is responsible for rest and digest processes and when stimulated is closely associated with emotional balance, mental flexibility, empathy and attachment.  It does this through decreasing hippocampal activity among other things, reducing the reactivity in the fear center of our brain, making access to the prefrontal cortex easier.  Now, what I have to admit is that I practiced such breath techniques for years until I began to consistently experience the emotional balance I so craved.  So, from personal experience I know it works, yet it can take time.

So how excited was I when I read the recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry that looked at this bridge from a different perspective – stimulating the prefrontal cortex in order to allow it to stay online and calm the fear center of the brain when experiencing threatening circumstances, reducing anxiety.  This research looked at the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation, such as used in direct neurofeedback, of the prefrontal cortex on amygdala threat activity in people who experience chronic anxiety.  Neuroimaging was used to assess the impact and the results reveal a direct connection between the ability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate the fear response in the amygdala.  These findings offer more support to the neurocognitive mechanism contributing to the positive effects of direct neurofeedback and offer much hope to more directly and quickly reduce anxiety through such a non-pharmaceutical treatment option.

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Professional Wellness Month

When we start to attach our identity to our work, job and/or employer, we are teetering on a tight rope without a net.  Today, more than ever, it is vital to our well-being and longevity (both at work and in life) to find ways to maintain a balance between who we are and what we do!

Many employers, in an attempt to build a more harmonious work culture, encourage employees to socialize outside of normal working hours.  However, such encouragement from employers can create an internal conflict for those employees that are unable to join such social gatherings due to other commitments outside of the workplace.  It can also create a perceived sense of preferential treatment for those that do attend such gatherings versus those that don’t – or can’t – participate.

Employers would better serve their employees by supporting such things as flexible work hours, encouraging workers to go home after an 8 hour day in the office, requiring workers to take regular breaks and vacations, creating spaces in the office where workers can go for a few minutes of peace and quiet throughout the day, like a meditation room, a garden and/or a walking path, and offering regular group exercise opportunities during work hours, such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong classes.

Until all employers buy into the research that indicates such things enchance a worker’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being, boosting productivity, focus, memory, and creativity, below are intention-setting ideas for you to implement for yourself, to remind yourself every day that you are so much MORE than what you do and avoid burning the candle at both ends:

  1. Walking meetings.  If you find yourself either needing to schedule a meeting with a colleague or are invited to one, ask your colleague if they would mind making the meeting a walking meeting.  Take the walk outside and, if possible, into an area that has some greenery, like trees or flowers, or near water, such as a lake or water fountain.  Perhaps you can locate a bench outside that you can stop at and sit for part of the meeting.  Even if you are able to make one meeting a week a walking meeting to start, before long this idea might catch on as others begin to feel the difference it makes in their day!
  2. Take multiple short breaks.  Consider taking a one-minute break every hour.  You can set an alarm on your phone or a reminder in your calendar.  Some ideas for each one-minute break include:  closing your eyes and taking several, long deep breaths while visualizing something that brings you joy; bringing in a jump rope and/or hula hoop and using it for one minute; doing some seated yoga poses at your desk; and/or listening to a guided meditation.
  3. Ask a co-worker for support.  If you find the support of another as motivation to hold you accountable, ask a co-worker to start an at-work health challenge with you.  It could be around the number of steps you take at work (think taking the stairs instead of the elevator) or the amount of time you hold a challenging shape, such as wall squats, plank or balancing on one leg.  It might also be eating more healthy, such as getting points for eating fresh fruit or a salad instead of a taco or hamburger.  If stress is an issue, maybe consider keeping track of the number of meditations you participate in (by taking those one-minute breaks every hour!).  Don’t forget to set a goal, perhaps the ‘winner’ at the end of the month treats the ‘other winner’ to lunch.
  4. Start a gratitude circle.  I know when I worked in the corporate world, it was very easy to get caught in the experience of complaining about work to my co-workers, whether it was about other co-workers not pulling their weight, the unrealistic work expectations, and/or the lack of communication.  Although at first it might have brought some temporary relief, such complaining did not change anything.  Therefore, consider turning complaining on its head the next time you find yourself looking for a co-worker to vent with by challenging yourself to identify something that you are grateful for from your experience at work and sharing it with another.  Better yet, start a gratitude circle with several co-workers, scheduling a 5 minute gathering at some point in the day where everyone gets to share what they felt gratitude for that day (limiting the time to 1 minute or less for the sharing).
  5. Play music.  No, not your favorite dance music or rock or rap album.  Find some music without lyrics that you might enjoy and make sure to play it at an ambient noise level to avoid disturbing your co-workers.  It might be jazz or classical or it could be nature sounds, like the ocean or the sounds of the forest.  Research has shown music to improve mood, which impacts productivity and creativity

What does your attitude about crying say about you?

Take a moment and ask yourself which of the following four statements reflects your belief about crying:

  • Crying is healthy
  • Crying is controllable
  • Crying helps one feel better
  • I hate crying

Recent research reflects that your beliefs about crying reveal your attachment style.

When I grew up, I got mixed messages from my family about crying.  My mother would cry all of the time and I would presume that she would identify with either the ‘crying is healthy’ and/or ‘crying helps one feel better’ beliefs.  Whereas, my father on the other hand would never cry and most likely would identify with ‘crying is controllable’ and/or ‘I hate crying’ beliefs.  More recently, I heard several quotes that stuck with me, one within my yoga roots by Kripalvanandji “One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice.” and the other “Crying is how your body speaks when your mouth can’t explain the pain you feel” which appears to be from an unknown author.

Crying is a universal human attachment behavior and starts at birth.  As little ones, crying notifies our caregivers that we need something, to relay important information to our attachment figures, such as food or sleep.  As we grow up, crying is a part of emotional processing and acceptance of loss.  The act of crying tends to elicit care and comfort from others throughout our lives.  But what happens as we grow when our caregivers have different beliefs about crying and they may not respond to our needs with care and comfort as intended?

I remember times when I was crying and my father’s response was something like ‘I won’t speak to you until you stop crying’, which implied to me that he was not available to provide care and comfort and somehow I must find a way to do that for myself.  I also witnessed that same response when my mother would be crying and he would not provide her with any comfort.  I quickly learned that crying does not elicit comfort and care in my family and, instead, makes the source of comfort and care unavailable.  As you might suspect, I tried my best to ‘stuff’ my emotions, especially my fear and sadness, and tried to rely on my words to explain my responses to the world.  But what happens when words fail?

Another memory comes back to me when I was a young woman working in the corporate world and I found myself feeling unsupported at work, even bullied.  I approached Human Resources and started to use my words, until my tears starting flowing and the dam broke.  I could not stop crying and I felt ashamed.  The HR person even alluded to the fact that my tears made it difficult to navigate the circumstances.  Well the research findings now show that the beliefs we develop about crying as a result of our experiences with our attachment figures have implications for interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning throughout our lives, impacting all of our relationships.

Learning and embracing the wisdom of Kripalvanandji helps us embrace our humanness, which includes the capacity to feel and experience emotions, and release any shame around crying.  It is a normal, natural human response to loss – whether we learned to deny/avoid the pain that comes with loss or cry more and stronger when we experience loss, hoping to get the care and comfort we all deserve – that has the power to heal.

If you would like to learn more about how your beliefs about crying may reflect your attachment style in relationships, click the box below:

What type of yoga is best?

As a Hatha yoga trained teacher under the umbrella of the Raja type of yoga, I am often asked if one style of yoga is better than another.  It has always been my belief that all yoga has mind-body-soul benefits and recent research appears to support such a belief.  However, what I think is important to understand is that yoga does not just include the physical poses or shapes that most of us first think of when asked ‘What is yoga all about?’.

Sacred yogic texts offer that there are four types of – or paths to – yoga, which is often defined as the union of body, mind, soul and spirit.  Raja yoga is the type of yoga that includes techniques, such as movement, meditation, and mudras, and is what is most often practiced here in our Western world.  Bhakti yoga is the type of yoga focused on devotion, also referred to as the path of love.  Jnana yoga is the type of yoga focused on the attainment of knowledge or wisdom through study and self-inquiry.  Karma yoga is the type of yoga focused on action without attaching to the outcome of your efforts, also referred to as the path of selfless service.

With this basic understanding of the four types of yoga then, when we think of yoga practices we start to realize it is all yoga.  When we focus on the yoga most practiced here in the US, Raja yoga, then we can begin to broaden our perspective as to what is included in this particular type, beyond the physical movement we do on our mats in a yoga class.  Yoga practices or techniques can include breath (pranayama), intention setting (Sankalpa), visualization (Bhavana), mudra (body/hand positions), mantra (chanting/sound), meditation (all kinds!), and how we interact with others and ourselves.

When we do take a moment to focus on the physical movement on the yoga mat, within the Hatha yoga style of Raja yoga, multiple yoga styles have emerged, which makes this type of yoga available to everyone.  Options run the gamut from Vinyasa flow, which is a faster-paced, sweaty practice to Restorative, where bodies are supported by blankets, bolsters, and other props to find comfort and held for at least 10 minutes.  Other classes might simply focus on breath practices or sound healing through musical instruments or chanting/singing.  Even others might offer guided visualization meditations.  Yoga class descriptions might represent the offering as a Beginner’s class or a Level 1 class.  Newer trainings include Yoga of 12 Step Recovery and Trauma-informed Yoga.

Therefore, my answer to the question is ‘Whatever works for you!”.  Not all yoga is equal.  Yoga is not the vanilla flavor of union and instead has evolved into a more ‘flavor of the month’ approach to broaden its reach and appeal.  And, the more we learn about the roots of the ancient tradition, we come to realize that it was originally taught in a one-on-one format, passing the knowledge of the guru to student, most likely taking into consideration that student’s individual needs.  So, in reality, yoga (with all of its techniques or ingredients) is meant to be a personal practice, customized to what is needed in the moment.  With this understanding then, my answer might include a response such as “You are your best guru, so listen to your body and allow it to join the mind in making the decision as to what feels best in the moment”.

If you still believe just one type or style of yoga is best, I encourage you to click on the link below to read more about the research that concluded that the choice of yoga style can be based on personal preferences and availability: