by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 30, 2018 counseling for anxiety, counseling for PTSD, psychotherapist, touch, yoga for trauma0 comments
Hands off-Please Do Not Touch My Body.
Closeness is sacred and powerful, and we should share it however we would like with a partner or partners with whom we have provided consent. Personally, I am a ‘toucher’, meaning I am a person who enjoys touch with my partner, someone who hugs family and friends and genuinely savors safe closeness. As we all know, touch can feasibly happen in many contexts. A recent trip to a local yoga studio has spurned some inspiration for considering consent and what exactly that means within the context of yoga. Consent is one of the topics of the century, the importance of asking for it, and heeding to it are championed issues with personal, psychological, and legal context. When we are on our yoga mat, we are presumably in a safe zone, we practice yoga to be well, to relax, to be inside of our bodies, to give life and expression to what our physical selves need in the moment to create our highest expression of safety, openness, and comfort. We rely upon the professionalism, understanding, and care of our yoga instructors while we are on the mat. When others take liberties with our bodies, reactions can range from uncomfortable to traumatic, yet we shouldn’t need to rely upon trauma informed yoga instructors to be the only providers who can offer a style of instruction which provides opportunity to say “No thank you, please do not touch my body.’ From chaturanga to shavasana, we find our bodies configuration of the posture as the yoga instructor cues. Without making space for hands off adjustments, one well-intentioned yoga instructor can inadvertently have a negative impact upon his or her student’s practice, day, overall wellness by taking liberties with his or her student’s bodies.
Consent means that one has asked for permission to approach another person in any way, whether that be to touch, to enter an intimate encounter, or even to provide unsolicited verbal feedback, we should always ask before encroaching upon others. After asking for consent, we wait and pause for that person to respond with their response of approach or avoid. A key component of consent is that the other person is truly able to say ‘no,’ if we are in a position of power, or if we are asking a person who is intoxicated, a minor, or incapacitated in any way, then the other can not provide for their own consent. Under normal circumstances, then, if and after we have been given permission to ‘approach’ we take it a step further to check in to be completely sure that non-verbal permission has been granted to continue or deepen the exchange. Physical space, proximity, and closeness are very special, they are exchanges which can lead to bliss, warmth, bonding, relaxation and even orgasm in the right time. When touch is used subversively, to coerce, to control, to harm, physical connection can become shrouded in horror, it also has the potential to instill anxiety, fear, terror, panic, and pain.
Consensual sexual intimacy is the gold standard, we should always be sure that we are well within the green zone of any boundaries of any person who we are touching and to also always note that we are creating safety for others as we strive for mutual enjoyment and pleasure. There are many contexts or situations where touch happens from fitness instruction, personal training, yoga instruction, little league coaching, physical therapy, massage, and medical settings. While there are many of the medical and physical instructors listed above who do check in and ask, ‘is it ok for me to adjust you.’ The best ones who follow this question by ‘does this feel ok for you’ and to them I applaud their insight and wisdom to always, in all settings, to ask first and wait for an enthusiastic ‘yes’ or a clear non-verbal head nod which unambiguously encouraging procession. For other yoga and fitness instructors, it may be less obvious that they should ask for consent before breaking the touch barrier with students. Let us examine consent from a trauma informed perspective and look at some ways that we can be sure we are always providing supportive and caring touch.
Regardless of the setting or context, we do not have permission to touch another person until we have asked for it and they have given it. For a trauma survivor it can be very triggering and alarming to feel a person, even a coach or instructor grabbing at them, or tapping on their body, for another person to move ones legs or touch ones hands. Feeling safe and giving permission for these things to happen is vital and walking into a yoga studio to practice does not provide consent for one’s physical boundaries to be violated. Just as walking into a bar or nightclub in a low-cut blouse is not the same as providing consent for someone to touch our breasts. Being a woman out late having drinks is not an invitation to have sex, we need a society which is built upon making space for ‘Yes’, or ‘No’ by always ask first. Yoga and fitness instructors, we are here, we want to participate in a fun and fulfilling way but ask before touching please. Additionally, for some instructors who may have a style of delivering their teaching that is very directive and assertive, it may feel punitive to some students.
