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Lost Dog Coffee Shop by ohmeaghan.

“In this world of change, nothing which comes stays, and nothing which goes is lost.”

Anne Sophie Swetchine


Today I lost something I really, really wanted and I found something else that I never, ever did.  I lost a piece of a dream that I had and really thought I had a firm grasp on.  And in the process was reminded that nothing is certain and we must always be prepared to weather change and disappointment.

What I found  was a dog.  Another one.  Well, to be more exact my husband found the dog wandering around near his work with perfectly manicured nails and hair and no collar or master to be found.  In all likelihood he was abandoned by some semi-well-intentioned owner hoping he would land somewhere good.

I felt a bit of kindred sensation–both me and this Rhodesian Ridgeback mix were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, completely under-prepared and disoriented, and with no idea of what the future would bring.  But both our fates led us to the essentials of life–we will both have food to eat and a roof to stay under while we figure out what life might hand us next–and he is going to get his mug shot plastered across town just in case there is someone looking for him (although in all likelihood he was abandoned).

I am constantly reminded of this simple fact in life, succinctly described by Operation Ivy in their song titled “Knowledge”:

“All I know is that I don’t know.  All I know is that I don’t know nothing.”

Whenever we think we know something, have some certainty, have something or some path figured out we get a sharp turn into the unknown and blinding humility.  I always find myself rooting back to the addiction mantra that I have mentioned before, “Let go and let God.”  Whether you believe in God, or the universe, or a force greater than the self and also part of the self, I feel that sometimes in life, as hard as it may be (and maybe especially when it is that hard) we have to just LET GO.  LET GO.  LET GO.  I am working to remind myself that now and trying to just let go and see where life goes.  Cause in truth, all I know is that I don’t know nothing.

Thank you Operation Ivy and punk rock for taking Socrates and making it palatable for all.  Socrates said, “I know that I know nothing,” and if he can admit that then none of us are ever too big or too small to be able to step back from our life and understand that truth for ourselves–what we know in any given moment is a pin-drop in the pool of infinity and it is good, if painful, at times to find a wincing reminder of that.  What I thought I knew yesterday was all wrong for the truth of today and the same might be said about what I will learn is true tomorrow.

Me and Gizmo (as Chris, my husband, has already named this dog we are definitely, certainly, not going to keep) came into today with truths that have expired as of today.  He is TEMPORARILY part of a new 3 dog household and I am part of something very new and unexpected myself.  Do you remember being certain of something that turned out to be all wrong?  And then were you able to breathe, reboot, and just let go of yesterday’s assumptions to deal with today’s circumstances?  I’m working on it as we speak–life the journey…always the journey.

Now, how to introduce three other dogs to the newbie–I am leaving that up to my husband, self-proclaimed Dog Whisperer Deux Joir.  We’ll see about that!

Breathe Deeply by creativedc.

“It is impossible to be in a state of panic and to breath deeply, slowly, quietly and regularly.  It cannot coexist.

The subjective experience of anxiety is often of being out of control.  If you deal with this by giving a patient a drug you are reinforcing the notion that the locus of control is outside.  If patients can discover that they have within them access to controls over emotional states it is a revelation.  And when you try to deal with this with an outside suppressive measure the effectiveness of the measure decreases with frequency of use. Whereas when you rely on an innate measure like this the power of technique increases with repetition.  This is the single most effective anti-anxiety measure I have come across (breathing exercise).

When I tell colleagues about it it is TOO simple.  How did we get to this state where we think the only effective medical treatment is drugs? ”

BY DR. ANDREW WEIL,  BREATHWORK Workshop, INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE 2010.

BREATHWORK:

I am a huge proponent of breath as a potent healing activity and so I was excited when I got my 2 disc CD recording of the first ever INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE in the mail and found an entire workshop with Dr. Andrew Weil on a biological, neurological, scientific and psychological affirmation of the power of breath for healing!  His quote above only touches on the mastery of the workshop, the hopefulness of breathwork integration in the field of psychotherapy, and plenty of rich data from the anthropological to the biological as to why breath can alleviate many of the ills we, as a society, might presently over-medicate before looking for alternate solutions.  He perfectly synthesizes above the crux of the reason why internal resources can be more potent and long lasting than chemical and external solutions for issues of anxiety.

In Dr. Weil’s workshop “Breathwork for Optimum Health” he discusses breath as the “Master Key” and I could not think of a more apt description of this tool that I have imparted to every client I see–and so, apparently, does Dr. Weil.  I feel in good company.  He stated that his simple breath exercise, similar in structure to my own, is the one thing he teaches everyone he sees.  I take clients through a breathing exercise and ask them how they feel, when they say how relaxed they feel I remind them that THEY not I got themselves to that state of relaxation.  I may have said the words but the only thing that got their body and mind relaxed was their own body and mind.  Another thing I was excited to hear resonate with Dr. Weil’s description above of the internal resources versus the external crutches that over-medicating can produce.  We have such powers for change inside ourselves which I explored in the NEUROBIOLOGY & NEUROPLASTICITY post a short while ago–we just don’t tap into that power for change for the positive nearly enough.

If I can teach one client breath and they can sleep better, calm down faster, diminish their anger in one situation they would not have had the internal resources to deal with prior then, to me, it is a valuable tool.  When I hear a COMBAT MARINE VETERAN tell me he is practicing alternate nostril breathing at home for anger and sleep or another telling me that he presses his palms together at his chest and practices nostril breathing for anxiety, both with amazing anecdotal results, then I can say that if it works for them it could work for any of us–given the chance!

If you have not tried a basic breathing practice then maybe just try listening to a quick soundbite, mp3, cd of a simple breathing technique or maybe I can outline a simple one on the site if there is interest.

INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE:

Am I a nerd because I checked my mail anxiously every day awaiting it’s arrival?  Answer is: yes!  But I was waiting all last week to receive the INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE recordings as I could not make it to the conference but I wanted to imbibe every moment of the rich material with speakers like Jon Kabat–Zinn, Dr. Weil, Amy Weintraub and many other academics, researchers, and practitioners in the field of integrative practices for mental health and wellness.  The CDs, which contain 40 hours of material, are a rich and hopeful array of work in this field and an inspiration of what is possible within the field.

The conference was made up of social workers, nurses, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists and was sold out weeks before the event.  If this doesn’t show the hunger in the health and mental health field for treatments outside of the scope of what western medicine is capable of then I don’t know what is.  It shows that this field is burgeoning and that more professionals than ever before are integrating holistic approaches into the course of traditional treatments they already provide.  The point of INTEGRATIVE is not to get rid of anything just to find the perfect complement of what is being done and what else can be added to the equation for more effective results for a whole person: mind, body, and spirit.

The recordings are phenomenal and I recommend them to any professional in the healthcare field or any person interested in a variety of treatment approaches for their own health–body and mind.  The conference sessions can be purchased as a complete set or a-la-carte per workshop for $15.00 per session.  Each one has a dense collection of material and each presentation gives a variety of resources where you can learn more about the practices discussed in the lecture–a lovely bonus.

A few of the amazing lectures included:

  • The Psychoneuroimmunology of Resilience, Optimism, and Hope
  • Mind-Body Medicine: Clinical Hypnosis for Medical and Mental Health Conditions
  • Transforming Your Mind: Meditation and Neuroplasticity
  • Spirituality and Mental Health: Paradigms and Evidence
  • Deficiencies in Omega 3-EFAs & Substance Abuse Mechanisms
  • Creating the Chemistry of Joy
  • A Vision of the Future of Integrative Mental Health
  • Lifeforce Yoga: Empower Your CLients to Manage Their Moods

Can you see why I was in love with these CDS?

For more information on the Conference & The hosting facility ARIZONA CENTER FOR INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE: http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/integrative_mental_health_conference.html

For more information on the recordings go to: http://www.conferencerecording.com/aaaListTapes.asp?CID=IMH10


Emily Van Horn

I met Emily via email a couple of months ago when she sent me a kind email related to a comment I had made on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s blog for CNN in which he reported that there was no healing from traumatic experience.  I disagreed and so did Emily.  She thanked me for my comment on the blog post and so a lovely email communication began.  Emily’s work began in the bodywork realm and through the access to the body in her treatment approaches she began helping her clients express and deal with traumatic material from a bodywork perspective.  I, coming from the opposite origin (learning psychotherapy and the mind realm first) but coming to the same endpoint (learning how much emotional pain is stored in and can be released from the body) am always interested in bodyworkers who have always worked in and explored the rich realm of body-oriented healing.  Emily’s work and her story is lovely to read and I hope you all enjoy learning about her practice as much as I have!

Q:  What is your professional background?  What interested you in holistic therapies and treatment approaches?

A.  I’ve been a practitioner of the healing arts for almost 20 years.  I’ve always been interested in natural healing, preferring plant based medicines to chemicals made in a laboratory.  In 1991, I read Louise Hay’s “You can heal your life”.   That was my first introduction to how our thoughts affect our health.  It made sense.  I became fascinated in working with healing modalities which encompass aspects of body mind and spirit, and which are based on the premise that all of life is energy and that we have everything we need to self heal.

Q:  Can you explain your practice as an Energetic Bodyworker, Somatic Trauma Resolution practitioner, and your use of Polarity therapy and Craniosacral therapy?  Please explain these different treatment approaches for people.

A. My main focus is helping people resolve all types of trauma both shock and  developmental traumas.  To start with I help them find what their resources are.  Whether it’s cooking for friends, walking in nature, or organizing the office Christmas party or riding their bike I help them discover what is working in their life.  We call that resourcing, which is the first step in re regulating the nervous system.   I ask them to become mildly curious about the physical sensations happening while thinking about something that makes one feel joyful or successful or good in the body.  This sensation awareness combined with imagining something you like or used to like doing, becomes a supportive tool when unraveling an experience that has been overwhelming for someone.   I see profound results when we focus first on healing the nervous system first.  When the client is able to track or follow their sensations when thinking of a resource as well as when addressing something traumatic and be able to go back and forth between the two sides, we are on the way. The next step which I consider foundational to the process is to do some simple boundary exercises.  The whole thing is a sort of complex and delicate process which is difficult to explain or imagine being effective, but it works really well.

Polarity Therapy is a whole healing system which involves bodywork, exercises, counseling, and nutritional guidance as away to relate to life force energy.  I help the clients energy field to open up and clear blockages and get things flowing again.  With CranioSacral I’m accessing the tides of the cerebral spinal fluid through subtle hands on palpation which encourages the body into self healing mode.  I use both these methods as compliments to the STR work.

Q:  How are these approaches effective for trauma and issues of mental health? Where did you study and train in these different approaches?

A. In my experience many  mental health issues stem from unresolved trauma.  It is key to help a person out of fight/flight/freeze, and assist them to feel safe in the body before delving into specific issues.  When the client has been able to discharge the shock from the nervous system, it’s much easier for them to talk about difficult experiences.

Most of my training has been through Polarity Healing arts here in the LA area, although I’m constantly updating and learning new skills new modalities to help people heal. 

Q:  Where did your passion for working with survivors of trauma come from? What other ailments and issues do you work on with your clients?

A.  I guess because there is so much of it around!  Every time I read a story or hear about someone who has experienced trauma I  feel compelled to help.  I feel uncomfortable seeing someone suffer needlessly, especially when I know I have skills that could be potentially life changing.

As a foundational part of the trauma work, I work  with boundaries and resourcing.  Until people feel safe in the body and the body knows it’s ok to defend itself,  it’s hard to heal.  There are specific exercises I do with clients to help them reestablish boundary muscles and complete truncated fight flight or frozen defensive responses.

Q:  What have been the effects and results you have seen with clients seeking your help with mental and emotional distress?  What are so examples of how these treatments have impacted client’s lives in positive ways?

A.  My clients have experienced relief from issues that have been troubling them, from acute to chronic both emotional and physical.  After just one session, one of my clients was able to resolve  3 phobias; not being able to sleep with the light off, fear of public restrooms and fear of heights.  Another felt her chronic neck pain dissolve after renegotiating a childhood trauma.   Things like being able to sleep without medication, feeling safe in situations that had previously been anxiety provoking, or even something like a woman who resolved her “frozen shoulder” issue that had it’s roots in a brutal attack more than 20 years ago.  After just one session one of my clients stopped having flashbacks of a car accident that was plaguing her for 30 years.   It usually takes more than one session, but is meant to be a short term approach with long term effects. In general people end up being more resourced and functioning better in all aspects of life.

Q:  Do you ever work in coordination with or receive referrals from other holistic practitioners, bodyworkers, yoga teachers, or mental health professionals?  Would you work in collaboration with other practitioners, mental health or otherwise, to bring healing and wellness to others?

A.  Yes, dentists, therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and physical therapists have refereed me.  Other types of  treatments work much more quickly and effectively once shock has been discharged out of the body.

Q:  Do you find that there is a community of like-minded professionals you can collaborate with on ideas and work together with on projects?

A. Sometimes but not as much as I would like.  In LA there are so many alternative modalities available that it’s sometimes hard to interest people in yet another healing approach that isn’t well known in the mainstreem.  I think if therapists and health practitioners had more exposure to this method they would be more eager to try it themselves and to refer their patients.

Q:  Do you find that people seeking treatment has diminished with the recession?  Or do you see people coming more readily to treatment due to increased stressors?

A.  I’ve found both.  One thing I’ve noticed is sort of a wave of people who have known they’ve had “issues” for years and suddenly they feel compelled to make changes and begin to heal.  The old ways of managing are no longer acceptable.

Q:  What approaches do you use for your own self care? Yoga, acupuncture, meditation, or other activities or practices for enjoyment or to relieve stress?  DO you feel it is essential to take care of oneself when working in this field?

A.  Hiking and yoga are both great outlets.  Also, I’m a painter so I think I work things out through the paint.  I’m also constantly learning new modalities which keeps me on my toes and keeps me doing my own work.  I never have the attitude that I’m done.  I’m always pushing myself to do my own inner work, resolve old patterns and keep my energy field clean.

Q:  Who and what have been your greatest inspiration(s) in this work?  What book do you feel is essential?  What lecturer would you recommend anyone with an interest in these practices go see?  What training was essential?

