I have been getting lots of questions about how to workout during shelter in place rules. A number of people have struggled feeling tired and overwhelmed even though they aren’t sick and not working out regularly. So many of us are off our routines. When we get off our routines our system gets off. This is our nervous system response to stress.
We often do not realize how much work our bodies are doing to manage stress. We feel like it should be fine, we should be fine. And … we are not. We are in need of more rest and support – even when things are not “that bad”. It is important to listen to your body and meet it where it is. Give it what it needs to be your optimal self.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get moving even when your nervous system is busy managing the uncertainty and stress.
When you think about psychology, do you ever consider that yoga has a lot to say about the study of the mind? Two of my favorite overlaps are Maya and Samskaras. The ancients knew a thing or two about what it means to be conscious and intentional about living a full and embodied life.
Over the last year I have been diving back into yoga. It has been a long time since I looked at the ancient texts. Last year I chose to deepen my understanding of yoga philosophy. I re-read Light on Life, Light on Yoga, dove back into the sutra translations, and the Yoga Pradipika. In my world of somatic psychology the research on yoga is flowing. I attended the United States Body Psychotherapy Association conference in 2018 and attended a number of sessions on the interplay between yoga and psychotherapy. All this exploration brought me back to why I have never given up this practice.
Over the years I have been a yogini, a yoga teacher, a yoga enthusiast, and sometimes even considered quitting the practice for the newer shiner object in the group exercise world. But I never did. Sometimes I did not even know why I continued to practice. Sometimes it felt flat, other times energizing. I continued to pay attention. Then in early 2018, my friend and yoga teacher, Sarah Klein asked me to work with her on a project to explain the psychological overlays of the ancient yoga philosophies. The path was set and we began a journey into what is yoga and why does it work.
Although I think the answer to this question is vast, I do have a better understanding of why yoga works and why it works differently than other avenues of fitness. I began to look at yoga from the orientation of psychology. When I was 5 I asked my mom why people do what they do. She laughed and said because they do. I decided I would figure that out. I have found my yoga study to be similar. A big undertaking with so much possibility that determining exactly why becomes muddled. It gets lost. The concrete answers become less fascinating than all the interplays between possibilities. This is the marker of a great system. Something so simple, yet so vast at the same time.
As I continue to read, relate, and connect the dots between these two worlds I am amazed at the wisdom the ancient practitioners brought to the world. I find myself drawn to understanding Maya and Samskaras the most. No surprise as I address them both in my psychology practice everyday.
Maya is the lens we wear to view the world. As a psychologist I work to help people see that what they might think is not always reality. That they can change perception and shift emotional states for something more positive and suiting to them.
In yoga we come to the mat to explore these lenses. How do I talk to myself about my practice, my ability to maintain the pose, my role in the room with others? We overtly ask ourselves to challenge our belief patterns.
I see this work in other group exercise classes however the intention is different, the study much more narrow, and the focus shifted to aspects of being according to the class format. In yoga we turn the lens away from how many reps, sets, and weight lifted to the inner landscape of being. This self study helps shift our view of ourselves in the world and our view of the way the world is. Thus, we have an opportunity to engage differently. We can begin to create the world we want with clarity versus the world we were handed through culture, community, and limiting self beliefs. And it all happens through our embodied experience of being.
Samskaras are those things that get in our way. They are the experiences and slights we have experienced in our past. They hook us, trigger us, and keep us stuck in old ruts repeating patterns of being over and over. These little knots are caught in our nervous system. They are part of our learning that says “danger, don’t do that again”. However, if we honestly look at them, often they are outdated old messages about a particular situation and not the one we are living in now. With study and careful attention to our experiences we can release them and find new patterns to engage our lived experiences. Ones that are more healthy for us. Ones we want rather than what we got. To me, the study of these two focal points is critical to creating your life vision.
This is the message of yoga – it is all union and we are all one. Connected beyond what we can see yet individual in our experiences of self and others. This is the simplicity of yoga – we are all one. Yet the complexity of yoga – having an individual experience.
If you find this work interesting and want to join Sarah and I on a deeper study of The Integration of Yoga and Psychology, please do.
Deepen your own practice, help your students and clients deepen their experiences of self, others, and spirit too. We teach what we need, don’t we? And it somehow fits what others need as well.
In this conversation on the relational implicit podcast, Serge and I talk about a blending of disciplines – – specifically, using exercise science to bridge understanding in somatic psychology interventions. The goal is to bring together the science of the physical body with the science of the emotional body to go beyond symptom reduction and reconnect the self and body.
Interview with Stacy Reuille-Dupont and Serge Prengal: Using Exercise Science to Bridge Understanding in Therapy
See more conversations like this at Relational Implict. On his podcast, Serge explores somatic psychology, relational therapies, mindfulness and trauma therapies. Most of this exploration takes the form of conversations with psychotherapists, occasionally researchers. Stimulating ideas are discussed, as well as clinical examples. The style of the conversations is reflective, to slow down and deepen the process. Many of the conversations are available in video as well as audio.
Pain is an interesting signal. It is here to help us pay attention. Sometimes our signals get crossed. We find pain in situations that are not physical, yet feel physically painful – the broken heart, gut response, or goosebumps rising. Physical and emotional pain run on the same circuits and there are a variety of options for treating it. Use your mind to help your body. Seek psychological treatment for chronic pain states.
Thank you to UWS Counseling Students for a great evening of exploration regarding the mental health field. In this post I also outline and more in-depth explanation of treating and healing from early trauma. A list of somatic psychology resources is also included.
Thank you for letting me come speak about our profession! I enjoyed the exploration and interest areas. There are some many possibilities and avenues for careers in behavioral health. I am grateful to be able to share my experience and hope for the next generation of LPCs. I wish you well, and please feel free to contact me if more questions/thoughts arise.
As I reflected on the questions I believe I didn’t answer the question about early trauma fully – to heal from psychological trauma we do not need the story/details of the event. Trauma happens in the body, even when it is verbal in nature, the physiology of the fear disrupts the endocrine system and dysregulates the brain processes. As a result we see dysfunctional behaviors and coping skills. To treat this we can use a number of therapies that target body sensations, as early trauma is stored in brain centers as sensations – not as words/symbols. We can then use the body sensations to track and allow neuropathways to develop while using the present moment therapist to client regulation. This allows the person to process through the trauma in the brain via the body with safety, then make meaning of the event(s) using words, art, music, etc. I tend to use somatic therapies most of the time along with cognitive work to help make meaning and keep the process moving – help clients understand what’s happening when that’s what’s needed for safety. And Dialectical Behavior Therapy to teach regulations skills prior to trauma protocols. Many somatic modalities teach them along the way, however some struggle with the mindfulness and/or aren’t used to being in the body, tracking sensation for long periods of time. Cognitive work can help balance the fears and safety while building endurance. Some resources for the somatic work:
USABP – United States Association for Body Psychotherapies
SE – Somatic Experiencing, Peter Levin has a good book on trauma in the body
Hakomi – Hakomi Institute
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy – check out Pat Ogden’s book on trauma and the body
EMDRIA – Eye movement densitization and reprocessing therapy main association website.