Simple Breath Awareness: An exercise to fight stress, anxiety and insomnia

You can use this simple breath awareness exercise from the classic text, “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” in a therapy session to help the client direct their attention to internal states and balance their autonomic nervous system.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, pioneer in Interpersonal Neurobiology, maintains that just being aware of the breath helps the brain to regulate and organize itself, promoting integration and increasing the thickness of the myelin sheath. In an unintegrated brain, a person has an option of either having a chaotic or rigid brain process, with nothing in between.

He writes on his website…

For the brain, integration means that separated areas with their unique functions, in the skull and throughout the body, become linked to each other through synaptic connections. These integrated linkages enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration is kindness, resilience, and health.

You can use this simple breath awareness exercise from the classic text, “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” in a therapy session to help the client direct their attention to internal states and balance their autonomic nervous system.

The following practice worked well for my client, Sue, who had difficulty focusing her thoughts and trouble falling asleep. After learning this practice, she was able to practice breath awareness on her own at home and eventually eliminated her dependence on sleeping medication.

Use this script with your clients, and remember to practice it yourself to learn first-hand about the benefits.

Start by focusing on the place in your body where you can hear your breath.

(Pause for one minute)

Now, notice any movement of your body as you breathe.

(Pause)

Next, feel the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils, so your entire awareness becomes focused on the nostrils.

(Pause)

How do you feel? Do you notice a difference between how you felt before the breath awareness exercises and how you feel now?

Remember clients are not instructed to change their breathing pattern at all, although it may change spontaneously as the practice continues.


This blog was brought to life by PESI speaker Joann Lutz. She has been training mental health professionals to bring trauma-informed yoga into their healing work nationally and internationally for the past six years, bringing this work to universities, conferences, hospitals, ashrams and yoga centers.

Lion Breathing: Melt stress and tension from your face

For all the time we spend stretching our body, how often do we pause to stretch our face? With Lion Breathing you can quickly and easily relieve stress and tension by stretching your face.

For all the time we spend stretching our body, how often do we pause to stretch our face? With Lion Breathing you can quickly and easily relieve stress and tension by stretching your face.

This is a wonderful exercise to teach to children (or adults who aren’t too self-conscious to try it). You can think of making this face when ugly thoughts about trauma or stress come up…think about embodying the strength of a lion in the wake of a painful trigger!

Although taking on the full character of a lion is optional with this exercise, allowing yourself to make the face of a lion with this breath exercise can help you with letting go of negative energy.


Jamie Marich, Ph.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, RMT, is the author of EMDR Made Simple: 4 Approaches for Using EMDR with Every Client (2011), Trauma Made Simple (2014) and three other books on trauma recovery. She is the developer of the Dancing Mindfulness practice and a Reiki Master teacher. She also completed the StreetYoga Trauma-Informed Teacher Training Program and she is a Certified Yoga of 12-Step Recovery Facilitator/Space Holder.

Working Through Trauma with Yoga: Healing heart meditation

The Healing Heart Meditation allows us to bring ourselves to the awareness that joy is our natural birthright and our inherent nature. As we connect to our deepest self, we find the strength to let go of pain.

The following is an excerpt from Mindfulness & Yoga Skills for Children and Adolescents by PESI author Barbara Neiman, OTR.


When I was 16, my 18-year-old brother was killed as he walked along a train track on a college campus in the Midwest. For many years after this, the sound of a train, seeing a train track, the name of the college or the state where it occurred would be a trigger for me. It would send me back to the memory of our Rabbi at our front door crying as he delivered the news of the tragedy to our family. Within seconds of any of the triggers, I could somatically re-experience the trauma of feeling the disorientation, dissociation and nausea I felt in those moments of first hearing the heartbreaking news.

The shutting-down of all feelings and body sensation began later that evening when I was asked by my disoriented mother to call my brother’s girlfriend, Elle, and tell her about my brother’s death. Dutifully, and unconsciously, I completely turned off all feelings and made the call. As grace was with me, Elle’s mother answered the phone. I relayed the sad news to her and she was able to buffer the news to her daughter. My own post-traumatic stress went unrecognized for years as therapy was not as accessible at that time. It wasn’t until I began meditating, chanting and doing body work and talk therapies that I could get near processing this trauma.

Yoga was the first healing process that I was able to see tangible results from. At that time, my experience of yoga was chanting and meditation with a few physical poses. Here is a meditation that I find to be healing for my clients struggling with trauma.

Healing Heart Meditation

  • Place your hand on your heart. Begin to layer through the body of skin, fascia, bones, and into the heart organ.
  • Allow yourself to be still with yourself for a moment and filled with the heart’s own vibration of love for yourself and others. Even if your mind is busy, put the thoughts on the imaginary shelf and focus on the breath.
  • Breathing, bring to your mind’s eye an image and thought of anything that evokes joy for you.
  • Allow that joy to fill your being. Focus on the immediate feeling of joy as your heart leaps when you bring your beloved image to mind. It can be of nature, a friend, music, art, family or any images that speak to you.
  • It is this actual moment of remembrance of the joy that we are focusing on (such as seeing an old friend, tasting favorite food, relishing a beautiful color). This yogic technique from the ancient yoga scriptures that teach us how to connect with the universal consciousness of joy.
  • Breathe with an inhale for 4 counts and hold the breath for 2 counts. Then allow a long exhale for 6 counts and hold again for 2 counts to empty the breath. Repeat this several times.

As we do this meditation we bring ourselves to the awareness that joy is our natural birthright and our inherent nature. As we connect to our deepest self, we find the strength to let go of pain.

Often as the body relaxes while doing the physical poses and the deep breathing in yoga, feelings may surface that are generally armored in the body-mind. It is important to give space and be open to whatever may occur in a yoga session and neither judge nor hold to any routine that would shut down any client’s emerging feelings. This is why we do Sponge pose (Savasana) the relaxation pose at the end of a yoga session. We rest deeply after all the activity, integrating the experience nonverbally and meditating while we lie quietly. Also at the end of the session, it can be helpful to do a hand mudra that can be calming and comforting to seal in the practice.


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Barbara Neiman is an Integrative Occupational Therapist, Yoga Teacher 200RYT in Embodyyoga®, a coach for professionals seeking a holistic practice and a National Seminar Presenter. She teaches courses on Yoga and Mindfulness around the country. She created her company, Health Discovery, in 1988, to provide services for infants through school age children. As a Certified Practitioner of Body Mind Centering since 1989, Barbara has taught experiential hands on, movement, and meditation classes to hundreds of students.

Ha Kriya: A breathwork exercise

The leading voice in the children’s yoga and mindfulness community, Jennifer Cohen Harper, MA, E-RCYT, presents her favorite way to empower the children she works with. This segment will show you how to prepare a child for challenging tasks using our most powerful tool: breath.

The leading voice in the children’s yoga and mindfulness community, Jennifer Cohen Harper, MA, E-RCYT, presents her favorite way to empower the children she works with. This segment will show you how to prepare a child for challenging tasks using our most powerful tool: breath.

Will you use Ha Kriya with your clients? Share your thoughts below.


Self_Regulation


Breathing the Rainbow: A guided meditation

When the energetic body isn’t balanced, we can experience a sense of irritation, anxiety or lack of balance. When you start to feel anxious or irritated, taking a few minutes to realign your chakras can help calm the body. Here’s a guided meditation you can practice…

The field of integrative treatment has rapidly expanded, and when speaking of this topic we focus not only on the physical/structural anatomy but also an invisible structure known as the energy body.

The energetic body has seven primary energy centers, called chakras, housed along the spine from the tip of the tail bone to the top of the head.

The seven chakras include:

  1. Root Chakra – Stability
    Represented by the color red, it is located at the bottom of the tailbone. Here we learn about establishing our foundation and the security of our family unit.
  2. Navel Chakra – Relationship and Creativity
    Represented by the color orange, this chakra is located in the abdomen. This is where we become more aware of lessons about relating to others. It’s here where we begin the process of individuating from the family.
  3. Solar Plexus Chakra – Self-Esteem
    Represented by the color yellow, this energy center is located above our waist and below our heart. It’s here where the student’s identity is cultivated and energy is exchanged between the student and the environment.
  4. Heart Chakra – Love and Compassion
    Represented by the color green, the heart chakra is located in the center of the chest close to the physical heart. It’s here where we learn lessons of love and compassion and how to heal past wounds.
  5. Throat Chakra – Communication
    Represented by the color blue, the fifth chakra is located in the throat. When stimulated with yoga, lessons of self-expression arise. When this chakra is balanced, we are better able to reach our goal of being clear in our communications.
  6. Brow Chakra – Divine Vision
    Represented by the color purple, it is located in the brow area and is often referred to as the third eye. It is here where imagination and intuition are stimulated and self-reflection is evoked.
  7. Crown Chakra – Spiritual Connection
    Represented by lavender, the chakra is located at the top of the skull. This energetic spot pertains to grace, soul and the Universe. It is here that we feel the energy of self-unification, or a coming together of our personality with our highest self.

When our energy body is balanced, it comfortably aligns with our physical body to create a feeling of wholeness and health. When the energetic body is not balanced, we can experience a sense of irritation, anxiety or lack of balance.

When you start to feel anxious or irritated, taking a few minutes to realign your chakras can help calm the body. Here’s a guided meditation you can practice:



This blog is based on the seminar Yoga for Self Regulation presented by PESI speaker Nancy Williams Cyr, M.SC, CCC-SLP, E-RYT-500.

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Yoga for Trauma Treatment: 3 somatic interventions

When you use trauma-sensitive yoga as a therapeutic intervention with your clients, part of your role is to monitor the state of your client’s autonomic nervous system, and to use somatic interventions when they need to bring it back into regulation. Here are 3 somatic interventions you can use with your client.

In recent years, trauma experts have come to understand that psychological trauma can occur when the body cannot move to escape a threat. Recognized authorities, Doctors Bessel van der Kolk and Peter Levine, have confirmed that following the traumatic incident, patterns of immobility can remain stuck in the body, limiting the client’s connection with their inner and outer experience. Helping your client to explore body movement can be essential to trauma recovery. Research has shown that yoga can be a safe, gentle way to help your clients become reacquainted with their body and regain the ability to move.

But when it comes to yoga, not all styles are created equal. Trauma-sensitive yoga, in particular, is a safe, gentle style which helps your client re-regulate their nervous system and recover from trauma.

When you use trauma-sensitive yoga as a therapeutic intervention with your clients, part of your role is to monitor the state of your client’s autonomic nervous system, and to use somatic interventions when they need to bring it back into regulation.

Here are 3 somatic interventions you can use with your client:

  • Ask your client to shift his or her focus from the thoughts and emotions—that may be skewed to the negative or focused on a perceived threat— to the positive body sensations experienced in a yoga pose.
  • Pause the narrative and engage in a regulating activity, such as taking a deep breath.
  • Interrupt and slow down habitual movement patterns, allowing your client to break through to a deeper awareness of what is happening in his or her body.

Practicing yoga postures can give your client additional experience and skill in achieving these shifts, and this approach encourages the client to keep their cognitions in the positive zone, where healing occurs.


This blog was brought to life by PESI speaker Joann Lutz. She has been training mental health professionals to bring trauma-informed yoga into their healing work nationally and internationally for the past six years, bringing this work to universities, conferences, hospitals, ashrams and yoga centers.


We Agree – Yoga for Your Patients is Just Plain Dumb

You’ve suggested. You’ve coaxed. You’ve helped your patients to understand the benefits. We know your patients may be full of resistance, and you know what? We feel your frustration.

You’ve suggested. You’ve coaxed. You’ve helped your patients to understand the benefits. We know your patients may be full of resistance, and you know what? We feel your frustration. To convince the un-convinceable we present…

The Top 3 Reasons Your Patients Should NOT Practice Yoga

1. That emotional baggage you’re carrying around is heavy enough to be considered strength training.

The emotional stresses your patients carry with them can sabotage their chances at living a fulfilling life and maintaining satisfying relationships. The weight of these stresses can be intensely burdensome. Yoga practice is designed for healing, both mental and physical, from the aftermath of emotional trauma.

When you’re treating a patient that is struggling with emotional wounds, following a chakra-based practice can be beneficial. In “A Yoga Practice for Healing Emotional Trauma,” Mary NurrieStearns recommends the following affirmations:

  • I am safe.
  • I am alive.
  • I choose.
  • I feel.
  • I express.
  • I know.
  • I am.

Go ahead. Take these affirmations for a test drive. We double dog dare your patients to try these for a week and see how they feel.

2. Because being wound tighter than a boa constrictor wrapped around its prey feels awesome. And we know your friends love it when you call to say hi, yell about your coworkers, and then slam the phone down without asking about their day.

Chronic stress can suppress functions that aren’t needed for immediate survival. It lowers immunity, impacts the digestive system, and can even interrupt the reproductive system. Stress can also impact your patient’s sleep schedule. No matter what your client is striving to improve about their mental health, when their physical health is suffering, treating their mental well-being will be challenging.

But how do you combat the patient who tells you they simply can’t find time to practice yoga, and cutting out taking the kids to soccer practice isn’t an option? There are plenty of yoga breathing techniques that can be practiced in traffic, in front of the computer, or while standing in line. Even these short sessions bring stress relief, and help your patient manage the discomforts of anxiety. Have your frantically busy patients try this:

3. You love being locked up so securely that you are impervious to any emotion. We’re sure your partner feels twitterpated when you gush your lukewarm feelings.

Everyone wants to love and be loved. It’s human desire. But when we can’t express our feelings, thoughts, and desires to the people that matter most in our lives, our relationships suffer. It can be a challenge to dis-armour ourselves and unveil our innermost heart. But when we start to expose this side of our body we discover deeper connections to those around us.

Yoga not only improves the physical health of our hearts, but it can kindle within us the ability to heal ourselves. For patients struggling to open their hearts, try poses geared to the heart chakra such as sphinx, camel, cat or fish.

For your clients seeking comfort and healing, we hope they open their mind to the practice of yoga.


What’s your favorite reason for practicing yoga?
Tell us in the comments below!