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Yoga can be a wonderful personal practice–body, mind, and spirit.  Through asanas we can bend our body, stretch our muscles, and flex our physicality.  Internally we can learn to quiet the mind, decrease anxiety, and find inner calm and centeredness.  In the intangibles of spiritual connection we can find through space to breathe we find connection to something larger than the self, something part of a collective whole and a union that persists inside ourselves and out.  From this we can, if we choose, extend that unity further.  If we choose.

I am coming to the close of my teacher training, beginning my “Yoga for Trauma Survivors” class and planning forward working and preparing for a variety of upcoming talks on mind/body wellness, yoga for mental health, and complementary therapies at the NASW Conference in Florida, at hOMe yoga in Mahwah, New Jersey, and in a graduate elective at a university here in Southern Florida.  As I prepare to move out of this phase of my life, an intensive training phase, and into an intensive action phase I think of the extension and arms of yoga.  How far can yoga reach?  As far as your mind and metaphors can reach–and much further forward than I can stretch in forward bend.

Karma yoga, selfless service, and yoga as action is becoming more and more synonymous as yoga communities are taking the internal calm of mind that comes from meditation and a quiet graceful posture and using that clarity to effect change in the world around them.  Such figures as Seane Corn and her “Off the Mat and Into the World” campaign highlight the ways in which yoga and a well-known voice can be channeled to create change both on the mat and in the world at large.  But we also don’t need to have a voice that is known to say something of value.  Yoga can imbue us with a sense of strength, empowerment, grounding, and centering and these essential tools of being can be taken by any yogi or yogini and be tailored for wherever your heart and passions might lead you.

I wrote earlier this month about Swami Padma, of the Sivananda Center in San Francisco, and his work to bring yoga to inmates in the California Prison System.  This is just another example of one person’s passion creating a ripple effect, a focus on a cause that might otherwise be ignored, and monies and services put in place as a result.  Imagine what you could do taking a combination of your passions, creativity, yogic centeredness, and spirit for action and creating change in the world.  Whatever your passion is, wherever your voice takes you, you have the potential to effect change for a population or a cause that otherwise could have been ignored.  What you believe in matters.  What you fight for can make a difference.  Lending your voice, even if it is just the voice of one, can change the hearts and minds of many.  We all have the potential to create ripples of change in this world; even ripples that could extend farther and wider than your imagination can imagine.

Lately, as I extend and deepen my own yoga practice, center inward more in meditative moments, follow my passion and lend my voice to what I believe in the more it seems that voice and these words of mine seem to blossom and grow branches upon branches.  I am still not sure how far this will take me or how much I will be able to do but I am setting my sights on infinity and anything along the way, on my pursuit, amazing and beautiful things are happening.  Connections are being made, changes are happening almost organically, and the contagion that is my own passion seems to spread as I open my mouth, write my words, and purvey my dreams for what could be.

My aspirations reach as far as creating a nonprofit and learning institute that could bring complementary therapies and yoga for mental health to a variety of populations at low to no cost as well as train persons in the field of yoga, mental health, and complementary therapies how to integrate the two and be sensitive to the needs and issues of mental health populations.  I believe healing and the capacity to heal can emanate from all manner of creative and holistic approaches and in my own trauma healing yoga, contemplative practices, and animal-bond/relational experiences have been profound.  I want to extend these tools to anyone I can.  So for now I will speak anywhere I can on the matter, create programs wherever I have the option to, and hope for a future where I can reach past the branches of my own dreams into something even more profound than I could imagine.

What do you dream about?  What do your passions lie?  What would you do to effect change in the world you are in, the life you have, and using whatever skills or knowledge you have at your disposal?  It is amazing the well of talent and internal resources we all have.  Every person is the authority on something or passionate for something that might be ignored by everyone else.  Every voice matters!  How are you going to use yours?

(Susan Tebb, PhD in yoga class; lower right corner in turquoise.)

THE LAUNCH OF MY NEWLY REVAMPED WEBSITE “EMBODY MENTAL HEALTH” at www.embodymentalhealth.com (final edits to website content still being made), Q&A SERIES, & THE NEW LOOK OF ALL MY SITES INCLUDING THE ARTICLES PAGE OF MY WEBSITE at www.embodyarticles.blogspot.com brings with great excitement the first of a series of interviews with professionals in the field of mental health, mind/body medicine, trauma therapy, yoga and equine professionals and more.

Today’s Q&A is with Professor Susan Tebb, Ph.D.  Sue Tebb,Professor of Social Work at St. Louis University , a former Dean/Director, has centered her research interests around family caregiving.  She has written two books and over forty book chapters and/or publications in this area.  She has been a social worker for more than forty years working with many diverse family configurations in adoptions, medical social work, court mediation and caregiving situations.  Lately her caregiving research , knowledge building and skill training has begun to involve more complementary and integrative interventions, such as yogic techniques,  to deal with stress and trauma.

