Yoga Therapy and Medication

There is a lot of talk about how yoga therapy can help with a wide range of mental health conditions. There also seems to be some dissonance between how yoga and medication intersect. In this segmentBrandt answers one of his students questions about how to work with a client on medication, specifically, what a Yoga Therapist’s scope of practice might look like in this scenario. Here, we share a candid moment taken from a live session with students. We are working to spread the word about yoga therapy including the subtle details one must be aware of to be effective. Knowing what you don’t know is key. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

“It’s definitely not in our scope to comment on medication. You know, you can have personal beliefs about that, but you really have to know the history of someone. So, someone who’s had lifelong depression, you know you’d have to be really sure… well, first of all, you really shouldn’t comment at all as a Yoga therapist. You should say, “Actually you don’t know a lot about medication.” You know, “What I do know is that Yoga therapy can help alleviate the symptoms. And then if you feel like those symptoms are alleviated enough to try pausing your medication, you should talk to your doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist whoever you’re seeing about that.”

That’s for the official line. And then on another note, I would say, there is mounting evidence that medication for mild and possibly moderate depression isn’t that effective. And the reason I bring that up is because mild and moderate depression is not in the suicidal realm.

So, you know, if you had some science based around that and wanted to share studies or points of view from the Yoga Therapy tradition, that would be fine. But I wouldn’t become the ally against medication. I would stay in the zone, not just because of a liability perspective; more in terms of you really want your client to be achieving their personal goals. And so even though someone might say, “my personal goal is to get off medication,” it’s not the only goal. Because…and if you are skilled and talking to them, you would also find out that their other role would to not be depressed. So those things have to balance each other out.

So more important to ally yourself with the pursuit of overall health and happiness. Whatever that means. So that’s my general answer – that I have definitely helped people achieve their goals of getting off medication especially depression – it’s kind of a commonly, in my opinion, overused realm in terms of medication. However, some people you know it’s the perfect thing. And you know without it, it’s not going well. So just keep your mind there.”

Yoga Therapy For Addiction

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It seems that every day I hear a new tragic story about a person falling prey to their addiction. Stories of people dying or losing friends and family due to opioid and heroin use are everywhere. This is in addition to alcohol addiction, food addictions, and others. These addictions ruin the lives of the people who get too caught up in them and their families.

I also am constantly hearing stories of hope. Former addicts who have turn their lives around. Increasingly I’m hearing the word “yoga” with these stories. How it was a first step, how it saved a life, how it enabled someone to turn things around. Why would this be? How can yoga, and more specifically yoga therapy help such a difficult situation?

The beginning of this lies in the fundamentals of yoga practice. Yoga citta vritti nirodhah.”Yoga is experienced in the mind which had ceased to identify itself with it’s vacillating waves of perception”. In other words we can experience peace and clarity when we are not hijacked by our vrittis, or thoughts. This truth is just as true for a person addicted to heroine as it is for President Obama.

Yoga sees all people as addicts. We are all addicted to paying attention to potentially unreliable thought patterns. Yoga practice is aimed at helping us be less addicted to these thoughts, so that we can make decisions from a deeper, more reliable place.

In yoga therapy, we use many [yoga] techniques including different types of asana, pranayama, and meditation all geared to help each mind understand the nature of it’s thoughts. These practices are customized by a Yoga Therapist to work efficiently with any individual. This way of working  is helpful and works for addiction because addiction to thoughts is at the root of all of our mental afflictions.

There have been many pilot studies that look at yoga and it’s effects on addiction. Some focus on the chemistry changes like increased GABA production. Others look at yoga’s efficacy with helping depression and anxiety, both of which can contribute to addictive behaviors. While studies are important for convincing the treatment world to use these ancient yoga techniques, we need to remember how imperative it is to address an individual’s imbalance as an essential key to a positive outcome.

In my yoga therapy practice, I have seen addicted individuals respond well to movement. I have also seen meditation and breathwork have strong effects. Different combinations work best based on an individual’s physical, energetic and mental makeup and are taught to help create more clarity and focus in terms of changing patterns. The common denominator is an individual understanding that they are not flawed for being addicted. We are all addicted just in different ways. Yoga was developed to reduce suffering, because we all suffer. A good Yoga Therapist can help by offering practices that make it easier to handle the mind’s voices, and in turn, act from our best selves.

May the wisdom of Yoga be available to all that are suffering.

Brandt

How Much To Stretch OR Is The Body A Metaphor For The Mind?

neon-woman-brain-720x480Flexibility is a good thing. Being flexible enough to have optimal functioning in the body is really important for joint health and pranic flow. Mental flexibility is important as well. Getting unstuck from past conditioning is an important aspect of yoga training.

Often we work with these metaphors in the physical plane and then we get results in the mental sphere. Moving through our sticky physical blocks can unstick some of our attitudes. So many have experienced an opening when pushing through the fear of doing a handstand, for example. We feel empowered and less afraid on many levels, not just physically, as we get over the fear of inverting.

But does this relationship go on forever? One might think so based on the thousands of yoga classes that promote this idea. Find more Range of Motion (R.O.M.) in your joints and you will find more openness and flexibility in your life. This however is simply untrue. No Rishi ever said this. No text I’ve never seen hints at this. In fact it’s not even discussed. There is an optimal R.O.M. for each joint in our body. Once we reach this, we are as stable and free and healthy as we will ever get from stretching. Anything beyond that will just put us at risk for joint degradation and injury.

So why do yoga teachers keep encouraging their students to get more and more flexible? Do they really believe it will move them past all mental afflictions? Or maybe it’s not obvious where to stop for most teachers. Not to mention that all of the social media pics of extreme levels of flexibility are encouraging us to be in a flexibility competition with ourselves and each other.

Maybe what we really want is a body that helps us on the path to mental flexibility? If that is so we should be stretching in a way that promotes enough flexibility and enough stability that we are empowered in our body long term. Because if you do read those yoga texts, many imply that we might be at this mental flexibility thing for a long time. And we will need strong, flexible bodies to accompany us on the way towards mental freedom.

Om Shanti,
Brandt

5 Reasons To Work With A Yoga Therapist

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Yoga therapy is an emerging field. As such, most of the public doesn’t know what a Yoga Therapist is or why they would want to work with one. I thought I’d do my part and write the top reasons to work with a Yoga Therapist.

1) Head To Toe Thinking
For physical concerns, Yoga Therapists are trained to think about the whole body. In a world full of never-ending specialization, Yoga Therapists are uniquely positioned to see connections that others may miss. In practice, this often involves strengthening or stretching structures seemingly unrelated to one another. The result is a whole body approach to healing that often has amazing results.

2) Time
Yoga therapy sessions are often an hour, sometimes more. Unlike healing professions that are constrained to short sessions because of insurance and other factors, Yoga Therapists have the time needed to take in your full story. It makes us well positioned to see connections that others simply don’t have the time to make. Sometimes we not only need practices to help heal us, we also need someone to help us connect the dots in our daily life. Are we getting enough sleep? Do we need to re-think our medications? Are we unknowingly creating stressors that can be cut out? A Yoga Therapist is able to take in your entire picture and help you make beneficial shifts that others often miss.   

3) Education Not Dependence
The goal of the Yoga Therapist is to educate people so that they may heal themselves. Working with a Yoga Therapist should leave a client feeling empowered to self assess as part of their healing process. Independence from the Yoga Therapist is the goal.

4) Commitment To Relationship
Yoga is relationship. Yoga Therapists understand that relationship is a key part of any healing process. This mostly applies to our relationship with ourselves, but it also applies to the therapist/client relationship. A Yoga Therapist is a friend on the path entrusted with a certain role and a good therapist is committed to a relationship that benefits all involved. When working with a Yoga Therapist, a client should always feel on equal ground within the confines of healthy boundaries.

5) One Stop Shopping
Yoga therapy is interested in all aspects of the self: the physical body, pranic body, mental states and emotions, the unconscious workings of the mind, the heart and its connection to all. Yoga Therapists are trained in practices to facilitate healing connection and balance within all of these parts. For many, this holistic approach can alleviate suffering across the spectrum of their experience. This may eliminate or reduce the need to obtain help from different individuals which is often important since the cost in both money and time can be overwhelming, especially when working with chronic conditions.

There are of course, many more reasons to work with a Yoga Therapist! May this short list inspire you to continue your healing with yoga therapy and please spread the word by sharing this writing. As always if you have any questions or comments please write me [here].

May the healing power of yoga continue to spread,
Brandt

The Power Of Practice: Yoga & Schizophrenia

yoga brain image The power of a proper practice never ceases to amaze me. I was just looking at a few studies that show how asana and pranayama have very positive outcomes for people suffering with schizophrenia. ​

In past studies meditation has been shown to worsen symptoms for this population. Yoga and pranayama however seem to work pretty well by lessening symptoms and improving quality of life.

It is so potent to train the mind through movement in breath. This serves as a great reminder to us all of why we practice. The effect of balancing the physical and pranic bodies through movement with breath is felt every time we step onto our mats. To self heal in this way, even if you are not suffering with such a difficult mental condition, is a great service to ourselves and everyone around us. If you know anyone suffering from mental issues like anxiety or depression, a Yoga Therapist may be of great service to them. Spread the word.

Taking control over our well being is our birthright and yoga therapy is a gem available to all.

Om Shanti,
Brandt