A.  Years ago, I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Peter Levine doing some live SE demonstrations.  I was so moved, I knew I had to study the work myself.  I  have had many mentors along the way. The first was Gary Strauss who taught me to palpate an energy field which was an amazing discovery.  I would recommend  Anna and John Chitty in Boulder Co. for the study of BioDynamic CranioSacral.  I learned STR with Sharon Porter who came from a Polarity/Cranial background like myself.  I’m grateful to have the energetic component of her teachings, which makes the work multidimensional.  Having had the opportunity to teacher assist with her has  deepened my understanding of the trauma work.   Joel Hipps facilitated my clairvoyant training which has been invaluable for keeping me grounded an increasing my perceptive abilities.  I’m very kinesthetic so I had to learn to see energy instead of feel everything.  Lastly for anyone who really wants to “think outside the box” I would highly recommend taking a weekend “Matrix energetics” workshop.   Your life will never be the same!

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of complementary medicine and alternative treatments for mental health and wellness?  What are your hopes for the future of your work over the next 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?

A. I hope that I will see the day when we stop labeling trauma as a disorder of the mind and begin to see it as a dis regulation of an overwhelmed nervous system;  a result of our natural healing mechanism being interrupted.

I would hope that every mental health professional, every paramedic, policeman, fireman, physical therapist, and Doctor could be more educated about how the autonomic nervous system works in relationship to trauma.  Minimum that they could all at least read “Waking the Tiger”  and “Crash Course”, and  that we would stop medicating people with developmental trauma, and learn some basic first aid tools that would help shock trauma from setting in in the first place.  I know that sound like a lot,  but some of the principles are so basic. The less traumatized people there are, the less patterns of abuse and violence will continue to repeat.

Q:  What would like people to know about the work you do?  Any words of wisdom, inspiration, or advice to others interested in this field of study or practice?

A. Sometimes people comment when they find out I don’t usually start out working on the table, they might say, “so what,  it’s just talking?”  NO, this work is very different from traditional talk therapy.  It’s a body centered approach and even though I’m not usually touching you, you will feel things physically.  That’s why you have to have an experience to “get” it, because it’s not like anything else that we do.   That it’s a relatively short term approach and that you will learn self healing skills that you can use throughout life.

Q:  Any advice to persons seeking a variety of paths to healing from trauma, ptsd, and emotional issues?

A. Keep trying things until you find what works for you.  Not the same thing works for everyone.  There are some great modalities like EMDR, EFT, and even dietary changes. Myself for example, I experienced huge benefits for depression using NAET.  The important thing is to make your healing a priority and don’t give up until you find what works for you.

EMILY VAN HORN PRACTICES OUT OF SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA.  TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER WORK PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE AT: http://www.emilyvanhorn.com

Breathe by szlea.

Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours

SWEDISH PROVERB

Everything in life lately seems to be both sped up and slowed down simultaneously;  it seems that way when we are on the precipice of the new and the verge of jumping out of the old.  When things shift in our world they can appear seismic and one shift can propel multiple shifts–with the change of pace to our life steps we can, in the process, leave people, lose people, separate from what doesn’t work from what was and finding what could work in the new.  What an exhilarating thing–the possibility of possibilities!  And how frightening as well.

As I launch of the edge in my present life and change the pace of my step I am both these things–exhilarated and frightened.  I think about my clients, coming into a therapy office is often the precipice of life–wanting something new, something else than what we have created in our world but so afraid of what that change could mean.  For a trauma survivor change means opening up the wounds of old ghosts and the things that haunt us, having to look them head on, and find a way to move beyond survival living and finding a way to thrive in existence.  For persons suffering from the disease of addiction coming into therapy or treatment means owning up to the first STEP in the recovery process: Admitting that my life has become unmanageable and I have no control over my addiction.  But isn’t that the way with all of us when we have to own up to what is not working in our life–admit that there is a problem and that life has become unmanageable as is.  What a brave thing to do!…And how frightening.

And so I return to breath as I often do in times of stress and renewal.  Breath is our life source, our origin, our beginning and our end is all breath and silence.  So we can go back to the root of ourselves through breath and silence.  I teach my clients breath first to find a way to bear the daunting task ahead–change.  And I constantly remind myself to return to breath when life and those in it surprise, disappoint, injure, or exhilarate.  Yesterday I taught a workshop at THE RED TENT in Delray Beach, Florida and I told a wonderful and strong group of women the importance of breath and keeping one’s gaze on a fixed point in life and in yoga, because without it we cannot maintain balance through the chaos and storms that always, inevitably come.  I continue to remind myself, as I do my clients to do this–breathe, find inner silence, and keep my gaze on the fixed point in the distance.

What is your stability–the point you can fix your gaze on in your life?

When do you find silence and breath in your day?

20 minutes dedicated to YOU per day can make a vital shift internally to help find the resilience and resolve to deal with all the externals that life throws at us!

Give yourself some time, some care, and some room to breathe.

PLEASE TAKE SOME TIME CHECK OUT MY NEW VIRTUAL WORKSHOP now available at THE WISH STUDIO called, apropos, ROOM TO BREATHE!  I AM VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS NEW VENTURE THAT HAS BEEN SOME MONTHS IN THE WORKS!

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http://wishstudio.com/events/

And I wanted to thank Durga at YOGA OF RECOVERY for linking to the EMBODY MENTAL HEALTH TIMES PAGE!  Thank you Durga for both your thoughtful interview and your virtual “shout-out” to the mission of this blog and EMBODY MENTAL HEALTH of being able to discuss on issues of integrative and complementary mental health!  See Durga’s interview in the previous post.

I realized that in my excitement to present this exciting interview with everyone I neglected to give a paragraph primer for this wonderful woman and yoga professional, Durga!  Most of what is most interesting about her life story, her work, and her process of creating YOGA OF RECOVERY is in the interview below but I will give you a little bit to introduce and thank Durga for her her thoughtful interview.  I approached Durga via email a short while ago asking if she might have a moment for an email interview for this blog and the EMBODY MENTAL HEALTH TIMES blog.  She graciously gave me more of her time and her poetic prose than I could have asked for and as you will see below her story is moving, profound, and passion-filled–all the best that one can find in the field of integrative and complementary mental health treatment!  I thank Durga for her efforts in creating YOGA OF RECOVERY and for sharing her journey with me and the readers of these blogs!

Q:  How was “Yoga of Recovery” created?  What made you decide to combine aspects of yoga, ayurveda, and the 12 step process for recovery from addiction?

I had originally gone to an ashram in a bid to stop smoking, on a challenge from my therapist, who had diagnosed me as clinically depressed and suggested that I see a psychiatrist to be prescribed medication.  I was wary of being medicated.  I was still using nicotine (15+ cigarettes per day) but was being advised to bring in another chemical to help my mood and mind. I was 18 months abstinent from alcohol at this time.

During my ‘trying to stop smoking’ period, I attended a party hosted by my AA Sponsor and met a woman there who suggested that I go to the Sivananda Ashram in Grass Valley, California, as a supportive way to get through the initial days of abstinence from cigarettes. At the ashram, smoking was not allowed and the busy schedule with practices of yoga and breathing exercises would help me connect to a healthy more conscious way to the body. I knew I needed to be sequestered from society in order to achieve complete abstinence!  In the back of my mind, I also knew that I had unrealistic expectations about the anti-depressants they were planning to give me, I was looking for the “Happy Pill” and would be disappointed with anything less.  I had a sneaking suspicion that an anti-depressant would not meet my expectations of chemically-induced happiness.

I went to the ashram to support my recovery and I have been relieved of my nicotine obsession for over 9 years now.  I am also medication-free.

During one of my stays at the ashram, I heard a lecture on Ayurveda, the science of healing. Ayurveda says that disease begins when we forget our true nature as spirit – we forget that Divinity resides within each of us.  If we understand ourselves only as body and mind, we become wrapped up in the nature of the physical world. This was very interesting to me as it fit with what I’d been told in AA – that addiction was a “spiritual malady” and that I was “spiritually sick”.  The Big Book of AA says that we are “beyond human aid.  Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient: they failed utterly”.  I had never considered that prospect/explanation before entering AA but when I heard it there it did make sense to me – the more efforts I made to marshal my will and stop drinking and smoking, the more I felt an utter failure, never being able to manage what I set out to do.

My work now is bringing this message to others who suffer from addiction or who have been impacted by addiction. My desire is to help others remember that essential piece that I, and others have forgotten: our true nature as spirit.

Yoga of Recovery is a body of work that introduces people to the Yoga philosophy, Ayurveda and 12 Step Recovery. These systems of healing are complementary and provide guidance for us to develop a fit spiritual condition on our journey to the perfection of the soul.

Q:  What is your background in the field of addiction?  What made you passionate about assisting others in their recovery process?

My background is simply my family of origin, some might also say the country where I was raised – Scotland!  It caused me great pain as an adolescent to see my mother succumb to the disease of alcoholism, which I know first hand to be progressive and fatal, it took 20 years to kill her.  During that time I became the thing I most ‘hated’, the alcoholic, so I was angry, confused, scared, lonely and baffled – I had moved to England to escape the pain of alcoholism and found that ‘wherever you go, there you are’.

Q:  What drew you, personally, to the practice of yoga, meditation, and the healing techniques of Ayurveda?

Even as a practicing alcoholic I was drawn to yoga, I had been a member of the Sivananda Yoga Center in London before I moved to the US.  I would go a few times per week for a hatha yoga class, and that was one area of my life that I felt good about, I was doing something worthwhile and self-caring, but it ran right alongside the many other self-destructive things I was doing, that I just could not stop.

Q:  What drew you to the Sivananda yoga tradition?  How has your experience been within this community?

As I mentioned, I had began my practice of yoga at the Sivananda center in London about 20 years ago.  Somewhere I picked up a leaflet about an Open Day at their center on a Saturday and  I went along.  I enjoyed the class, was not so sure about the ‘Om-ing and chanting’ but went ahead and signed up for a Yoga I Class then a Yoga II then I became a member and continued to go to open yoga classes after work and at weekends.  I lived about a 15 minute drive away from the London Center.  After some years I moved to the US (a geographic!) and got into recovery in AA and was undergoing the agony of ‘trying’to stop smoking.  Through my AA Sponsor I met a woman who suggested I go to the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm to help me get through the initial few days of abstinence from cigarettes.  I looked them up online and realized they were only about a one hour drive from where I lived in the US, and that they were the people I did yoga with in London so felt comfortable enough to book a Yoga Beginners Week.  I was nervous about being in a retreat, an ashram, I had only done yoga class with them before, however, I went and have been going back there ever since, that was April 2001.

I believe now that the Guru and karma pulls you back to the place where you belong, Sivananda has become a second home to me.  I love it especially because they offer a synthesis of the yogic paths.  I enjoy (and need) the discipline of the daily schedule and I have a great respect and honor for the Swamis of the organization and the staff, who are all volunteers, working selflessly to bring yoga to the guests who come to the ashrams.  I meet amazing, interesting people from all over the world.  It is a blessing to be a part of such an organization.

Q:  Is “Yoga of Recovery” based on the practices and postures of the Sivananda tradition?  How is “Yoga for Recovery” different, augmented, or specially sensitized for helping persons recovering from addiction?

“Yoga of Recovery” is based on the practices of classical yoga, which includes the Four Paths of Yoga – Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.  When taught at Sivananda ashrams the asana classes are based on the sequence of postures given to us by Swami Vishnu-devananda.

When teaching the course for counselors we have yoga teachers and non-yoga teachers (social workers, youth leaders, therapists etc.) so these classes are different.  The YoR course is not exclusively a hatha yoga training course. We honor the training the yoga teachers come in with and develop their ability to teach to the varied audiences of people in recovery by bringing the wisdom of the 4 paths of yoga to the physical practice of yoga.  Yoga teachers learn how to augment and be sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of persons recovering from addiction.  The physical practice encompasses spiritual, emotional, and pranic aspects of healing.

Q: When did you create this program?  What is the focus of the retreats? What tools and skills did you want to impart to your students/retreat participants?

I undertook my studies of Yoga and Ayurveda for the purpose of improving my own health and well-being and to bring holistic healing to people in recovery.  My own recovery began in 1999; my studies began in 2001; we offered the first Yoga of Recovery retreat in August 2005.  The focus of the retreats is a consideration of the story of our addiction – how we act out and why.  We then look at the understanding and description of disease according to yoga and Ayurveda.  Guests learn about their unique Ayurvedic constitution and their tendencies.  By understanding their Ayurvedic constitution, they learn the areas in which they may become vulnerable when under stress – and they can determine what kinds of activities and changes in their lifestyle can best help them restore balance in mind and body.  We discuss simple and practical methods to maintain health and prevent disease through the use of such tools as proper daily and seasonal routines.  We aim to revitalize the body’s systems and boost the immune system so we have a strong foundation in health to face the challenges and stresses of daily life without resorting/relapsing into old addictive behaviors.

When people are introduced to the Yogic psychology of how to deal with the mind, the Yogic philosophy of the Self, and the practice an Ayurvedic lifestyle, and make use of these alongside the principles of the 12 steps, they then have a truly empowering personal program of recovery.

Q: When did you create the Training and Certification part of your program? What specialized expertise or knowledge does a professional yoga teacher or mental health professional come away with when attending your Certificate training in “Yoga of Recovery”?

The first Yoga of Recovery for Counselors Training was offered in August 2008 in response to demand from people who wanted a more in-depth training so they could use the tools in their work.  It is the first comprehensive course to combine Ayurveda and Yoga with traditional recovery tools to offer a more holistic mind, body, spirit approach to addiction and self-destructive behaviors.  The course is for therapists, social workers, addiction counselors, sponsors, yoga teachers, Ayurvedic practitioners etc. Anyone interested in a more holistic and complete view of the problem and its solution.
Upon completion of the course they have the skills to introduce the healing potential of the holistic sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga into their own life and those around them.

Those in counseling roles leave with additional tools and a deeper understanding of the comprehensive approach to wellness, emotional sobriety and sustained spiritual development using Ayurveda and Yoga as extension therapies to any 12 Step work.

Yoga teachers become uniquely qualified and more confident to teach yoga in rehabs or to people in recovery from any addiction by fully understanding the root of the problem and the holistic approach, extended from limited understanding of substance abuse/behavioral problems to be treated with asana alone, to a full range of therapies for mind, body and spirit from these powerful healing modalities.

Q:  What effects or changes have you seen in persons coming to your retreat programs?  What have you seen or experienced in teaching this method that has surprised you?  What has been most rewarding about the experience?

Perhaps here I can let guests of the retreat answer this from the comments we have received from them – their response is what is rewarding for me..

“The retreat was an amazing life-changing event for me.  It worked for me mentally, spiritually and physically.  I left feeling inspired, refreshed, renewed, full of hope, strong and satisfied.  The lessons continue to grow each day so, for me, the work was substantial, not hype.  The workshops were great, useful, practical, well prepared and presented…The retreat is important for us in recovery. More please!”

WA, Reno NV

I can’t speak highly enough of the Yoga of Recovery course.  After 14 years in a 12 Step Program … I had a spiritual awakening.  Durga’s blending of the divinely inspired path to recovery of the 12 Step Program, with the Yogic path…and the tool box…is the Key to my recovery.  This is a wonderful program … it can only help everyone on a 12 Step program.

VM, Bahamas

This was an extraordinary class…it showed exactly what I had to do to not only transform this addiction but many other addictions I did not quite realize I had…Durga made Ayurveda simple, clear, practical and accessible.  A rich course.  Practical, comprehensive, simple, fun, shows how the 12 Step Program is one of the best kept secrets in the world of spiritual growth.

BK, MA USA

I am able to take a lot of information from this retreat.  I learned much about yoga, not just the asana yoga but the wonder of the other aspects.  The Ayurveda aspect was also very informative.  I feel that my tools for recovery have increased tremendously.

JM, CT USA

I loved the workshop.  I found the information confronting and enlightening…

To see the correlation between the perils of addiction, imbalance in doshas and the path of yoga all in an upward spiral was an epiphany.

CF, FL USA

Q:  On the “Yoga of Recovery” website’s FAQ you talk about this practice and retreat program also being appropriate for persons with eating disorders?  Have you considered cultivating a program model specific to eating disorders?

When I first began the retreat I assumed the guests would be people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.  What I found was that many of them had maintained sobriety for considerable lengths of time from their initial drug of choice but had shifted into dependence on some other substance or behavior in recovery.  I had witnessed both in myself and what seemed like a majority of 12 step members this switch of addictions – the main culprits being sugar addiction and codependency in relationships. Several ‘food addicts’ came to the retreat and I wondered if the work presented would feel totally relevant to them.  I was concerned that I did not fully understand that condition and that I needed to understand more about it from the Ayurvedic perspective.  Also, if the 12 Step solution was spiritual, allowing us to recover from a “seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body” then why did the addiction simply shift into another area, even for those who genuinely ‘worked the program’?  How spiritual did we need to be in our daily lives to fully recover from all dependencies and addictions?

The modern addiction problem shows us how people can become addicted to anything: alcohol, drugs, relationships, work, Internet, cell phones etc.  This provides a clue to the universal root of all addictions – the fact that we have externalized an inner spiritual need; an easy path to take in our society of over-consumption and hyper-sensory stimulation.  In this 21st Century we can consider the view of the addict as a seeker, someone who is inherently trying to transcend the mundane.  In “Overcoming Addictions”, Dr Deepak Chopra describes the problem as “self-destructive outlets for an unrecognized spiritual craving”.

Yoga of Recovery is for people who are looking to overcome any of their own addictive or self-destructive behaviors and also for people histories of addiction in themselves or within their family.   Guests range in age from 16 to 84 years old and experience every type of addiction – this means both the ‘primary’ addiction and all the cross-addictions that have come up since abstaining from the ‘substance/behavior of choice’.  We investigate the root causes and reasons for our compulsions, attachments and addictive imbalances.  What in our nature compels us to this continual external seeking?  We look at the stress response of the different doshic types, unmanaged emotions, how the mind works by repetition, creating deep grooves of self-destructive habits.   The approach is from the point of view of Sattva, unity (Vedanta) and not from separation, the ‘them and us’ mentality that stems from egoism, Rajas (turbulence) and Tamas (dullness).  This is important since in the media portrayal of the problem of addiction, both historically and currently, it is presented as a case of ‘them and us’, but in truth we are all addicted to some degree.

The more subtle and ubiquitous ‘attachments’ that we all suffer from and that no one can avoid entirely are our addictions/attachments to food and people.  These are the first and last ties to our embodied existence in our human condition.  The founder of AA, Bill Wilson, speaks of these same concepts when he discusses our “instincts run wild” which involve our “legitimate, natural desires to eat, to reproduce, for society, security and companionship”. (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)  It is also interesting that the AlAnon program (the ‘people’ addiction, co-addicts) was the second 12 step program formed and perhaps a little-known fact that Bill Wilson’s ‘sponsor’ was a man with an eating disorder, not alcoholism.

