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MindBodyRadio Interview – What I Wanted to Say

I did a short interview on the phone on mindbodyradio.com today.  Since I am more comfortable writing than public speaking, I wrote down what I wanted to say. The interview will be available on their website in a few days, and if I like it, I will link it (wink!).

What do you do?
I offer a variety of accessible weekly classes at my studio, teach individuals meditation and work privately with clients to co-create a daily yoga therapy practice that best meets their needs and goals.  To find a yoga therapist near you, visit the International Association of Yoga Therapists. ​ Or you can visit Yoga Therapy and Meditation on my website. I also offer energy medicine by appointment to enhance healing and increase well being and am certified through the Healing Touch Program and California College of Ayurveda.

Why are you passionate about this line of work?
It’s an exciting time in my field of yoga therapy! Our western culture has opened the doors wide to yoga and meditation. When I moved to Wisconsin 20 years ago, there was no yoga within 30 miles. We will soon have 3 studios in my small town. When I was introduced to meditation in Boulder, CO in the 1980’s, it was for the Buddhist students at Naropa, the long hairs and the granola’s (like me!). Now there are apps with thousands of meditations where you can see who is meditating with you across the globe. I’m thrilled to have my meditations available on the Insight Timer app for free. Science continues to line up with wisdom traditions. Everything from anxiety to pain care are being explored through the bio-psycho-social model which is congruent with yoga therapy. Medicine is embracing yoga, but there is a lack of information about appropriate yoga for heath challenges, chronic pain and mental wellness. A disastrous over-emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga and misunderstanding about mindfulness leaves yoga outside of the reach of many who could greatly benefit from the practice.

What is your background?
I was raised Catholic and attended 12 years of Catholic school including an all girls high school. When I was in grade school, I told my Irish grandma that I wanted to be a priest and she assured me that could happen by the time I was her age. I have always been spiritual and introspective and somehow that dharma found me through yoga.

I dealt with panic attacks in college and my holistic doctor put me on imipramine and xanex and encouraged me to find a long term solution to a healthy mind. I registered for a class called S.M.A.R.T – Stress Management and Relaxation Technique – which was yoga in disguise. As awkward as learning alternate nostril breathing was, it was better than breathing into a paper bag. At that time, I had mountain biking and skiing to keep my body fit. There was no need for the physical practice of yoga. Short meditations and breath awareness helped me to make friends with my anxious mind. Once I had kids and got locked into Wisconsin’s brutal negative temperatures, yoga was something I could do at home to move and beat the winter blues. It kept my body fit. With twins, I would also dampen the emotional stress of sleep deprivation by doing mini-meditations. Now I get up early and look forward to awakening with pranayama, chanting and luxuriating in a long meditation. Some mornings, the timer goes off way too soon. Other mornings, I’m thinking about my oatmeal cooking as I struggle to stay present, or tears come to cleanse my emotions.

What is your focus?
The juxtaposition as a yoga teacher is to teach a balanced class for mind and body; The mind needs stillness and the body needs movement to heal. As a teacher, I try to weave in stories and themes to bring my students beyond posture and show them that their awareness is a precious gift. Awareness is what yoga gives me. It is a gift I have to keep giving myself and no one else can do it for me – or take it away. We have so much potential to influence our own outcome. To this end, some or all postures may not be necessary or appropriate.

In yoga, there are two teachings I often think about for my students. The first is “everything is medicine and everything is poison”. We need to get to know ourselves on an intimate level and work with a practically trained teacher who can guide us to find our practice of yoga. The other idea I teach is that embodiment can lead to a peaceful place and it can also lead to feeling like you are locked in a bathroom stall with a lunatic talking to you. If you are comfortable, its my job to stir you. Those who are suffering get soothed. Yoga is not all blooming lotus flowers. The lotus grows in the mud. Part of the yoga ride is to find comfort in the uncomfortable. Philosophically, yoga teaches that pain and suffering are a result of forgetting who we are. We can learn a lot about ourselves when we are challenged in a posture – everything from the crazed monkey mind to physical limitations show us our boundaries. We learn to make space within those boundaries.

