a) yoga as a complement to western medical knowledge has benefits for burn out
b) People may not know they have burn out as burn out just becomes part of your life
c) Secondary traumatization occurs when you work with trauma victims. Yoga helps you maintain your compassion but decrease your empathy so that you do not become traumatized.
This is episode 114 of Changing the Face of Yoga and I have a very interesting guest today. This is Dr Shailla Vaidya. She is a physician, a yoga therapist, and a compassionate change agent, practicing mind body medicine in Toronto, Ontario in Canada. She completed her MD at Dalhousie medical school, a residency in family and emergency medicine at the University of Ottawa and a master's of public health in health management and policy at Harvard. She has had her own experience with physician burnout and she created the yoga of burnout, recovery stress resilience program, which combines yoga practice and philosophy with the science of human functions, self-compassion and stress resilience.
Her current medical practice is focused on helping her fellow professionals and others with stress-related illnesses to regain their health and well-being. She's also certificant of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and teaches medically informed therapeutic yoga to yoga therapists internationally. Welcome. Shailla . I think this is an important topic. Is there anything else you'd like to add to that introduction?
02:16 No. I did change the name of the program to the yoga of stress resilience burnout recovery program only because burnout has so many things to prove that it's actually burnout you're fixing as opposed to stress. So it's actually the yoga stress resilience burn-out recovery program.
02:36 What exactly is burnout and let's as opposed to being stressed?
02:48 Burnout was first described by Dr Christina Matlock at the University of California Berkeley. And she described it as having three components. I think we all use burnout in a very colloquial way. But the three components are emotional exhaustion. So many of us had the experience of not being able to mentally handle yet another thing that we may not always recognize or acknowledge that state. So just being emotionally tired is one part of it.
The other part of it involves depersonalization and that's a fancy word to say that we go numb. We're, we're not really human anymore. We're not feeling as we used to feel. And that usually occurs when we're overwhelmed with a lot of the feelings that we face, a lot of the people that we come in contact with who are suffering with pain and grief and so many other things. As we get exposed to that over time, we may lose our ability to feel empathy for people who had that because we've been exposed to it so much.
And then the third thing is reduced personal accomplishment. And this is , the feeling that we're no longer active at our jobs. We start to view ourselves negatively in regards to our work and with the people we're working with. So we feel negative and we don't feel like we're accomplishing anything in our day. The World Health Organization also just recognize burnout as an actual thing. I don't know if it's a medical diagnosis, but they did give it an ICD 10 code. So a diagnosis and such, but mostly related to one's work. So that burnout is related to the jobs that we do. . And there are many, especially women, caregivers and other people who are caring for people in our community.
04:45 It's actually a very specific thing. I agree with you, that term gets bandied about a lot. But there are some ways that a person could say I'm having those kinds of issues. And if they do feel that maybe they are, what should they do?
05:07 Well, that's the big thing. We all say you need to take a break. You need self-care. That's a hard thing because we make that the job of the person who is experiencing the burnout and not everyone is really able to understand that or understand what they need to do to get out of this cycle of burnout. And essentially it happens when we've had chronic stress.
The big thing would they really have to do is start to release stress. And as yoga therapists and yoga teachers, we know that stress builds up in our body. And completing that stress response and then releasing stress from the body is a real big component in helping recover from burnout. Because there's some neurologic things that are happening when we hold stress in our body, we're sending signals up through our brainstem through our limbic system particular around the Thalamus. And of course this is far more complicated than the breakdown I'm giving right now. But our brain stem or thalamus and our limbic system can actually shut down those signals. So we don't actually know we're experiencing the beginnings of burnout until we're exhausted and we can't do anything. So yes, take a break but also do the things that help reduce or release stress from our body as we give ourselves that care. And there's so many components within that but yoga happens to be a fantastic technique to help people with burnout.
06:41 Let's explore that a bit more. Why don't you explain your program? I think that might be the easiest way to do it because it will give us specific information.
06:55 I get referred a lot of people with stress related illnesses from their family doctors and so they've had chronic stress their whole life. And actually when I do their histories and do their assessments, I also do adverse childhood experience scores. So the majority of the people I see also had stressing as a child. And so their nervous systems developed under stress and that may make them more stress responsive as they leave that environment and go on to the rest of the world. And what's so interesting is a lot of people who had stress as kids who survived that tend to be professions where they want to help other people. I always joke with them that no, you want to help other people the way you weren't helped as a kid or give back in that way.
It's very interesting. I can't generalize that to the whole population of burnout. I'm really only looking at the people that I see come through my door and so adverse childhood experiences is huge. The way I use yoga is yoga really helps us re-integrate the body. So we know that yoga is more than just the asanas that we practice. The Yoga Sutra says it's a process of slowing down, change the perceptions of our mind through this process. How do people come in who are just exhausted, their bodies can't take anymore. And then using a restorative approach and a bottom up approach to help release tension through the body and then work with breathing and meditation techniques so that they can, you know, exhale and start focusing their mind on other things.
It's very effective when we bring them to those places of concentration, meditation and maybe, hopefully bliss. But learning how, first of all to have compassion for the self and take care of the self because so many of us put others before we put ourselves. So my program really helps people come back to that self-care component, taken care of themselves. Actually stopping and moving and releasing the stress and breathing and then learning how to have compassion for the self. Much like they have compassion for the other people in their lives.
09:21 I noticed on your website that you have several supportive resources. I think you have a drop in where people can just come and meditate once a week or so. Is that correct?
09:37 I usually run that in the summertime for people to help them keep up with their practice. During the spring, winter and fall I'm usually busy with working at the medical aspects of Yoga. But I had that drop in because a lot of people after they'd gone through my program can't find a yoga class that is like what I teach. There's tons of people out there teaching yoga. To find a good restorative class, that's just what they need, but might not always be available to people or they might not feel comfortable going to their local yoga studio for whatever reason.
10:22 That happens a lot, unfortunately. When you've got someone who you have diagnosed as having burnout, are they open to coming to your program or does it take them a little while to really accept that that's what they have?
10:43 That's a great question. I work with a lot of family doctors who have assessed their patients over time and some of my patients have had you know, back pain or migraines or other stress related illnesses and they've seen specialists and a lot of other people who can't give them the quick fix or the understanding. So when they come and see me they're usually recommended by somebody that they trust - their family doctor.
Many of them have never tried yoga and so they are hesitant at first, but when they come and they meet me and they see the they see my set up, my room, my yoga room, and I explained to them the mind-body connection and why they may be feeling, what they're feeling. I get buy-in that way. I'll talk about anxiety and depression and sleep. I screen them for those things. I screen them for their disability score and as were going through the screens, I bring them to that. They start to realize, well, actually this is a problem for me and that is a problem for me and I'm not surprised that this is four on the clinical scale that I use. And then I actually tell them how yoga can work for that. When we release stress from our body, how that affects our physiology. So I'll teach them about their Vagus nerve, teach them about their heart rate, teach them about these other things and they get buy in because at that point they just want to see somebody who gets it.
When I can explain it to them that way, I think it gives them a sense of agency that they understand what's happening. And then when they actually come to the class, which I think is the biggest thing. I really build that trust with them or I hope I do when they come to the class and they realize my God, I'm not alone. Like there's other people who are going through the same thing who have maybe have had similar jobs or jobs I can relate to or are caregivers to elderly parents or have children who are also autistic. Once they see that group and they start the program and they feel like they have the experience of what it feels in their body to practice, that's when I really get the buy in.
13:08 It's really a combination of information and building trust and build a relationship with them. Is that a fair thing to say?
13:20 Yeah, I would say.
13:22 We have a general idea of what you do, but you say you also teach medically informed therapeutic yoga to yoga therapist. Is this in the burnout area or just more generally than that?
13:40 I'm a part of the Svastha Yoga therapy training program. When I was going through my training there would be medical things that I would bring up and offer advice around that type of thing. So we're building our yoga therapy training Svastha training. I'm not certain if you're aware that's led by Doctor Ganesh Mohan and his family.
14:06 I've heard of the Mohans
14:07 So it’s through the Mohans.
14:10 Your training is basically through this particular yoga training opportunity that's available.
14:19 I've done talks for the Montreal International Symposium of Yoga Therapy and I've also done a few things, it's a little bit more informal, but with licensed health care providers. You call them allied health here in Canada who have yoga teacher training background and they want to have some therapeutic yoga skills with their patient population. So that's the type of stuff I also do as continuing education. In that format, I often just call it mindfulness.
14:57 When you're helping professionals, like medical professionals, like yourself or others, do you find them open to yoga or did they take a little convincing?
15:13 You know by the time they get through my door, they're open. I'm sure family doctors who mentioned this to their patients and they might not be open. A lot of the people I get also come word of mouth. So they had a friend who had gone through my program and who was a social worker and their burnout. And so by the time they get referred, they have buy in already. So I think I probably have a biased population, but we know the science of this stuff. and also I think what's really fascinating, but the time that were at, I do have a lot of support from my medical community. Many, many physicians who are specialists find it very interesting and will start to refer to me. So I get referrals from neurologists and psychiatrists, cardiologist that have been interested. I think more than anything is the support I get from my medical colleagues to do this work. It shows that they are interested and that there is buy in.
16:18 I think that's great. My typical listener is either a yoga teacher or yoga therapist; what advice would you give to them if they think they might be experiencing burnout?
16:41 I would just tell them that it's real. A lot of yoga teachers are doing trauma informed practice now and a lot of yoga therapists are. Just to understand that there is such a thing as secondary trauma, vicarious traumatization, that we resonate emotionally with the people who we work with. And that's your neurons, our limbic system picking up on the emotions of others. And we are designed as people, as humans to do that so that we can feel another person.
But what the science shows is we actually feel that other person's pain as if it's affecting us. We're experiencing it. People should know that. This is real; you are feeling that heaviness. The person you're working with, you're feeling their heaviness, you're feeling that pain. We have science to show that; brain scans have shown that. The most important thing is that we as yoga teachers and yoga therapists also have a tool that we can use and that is fostering, developing compassion within. We can start to use those meta techniques to breathe in compassion for ourselves, to name the pain that we're feeling. Then we can start to reduce our own empathic distress and our own empathic resonance. We're still resonating with them, but we're dealing with what we're feeling. And then as we start to generate that compassion within, compassion works on a different neural network than empathy, we can actually hold space or be able to be there for our clients, for the people with whom we're working.
18:18 Great point. That actually working with people with trauma can have an effect on the teacher or the therapist. Do you see a lot of trauma training and I haven't taken it so I can't say, but I hope that they're also looking at the wellbeing of the person giving the yoga. So we're almost at the end of the podcast. Shailla. Is there anything that you would like to talk about in more depth or something that we haven't covered at all?
18:53 I think those are the biggest things. I think that what I would like to do for the people who are out there is just to know that there are techniques to read about even, you know, the mindful self-compassion program or compassionate listening programs so that they can start to employ those techniques when they're working with those who have trauma.
And to recognize that it might not appear the way they think it's going to appear in them or the others, Especially when you're working in a trauma informed practice to recognize that you may also be triggered by something and that's completely normal. As time goes on, you may start to get triggered simply by working with people who've had trauma. By hearing their stories, you may start to develop that secondary trauma pattern.
And you may actually also develop what we call moral distress or moral injury. Moral distress is when you know what to do for someone, but you can't do it. And moral injury is when you feel like the system within which you're working is not able to support what you feel needs to be done in that time. That these are things that helping professionals deal with and that are real and that lead to burnout and beyond. Right. So I think my basic thing is that people should have an understanding of who they're helping and why they're helping, but also the fact that it can happen.
20:21 Do you have any resources? I mean, we've touched on it very briefly, but it sounds like an important thing for people to understand and be able to handle
20:32 I know the Center of Mindful Self-compassion San Diego, California has a website on some of these thing. A fabulous author, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky did a Ted talk on secondary trauma. Babbette Rothschild wrote a book Helping the helpers. So there's resources out there. I think that people can explore around this.
21:08 That's great because I didn't realize that. I mean it makes perfect sense what you say but helping these people who have trauma could be very, it's very satisfying. But it can have some other things that you need to be aware of. This has been a great podcast. I learned so much. So thank you Shailla. You've done a great job and you're an excellent speaker. I think you're doing a really great job, especially this amalgamation of western medicinel and Yoga because I think they do go well together. They complement each other, but it's sometimes it's hard to do that. I congratulate you and thank you so much for being on the podcast.
22:08 Thank you so much. This is actually my grandfather's dream. My last name Vaidya means Ayurvedic physician. So he always wanted his grandkids or his kids. He wanted his kids. But that didn't happen. He wanted his grandchildren to blend the two, to not lose this culture. So much is lost under colonization and my uncles were jailed and great uncles were jailed as they were trying to keep these, these things alive. For me, it's really an honor to be able to speak on this stuff and to be able to combine these two. So thank you for having me.
00:47 This is Changing the Face of Yoga and this is episode 113. I have an incredible guest today. Her name is Doctor Christiane Brems who is a certified psychologist from the American board of Professional Psychology. She is an RYT 500 yoga teacher, a certified yoga therapist and she received her Phd in clinical psychology from Oklahoma State University in 1987. She currently directs YogaX an innovative Yoga School Initiative in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. It provides yoga training, continuing education and services. Dr. Brem has been extremely interested in yoga all of her life and she's integrated it into her research for clinical work and also, has developed this program called YogaX. YogaX sounds like a really different kind of yoga teacher training. We're definitely going to go into that. It is the integration of science and spirituality in service of individual and communal health. It's work is grounded in modern neuroscience and psychology research as well as the ancient philosophy and psychology of Yoga. It is based on the fact that yoga is a lifestyle practice and has many health and mental health benefits. So thank you Christiane for coming on the podcast. It's amazing what you are doing there and I think it fits so well with what Changing the Face of Yoga is all about. So welcome.
02:42 Thank you. It's absolutely a pleasure to be here. I'm very excited. Thank you.
02:50 Is there anything you'd like to add to that introduction? I kind of zoomed through it because it's just incredible what you've done. I wanted to hit the highlights, but is there something that you would like to emphasize?
03:03 Well, maybe I'll just emphasize that YogaX really is a team effort. I happen to be the director of it at the moment, but our team includes 10 people and YogaX is really our collective brain child. And so I just want to acknowledge that I'm speaking for the group, not just for myself. We have been together for quite a while now. I think coming on seven years. So even though the Stanford initiative is very young, our team is pretty seasoned.
03:32 There are a couple of things I've picked up that I thought was really interesting. You said that you had done a study or seen a study, I'm not sure exactly. There really is a media bias against inclusiveness, shall we say in Yoga where you have to be young and white, probably economically safe. It isn't, in the west, very welcoming to other people. Did you do that media study or did you see it or what's the background of that?
04:22 Yeah, that's actually our own work. We did a review, a fairly thorough review of about 10 years worth of yoga journals, looking at all their images and articles, the graphics that go with advertisements in Yoga Journal. Obviously we were pretty successful in showing that there's a strong bias towards white, skinny, wealthy women in the images, not just in the advertisements, which was originally our hope. Also in the graphics that accompany the articles in Yoga Journal. So there's clear sexism, there's racism in the sense that there are not a lot of people of color. There are lots of images of white people. They're more images of women than men. And the interesting thing is when men are depicted, they are typically in teaching roles, whereas the women generally are more likely to be in the student role.
There just a lot of really interesting things. We've published a couple of papers about this, but we also did a really interesting study where we took Yoga Journal images and we took some information about yoga. We created a control group and a treatment group and we invited people in to learn more about yoga and then at the end of this study asked them whether they might be inclined to try yoga. The treatment group was exposed to the yoga images whereas the control group was just exposed to information about yoga. Then both groups just got a little power point presentation about yoga and we ask them our questions. Being exposed to the images of Yoga Journal as opposed to just learning about yoga made men feel much less likely that they'd want to try yoga then if they just read something about yoga. And we thought that was really fascinating because it's sort of undergirds this premise, right? That if we show the wrong images then we disinvite or uninvite certain parts of our population from the practice.
06:36 Yes. I used to teach seniors and a lot of ads for senior yoga and stuff would have this very young girl, the typical yoga person. And I kept saying that's not a good idea; people need to see themselves to think I can try that.
06:57 Yeah. We need models.
07:40 Yeah. So I just thought that was interesting because it is a bit of a thing with me that I was really glad to hear that there was actual research to support what I've seen. So, I loved this. This came from your blog and it just totally got me, because I didn't ever think of it this way, but you said, that yoga is when we find the gap between stimulus and response. Yeah. I thought good grief. That is what we do. But it just seems like stimulus and response is so close. For Yoga to define that gap is kind of amazing. Can you kind of expand on that idea a bit?
07:56 Yeah. That to us is sort of the central practice, right? And even going all the way back to the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali's yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. That's the second line in the yoga sutras - right now is the time for Yoga, which is sort of a call to mindfulness. And so even Patanjali argues if we can still the mind, then we can transform ourselves. And it's the same idea when you start looking at that gap between stimulus and response, you need to have a moment of quiet in the mind, right? You need to be able to take the stimulus and then have some discernment and some deliberate choice about how you will respond to that stimulus. And in our day to day life, that doesn't tend to be our habit, right? Our habit is more stimulus and reaction,; there's no gap at all. And so in Yoga, we tried to cultivate is this pause, whether it's through breathing practices where we have a pause at the top and the bottom of the breath or whether it's through a physical practice where we pause to take a moment to tune in to the sensation in the body before we just sort of blow out our physical boundaries and limitations. It's all preparation for having that capacity when a stimulus reaches our nervous system to take a moment and make a deliberate choice about how we respond. So to me that has always been the very central part of the practice is this instilling of the capacity to pause.
09:41 I like that. Now I'd like to talk about, your teacher training because it sounds to me having been through two different sets of teacher training, that it's very, very different because it seems to have a real emphasis on community. . As well as, , learning all this stuff you got to learn. Sure. All that's in there too, but it's really, I wrote it down. It's fostering of community, encouragement of service and engagement, creation of accessibility and inclusion and I liked promotion of inspiration. The teacher training contributes to the student's personal and relational health. Relational health I don't , recall anything like that in any of my trainings or anyone else talking about that. And so could you kind of expand on that? What, what do you mean by relational health and how does the Yoga teacher training contribute to that?
11:10 It brings us right back to that gap between stimulus and response, right? So our relationships are often a reflection of our own capacity to self-monitor, to be compassionate, to be empathic and to understand what's happening in the other person before we react to whatever is happening in our relationship. In YogaX, in our group we have used yoga a lot in mental health care settings. And we have learned there that what happens with our clients as they do yoga because they increase the gap between stimulus and response. They become better partners in relationships. They bring us back anecdotes where their partners or spouses say, oh my gosh, you're so much more patient. Oh, you're less likely to fly off the handle. You haven't been as angry. You're easier to talk to. Bosses make comments to their employees about what changed for you? You're more patient, you're more thorough, your attention is better. There are really these reverberations into day to day life that enhance relationships. And we find that when we teach teachers, the same thing happens, right? We expect basically when we teach teachers that they too master this capacity to create a gap between stimulus and response. And that in that moment they become better people because they can make a choice about how they want to relate to the community in which they're learning and which they're grounded and in which they are responding.
12:58 You said that, and I thought this was excellent, really, that you do not emphasize the physical, but that all eight limbs of yoga get equal attention. I think that the physical, I hadn't actually put it in these words, but I think it's a beautiful way to say it does seem to get most of the attention both in the media and in the training that I took anyway. So how do you give equal time, in the training to all these eight limbs?
13:38 Yeah, that's a wonderful question because we are a yoga alliance registered school now and so we did have to comply with their criteria that they set for curriculum development. And of course, the alliance has an overly heavy emphasis on teaching asana. And so the way we make sure that we bring all eight limbs into our teaching is that bringing all of the limbs also into how we teach asana. And we do this also when we teach classes, not just when we teach teachers. When we do clinical work or research.
Everything is infused for sure with Limbs one and two. That just is a background for everything. We really believe that you can’t do or teach asana without also being very clear about the first limb, the ethical practices. Otherwise you practice asana in a way that might be violent to yourself. We see this all the time when people get injured in yoga classes because they're pushing past their limitations or their boundaries and they get hurt, right? Because they're not practicing acceptance and a compassion or nonviolence toward their own body.
We also really believe that in all physical practice you need to be truthful. You need to recognize when you need to use a prop or when you need to ask for help or when you need to say, this is a posture that's not accessible to me in this form. I need a modification. But we see people all the time when we offer them supports in asana, they reject it because the person next to them isn't using it. And so they're not being truthful to themselves. And so in the same way, when you infuse moderation, you infuse non-jealousy, you infuse joyfulness and non-stealing.
Cover all of the first limb in everything you do in your physical practice, including your form, your movement, but also your breathing practices. And so this is a way to do that. The second limb can very naturally be infused in everything we do. We can practice with contentment, we can practice with discipline, but we can also practice with introspection and with a dedication to a greater purpose.
So all of our classes always start with the setting of an intention and the presentation of a theme or the class. This will happen in our teacher training as well. That's a really beautiful way of bringing the second limb into everything you do and to always have in front of you. That realization that I'm not really on the map to enhance my body but to become a better human. Yeah. So I could go on for a whole hour talking about how we integrate that into everything we do. But that's sort of the basic premise that if you integrate them all the time, then it doesn't matter how much time we've used to any one because you're never just talking about one.
16:57 That makes sense to me. Towards the end of my teaching, I used to, have them set an intention, didn't tell them what it should be. But I thought it helped, again, to make it more personal for them so they would do what they needed to do, not what they thought they needed to do.
17:24 That's the beginning. And then we constantly come back to the theme of the class and we give lots of reminders for people to come back to their own intention. And to breathe it into their heart and then to breathe it into their community throughout the practice. Right? So that's the intention and the theme of the practice, whatever the theme of the day is, is never a lost during the time on the map. And then we asked people to take it with them when they leave the room.
17:54 Very, comprehensive. Yeah, that's a good idea. I didn't do that, but I think that's a really good idea. You say that what you're doing is, you are adding or supplementing the ancient yoga traditions with the current research in psychology, neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology, cultural sensitivity, inclusivity and humility. Why is that important to take the modern with the ancient?
18:48 That's a wonderful question. It's addressed a little bit in my most recent blog about why do we practice yoga? And the point I'm making there is that the modern enhances the ancient and the ancient enhances the modern, right? The ancient comes to us. Well, it's a lot of wisdom and a lot of sort of subjective, qualitative, anecdotal evidence, that this practice really works. It transforms us as human beings. That helps us be agents for change and helps us transform our community, our society into something better.
If you work in modern healthcare settings, however, if you say, I want to teach yoga to mental health clients or to people with cancer or to individuals who are coping with MS or Parkinson's, administrators will not be compelled when you say it's because it's in the yoga sutras. But if you can say, there's research that shows that when you practice yoga, you enhance people's resilience. You enhance their day to day functioning, their wellness, you optimize their autonomic control. You help people regulate their endocrine system and their immune function. You shape more adaptive, emotional, and behavioral responses. You down-regulate their reactivity, right? You make them more patient. All those things that we talked about earlier that happens in relationship.
People start to listen to you and they say, wow, this would be really great for my clients because they do have immune issues or they do overreact or they need to be more resilient when they face stress, their executive function isn't quite what it be. Their memory could be better, their pain tolerance, could use some help and we now have research that shows that yoga can do all of this. I think that's the power of modern science and integrating it, For us, they stand side by side because it's amazing. You can look at the sutras and then say, and here is how we see that in modern neurobiology or in neuroscience or in psychology research. I find that just so inspiring and people love it. Our students love it when we talk about this in classes because it gives a language that bridges the philosophical and the medical, the soul and the science.
21:35 Yes. I've often thought that the sutures are a little difficult to understand, or was I understanding it correctly? I think you're right that it does give a bridge between the modern and the ancient with hopefully keeping the ancient wisdom intact.
22:00 Exactly right. We don't want to lose that wisdom because it is incredibly compelling. And to me, because the science is actually confirming that wisdom. To me, it just strengthens it, right? It allows it into the room now in a way. yeah, that's both subjective and objective, right? It's research based, but it's also experientially based and it just creates a beautiful whole.
22:29 Would you say and okay that you would give more weight to the experiential now that we have found that the research is supporting it. I felt that experiential was not very compelling until I heard all this other research and I thought just because it didn't have (we can go through all of the research protocols if we want) that (protocol) doesn't mean it wasn't, true. Or at least as true as we can think anything is true. So does it really give support to that kind of multiple decades and centuries of experiential learning?
23:29 Yes, I think it does. Most definitely. And modern research is starting to become more open-minded as well. So we don't just do clinical trials anymore. We don't just do sort of the really control, every variable kind of science anymore. We also use qualitative methods where we're talking to people, we do focus groups, we do interviews and we talk to people about their actually experience in the room. And to me that's a very powerful paradigm when you study yoga because you don't just say to people, okay, fill out this depression measure or this mindfulness measure, so we can track over time whether your depressive symptoms get better and whether your mindfulness is enhanced. I mean all of that is great, right? Because it gives us hard objective data.
But we also at the end say and what else happened for you on a deep or subjective experiential level? And people will come up with things that you would have never thought about. Right. They got these amazing insights about themselves that you didn't find in your objective data, but their experience just sort of threw it to the foreground and that was the meaningful thing for them and then giving them a chance to talk about that just sort of blends with your hard, more scientific data. But it's entirely experiential and so to me, the two are utterly connected. We call this, in science we call this mixed methods. We use quantitative and qualitative data and I'm a big fan. I like to blend that sort of very objective data collection with the more subjective experiential piece and then bring both of those aspects together to really demonstrate that it's true in either paradigm.
25:26 That's excellent because I've always been concerned because yoga is so inclusive of all the things, the breathing and all eight limbs. How do you research that? You can research a part of it: you can research meditation, you can research breathing. But how do you bring that all together, Maybe that experiential, the subjective, the qualitative research may be the answer to that or at least partially an answer.
26:01 Yes, indeed. Indeed.
26:04 I was interested in the students that you've taught through YogaX, You have people with mental health and physical challenges, individuals and correctional settings, inpatient mental health settings, first responders and care providers. So you're looking at a really wide variety of people who are dealing with a wide variety of things. And is it kind of that yoga is so large, shall we say it can help people all in all of those areas? Or is, are each of those classes kind of tailored a bit to look at resilience or whatever is needed by possibly this class in front of you?
27:05 Yeah. Let me just say that our clinical work is what is pre-existing, right? So that is what happened in our group before we became YogaX where we were embedded in a comprehensive health care clinic. We did a lot of community outreach. Our first responder work was in the community, not in the clinic. and there are some basic premises that undergird our work, that are always present in everything we do. And with any population with who we do this work, right? We are always an Eight limbs based practice. And we are always very focused on the layers of self.
27:57 So looking at the five Koshas, body, breath, mind, intuitive wisdom and then ultimately joy, bliss or union, however you sort of want to translate the names of the Koshas. So in this work, they are always present, no matter which group we work with, we do however, adapt how we deliver the message to the group in front of us, right? And so, when we work with our mental health clients, we really work a lot through the body, the breath and the mind, really always in combination. And the more trauma we have in the room, the more careful we are to really work with body and breath, or body and energy and less so with kind of the more analytical, cognitive sort of strategies in the mind. Because the research is really clear that the contribution that yoga makes to help ameliorate traumatic experiences, is through the body and the breath.
And then integrating that with work that happens in the mind that whole top down, bottom up integration. When some of our team members have worked with the police force for example, then breathing and, and thinking breathing and decision making is more in the foreground, right? And asana of course, because that group is drawn into yoga because of the physical demands. But bringing them into balance, right? Giving them the asana, talking about how that actually can help them down regulate their nervous system, how it can help them inspire that gap between response, right? If you are a police officer in the field and you have to make quick decisions all the time, if you can help get that gap long enough that the decision is more discerning, that's a wonderful, wonderful skill for them to have.
But you're not going to use Sanskrit with every group like that and your tone will be much more matter of fact, you're going to use some humor. You'll adapt sort of to the cultural environment of that particular group. When you go into the prisons, which one of our team members did, she taught in a teacher training program in the prison and they taught an eight limbs practice, but they had to be much more discerning about how they practiced asana in prison, right? There were prison rules that they had to abide by - so no skin tight clothing, practice in sweats and you sort of, hide your female body if you're working with men. And so there are always adaptations that you need to make. But I think that's true no matter what, Any yoga class, a public class, anything you're always going to have people with different demand characteristics. And as a teacher, I think the more nimble you are in recognizing that and in responding to that need with appropriate modification and adaptation and suggestions, the more inclusive and inviting your practice.
31:42 I agree. I'd like to ask one last question. Your research showed that the media is not as inclusive as perhaps we'd like it to be. That yoga alliance has a great emphasis, has an emphasis, let's just say that on the physical as opposed to the other eight limbs. What is your suggestion to helping, us become more inclusive in yoga in the west.
32:23 Yeah. Well, one thing we really need to do is we need to become more inviting to underrepresented groups. Right. It's interesting that you ask this question because this is an ongoing conversation in our group, right? We are very dedicated to diversity and inclusiveness, but sometimes we hear from people, but you guys are all, yes white women. We're not. There are eight of us who are out of the 10 are white women. Some of us are young and some of us are older. We're not all white, but, and, and we grapple with this, right? How can we say that we are dedicated to inclusiveness and diversity when our own faces are often not perceived that way by other people.
And so we have been making very deliberate attempts to figure out ways to become more inclusive. So for example, we're working now on a scholarship, a fund to draw people from underrepresented groups into our teacher training program so that they can participate without having to think about where the money will come from, right? But we also try to be inclusive and the images that we put on our website, we're not always successful with that because we, we don't want to use stock images. We want to use our own images. And so we have limitations there, but we also offer physical practices that honor all levels of skill, all levels of body capacity, all levels of emotional and psychological needs.
We're really dedicated to making sure that when we demonstrate postures, we don't demonstrate the advanced. Oh, we demonstrate the beginner's pose, right? So that people have this sense of, yeah, I can do this. I work with a lot of seniors and they're always so excited when they can get into a warrior. It's a modified warrior, but I'm not going to say it's a modified warrior. It's a warrior pose. It's a beautiful expression. We can adapt and modify and so variety should make the practice accessible. We become gentler in how we teach asana. We bring the Eight limbs in. I like to say, , if somebody has the capacity to breathe, they have the capacity to do yoga. If they have the capacity to focus their mind, they can do the yoga.
35:23 It's a difficult problem. It really is.
35:28 It has to be a collective effort. And I really see this happening. I mean, if you just look at the accessible yoga website of Jivana Heyman. You interviewed him. They're fantastic. And the images that they can show and that's what we need to do. That's where we need to end up. But we also need to do better. We need to offer sliding fee scales. We need to draw people into the practice.
36:01 So I'll give you an opportunity here if there's something that you would like to say in a little more depth than we covered or if there's something that you would really like to share with the listeners that we haven't covered. please do so.
36:15 The one thing that maybe we haven't touched on as much as would it be necessary to truly reflect where we come from in YogaX is the culture of the Koshas. We really have a very strong commitment to working with the Koshas. We view the Koshas as a developmental model. And this is maybe our background in psychology. Most of us are a psychologist and the Koshas are really this beautiful ancient model of how we transform as human beings. Starting with as we come into the world being primarily focused on our body. And then as we relate to our caretakers, recognizing sort of our aspect of self. And then we began to acquire language and our mind comes on board and then we recognize we're in relationships and our wise, intuitive self has to come on board so that we can be compassionate toward others. And then ultimately we have to recognize that there is sort of this bigger connection. There's this bigger union, this very joyful interdependence. And that then brings us to maybe later in life when our existential imperative needs to become more important than our biological imperative.
And this is something that I think is a lovely paradigm for Yoga students and for Yoga teachers to understand that even 2,500 years ago or whenever yoga first started to be transmitted, whether orally or in writing, there was already this wisdom that as people, as humans, we evolve. We have sort of a central capacity that's innate to develop toward an existential imperative. As long as our biological imperative is taken care of. If our survival is assured, if we have food, shelter, clothing, then then we can live to do amazing things. And so we talk about this quite a bit in yoga classes. It's a model for mental health. It's a model of resilience, it's a model for coping with illness. It's a model for enhancing relationships. so I just wanted to put a plug in for really working with the Koshas and recognizing them as this very beautiful developmental model that finds a lot of support in psychological research in terms of how we evolved through brain development and such to become more empathic and compassionate loving and kind as we get older.
39:09 Thank you so much, Christine, for coming on. I think you've given us some different ideas or how to think about some of these things. I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us.
39:52 Well, thank you, Stephanie, for including me. It was an absolute pleasure. It's, yeah, and I'm humbled by the invitation.
40:01 Thank you.
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Changing the Face of Yoga – episode 113
00:41 This is episode one hundred twelve of changing face of yoga. And my guest today is Carol Confino. Carol has been a nurse for over 20 years and she's now shifted to preventing illness and disease becoming a yoga teacher, a yoga health coach and a certified yoga therapist. She's found ways of dealing with depression, self doubt and anxiety. The simple prompts process of noticing when these issues come up begins the process of overcoming. Welcome. Carol. Is there anything else you'd like to add to that particular introduction?
01:38 Just to clarify, I was an RN way back. I was an RN 14 years, but it's been 20 years since I've actually been a practicing nurse. But, I've been teaching yoga since 2006. Transition.
01:55 We all are doing that, aren't we?. I was very interested in what you were talking about doing desk yoga classes at a health fair. And you said it's a really different format from just doing office yoga or corporate yoga or whatever you want to call it.
02:23 It was interesting because I hadn't really thought about doing much corporate, but I was offered this job to do a health fair. Not so much in handing out flyers about my business or anything, but to teach office yoga. first time I had done hour long workshops at offices in the past, but I wasn't sure how this is going to work in a health fair. And I hit on what I call pause practices. I had done a workshop at my studio, Sun and Moon Yoga Studio here in Fairfax, Virginia. I did practices to pause during the day where you just take a minute or less and do some kind of practice that's going to either change your mind or your body in some way. So I used some of that and some of the things that I did with the desk yoga and there were a few practices that when I did them really resonated with people who didn't usually do yoga. So that's when it hit me that there's a whole population cause I've gone in offices and I've done a yoga class before or after work. But actually having it as part of their work day. Because yoga is more about mindfulness, being aware and when you start to become aware of when your posture is getting out of whack, what can you do?
04:04 And you know, you can go through all the alignment cues and things and sit up and you can bring your shoulders back. But I found that just bringing your arms out to a tee position brings in all the alignment cues and then you can add some practices that bring some strength up into your shoulders so you don't round forward so much. And if you incorporate that during your day, like as you're typing away on the computer, you notice you're rounding and you're in the middle of a thought, bring your arms out to a t, you've just broken up the muscles that were tight rounding you forward. And then you go back to typing and you roll down again. When you get to a breaking point where you've come to the end of the thought or the paragraph, you can do some stretches that will keep your shoulders up and keep you in better alignment because it's not so much the rounding forward that's bad. It's staying there. So if you can a couple of times an hour come in and out of it and to get them to sit and listen cause everybody's in a hurry.
All these practices take a minute or less and I have about 20 different ones: minute meditations, eye exercises, shoulders and the arms. And they all fit into a nice little format and I give them a little handout they can take back to their desks that goes through all the practices, some breathing practices, some energy medicine practices and I go over the ones that are more unusual and then I say you can look everybody can round and arch their back and roll the shoulders. But explaining some of the things that I do that can keep you in better alignment and gets you through your day a little more comfortably.
06:13 Oh, how clever. That's really interesting. I'm sitting here doing the T thing.
06:22 If you do that t and then bring your arms in a cactus position. So you bend your elbows.
06:27 I am.
06:30 So if you turn your palms towards your head, okay, your upper back muscles are getting a little stretch and so your shoulders and the chest is contracting but they're not moving any bone. Really turn your palms away. And now the upper back muscles contract and the chest muscles stretch. So you go back and forth between those two. And then bring your arms down without moving your shoulders. I found this out from doing it over and over again. By at the end of the day, when I go to round my shoulders, I would feel a little more resistance than I did before I did cactus arms, which is different than if you bring your arms behind your back and squeeze your shoulders together. Your shoulders can come immediately come forward because you haven't gotten the stabilizing muscles to stay there. So that's like a revelation for a lot of very tight men particularly. But even women, they come and they do this and they notice it right away. And there's other ones, a couple of other ones that I do, and I talk about how to fit that practically into your day. Just like I said you're middle of something and then when you get to a stopping point, you do the stabilizing things and before you go on break, you can do some eye exercises. There are lots of different ones, there's even more than that. I didn't even go into the wrist with the ones that I do with the office. The wrist is much more subtle to work with.
08:06 I saw you had a a youtube video on it.
08:09 I had some on there and I'm going to have a little course. I'm doing the health fairs. Then I started making up the whole little handout that I have is going to come out as a course where all 20 practices are done. And the minute meditations I have recorded about a minute and a little longer because I just startto welcome them and then do about a minute. I've had people ask me when I've done this in offices, do you have any videos with this? And I said I have a few on youtube but this is going to be an actual little course package.
08:58 It's interesting.I think it's hard for people when they're working, but to take that time to take an hour or so for a yoga class, but just to get that habit in of really noticing where your shoulders are or whatever is, it's quite clever really. Because they can do that without really taking away from there their time at work.
09:21 And it makes them aware because actually if you do it over and over again, it actually becomes more comfortable to sit upright. You're really working your body very hard rounding your shoulders forward. It's not a bad position but the strongest position for your spine is when your head is balanced on top of the spine. Once you get your muscles used to that again, because that's how you were when you were a little kid. Your head couldn't go forward cause it was so heavy. Babies when they sit up, sit upright. Because that's where your spine is the strongest. You don't usually see little kids with rounded shoulders cause their heads are so heavy. Then when they bring them forward, it throws their balance off.
But if you can kind of get aware that this is really more comfortable and also it gets them moving, even if like it's not get up and walk around the office. But even when you're in your chair you can change your position a lot. You've seen a belly dancer move, they have their arms in a tee position, they can bring a lot of movement to their body. But their shoulders stay where they are. It's actually not a very tight position, rounded shoulders. You can't move as well. You're restricted cause you're crushing your chest.
You know, if the belly dancer had rounded shoulders, she couldn't get that movement down through the rib cage because she's crushing it. But if you bring your arms up, you actually can get a lot more movement. Your body is free or to twist. Not that you're going to stay still. Your body likes to move, your eyes like to move. Those things that you do every day is going to have more of an impact then what you do once a week in a yoga class or at least as much impact. Developing habits that are sustainable that aren't hard.
We've had master teachers, like Leslie Kaminoff. He talks about even how you walk you can really, if you really are mindful of how you walk, it can help prevent some bunion's and things like that from just being aware of how your body's designed, which we didn't come with a book of how to, and so you kind of winging it. And when when somebody talks about what bones hit the floor first. When you put more weight on the outside edge of your foot, you're going to get a bunion there because it's protecting you. Work on your muscles, which isn't just the foot, it's the muscles of the leg and all that. They are all connected and bringing people in with these simple things they do at the desk, it might get them more interested. Some of these other aspects that aren't necessarily yoga poses, but like mindful movement and mindful sitting.
12:32 Let's go into that. How do you define mindful sitting?
12:38 Well, mindful sitting is noticing when my shoulders are rounded forward first of all. Where your feet are; are you really comfortable where you are? Because I do share with my classes at the studio sometimes and even when you do like cactus arms, when you're seated, notice that what happens with your feet and your legs too. If you don't cross your legs, your feet kind of come flat on the floor and the knees come over the ankles and your rib cage is lifted and you're in alignment without me telling you anything else. Now it's good to break it up and really notice and why you want everything aligned. But your knee likes to be at a right angle or a little, maybe a little bit straighter. I was just hearing something on the radio about when you put your car on cruise control, now they're saying put your feet flat on the floor in the car and sit up a little. But anytime you habitually do the same movement, always have your knees apart or together it's going to put strain on the knee, ankle or wherever. If you always cross your legs, real tight, that's going to start working on your hip. Just kind of noticing and being aware.
14:20 I was just going to ask do you give them help with getting that habit into their daily movement? I think that would be the hardest thing is just remembering to do it each time,
14:36 I'm building this as a business idea. I started with this office yoga, with the health fairs and then I'm going to start to work with either local companies or even online doing. My ideal is to have like little 15 minute things once a week or a couple of times a month because much longer people don't really want to do a lot like at work there. When you're busy, saying take an hour and for this relaxation practice or whatever it is, too much time, 15 minutes sounds reasonable. And then I'll have time for questions after, but what I can talk with them about whatever their issues are and it's like chipping away. So if you first get this idea of just coming into that cactus once in a while when you're at your desk. When you find that successful, then you start to notice other things. And I have talked to people about, do you notice, , what do you do with that arm that always hurts? I mean, is that the arm you use your mouse with.
It's sometimes just bearing your position a little bit can make a big difference, and what kind of wear and tear you do on your body. That's kind of what I can build it into. From my own experience in working with brand new people to yoga because it's the type of people that really need yoga. It's the people who aren't going to go to work an hour early with yoga clothes and then change and go to work. These are the people that are just going to sit at their desk and not do anything unless it's really quick and easy. Some of the CEOs or the people running the thing running the health fairs will come over and they say, oh, office yoga, what is that? Or it's called all different things. Desk stretches. Each place has a different name, but they say, oh I only have about five minutes. So I'll just say, okay, I can do something in a minute or less. And I do it. You can see in their eye that it made an impression like wow, that does feel different. And it was so easy. And it's really easy.
And especially when you think about it, even mindful sitting you kind of once somebody brings your attention to it. You think my outer outer part of my knee, that is always getting pulled out once because I sit with my knees apart all the time and it's fine to do, like I said, all of these positions like I tell the people at the health fairs is: none of these positions is wrong for your body. It's just what you do all the time is going to cause wear and tear. Knowing what is neutral for your body or because you kind of know what isn't putting any stress on your muscles. If you ever carried a crate or something and you had your fingers around it and you had to hold it longer than you expected. And your fingers don't open really quick, that's what happens to your back. But we sit with our back rounded forward for an hour and that's what happens with any muscle. You hold in one position for a long time.
Our muscles are meant to move And whether we think about it or not, we're always moving like that. Even when you hold a Coffee Cup with your hand here, move your fingers up and down. You know, you never perfectly still and we don't think about that. But we do sit in front of the computer now and, and it's, I think as we do more and more on the computer, it is going to take its toll on our eyes, on the body. You know, they, they show that picture of how people progress from programs. Magnum man, the little, yeah. Chimps off and then they're going back. I've seen pictorials where they show it coming back down and this guy sitting at his desk all curled up looking just like the monkey at the beginning. Whatever you do over and over changes your body. People develop the hunchback and their shoulders are always rounded and that has long-term health impacts.
What I usually have next to my station when I go to these health fairs is, there was an article in the Washington Post that you can Google just by putting in, don't just sit there. And what it is, is it's a picture of a guy over his desk and a cross section and next to it, it's got all the things that can happen from sitting improperly. And what that picture does is it draws people over, either laughing or you know, or concerned a little bit. It shows it crushes your heart. It doesn't let your lungs open up just from the way you hold your body and people know that it's not working well. And then when you explain that your body was meant to sit up, right? You've let certain muscles get stronger and other ones get weak that you feel like rounded forward is more comfortable. But after a while, once like I noticed as soon as my shoulders round forward now just because I've been doing yoga for so long.
One other thing I do with the eyes is eye exercises and it struck me that even working in the office when we didn't have the computer doing everything, you would get up from your desk to look up information. You'd have to go over, get a book, find it on the shelf, bring it down and then your focus would change four or five times just looking up something. So your eyes got a little movement and your eyes didn't stay right in center right on this middle of the screen and just move in like an eight inch or 12 inch square. Even with the big screen, it's still only about 18 inches. Your eyes got a lot more range. We keep on for eight hours looking the same distance away with the same focus. Because now you can look up everything online. You don't have to move and , it's taking its toll on the eyes as well. And those are really simple just looking near and far, I'm making a point, you know like before you go on break, when your eyes are a little fuzzy focus far away, focus near in. you know, if you'll have a window, look at, look out the window, think about looking around, up, down at and then the sides.
So these are all little things that don't take any time. You don't need a yoga mat, you don't need special clothes. But it's yoga, it's my your mind becoming aware of your body and then breathing practices to calm you down or to get you energized. There are all kinds of practices that it can be done in a very short period of time.
22:57 Excellent. I really think that's interesting because you're doing the essence of Yoga aren't you, of noticing, of being present and feeling what your body and your breath and your mind are doing. And that's basically, yoga is more than the Asanas. Where do you see this going? it sounds like a very accessible, easy to do kind of practice that it has a lot of benefits. How do you see it growing?
23:35 Well, I'm just trying to get it started. I think like having like either live or recorded 15 minutes little sessions periodically and seasonal, like doing packages of seasonal or topical like could be longer 45 minute sessions. If places want something like that can be customized to what the needs of an organization would be. You could bring in all kinds of practices like for anxiety and depression for sleep. and pain. I have a lot resources from all different certifications for Yoga, for depression and even with the brain, brain longevity, and memory and incorporating right and left brain and work like that can all be brought in. Make it really simple and easy practices that can be brought into any of these companies.
My ideal is at some point to have people doing a year-long program where either a monthly or biweekly or quarterly packages where I could do either the short ones and even like for new employees when they come in, maybe have a recording like a, a zoom or a, not a Webinar, but a little video of me of going through the basics of these press pause practices; taking a practice and incorporating it every day.
On the front of the flyer that I give out, it usually says, pick one or two to do each for the day and see which ones benefit you the most. And then maybe there's ones you always go to. And what happens eventually is you notice, oh, I really need this one now. End of the day practices, things like to leave work at work. So all of these we are creating either through a breath practice or a mindfulness practice at the end of the day, instead of rushing out the door. Do something that like almost like a little, not a ceremony, but a little thing that work is over. I clear my mind, I clear my thoughts and just let everything go and now I'm ready to go home and I'm not in a panic getting out the door.
I'd like to see more and more corporations are getting more and more into the wellness and into retaining employees and in to employee health and these kinds of practices where they do it, they can do it anywhere, any not even just at the desk. You can do it anywhere, anytime. It can be incorporated in your daily life without you having to worry about being flexible.
That's the whole thing. When you talk to people about doing yoga, they're all worried. You have to be very flexible and the idea is you're really thin and really flexible and you get into all of these positions. The positions are just way of someone who is real flexible of getting sensation. Someone said the difference between a flexible and an inflexible person is how much they have to move to feel the sensation. So someone is tight doesn't have to move as far. And they feel it. And somebody else who's more flexible has to move deeper and everybody's body is different. So things that work for some people aren't going to work for others and that's where you kind of tailor things in the therapeutic vein. That helped bring us all together. But where I'm seeing is that corporations might might be interested in having this be a regular thing that they can share with their employees. It can vary over the year or different topics?
28:16 I could see where, especially since it's not taking them away from work. It's just giving them a little time to reset themselves as you say.
28:36 Pause, reset, refresh is like on my website. That's another little catch thing.
28:44 You said you're a yoga therapist. Do you do these kinds of things with your Yoga therapy clients also?
28:54 I haven't done as many privates. When training. I did a lot of yoga therapeutics with clients, I also got into Yoga Health coaching with Ayurveda. Kate Stillman had these 10 practices where you do things in Kaizen. So kaizen, which is taking little, little things at a time. And I think between the Yoga Therapeutics and the Yoga Health coaching with these health fairs, I kind of combined some of that.
When I work with individual students, you give them small things to do, get them to incorporate them and then build on that instead of a whole bunch of things to do at once.
What is the main focus of what I want? What do you want to accomplish? What the client wants to accomplish. What are the simplest practices that can get you there that you can do easily along with a more formal practice you can do during the day daily or three times a week. Practice would be longer if I was working with an individual client, but what things you could change in between. Something simple, even like a pause practice. If they're working with me for depression or anxiety - a breathing practice. What breathing practice is most effective? We'll try these different ones. Which one would work for you? And you said every time you're feeling stressed because with any of the therapeutic things, the earlier you recognize that you're having an issue, the easier it is to head it off.
So sometimes in the west we tend to ignore pain and ignore signals from our body, which may or may not be pain. There may be just discomfort, but we think we can push through it and sometimes we can, but it's all taking a toll because with pain and discomfort, your body is telling you something, If you don't listen and make an adjustment, your pain level usually increases because you keep ignoring the pain signal and then all of a sudden things fall apart. I'd often hear, people say it would be like I was healthy and then I had this one thing go wrong and now everything is off.
And even back then before I had done yoga, I'm thinking it probably was happening all along. You just chose to ignore it. Your body has this amazing ability to help you do whatever you want to do. Even if you're having pain, it will, it will push you through it. But it's taking its toll and body can compensate for a lot of the things we do, which is why a bunion is a compensation for your gait being in a way that you always are rubbing on that part of the foot. Your body, in order to protect your foot, forms a bunion forms harder skin there. if you start to notice it earlier and instead of ignoring it, take action. that's really helpful.
Working with people with anxiety and depression and pain and arthritis you do your regular practices and then you notice when something's aggravating it and when it's aggravating it, you stop. Then you do a practice that you know will relieve it and then go back to it. So it's all again yoga; your mind listening to your body.
Your breath will often be an indicator of when things aren't working well. And if you notice, I notice every time this happens, my breath gets faster in my heart rate goes up a little bit. You do a breathing practice or even just a sigh or something that changes your breathing pattern, changes your muscle movement which in turn changes your mind, your mindset.
This is a global yoga therapy day is coming up. Yoga therapy is fairly new and a lot of yoga teachers do yoga therapy they modify things, but the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) actually created a certification for people who are focusing on going beyond the poses. And a lot of what IAYT is doing is funding and working on research to show that yoga therapy is effective. And, it's kind of hard to do some of the yoga therapeutics because a lot of it is preventive, so it's can't prove that something, did not happen. But a lot of people are doing research with pain, anxiety, arthritis, trauma, and are documenting changes that they see. For the next seven weeks before this comes up the global yoga therapy, it's on a Facebook page is just a global yoga therapy day and they're putting up videos every week of somebody's research and then other topics through, on the website that might be papers and things like that.
36:03 That sounds like a great resource.
36:10 YogaMate, is a place where you can look up yoga, yoga therapists and they put out all this information you can get all kinds of names of yoga therapists and how yoga therapy is researched. This Yoga therapy day is to highlight how yoga therapy it is making itself known a little bit more. Most people don't really think about yoga therapy or don't even know what exists.
36:46 Is there anything that you would like to add to what you've said or talk about something else that you would really like the listeners to know?
37:04 I think this is going to be kind of a, maybe not what I'm doing, but yoga I think is going to become more of a useful element even in medicine and in daily life. Even if they don't have enough, it's not called Yoga, this mindfulness and all it is really kind of the wave of the future. So I'm kind of happy to be here at this time and share some of this information with you and your listeners.
37:37 Thank you. It's been really interesting and I'm really impressed with how you've made it so accessible because I think that corporate yoga is probably really needed and yet it's a difficult a place to be because people are really busy. It's hard for them to do it, but I think you've done it really cleverly. I think it's really very interesting. So, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate that you're bringing this information to the listeners and I'm sure they'll be interested also.
38:12 , thank you for having me. It's been really nice.
If you enjoyed the podcast and would like to learn more about what I do I am offering a free 5 day challenge. In this challenge, each day you will be offered a practice to include your day to see the difference to take a minute break.
Energy Reboot Challenge: https://www.carolfinoyoga.com/energy-reboot-5-day-challenge/
For more information on yoga therapy you can still access all the videos and information from the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GlobalYogaTherapyDay/
If you enjoyed the podcast and would like to learn more about what I do I am offering a free 5 day challenge. In this challenge, each day you will be offered a practice to include your day to see the difference to take a minute break. Follow this link https://www.carolfinoyoga.com/energy-reboot-5-day-challenge/
For more information on yoga therapy you can still access all the videos and information from the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GlobalYogaTherapyDay/
SunnyBee Yoga with Jacquie Barbie - Changing the Face of Yoga podcast #110
00:47 This is the hundred and 11th episode of Changing the Face of Yoga. And my guest today is Jackie Barbie and she's from Sunny B yoga in Florida in the US. She's a 200 hour experienced RYT and she specializes in accessible yoga for all. She's trained with Diane Bondi and Amber Karns and yoga for all. And Jivana Heyman of Accessible yoga. It is her passion and she believes her Dharma to help bring yoga to those that can benefit from the practice, but don't fit the stereotypical image of a yoga practitioner. I love this. I tell clients that call on the phone who have never seen me and are afraid of trying yoga, that I'm a fat gray haired lady with Fibromyalgia teaching the yoga class, you will be fine. It's great. She teaches a variety of classes, really impressive variety. A wheelchair yoga, Chair Yoga classes, beginner, gentle classes. She works privately with people in their homes. So she's really got the full spectrum of students who may need a little different kind of yoga. And we're going to talk about some of those different kinds right now. So welcome Jackie. I'm so glad that you're here. Is there anything that you'd like to add to that introduction?
02:24 Oh, that was great. Thank you. It's always kind of interesting to hear that back when I get a lot of people who call me on the phone and say, I'm too old, or I'm too fat, or I can't do yoga. I just tell them, trust me, when you see me, you will feel 0kay, you'll think, oh well she can do this, I can do this. So I think I bring a lot of people to ease just visually and then we have fun.
02:56 I taught seniors and they were very nervous that they would get someone very young and I'm not. So I think that helped because I knew what they were going through. I understand what you're saying. I'll give you all these contact details later to my listener, but I really want to tell them about your Instagram account because you have all these wonderful pictures of modifications of really common yoga poses. And I especially liked boat pose. I thought that was quite clever. I like to talk a little bit about how your yoga teaching, your guiding of your students includes all those modifications. When I do modifications, everybody wants to do the most intense one or the most difficult one. And sometimes it's really hard to get them to say, yeah, that's great, you can do that. We can work towards that, but why don't we think about it like this way too. Sometimes that works and a lot of times it doesn't. How do you introduce and guide people to modifications that might be a little better for their body.
04:25 So we start with that first and we start with the simplest and maybe even they might not even feel like they're in the yoga pose to begin with. Maybe like you said, boat pose. So maybe we'll start with the bolster popped up behind her back and just do that and then ease into something a little bit more. Or if we're in the chair, maybe we're just lifting the feet one at a time and we just ease into it slowly so that we just say, hey, if this feels good, stay here. But if you want to be a little curious, let's try this. And if you go there and that doesn't feel good, come back to this where it did feel good and safe. Safe is always a big word for me. We throughout the practice introduce a little bit more and a little bit more and then remind them, don't forget, we have these options too. So we usually have maybe four different options of a pose that we work on in a class. And like I said, a lot of times it's very subtle. They don't realize that they're doing this, what they might look at if they were to open up an average Instagram page and say, I could never do that. But they're doing their version of the pose that fits their body, which is the most important thing to me.
05:40 So in a subtle way, you're really asking them to really pay attention to their body and how it feels.
05:49 Absolutely. Absolutely. I don't want everybody to look alike. I tell everybody in the classroom if everybody's in a different version of the pose, that makes me extremely happy. Because that means my job of making them comfortable in their own body, I was successful because that's when I'm trying to get everybody to listen to their body. I'm not trying to do what the person next to them is doing.
06:18 I think that's excellent. I notice that you said, I think on your Facebook page, that you're starting to create video content.
06:32 Yes. So I have a 15 year old daughter who was an aspiring videographer. She's taking all kinds of classes, is already accumulating certifications. in video editing, photo editing, things like that. So she is very interested in creating videos. We actually did one yesterday. She impresses me in how she can whip these together, edit them very quickly and make it look like it was the easiest thing in the world. And so we're working on that. We're trying to do that because I have people in different states, different areas who are saying, if I had you as a yoga teacher, I would go to yoga .I know that there's like hundreds of other me's out there. They're just afraid to try. So I figured I can at least get them started by practicing online with me. Maybe they can do some of the videos and, and they just need to do one video and they're officially a Yogi. Hopefully that will make them feel better. My sisters are in Pennsylvania. I really would like for them to practice chair yoga. I'm the baby of the family and I have lived over a thousand miles away from them for 30 years now. So this is a way for me to bring a practice to them and just to anybody who's just interested in trying some modified yoga, some adaptive yoga, whatever works in their body.
08:03 How do you do that? Because I've always been concerned that if people are just watching me, I can't really tell what's going on with them. Or is it kind of a two way thing, like on zoom or something like that?
08:17 That would be a great long term. That is something I hope to work towards in the future. I've seen that there are platforms where you can practice, where you can see people and do that. Right now we're just doing very basic, simple, beginner chair yoga type things. I really feel like anybody can really easily follow along. We're not doing anything complicated that they need someone quite there. It's not much different from anybody getting a yoga DVD or going on Youtube, we posted our first Youtube video today. And it's on SunnyBee Yoga on Youtube. You can look that up and we'll plan on adding more as we go along.
09:05 I did see some videos, I don't know if your daughter had anything to do with them, but I was so tickled at them because they were at a very fast pace. People are going up and down and round and it was kind of fun. It really was and I thought, you know that that's very clever to say Yoga can be fun. It's not always terribly, terribly serious.
09:31 A lot of times we do our family yoga videos where I actually get a lot of people requesting, I haven't seen a Barbie family high speed yoga video lately. We like to go hiking a lot or camping and we'll put up the iPhone and put it on high speed, videotaping it at high speed and just so that they can just see like this is our real life. This is actually what we do this is just for Instagram and we don't always videotape it obviously, but people will say, oh, I need a Barbie family video. So up sometimes just for fun, if anybody really ever wants to practice the yoga that we're doing in the high speed, I'll be happy to write down the poses for them.
But I did start them at high-speed because I was always so nervous about posting pictures and posting videos of myself doing yoga. Just very self- conscious of the way I looked. But representation matters. And if people don't see me in a bigger body, in an older body, in a body with chronic illness doing yoga, then they're never going to think that they can do yoga. So representation matters. We have to all be posting these pictures and posting these videos so that they don't only see white 24 year old women standing on a rock off a cliff doing yoga, you know, like that's not all that it is. It's being silly. So someone had told me do your first videos at high speed because nobody will see the mistakes or nobody will see the things like that and you won't be as self-conscious and it will just be creating the practice for yourself. So now I can do it slower, but it's really just for fun.
11:17 I think that the representation sometimes kind of gets lost in yoga that it's very, very serious and it's a practice. It has a philosophy and all that is true and it's great, but it also can be very enjoyable.
11:34 Laughter is a huge part of my teaching. I think. I like to try to keep things light and humorous. I think laughter helps people relax. You come into a beginner's class or it's their first time in their wheelchair class or something. Then if I can make them laugh, they just relax just a little bit. It's a stress reliever. They laughing with the people around them, so it immediately starts to build community. Someone once told me laughter's a breath practice too. So I think laughter in Yoga is really, really important. So sometimes I call myself a yogamedian. I honor the practice. It is really mostly just to make people more relaxed with them when with themselves.
12:24 Let's segue into the wheelchair yoga class that you teach. I think you said it was your most favourite class. I have tried it and I found it quite difficult. what would an average, normal class look like in a wheelchair class?
12:46 So I teach wheelchair in a nursing facility in the nursing home. Most of these are long-term residents. So there's strict rules, no touching, no standing. They can't get out of their wheelchairs for safety reasons obviously. So at first I thought, what am I going to do? Like we can only do so much for their arms and I'm supposed to be there for an entire hour. So how am I going to do this? And then the average age is probably 85 to 90. So what in the world am I going to do?
Well, let me tell you, I run out of time in that hour because we have so much fun. We have so much to do. We do move our feet and move our toes. You might lift our legs. Maybe we're lifting them independently. Maybe we're lifting them, using our hands. We use our props in our practice. We use straps, we use blocks, sometimes we'll use the therapy bands. We might do a little bit of practice with using our arms and we let them rest. And then we will focus on our feet and our ankle;, spending time pointing and flexing the toes a work, the calf muscles, because the calf muscles, the second most important muscle for good heart health. And they're sitting in their chairs all day long so that they need to get this blood pumping. They need to get this movement. Their posture becomes not really good because there's sinking back into the chair. So we remind them, I remind them throughout the practice, straighten the spine, ground your feet into the floor, pull the shoulders back. And even they just say, just doing that alone just helps them with their breath.
And we try to speed things up a little bit, get a little bit more active. It may not look like a traditional yoga practice. Probably 80% of the class might just look like exercise or movement. we spend a lot of time stopping and then take some deep and open up, open up the airways, lift the chest, lift the heart, do a little introspection, what's happening in the body, how does this feel from when you came into the class?
They really love it. A lot of them begged their physical therapists to not make them go to therapy that day so that they can just come to yoga. I've had occupational therapists bring their patients into the yoga class. One occupational therapist said one day, I want you to be in here every Wednesday because you're going to get more out of this class that I can do for you. And I thought that was just an amazing compliment because I'm not a therapist. I don't pretend to be a therapist. I don't have a medical background. We just have some fun and we just try to move the body and, and if it's not comfortable for them in that position or that pose, they can just sit there and be in the group. That's perfectly fine because community is yoga also. And I just love being in the room with them because they're so happy there. Your spirits lifts so much after they've had that movement, that interaction with everyone in the room. And if somebody who the nursing home scheduled gets cancelled, the activities director has been told by the patients there to call Jackie so she can come in and do yoga with us. We want an extra yoga class. So that's exciting.
There was a patient who started coming and she had had stroke years ago, wasn't really recovering from anything. She had a difficult time speaking because she just couldn't get her breath. She started doing yoga and she's practicing things outside of our yoga class. And so at the end of yoga she would grab my hands and not let me leave because she could talk, somebody could hear her because her breath had picked up and it's stimulated her vocal chords. I don't know anything about this physically or medically, but she wouldn't let me leave. She'd hold onto me because she had a lot to say and she could say it at that time. And that was totally fine with me. She's come a long way. She's been doing all kinds of things. One of the ladies who comes every Wednesday, that's when we have our class. She had me write down some sequences for her and so she gets up every morning and does yoga in her room before she get dressed and does her activities. I'm really proud of those students there.
17:18 That's a great testimonial to your teaching. That's wonderful.
17:22 I've learned so much from them. I just walk out every day going Oh my gosh. I just can't believe I got to do that.
17:32 When you're teaching these types of classes, do you have them set goals for themselves, either physically, mentally, emotionally. Or are you guiding them through the practice given the experience that you have?
18:04 We come in and the very first thing we always do is we just tell our body: thank you for showing up for us today. Whatever it looks like today, whatever is going to happen in our bodies today, they might be feeling more pain. They might have a little bit more limitation. Maybe they're having a good day and they can move a little bit more, but just to thank their body for showing up and that we honour it wherever it is. If I say now, lift your arms up as high as they can go. If it's just two inches off your lap and the person next to you can put their fingertips towards the ceiling, perfectly fine. That's where you're supposed to be today. And I just try to show them different modifications and variations that they can move their arms. Opening their arms out to the side is painful on their shoulders. And it is for a lot of people with shoulder replacements. Bring the fingertips out in front. It's okay to do it your way, to customize your practice. I want you to feel good. I want you to come because it feels good, not because you do it and then at the end of the day you can't do anything else.
19:12 You said on your introduction that you have fibromyalgia and there's been some research that yoga helps fibromyalgia. And so I thought we could talk about that for people that may either be working with students who have that or they themselves have that. How yoga has affected that in your body, if you feel comfortable.
19:50 Fibromyalgia is one of the big reasons why my practice became so important to me because I was working and if I wasn't working, I was in bed because my pain was so bad. I couldn't move. My quality of life was not that great because I was 40 years old or 45 years old and I could only work and stay in bed. I wanted to do more things. I wanted to have more of a life and have more fun and someone has suggested to try yoga for the fibromyalgia pain. And I went and just a little bit of movement was incredible because I would have small moments of not being in so much pain and it would get longer and I might sleep better and if I slept better than my pain levels were down. It was really nice that it just gradually helps; little by little for me to recover after I might've been working a full day. I worked retail at the time and I was the manager of a clothing store and I ran all the time for 10 hours a day. it helped me be able to keep up the pace and then be able to do things, not stay in bed so long.
And it, it helped me to get a lot of peace with my body too because being young at that time and I was saying what is it going to be like, in 20 years? I'm not going to be able to move at all, not going to be able to do anything. I have a young child who wants to enjoy life and being able to make that peace with my body and say it's okay.
Whatever it is, we're going to be fine. We're going to move a little bit today and then we're going to move a little bit more. Between Yoga and doing some swimming, I really got my quality of life back, got to have a lot more freedom to go places and do things, was able to come off other medications. And I'm not saying that that's going to be the case for every single person, but it's worth a try. I've seen people come in, with fibromyalgia, to a chair class and say from the beginning to the end of the class, well this part of me doesn't hurt anymore. Just from making the moments, cause that's the cycle, with fibromyalgia that I was in where if I was active, the pain wasn't so bad, but the pain was too bad to be active. So it was just the cycle of I hurt too much and I'm too tired to do anything. So once I started moving, then I could move more and then even more. So it's, it's been a plus for me. I don't have perfect days every day, but I know what I need to do. I know what will help. Even the smallest movements make big differences in your body.
23:02 You might modify for yourself when you're doing this. I mean, what kinds of things do you do that helps?
23:10 When I started yoga, of course I come in with this, painful body and a bigger body and a lot of times teachers just didn't know what to do with me. They would just say take child's pose or use some props. And she didn't really tell me how to use props and I wanted to do yoga. I didn't want to, I mean, I know child's pose is yoga, but I didn't want to just stay there. I wanted to do some other things. I came here to move. So eventually I started just learning different ways, modify my practice. I was grateful that through these other amazing teachers that I've been able to work with have shown me more modifications for my practice.
And so now it just becomes like a little game when you asked me about modifications earlier. It's like, give me a pose and we'll figure out a way to do it in a chair or we'll figure out a different way to do it. Like, it's almost a game. Let's have fun. How can we get the same effects from this pose and what feels good in our body today? So maybe today I do it this way and tomorrow my body might feel differently and I can do it this way. So that's another reason why I like to show maybe four different ways. If I'm lucky, if I can come up with four different ways to do a pose because our bodies feel differently from one day to the next, from morning to evening. And um, you know, it might feel one day and just might not. Lots of modifications. There are lots of props. I'm a prop goddess. That's what the props are. We use blocks, straps, bolsters, walls, chairs, you name it, it's a prop. we will do yoga with it. So when people come into my class, they always look at me, go grab everything, right? Yes. Just get all the props, have everything, have as much of it as you want.
25:06 I think I saw a picture of you with a large stick.
25:09 So we may fun sticks. My husband and I got creative one day and they’re push broom handles and we sawed off one end and we put these furniture stoppers on each end. We're in the chair and we use the stick just to lean forward a little bit deeper and let's find a down dog with the hands on a stick. Tt opens up the shoulders a little bit more. I have a student who almost always grabs one because if we're doing balancing poses, she used to always have to stand against the wall, but now she can using the stick stand freely on her mat but just still hold onto the stick for balance and stability and I mean anything can be a prop. Anything can be your prop I'm telling you. So that was a lot of fun. There's all kinds of fun things to do with, I need to do more videos using that.
26:14 I just was very fascinated by that. I hadn't ever heard of that as being a prop before, but I thought I can see where that would work. I did think it would be really good for balance, especially if someone's unstable, I think that would be very helpful for them mentally as well as physically to have that as a help there.
26:38 Yes. And it was fun trying to come up with like what is going to be the right thing. So we played with different wooden dowels and it was my husband who said, let's try a push broomstick we were there at Lowes, the home labyrinth kind of stores and you buy the stick for the push broom, you buy them separately. And he said, look at that. Like look at the grip in the hand, it's the right width and we've found the furniture stoppers that were the right size. And we just put them on and we said, there we go, there's our Prop and it was all for under $10 and it was just easy.
27:24 I like to end the podcast with an invitation to you to either discuss something we've discussed in more depth or bring in a brand new topic that you would like anyone who's listening to know about.
27:42 All right. So I always just like to explain the Bee part of Sonny Bee Yoga. Obviously it goes with my last name, Bardie But love bees. I love honeybees. Bumblebees, all bees. The one thing that I love about the Bumblebee is that bees, if you look at the way that their shaped and their weight and then their wing size, it is supposed to be impossible for them to fly, right? They fly anyway. Right.
28:23 And I feel that way about our yoga is that you can do this; if the bumblebee can fly, you can do yoga. I also love about the bees is that their hive, they have this amazing sense of community and that every bee in the hive has a purpose and that purpose is to serve the greater good of the community. So each bee has one job, it's their Dharma, what they're supposed to do, their focus, and they all do that. And it makes the hire successful and happy. And I feel that way about yoga. This is what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to help bring yoga to people who don't think they're supposed to be flying. And I'm going to let them know that they're just a bumblebee and they can fly too.
29:17 Thank you. You've talked about some really interesting topics that will, make a great podcast, You really explained it well and I think I've got a really good handle on your philosophy of teaching, which is always fun. because I think we're all different. We all have our different reasons, but you and I are probably close in how we would teach. I want to give your contact details in case people would like to see those lovely videos, which are really fun guys. The website is sunny and it's s u, n n y Bee yoga.net.
30:06 And it's Bee not the letter B, but it's like, the Bumblebee,.
30:10 The same kind of spelling for sunny Bee Yoga on Facebook and Sunny Bee yoga on Instagram. And there's some really incredible photos of Jackie doing some modifications on the Instagram account that I think if you're interested in that kind of thing, they'd be a great resource for you. So if you are interested in this topic , those are the contacts for Sonny Bee Yoga for Jackie. Thank you. Jackie. You did a great job. I really commend you for the service that you're providing people who may not think of themselves as Yogis, but you're proving to them that they can be. So thank you.
31:11 Thank you. Thank you so much.