During our retreats and courses we talk about our experience with any addictive habits that we are recovering from. This helps us develop more openness and compassion around both our own lingering compulsions and the struggle of different ‘drug of choice’ than ours.

Q:  Do you believe we all, as humans, have addictive natures in some respect?  Do you believe anyone (not just someone in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction) could benefit from your program?

Yes, see answer above.  Ayurveda is the science of life so we can all benefit from its  lifestyle recommendations.  Ultimately, the purpose of life is Self-realization, so everyone who is drawn to the philosophy, psychology and physical practice of yoga would enjoy this retreat.  It is like yoga applied to our daily life.

Q:  What is your hope for the program and your work over the next 5 years?  Do you hope to see expansion of the program?  Do you have any plans to create programs for any other specific populations of people?

My hope is that people come to the retreats and discover and reclaim their own health and healing, becoming empowered in their daily life choices.  I hope they leave with a feeling of awe and reverence toward the Divine healing power and ways to participate in the healing energy of nature, the world around us.  I hope students from the course will introduce people to these concepts in their local communities.  One day we hope to offer an extended Yoga of Recovery residential retreat, where people can join us for 2-4 weeks, like a Vedic sober living home.  We also hope to bring the retreat to special groups like ‘at-promise’ youth and young women who are struggling with addiction problems.

Q:  What are your hopes and aspirations for the field of mental health, addiction treatment and the integration of complementary and holistic practices for mind, body, and spirit wellness?

I believe integration is the future and that the mental health field will lead the way by accepting the experience of patients with complementary and holistic practices for mind, body, and spirit wellness as evidence of their efficacy.  I believe we need to experience healing, not wait for evidence of it from scientific sources!

Q:  Any final words, thoughts, inspirations, or experiences you would like to share with the readers?

“Remember, Forget” – last words of swami Sivananda

“Health is Wealth, Peace of Mind is Happiness, Yoga shows the way” – Swami Vishnu-devananda

LEARN MORE ABOUT DURGA & THE YOGA OF RECOVERY AT: www.yogaofrecovery.com


Durga is a Clinical Ayurvedic and Pancha Karma Specialist, trained at the California College of Ayurveda and also in Kerala, India. She leads several Ayurvedic Retreats at International Sivananda Yoga Ashrams. Durga has been involved with the 12-Step Fellowship for over 10 years. She completed her Sivananda Yoga teachers Training Course in May 2002, the Meditation Immersion Course in January 2005 and the Advanced Yoga Teachers Training Course in March 2006.

“Let that meek (quiet) darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and scattering of your mind.”

THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNCIL , Author Unknown (same as THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING)

“Do not imagine that when I call it a darkness or a cloud that it is a cloud amassed with vapours that float in the air, or a darkness such as you have in your house at night, when your candle is out, for such a darkness. With little imagination you could picture the summer skies breaking through the clouds or a clear light brightening the dark winter. This is false, it isn’t what I mean for when I say “darkness” I mean a lack of knowing, just as whatever you do know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it in your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.”

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Cloud of Unknowing is an ancient text and may be, some say, the origin of contemplative practice and dialogue within the Christian faith–we know meditation, contemplation, and philosophy around it is an ancient practice worldwide.

The Sufis did it, the Kabbalists did it, the Buddhists did it, the Mystics were everywhere, all over the globe and in every faith practice doing it. But what is it? Ah, the hard part. Deep inner silence, spiritual and corporeal centeredness, listening and hearing, and as always dealing with the “unknowing” of it all.

Whether we are deep in addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, or any disordered plane of existence we are plagued by the known demons and enemies in our minds, hearts, and souls. Part of addiction rhetoric says, “Let go and let God.” Mantras become mantras because they are so simple, succinct, and right on. This is no exception. Whether you believe in God, a universal force, or just human morality there is a part of us all that want to hold on to what we KNOW in life, about life, about ourselves. Knowing is comforting, even when, and it often is, it’s misleading.

When we KNOW we have no room to GROW. Unknowing however, as uncomfortable as it may be, leaves us ripe and ready for growth, change, and expansion beyond anything the known could ever provide. I say this with all humility as I struggling with my own battle of unknowing in my life right now. How I hate it!  And how I love it!  Maddening tis’nt’ it!

Can you spend a minute, an hour, a day intentionally “unknowing”?  Undoing all the dogmas, preconceptions, all the stuck-ness, ruts, predispositions….and just LET GO!  Give it a shot–it is scary like falling but also freeing like flying.

I am paragliding my way through the present, coasting across the sky to an unknown landing zone.  We will see where it leads.  Follow you own wind, paraglide into your own unknowns….and I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Where then, you say shall I be?
Nowhere by this tale!
Exactly you say this well,
for there would I have you.
For nowhere physically is everywhere spiritually.

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

April 2010
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