It is easy to forget who we are. Over-stimulation is the accepted norm. Just as we digest our food, our bodies have to “digest” everything our senses experience. We are constantly exposed to negative images globally through TV, movies news etc. We also unconsciously compare and judge ourselves and what we have or don’t have to others on social media. Our own thoughts expand or contract us. The body is hard wired for survival; it reacts negatively to physical and emotional “enemies” – the lion chasing us might be our own thoughts. Chronic pain is contraction in the body, and it can be of physical or emotional origin.​

What are you working on?
In the past decade, I have been blending my training and personal exploration in yoga and energy healing. The result is a somatic yoga practice which I lovingly call “Body Prayer in Motion”. It is therapeutic movement that blends neuromuscular re-education, emotional self-regulation and pranic (life force energy) enhancement. It is in keeping with my current educational focus on yoga for chronic pain and self-regulating energy therapy. I want people to be empowered to fix themselves.

Where can we find you?
At the studio! Speaking of empowering, if you want to change yourself, consider a retreat. My daily practice supports me, but going on retreats transformed me. My studio schedule limits me to offering one week long retreat to Ireland. We hike and do yoga to move the body. The spiritual mysticism of Ireland is palpable. There are lots of laughs and joy getting to know each other. But we also practice silence, meditation and “time off the grid” (nothing that plugs in) to get to know ourselves more intimately. It will change you. The energy of your new tribe is there to support you in remembering who you are on retreat and to remind you who you found when you leave. I am not a big fan of traveling a lot, so my dream is to have a small retreat center somewhere, someday. Environment is important but we don’t all have the time or money to live “Eat, Pray, Love”. The retreat should mirror your lifestyle so you can recreate some of it at home. If you live a lavish life, then go five stars. But a retreat just needs to be far enough to get away from the daily roles, requirements, drama and stores for an extended period of time.

In addition to offering free meditation recordings on Insight Timer and my website, I have practice videos on YouTube.

If you are a teacher, body worker or mental health professional, I have a six hour Somatic Movement – Body Prayer in Motion training coming up on December 8. If you would like to bring  my somatic movement course to your studio, I am willing to travel for two day trainings.

Who is someone you admire?
Dr. Richard Davidson, ​ a Neuroscientist and the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin. I respect his insight and dedication to researching the neuroscience of contemplative practices and appreciate his desire to educate medical professionals, teachers and our veteran population. I have no interest in research to prove what I already know intuitively and am so thankful for people like him.

Any last thoughts?
In the end, we can master yoga postures like a collection of trophies, but the highest goal of yoga is spiritual awakening – remembering you are Divine. That’s what I want for my students.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love,

Megan

Yoga for Behavioral Therapy

This blog is in response to the hopeful article “How Yoga and Breathing Help the Brain Unwind” that is in high circulation in the yoga therapy community. To summarize the Psychology Today article, a study was recently shared showing that the neurotransmitter GABA, which suppresses the stress response, increases with yoga and breathing techniques. The study included individuals with depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse.  In the very least, this is one more evidence based study that yoga and breathing techniques should be integrated into treatment plans. The real power of the study remains to be seen, however, as it is suggested that yoga and breathing techniques could potentially be used as a stand alone therapy for behavioral diagnoses that involve imbalance in the autonomic nervous system.

So that is the gist of the landmark news… but…the article is shared with a cautious reminder of the importance of choosing  yoga and breathing practices that are appropriate for the individual. Sadly, what prompted me to write this is that in the same week I read the study (not just the article in Psychology Today, but the actual study because I’m geeky about good news), I heard another disheartening story about someone who was ‘prescribed’ yoga for pain care, and reported that the yoga increased the pain and caused emotional distress.  If yoga or any of it’s facets, such as meditation or pranayama, have been recommended to you by a doctor or mental health expert to help treat PTSD, substance abuse, depression, anxiety or MDD (a combination of the two), or chronic pain, seek out a yoga therapist or teacher with the appropriate training. Unfortunately, medical professionals often put yoga under one big umbrella. Unwittingly, their advice can send someone to a class that is physically exhausting or overwhelming (sympathetic arousal). All yoga heals, but yoga to heal requires the proper guidance and a willingness to do the work.

Yoga is an accessible practice. There is no reason to participate in what I think of as the American version of super-sized, fast-paced upside-down asana if it does not relieve suffering.  There are many different traditions, styles and teachers; the postures are not a requirement for healing. A translation of Yoga Sutra 1.3 summarizes the use of yoga for behavioral health: “In a state of yoga (or wholeness as I call it), the different preconceptions and products of the imagination that can prevent or distort understanding are controlled, reduced or eliminated.” Yoga recognizes that relieving suffering is different than finding joy. Relief is a cold fist finding a warm hand to hold it.  It is small steps up a mountain, sometimes with blisters, but we don’t need to climb alone.

