In this extract from Matthew J. Taylor’s latest book, Yoga Therapy as a Creative Response to Pain, Taylor discusses how yoga therapy can be used to decrease pain and the perception of pain.
How does one teach from the wisdom of pain? And how could yoga therapy be a creative response? My hope is you are starting to see some answers emerge. (Pun intentional and literal.) In this section I will offer some direct implications to make some of this what they used to call “lieutenant-proof” in the army when I was a lieutenant. (Do note later, though, Nora’s caution around giving “direct” instructions.)
We “know,” taken together, the above findings are important because they demonstrate that the neural mechanisms involved in mindfulness- based pain relief are consistent with greater processing of sensory experience and at the same time decreases in pain appraisal (Zeidan et al. 2015). Our familiar practices of paying attention inward and editing narratives. Pain reduction may also occur by fine-tuning the amplification of nociceptive sensory events through top-down control processes of inhibition of incoming nociceptive information and that such pain relief does not reduce pain through one avenue, but rather multiple, unique neural mechanisms. Ah, CDSR. Zeidan and Vago (2016) also cite evidence that mindfulness meditation engages mechanisms that are distinct from placebo to reduce pain and that this could be of critical importance to the millions of chronic pain sufferers seeking a fast-acting non-opioid pain therapy. See the marketing section coming up next for how to use this information. There is a decoupling between “sensory and appraisal-related brain regions,” and similarly, between “sensory and affective pain” to increase coping with the pain that does improve. An alleviation of suffering even if pain is unchanged in intensity? This is the frequently reported decrease in the unpleasantness dimension of pain with respect to pain intensity (Zeidan et al. 2015) plus what we already discussed about yoga also altering the meaning, interpretation, and appraisal of nociceptive information, all of which could be important tools for producing more stable and long-lasting improvements in chronic pain symptoms. Wow! How do we do that?
Following the recent release of Yoga for Dementia, we asked author Tania Plahay a few questions about her work as a yoga teacher for people with dementia. Her book is based on the findings of a pilot therapeutic programme Tania ran for people with dementia in care homes.
What led you to become a yoga teacher and how did you become interested in running yoga sessions for older people in care?
Throughout my life I have benefited from the simple practices of yoga, for example, it helped me deal with the death of my father when I was 21 and many other of life’s ups and downs. After practicing for over 10 years I decided to train to be a yoga teacher as I was keen to share these simple techniques with others.
For a while before my father passed away he had lived in a care home. I remember visiting him there and seeing the residents just sitting in their chairs, not really doing anything, or engaging with others. This made me feel very sad and inspired me to work with older people in care.
What are the benefits of yoga for people living with dementia?
Dementia is not one condition but rather a collection of symptoms associated with the loss of memory and other thinking skills and will affect people differently. However dementia does have some common symptoms which yoga can help with. I’ve outlined a few of these below:
- Cognitive decline. Yoga and meditation exercises have been shown to be better than some standard memory exercises in improving mental functioning. For example, meditation can result in improvements in brain grey matter that is involved in learning and memory, regulating emotions, sense of self, and having perspective.
- Living with dementia can bring with it stress and anxiety. Yogic breathing exercises can help deal with these feelings, by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and the “relaxation response”.
- It is estimated that up to 40% of people living with Alzheimer’s Disease also have depression, and yoga has been shown to help manage the symptoms of depression.
- Dementia often results in people loosing a sense of their location in space – known as spatial awareness. Yoga exercises can help improve both spatial awareness, and also our proprioception, which is our sense of the relative position of one’s own body parts and strength of effort being employed in movement.
- Loneliness and a lack of social relationships has been linked to risk of dementia. Group yoga classes can provide a safe non-judgmental space for people to do activities together and can therefore help form social bonds.
- Yoga is a holistic practice, in that it helps with the mind, body and emotional life. Many people living with dementia may have other health issues, and therefore practicing yoga can be beneficial on many levels.
Graham Burns, a contributor of Yoga Teaching Handbook, offers practical advice when introducing traditional and philosophical ideas of yoga when teaching students in these simple tips.
by Graham Burns
So, having decided which aspects of philosophy you would like to bring into your teaching, how do you approach that task in a way which will be accessible to your students? Here are a few practical ideas.
Julie Dunlop, author of Ocean of Yoga: Meditations on Yoga and Ayurveda for Balance, Awareness, and Well-Being shares tips on breathing calmly amidst holiday stress.
Are you one of those people who tries to “get through” the holidays? What would it take for you to shift to “moving through” the holidays or “experiencing” the holidays rather than just trying to get through them? Although the difference in this wording is somewhat subtle, it can be significant as we shift from survival mode into a more holistic acceptance of the process of being present—mind, body, and soul—for the holidays.The glow of Christmas trees, menorahs, and Diwali candles, along with many other images and traditions from richly diverse cultures, light our way through the holidays each year. Along with the beauty of holiday decorations and celebrations, however, often comes a fair amount of stress. This could be financial stress or the stress of physical exhaustion from simply trying to keep up with all of the extra events. It could also be emotional stress due to an injury or illness, challenging family dynamics, or grief from the loss of a loved one. Pause for a moment and check in: On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your current stress level? Breathe. Look around you. Then, look within. Is there any crisis taking place in the current moment, or is the stress generating from within? Feel the soft rhythm of your inhale and exhale washing through you with grace.
In Yoga Teaching Handbook, a new release for November, you can read expert advice on teaching yoga and managing a successful yoga business. One of the contributors of the book, Alison Purchase, has put together ten top tips for new yoga teachers, which you can read below.
1: Keep your class plan flexible.
Plan the general structure of a class rather than each pose. That way you can adapt the class based on the students’ needs and you won’t feel stressed if you forget what pose you had planned next.
2: Take an interest in your students.
If you arrive early and stay late, you have the opportunity to chat with your students and find out more about them. Students often have questions or are looking for advice to develop their practice. Continue reading
In the second part of our Q&A with Dagmar Härle, she discusses how therapists can use trauma-sensitive yoga with their clients, and how to adapt their style of working with someone who has experienced trauma. You can read part one of the Q&A here.
Why is it important that yoga teachers and therapists have an awareness of what positions might be potentially triggering for someone who has experienced any form of trauma?
Using yoga in the beginning of the process, we want to offer resources and foster self-efficacy and self-esteem. Offering postures with legs wide open like in happy baby where we lay on our back, holding the toes in our hands or buttocks unprotected like in a downward facing dog, for sexual traumatized people we have to be aware that those asanas can trigger. But avoiding these poses in the long-term doesn`t solve or heal because the patient cannot make new experiences like “I now can tolerate poses I couldn`t weeks ago”.
Holding people in their comfort zone ultimately doesn’t help them, or let them develop. It’s a matter of timing. Offer “safe” and easy asanas (always being aware that we don`t know what triggers may be) in the beginning and start to open up while the person makes good experiences and gains resources.
How important is flexibility or creativity in teaching style when working with people with a history of trauma?
Offering choice needs creativity. Flexibility is needed when an asana or breathing technique triggers and you want to offer another possibility.
In the first part of our Q&A with Dagmar Härle, she discusses her background as a therapist, and how those who have been affected by, or experienced trauma, can improve emotional and physical well-being by participating in ‘trauma-sensitive’ yoga. Click here to read part 2 of the Q&A.
What led you to become a yoga teacher and a trauma therapist? What inspired you to combine the two?
I practiced yoga for many years and eventually I wanted to learn more, and get a deeper understanding of yoga and its philosophy. Therefore, I completed first a kundalini and later a Hatha yoga teachers training course and began teaching yoga classes. It was a perfect combination and helped me to stay balanced and resilient in my work as a coach and therapist, and I learnt mindful tools that I could teach to my clients.
I started trauma therapy training about 15 years ago in somatic experiencing, as I had so many clients who suffered from various symptoms due to trauma (especially trauma beginning in childhood), and I realised that I needed tools to work with clients who had such experiences. My studies of psychotraumatology at the University of Zurich deepened my knowledge and experience of working with those with trauma, but still there was a missing piece. So many patients couldn’t tolerate trauma exposure – they either dissociated or reacted with overwhelming sensations and emotions.
Yoga is a perfect training for the nervous system because there exists calming as well as activating poses and breathing techniques, and it has become obvious to me that yoga is a perfect tool to support patients in self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-control. I started with mindful yoga groups for patients and then I eventually brought yoga into therapy. Going to the Trauma Center and learning from David Emerson and Jenn Turner the TCTSY (Trauma Sensitive Trauma Center Yoga),
I was reassured in my way of using choice as an important way of supporting self-control and self-efficacy to the patients. In practice, for instance, you can execute a side bend with both arms stretched or one arm stretched while the other arm may hang loose or you sit on a chair and bend forward putting your hands on your knees or you go deeper perhaps until your hands reach the floor. It`s always the choice and under control of the patient.
What effect does practising yoga have on emotional and stress responses?
Yoga offers asanas-postures as well as pranayama-breathing techniques to either calm down or activate the nervous system, or in other words, activate either the parasympathetic or the sympathetic branch of our nervous system. Understanding that trauma survivors suffer from both – overwhelming sensations and emotions (sympathetic branch) as well as dissociation and shut down (parasympathetic branch, or more exact, the dorsal vagal part of it) helps to let clients know that they can benefit from yoga because we can offer them the tools for both. Learning the tools to stop dissociation and to be able to handle overwhelming emotions and sensations has an important effect on self-efficiency and self-worth.
To mark the release of Andrew Mason’s book, Jyotish, we have released an extract from the book. In the extract, Mason discusses the background of astrology and introduces Jyotish.
Click here to read the extract.
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