Recently, in an all levels class, the instructor was someone I had never practiced with before. The class was much less than an all level class, it was more of an intro in my experience, we were cued to move into postures without much attention to how we flow through the sequencing. In any event, after 15 minutes or so warming up, we were cued to do some Sun A’s. When forward folding the instructor told everyone to grab a two blocks in anticipation of their hands not hitting the ground. I have long arms, and have been doing forward folds for many, many, years, it does not tax my body to fold forward and I find it delicious and restorative. The teacher stomped back to me and said ‘No! get your blocks, do not go into your deepest fold!’ In knowing my body, and knowing that I did not need the blocks I started to reach for them to appease her as she began grabbing my leg and tapping rapidly and harshly onto the front of my quad with her pointed finger tips and squinted eyes, ‘Move! Move! Move!’ she commanded. What started as a day of wellness, mindfulness, and an attempt to let myself feel peace, quickly became a source of discomfort and anxiety.
Being a yoga instructor is a big responsibility, it is a pathway to open ones consciousness, those blissed out happy vibes and chakras can really open up and make others aware of themselves, their feelings as well as anything happening with the instructor. We should encourage yoga instructors to have a higher level of insight into their style of relating to others so that the instructor is not unconsciously projecting their own unmet needs or style onto all of those who they come into contact with. The yoga instructor should be very aware of how of tone and content of speech particularly as adjustments are being made. If an instructor is simultaneously speaking in a critical or cold tone ‘move!’ ‘faster!’ ‘in, in, in;’ in a style that feels like they are spitting commands to the students, if the instructors speak this way while grabbing at a students body, it may become even more likely that they are making others feel tense, uncomfortable for anyone, and furthermore this kind of tone and motion can even be panic inducing for some trauma survivors.
More than ever, we must seek to create safety, to speak with love, to be sure that we are providing physical touch which is tender, and warm, and supportive or not tender and warm, if that is the kind of touch which is consensual and agreed upon by those who can legally and actually provide consent. Speak and act with awareness and care for other people’s feelings, doing fitness, pilates, doing a forward fold or downward facing dog, or even having a suspicious mole removed from our bodies are things that must happen peacefully and respectfully, and always with particular attention to any person’s ability to state, ‘No thank you- please do not touch my body’.
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NBCC
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa
2539 Monroeville Blvd Monroeville Pa 15146
For more reading on the ethics of touch in yoga;
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 28, 2016 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, educational, meditation, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, therapist, wellness0 comments
Wellness Hacks; 17 for 2017
Our Therapists Have Compiled 17 Wellness Hacks for your Holistic Optimization. We fancy this list diverse and have included something for individuals, couples, and lovers, we think that this list is so good that it may even have the wellness power to turn a hater to a lover or at least a frown to a smile! Why 17 you may ask? Well, because its year 2017 silly and we want to stick with the theme on this one! If you are much like the rest of the world, you may be wondering how you will fulfill your weight loss goals, how to improve your BMI and drop those pounds on the scale. Well in that case, this is not the article for you but you should continue to read anyway because our professional counselors and wellness gurus are offering you our best wellness hacks for your physical, emotional, spiritual and relational health, this stuff goes so much deeper than the numbers on a scale, when it comes to wellness, we have you covered! If you’re ever in a pinch, like on Wheel of Fortune or something, just remember this, “You can’t spell wellness without “WE”!”
Smiling when in a bad mood is scientifically proven to alter the mood- Yes that’s right, fake it till you make it has a purpose in psychology, smiling alone can be enough to lift your bad morning grumble back into your best internally smiling face and have your ready to sing a happy tune. Learn more here. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/
Curate a Healthy SEXXX Life- Do it and do it well, meaning feel good about it, find your orgasm, let go of the mindset that sex is chore or will put you on the naughty list. Healthy, safe, mindful, consensual sex is a stress reliever, a mood enhancer, it has predictive power into the longevity of bonds when its studied within the context of long term relationships. Don’t miss a beat, cuddle up to your partner and enjoy those sheets!
Your ego is not your amigo- Ego crusaders, the Buddhists, they know a thing or two about the ego, we don’t want to get all philosophical on you, or um maybe we do?! Ok, you caught us but how can we help but to share our enthusiasm, some magical things start to happen when we shift away from ego consciousness. According to the Yogis and Buddhists, when we let go of ego attachment and “I” we just may end up basking in the golden light of nirvana, ascending enlightenment and finding oneness with the universe, who could argue with that?!
Coconut Oil- Buy it, use it, eat it, rub it, mix it in smoothies, as an eco-friendly non-toxic furniture polish, as a conditioner, as an oil treatment, as an antimicrobial agent, as a source of fat that insulates the fibers which sustain neurofunction!!!!! Holy wow! Coconut oil is all that and some, follow this link for 107 of our favorite coconut oil uses here. http://everydayroots.com/coconut-oil-uses
Brush and Floss With Baking Soda and Peroxide- There is a reason that many of our leading tooth pastes and products use baking soda and peroxide, it’s because they work brilliantly. Give it a try!
Deep breathing meditation- Meditation and deep breathing can calm, energize, fuel the body, stop addiction, we can go on and on and on and we plan to!
Chew Slowly- One of the reasons smoothies and juices have such excellent nutritional power is because they are easy to digest once macerated. Chewing slowly helps our body produce chemicals necessary to digest and nourish. It’s no coincidence that we are hosting a mind body workshop and offering a chewing meditation in January, it’s because these things work! http://www.counselingwellnesspgh.com/wellness-classes-and-workshops/
Boundaries- This is key in all relationships, at other times such as in flings, marriages, or partnerships with psychopathic, narcissistic, antisocial, and borderline types clinging tight to boundaries is imperative. Step one-Create emotional, physical, and interpersonal boundaries which are minimum standard levels for treatment. Step two- if those boundaries are violated accept your hurt and anger as healthy and rational. Step 3- Assess for how to respond. Has this person overstepped boundaries before? Is it likely to happen again? Is it a threat to physical safety or emotional health? Looking at these questions will guide you to make constructive decisions moving forward.
Sleep Hygiene- Our therapists love sleep hygiene and creating wellness routines which examine how we sleep. Our nighttime rituals and how those bedtime pastimes are effecting restfulness is a great way to get those repairative, restorative, and vital Zzzzz’s on track, who could forget that sleep is one of the most fundamental building blocks for emotional and physical health.
Exercise, we can’t say enough about it for emotional wellness and longevity- Per the American heart association, as little as 30 minutes 4x a week has some benefits. We know that most Americans are missing the mark when it comes to physical activity. Yet here it is as an effective tool to boost mood, reduce anxiety, promote calm, enhance body image, yes, it is that good! Get moving whether it’s down dog or a quick jog, and for good measure, talk to your doctor to be sure exercise isn’t contraindicated for you!
Communicate and do it well- Study the language that you use to frame your thinking and your speech, it has much to do with the outcomes you experience and the way people interact with you. Whether in our family, romantic or work relationships, we should use direct, meaningful, purpose driven communication and then sit back and enjoy the results that you can create.
Listen and do it well- As an addendum to ^^^^^ it’s not only speaking that we must master but a large part of speaking is listening, as therapists, listening is our super power but this is a practice which helps all conversation. When we are at our best it’s a 50/50 deal, knowing what we need to say often begins with listening to others, and if we are being real, listening and really hearing is sometimes hard as heck because its often easy to hear what we want to hear instead of what is being said.
Dream Journal- Study those dreams, record them, start to notice the unconscious patterns and communications, it can be a huge opportunity for life transformation. Typically, the help of a psychotherapist who offers dream interpretation is necessary for this. It is often very hard to understand the meaning of our dreams but working with someone who speaks dream language and metaphor will help you to muddle through your unconscious code with ease! Let the synchronicity unfold!
Try a laughing meditation- Think that meditation is just for the strong, stoic serious types? Well think again, there are lots of forms of meditation and this one is one of our favorites. What could be more contagious than laughter? We cant think of much and this is a contagion we would like to catch!
Volunteer- We know, you barely have time to wash your socks and you’re reading these wellness hacks to get better with yourself so why are we getting all humanitarian on you? Take a cleansing breath wellness warrior. Volunteering is great for everyone and if you have never tried it, you might find that most of us are socially wired to feel good about helping. Social Exchange Theory says so if you don’t believe us! This is a two for the price of one deal!
Take time for yourself every week, make it a priority- Alright, now back to you! This one we insist upon, its necessary, its vital, its “ME TIME.” Sadly, the people who need it the most likely don’t take it much but if we are filling up the emotional cups of those who are around us we really need to serve ourselves first. Before you count yourself as selfish, it’s not just for us, it’s for our friends, spouse, and ability to achieve too…
Love and trust yourself first– This self-loving thing is our final point, this is us saving the best for a last. Be watchful of anyone who threatens, mocks, or tries to diminish your love, trust in yourself, and your precious instincts. When we lead our lives with self-love, every action becomes more natural, our behavior more nourishing, this is the final step, with brimming half-full cups we salute, we connect, we tend ourselves, each other, and the planet here! All we really need is a little self-love, la, la, laaaoove!
Peace, love, and good health,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh Therapy Team
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 23, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, marriage counseling, personal growth, psychotherapy0 comments
Love and relationships, the eternal dance of distance and estrangement from love, we are all in the process of moving closer and farther away from loves enchanting melody. While marriages and long term relationships have their own challenges there too are many reasons why single life can be a stress of its own, particularly as men and women are recently divorced or just plain single in there 30’s, 40’s, and beyond. Most of us expect that a 20 year old is safe to explore that world and not be married or living with someone as this is a part of the process of life. Yet I often here even younger clients exploring the possibility that there is something pathological about their lack of romantic attachment in the 20’s and even teen years. It is without doubt that it is a healthy longing to share one’s life with a love partners, some profound thinkers even note that this is one of the major goals of life. Sigmund Freud famously states that psychotherapy’s work is done when one is able to “work and to love.” The scanning notation that there seem to be more weddings and baby showers in the planner may cue one into the fact that this is the time in the life cycle where many chose to create a marriage and even populate it with some tiny tots. Yet, there are many who feel forbidden by so many responsibilities within work, or such “poor luck in love” that they happily turn to other goals instead of risking a painful breakup or heartbreak by falling in love or marriage again. What does the reader think of this? Is single living a valid stance or do you advocate for relationship hopping? What does the singleton do when the social cues of family and friends offer such questioning as “I have someone I want you to meet!”It is this psychotherapist’s belief that single time as an opportunity towards reflection and self-discovery. Single is certainly a valid stance in today’s world, with other lifestyle focal points being multiple, we may attune ourselves to friendship, careers, create a social calendar so full that there is no moment to spare for relationships. With little to no spare time coupled with high ideals for our “end all-be all” alpha and omega relationship or marriage love which may make the realities of the not so fairy tale romances less than appealing. Simultaneously, there is the inverse of love avoidance where individuals haphazardly navigate from love to love, or even remain in relationships long after their expiration date has come to pass simply because they do not want to be alone the world. Most of us as humans simply want to minimize guilt and misery that comes when we become fixated on the “would have” and “should haves” and “musts” of our life course, and to maximize the pleasures which come from loving and being in wholeness. We are weighed down when we think, “I am supposed to have everything figured out by now”, “I am supposed to be married by (insert age, 24, 34, 44)”. Reality isn’t so cut and dry, we seldom obtain our goals in the linear fashion in which our ideals expect. In life, we sometimes reach a summit to realize that there is much more open territory beyond, or become married to realize that in all of our haste we coupled with a person who is not a suitable match!
It is this therapist’s assertion that reflective and self-nurturing time is a worthy salve in managing such risks and reveling in such bliss. Yet I also believe that among other things an effective counseling process will have aided the client on the road towards Freud’s psychotherapeutic goal which encourages “to love and to work.” It takes courage to face the world alone, even if it’s just for a little while, yet too it takes tremendous courage to love particularly when we have paid its high price in the past. I highly recommend that any person who has recently broken off a relationship adopt some time devotedly to becoming at one with single, it is within that self-nurturance that one is able to foster a greater and more reflective relationship with the self, enhancing all of the other facets to living a full and meaningful life before moving closer yet again to another person’s heart, in the eternal dance of loving human relationships.
In love and good health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Psychotherapist, Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233