Q:  What is your background in the field of social work?  Which populations have you worked with and in what kind of mental health settings?


I first worked in the field following my undergraduate degree in psychology as a social work intern at the Red Cross in downtown Chicago in the middle of the Vietnam Crisis.  It was my first introduction to working with families and military men and women who were injured both physically and mentally by combat.  I then got my MSW degree at Wayne State because they were just beginning to work with families and not the traditionally, casework, group work, community organization that were what most schools offered.

After my MSW degree I worked as a maternity and adoption worker and then moved into medical social worker, working in cancer clinics, rehab, medical services and dialysis/transplant.  I enjoyed working with dialysis and transplant and so when I was offered a job to work for a group of doctors beginning dialysis centers I grabbed it because I enjoyed the holistic way we worked with people on dialysis, we got to know them and their families.  I continued this type of work in two other states and then left that area of work to return to adoption and maternity work.

I enjoyed working with families as they went through the adoption process to adopt an older child or a child from another country.  I also was touched by the women who made the decision to relinquish rights to their child and tried to help make this process a healing one for them.  At this time I was a single mom with two young children; their dad had died in a car accident five years earlier.  I realized I needed to make plans to have a secure position with good health benefits and so I decided to go back to school and get a Ph.D. in social work.  Something I had often thought about but never thought it was the right moment, well then was the right moment.

I moved our family to Kansas from California to attend the program at the University of Kansas.  This was exactly the program for me because  it was at this time that the strengths model was forming at Kansas.  I did my research and work while there on positive coping and strengths in family caregivers at the VA hospital.

Q:  How long have you been a professor at St. Louis University?  What do think are the most important things a graduate social work student can learn?

I have been at Saint Louis University almost 18 years.  Longer than I ever thought but it has offered me opportunities to grow and change and to keep challenged.  I think social work students need to learn to stay open to change, to
work for change and to embrace change in themselves and the people
they work with.

Q:  When, how, and why did you become interested in yoga?  How did this interest turn into a professional inclination towards yoga for mental health?

My first yoga class was in Chicago after I moved back following receipt of my MSW degree.  I have always liked sports and have been open to all kinds.  At that time I saw yoga as only the postures and enjoyed it but never pursued it more than an occasional class.  Then when my daughter was in high school we took yoga classes together for about one year, again it was still a physical exercise for me.  I have been running since my daughter was born and she will be 33 this year.

As I got older I realized I could not run as much as I had and needed to find other things to do.  I became interested in triathlons and in preparing for triathlons I read that yoga was a great thing to do to prepare for a race and so I thought, “Oh, I like yoga”.  I will try and see if that doesn’t help my longevity at  triathlons.  So I started going to yoga classes and it began to help my achy joints.  I still only saw yoga as asanas but I went every week for a class.

About four years ago I began to plan for a sabbatical and ran across an article about using yoga in mental health, especially with depression and so I began to look for more information in this area.  My academic scholarship is in the area of family caregivers of older adults; depression and anxiety are experienced by many caregivers.  I wanted to better help caregivers and so I continued pursuing yoga and mental health.

During my sabbatical I had the opportunity to visit Lynn Waelde at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology who uses meditation and yoga with many populations with very good results.  Lynn was so gracious in working with me because I had not a clue about yoga other than postures.  I also decided to take Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga Training and completed that and became a Level 1 LifeForce Yoga instructor and realized in the training that this could work with all kinds of mental health issues, in particular, anxiety, depression and PTSD.

This workshop opened my awareness to the eight limbs of yoga and thus I began to read, study, practice and meditate more.  I am now involved in yoga teacher training and will be a registered yoga teacher next month.  This training has helped me look at ways that I might work to help others incorporate more yogic techniques into their lives.  I go for my Level 2 LifeForce Yoga Training this spring and look forward to where all of this is taking me and will take me.

Q:  What are the effects you have seen in integrating yoga into mental health?  What do you think the impact of yoga is on a person’s mental health?  Why do you believe this to be true?

So often we forget that we can control our mind and that much of what we fear is in the mind.  There are severe mental health issues and I believe in integrative health care where western medicine and eastern medicine can work together.  Just breathing and being conscious of breath can change people.  Postures are important because they help us begin to bring the body and mind with the spirit together.  We compartmentalize so much and really we are connected to all that happens in our mind and body just as we are connected to all that happens around us.  I believe yoga, working with the various limbs of yoga, help us to begin to see the connections within  and without.

Q:  What other complementary practices are you a proponent of?

I am a proponent of whatever works for you.  I teach a MSW course on CAM (Complementary & Alternative Medicine) and love to see students begin to think of other possibilities for themselves and for those they work with.

Q:  How are you integrating your yoga background into your professional sphere as a mental health professional and graduate professor of social work?

I teach practice courses both to graduate and undergraduate students and I have a section on integrative and complementary interventions so they can begin to see alternatives to talk therapy and that talk does not always work.  There are times it is what people need but then there are times people need to make a connection to body/mind/spirit and that can be through yoga or other methods.

I am also working with several yoga teachers in the area giving workshops for the general public on the benefits of yoga and to social work professionals on how to integrate yoga into your personal practice and/or into your professional practice.  Many social workers were not introduced to CAM while in school so workshops such as these does just that.
Q:  What made you decide to take yoga teacher training?  What school/methodology of yoga are you training with? Why did you pick this particular style of practice?

I decided if I was going to bring it into the classroom I needed a better understanding and instead of bringing a yoga teacher in decided I would get the training so I could teach the section myself.  I picked a teacher who is very open to all the various types of yoga because I wanted to remain open to the various kinds myself and so he is a hatha yoga teacher.  We have been introduced through various teachers in the area to many of the styles of yoga and I probably prefer kundalini, Iyengar, viniyoga and ashtanga/power-and I like anusara and the therapeutic holds in Phoenix Rising and thus you see why I chose the teacher I did.  I teach a combination and on some days with some people more one style than another.

Q:  What are you most passionate about in your life and your work?

Happiness and enjoyment of life.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of complementary medicine and
integrative mental health?

That insurance companies pay for it and more physicians prescribe it.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of yoga in the mental health arena?

That more mental health professionals refer to it and/or recommend it to clients and use it themselves.
Q:  Anything you would like to leave the readers with–inspirations, aspirations, words of wisdom?

Listen to your body/mind/spirit connection and connect with it.

Q:  How long have you been a professor at St. Louis University?  What do think are the most important things a graduate social work student can learn?

I have been at Saint Louis University almost 18 years.  Longer than I ever thought but it has offered me opportunities to grow and change and to keep challenged.  I think social work students need to learn to stay open to change, to work for change and to embrace change in themselves and the people they work with.

(BELOW: Susan Tebb, PhD)

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I have had one of those weeks that has been enlightening, invigorating, and inspiring on every human level possible.  From the human to the equine I have heard the journeys of survivors, thrivers, and those who have a story to tell that is so profound it wells tears and lapses breathe just in having heard it. 

 

In the Rumpus (yes I saw Where The Wild Things Are last weekend) of it all I found synapses blasting and neural paths sparking with a realization of how much all of my work, all of my passions, and all of my life seemed to have been leading to this point of alignment (not to be too dramatic about it) in some way.  If someone had told me before this moment that I would be in a position to both love and align yoga, horses, and psychotherapy together I would have laughed at the incredulousness of the idea.  Today I will say that nothing makes more sense or is more clear to me than how these three worlds collide and echo with sound bites and fragments of each other.

 

I spent last week (Wednesday to Saturday) at the NARHA Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  I learned about “Prey Psychology” and the corollaries between Winnicottian Theory and Self-Psychology and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy.  I found an entire world that had blended so many of the ideas and passions I had been working with into a body of therapeutic work that had been alive for 10-20 years without my even being aware of it.  I was invigorated by the passion of the people in this profession and the well-thought academics behind their practices.  It wasn’t just teaching horsemanship to people in hopes of effecting change in some emotional way it was a full basis of therapeutic practices working with horses as partners in effecting change in people’s lives.  One woman even referred to her equine counterparts as “colleagues” in a context that made it seem absolutely an apt description. 

 

I heard people discussing the importance of mindfulness, self-soothing techniques, and even horseback yoga as a means of creating emotional wellness not just through the client’s relationship with the horse but also their body, mind, and emotional awareness of themselves.  It was a wonderful experience to be amid people in a world of therapy, present centered living, and holistic treatment for people in emotional distress that I never before knew existed.  I found myself hoping with more earnestness and a real sense that  it was possible for a world of therapy that broke down the four walls of a therapy room and can, will, take people’s healing to creative and intuitive new heights. 

 

I heard one particular horse trainer describe the horse as a very “present oriented” being stating that as an animal of prey a horse is instinctually imbedded in the present moment, needing to focus on those things that bring them safety, security, and comfort and make them feel wholly well.  I was instantly drawn to consider the two parallels of that–trauma and yoga.  The horse is a great balancer in that it represents a healthy reflection of the traumatized person–it manages its present centered quest for survival while the traumatized person cannot moderate their “prey” experience and feels overwhelmed with their survival needs and unable to find the comfort in the present moment.  I thought also of how the horse is such an excellent metaphor for the perfect yogi/ni.  The horse is able to look at the now, live in the now, and be comforted by what they are given that helps maintain their sense of balance–rejecting that, that does not help them maintain that homeostasis.  They are the perfect mirror to the traumatized person of both what they are and what they want/need to be.  I was fascinated by this beautiful parallel and how the horse is the bridge between emotional disarray and yogic, spiritual centeredness. 

 

I feel on the precipice of breaking through my own glass ceiling of sorts–personally, professionally, philosophically.  Ever moment I turn around I find a new bread crumb, rich metaphor, deep symbology of this shift–in the good, the bad, and the ugly in my life.  I am grateful for this journey and excited for the next bread crumb that will lead to the next discovery. 

 

In the world of wordless connection I see horses as the symbol of something ancient, mystical, beautiful, and simple all in one.  As Linda Kohanov states so eloquently in her book The Tao of Equus speaking about her young new horse, “She was standing in a box stall smelling of pine shavings, and she spoke to me more eloquently in silence than anyone ever had in words.”  This is the kind of connection I could only hope for all of us to have–in life, in healing, in growth of self. 

 

“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.”             Arabian Proverb

 

I am sick, sick, sick.  Of course, of course, of course.  But there is no real time to dwell in feverish grossness or to get frustrated over missing one of my last days of work due to delirium.  I have, on the plus side, finally fully set up my website on mind/body healing called “EMBODY: (W)holistic Mental Health”!  That makes this day not feel like a complete loss, even if I’ve lost my voice. 

 

Feel free to check the website out and leave any feedback!                                                        http://embodymentalhealth.com

 

 

brambleroots' yoga 3 mosaic

“Yoga Mosaic 3” from brambleroots on flickr

 

Now, on to more interesting matters than the state of my sinus cavities, although this particular musing was inspired a little by the cavities (or rather the excrutiating sensation of pressure I feel inside of them right now). 

 

I am contemplating my yoga state of mind (queue the music from Billy Joel in the background to “New York State of Mind”) and as of right now I am leaning towards some nice soothng therapeutic and restorative yoga.  Today is not a Vinyasa day.

 

The other day I read a post called “Some Sour Yoga Apples” on the lovely Graceful Yoga and Simplicity Blog and Grace was speaking about an unfortunate encounter with a bit of a yoga snob–one of her teachers.  The kind of teacher who is certain their version of yoga practice is high art and all others, especially vinyasa, are just a sloppy and negligent mutilations of the eastern practice by western commercialism. 

 

 So much for Namaste which loosely translated means: “The light in me honors the light in you”.  What if my light is screaming for some Flow?   Ha.

 

My feeling is that there are yoga forms out there for everyone and if one suits you better than another then go with your flow and follow what feels right.  To me, that is the yoga of it all. 

 

I am a bit of a yoga-whore, if I may be so bold.  In terms of style, I get around.  Perhaps as I craft my practice through yoga schoolin’ I will become more versed in one form or another and prefer one practice over all else, but for now, I get around. 

 

Today all I want is  a restorative reprieve.  Often I need to purge myself after a long day of chair sitting and emotionally exhaustive trauma therapy with a really explosive Vinyasa Flow class, and many of those times I even prefer the Hot variety. 

 

Anasura and Iyengar frankly are like math, I know I need to know it to do the basics in life (yoga life that is), but it makes my brain hurt and leaves me feeling very inadequate.  At the same time, when I feel like everything is off in my body, Iyengar grounds me back again and gives me some clues of where I have gone wrong: there is stability in alignment focus. 

 

Kundalini is a practice I am just learning about and am very intrigued with as it seems to have some of the more contemplative spiritual focuses that seem very grounding in a soul-kind-of-way. 

 

I really believe that yoga is meant to suit everyone in one variation or another.  The rise of Vinyasa may speak to a need for more and more people in a frantic life circumstance, unable to center and get quiet in themselves, to have a  yoga that can purge and purge explosively all of the energy seeping out of their pores: and with hot yoga plenty more than just energy will seep out of your pores. 

 

Disability-oriented yoga I think exemplifies yoga for everyone and the antithesis of yoga elitism.  I think everyone should work with a population with physical disabilities at some point just as a practitioner and a teacher to understand what the root of yoga is all about.  The origin in yoga’s history is as a moving meditation as much for the soul as the body.   

 

If you can sit in a chair and only move your arm or your head you can still do yoga.  If you can never manually move your legs into Warrior One or Triangle Pose you can still be as yogic as anyone else.  Our limbs are only the beginning of what yoga is and therefore the method you use is only the segway to the deeper root of yoga: the meditative center. 

 

Or that is my impression thus far.  I hope to come back to this issue as I begin school and start regular practice within  a particular path and tradition. 

 

What is your yoga of choice and why?  I think this is a very interesting question with very interesting potential for answers. 

lotus flower from bahman farzad

Image from flicrk by Bahman Farzad.

 

Namaste.  I think I’ll go stretch and take some sinus medication.

May 2020
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