My initial purpose in taking up yoga was to manage anxiety and panic attacks. Some questions I learned to ask myself when seeking out new teachers or classes:
Does the teacher empower me?
Am I practicing loving-kindness yoga or trauma yoga?
Do I feel safe?
Can I just be myself?
Does this practice help to change my perspective?
Am I challenged and can I successfully meet some of the challenges?
Can I let go of self-judgement?
Am I appreciated?
What knowledge am I gaining?

If we choose asana (physical postures) we hold poses to leave the mind and enter the body. In this way, yoga helps us to cultivate our somatic or felt sense where we notice bodily sensations and stay present in them.  We shift from thinking (except and reject) to awareness (observation); or from the head to the heart.  This can be an entirely new experience in itself.  When we understand that our behavior is a blend of instinct, emotion and knowledge, witness consciousness wrapped in love enables us to feel pain and still go forward, staying focused. Eventually, as our bodies remember what relaxation is (parasympathetic system- that GABA creator,) it gets easier to stay in alignment. Our intuitive bodies remember their natural state.  We get the green light even when the difficult stuff comes. It takes time to fix ourselves, but in addition to having confidence in our care givers, we have the tools built into our bodies to help.

Yogi’s like to use the term enlightenment to describe a feeling of wholeness.  My favorite explanation of enlightenment comes from Judith Lasater: “One way to view enlightenment is a radical shift in perspective. Nothing outside you has changed…you have changed, and rather paradoxically, you have not changed, but have become what you already are.”

Namaste, Megan

PS – This is a photo of a parhelion or sun dog as it is commonly called. Parhelion means “beside the sun” in Greek and forms as a result of the sun refracting through hexagonal ice crystals . When I saw this the other morning, it reminded me that just as the sun can bend the light, my mind is like a prism that can bend my own Light to make it a bit brighter.

In Praise of Spider Webs

Mind is the spider;

spinning, spinning, madly spinning.

Recreating the past; restless and poisonous.

A tapestry of turmoil.

Thoughts all connected with one unsubstantiated thread.

I lost my place in the center.

Terrified of heights,

I grip the edge, fearful of falling back down.

So desperate for a satisfying meal,

unable to get beyond the gasping fly.

Too self-absorbed to see the beauty of the whole web.

Be patient. Be still.

Web is an intricately woven Mandala; unique and purposeful.

A single silky strand crosses my forehead,

knocking me conscious.

Hitting me like Newton’s apple as I walk to awaken.

Spinning stops; I reconnect to Self and Source.

Using all eight legs to walk the path of the Eight Limbs,

I crawl back into now.

Namaste, Megan

Habits Feed the Fire of Intention

As we journey to the end of 2013, the word intention is a hot button; a hot button that often goes lukewarm in the first 30 days.  But it doesn’t have to. In setting intentions, first there needs to be an awakening – accepting yourself as you are presently and knowing what it is you want to achieve.  Then you can keep the fire lit by transforming the habits that might hold us back; free up time and energy to manifest those dreams. If the word habit has a negative connotation, consider that your current ones need some reworking.  Yes, habits can be destructive, but they can also provide reinforcement for our intentions.  Though it takes some dedicated rewiring to keep the positive circuit flowing, good habits are more powerful than bad ones. If you are ready to ignite the flame and reflect on a few of your mental habits, ask yourself the following questions (written answers are best):

Are you ok with changing your routine?  And if so, how often do you do so?

Do you believe you have choices for healthier options? Are you willing to explore them?

How often are you engaged in your thoughts of the past and enslaved with judgement?

When are you preoccupied with thoughts of the future that strengthen the worry loop?

Do you feel guilty when your healthy habits pull you away from other’s needs?

What are your attachments?  What are your aversions? And how do they each influence habitual behavior?

What/who empowers you?

And finally, have you surrounded yourself with a whole team of defenders?  Denial, victim, cynicism, sarcasm, being highly critical, rigidity, withdrawal, being too nice, endless rationalizing, and self-deprecation just to name a few.

In the end, we have a conscious choice to repeatedly grab on to something to maintain a relationship with it or release.  Sometimes life brings pain.  There is no way around it. We forget to remember or just get lazy.  But if our good habits are more clever than the bad ones, they provide the transformative fire we need to get through the cold spells.

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson