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
4108 Monroeville Blvd Monroeville Pa 15146
For more reading on the ethics of touch in yoga;
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 14, 2018 counseling for depression, counseling for PTSD, meditation, mindfulness, nature therapy, Nutrition Counseling, outdoor yoga, stress managment, wellness counseling pittsburgh, wellness pittsburgh, yoga0 comments
Yoga. To many, the word conjures up images of Instagram perfection and beautiful backgrounds. Thousands of years ago, the poses (asanas) were only part of the defining point of a yoga practice. Yoga by ancient definition means “union.” A union of spiritual, emotional and physical practices of wellness. The poses are an integral part, but not comprehensive whole of the practice. Patanjali, one of the forefathers of yoga defined yoga as, the neutralization of the vortices of feeling.” An intense definition, but the meaning of yoga must encompass all that it is, in a few words.
In this modern day of technology and constant stimulation, it is essential to unplug from your phone and laptop and connect with yourself. The benefits of yoga intertwine the spiritual, emotional and physical goals of the practice. Yoga has even been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. The physical benefits are easier to notice, but the spiritual and emotional impacts cannot be underestimated. The first step to a yoga practice is openness for change and self-improvement. The rest of the benefits will follow:
The beautiful Instagram pictures exemplify the increased flexibility regular yoga practice results in. However, there are many other physical benefits that are not as easily photographed. Yoga practice increases the functioning of the immune system, the digestive system, circulatory system and bone health. By toning and strengthening the muscles and ligaments, yoga can help prevent injury and increase an individual’s metabolism.
Pranayama (breathe control) increases the functioning of the respiratory system. Certain sequences can help with insomnia, but overall yoga helps to increase energy levels in an individual. The physical benefits are often noticeable with a consistent practice. Health benefits of yoga can be even further multiplied by practicing outdoors as nature has its own beneficial effects.
When my 3-year-old niece gets upset, my sister has taught her to belly-breathe. This has a calming effect on her and can prevent a temper tantrum. Practicing yoga is calming and can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Participating in physical activity releases endorphins in the body, which makes people feel happy. Yoga increases concentration and ability to focus on a task at hand.
One of the most important aspects of yoga is being present and mindful in your body. Not comparing your current state to anyone else and manifesting a non-judgmental relationship with yourself.
Yoga encompasses all religions, spiritually the practice seeks to remind its followers that they are part of a bigger picture. We are connected to other beings and the environment. Contrary to some beliefs, the practice of yoga does not aim to convert anyone to a religion. Yoga is not a religion. The practice aims to seek a higher consciousness or meaning behind everything we think and do.
Everyone comes to the mat for a myriad of reasons, relieving stress, moving on your mat after a hard day at the office, or to try a new pose seen in passing….The pull towards stepping on the your yoga mat may even vary day to day. However, whether the practice is home-based or in a studio, it will help improve your moods, increase energy levels and bring a new level of self-awareness, among other power benefits. The versatility of a yoga practice can alter depending on your schedule or how you feel. It can vary from a 5 minute mindful child’s pose to a vigorous 90 minute vinyasa flow. Any practice can make a positive impact in your life and begin a ripple effect towards those around you. Yoga can be incorporated into a wellness plan including nutrition counseling, meditation, and mindfulness.
By Lauren Shaffer, Certifed Yoga Instructor and Wellness Guru of PittsburghLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 5, 2018 anxiety, anxiety therapy pittsburgh, counseling, counseling for anxiety, counseling pittsburgh, licensed therapist monroeville, licensed therapist pittsburgh, meditation, nature therapy, stress managment0 comments
Green & Serene; Nature Therapy Reduces Stress
Mindfulness, mantras, fitness and new age therapy are all devoted to finding ways to enhance wellbeing, joy, and alternately to decrease stress levels. Combating the effects of stress are increasingly important for all of us as we manage demanding lives. One of the best ways natural ways to enhance feelings of wellbeing is by practicing fitness or some form of exercise therapy. In many studies, cardio vascular exercise is explored and compared with placebos and even pharmacology and it is verified to significantly impact and reduce the symptoms associate with anxiety and depression. Yet, there seems to be new evidence that we can even further enhance the benefits of exercise.
Increasingly, we learn that the great outdoors may have many secrets to enhancing our wellness potential. In fact in a 2013 study published by the National Institute of Health, cortisol levels were measured in people who had taken a long walk indoors and others who had done the same walk outdoors in a green serene setting. Those who had gotten their cardio amidst the trees had significantly less cortisol in their saliva than those who were indoors. Peaceful outdoorsy people have long felt the call of the wild and reported the great benefit of getting their fitness fix by hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. We know that we can boost endorphins and decrease cortisol levels from the experience of being outdoors. Keep in mind the Cortisol is a hormone produced in the body by the adrenal glands, its activating presence leads to the physical responses involved in “fight or flight.” When cortisol is contained in overabundance in our bodies it can lead to many forms of disease, weight gain, and chronic stress to name a few. So in short, discovering ways to reduce cortisol’s overabundance in our bodies is vital, the mental health community is ready to explore many ways to expound upon the health benefits of spending more time outdoors.
Here are a few of our therapists top 12 to be well, ways to enjoy the outdoors:
Learn to forage for wild edible plants and berries with an expert guide.
Take your lunch break outdoors, even a ten minute walk helps.
Learn how to do a walking meditation.
Create an outdoor space at your home.
Pack a picnic with your dog or your partner.
Try to go camping.
Do some star gazing.
Take a flower sniffing tour.
Plant a garden and make some farm to table meals of your own.
Pick up litter, we can even be altruistic with our wellness.
Ask your therapist to do an outdoor walking session.
Take an outdoor fitness or yoga
We love western Pennsylvania and finding ways to enhance wellness with our abundant green outdoor spaces.
This short wellness moment is brought to you by our licensed professional counselors and wellness providers at The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.
Be Well Pittsburgh, Monroeville, and Western Pennsylvania!
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh PA 15233
4108 Monroeville BLVD Monroeville PA 15146Learn More
We could make a game of picking them out of the crowds, they are the creatures who glow, in their spritely luminescence you may notice an impish glint in their eyes. The poised and if well-seasoned, they may even be able to levitate from the terrestrial sphere and stand upright on their heads. They are yogis and they could very well be taking over the world as more and more studios are popping up and raving about the benefits of doing yoga. Want more strength, endurance, balance, a physical routine which simultaneously calms and invigorates you? Then yoga may be worth a try for you. If you pop into a class and observe the blend of beginners and experts the stunning postures are dazzling to behold. When I admire the graceful transitions, forward and back, up and down, down and up, yes, these are indeed the subtle and dramatic motions of life. The sequences of Sun A’s and Sun B’s attracting and sustaining huge crowds of devotees, could it be that those postures and their meaning mirror the major stages of the life cycle itself? Were those ancient yogis offering us a message far beyond strong muscles and calm breathe, were they providing wisdom to better navigate the circle of life?
The basic structure of a Vinyasa class begins in a child’s pose or downward facing dog, like an infant sensing its basic surroundings we begin to notice the sensations within our bodies. Attunement to the heart rate and its responsiveness to expanding the lungs upon a full breath, the very first moments, linking motion to breathing in an effort to create an inner harmonization of our self, and attention guided inward.
Once breathing has been linked to subtle motion we begin Sun Salutation A, these poses are often fast paced and designed to build the heart rate while increasing strength over the long term. In the beginning of life as energetic toddlers we are at once eager to move and flow with the height of our energy and the wonder which beckons each motion. Even the term, Sun Salutations implies waking to a new day, greeting the glorious morning sun with the heightened morning chi. At times we may notice that we are struggling to maintain our breath as a focal point, the breathe is the powerhouse which energetically fuels each motion.
Sun Salutations B, or Surya Namaskar is an elaboration upon the budding strength of the Sun A sequence. Here we continue to reach for the heavens with our arms our stretched, and with our hearts open in faith; we fall bending into ourselves before finding our bodies completely upon the earth. Remembering to be strong while we stretch sending breathe to our trembling muscles when they want to give up. The instructor stands at the front reminding gently, just breathe, with the fire of the breathe all strength becomes energized and relaxation is possible even in the most complex posture. All of this motion to build the strength much as the child ever growing taller and stronger as she moves through the stages of life.
From the strength and exhaustion cultivated through the sun salutations many instructors will move on to a balancing series. Balance takes even more strength and ideally our youth and teen years have afforded us the strength to stand up and fortify the balance which is sustained by our budding strength. Flowing through Crow, Balancing Half Moon, Airplane, Dancers Pose we breathe with our drishti or point of focus alignment, allowing ourselves to tremble while holding our poise. There will be times when you fall, the postures are complex and each day is different-sometimes our muscles feel weak and our balance is wobbly, no matter how hard you fall you must get back up, it is not yet time to quit or rest states your inner yogi. Invariably you may learn in early and middle adulthood as you aim to acquire the balance of spouse, children, career, aging parents, we realize that balance does indeed fluctuate on a daily basis, we do our best. We hold our strength trying to remember to breath, enjoy the opportunities to smile, and remain present throughout while flowing through these roles of life.
As we gracefully propel ourselves to the hip opening sequence we are subtly reminded that all things which stand erect will eventually fall back to the ground. In our hip openers we are able to relax into all of that strength and effort which has been building in our bodies. All of the tension which we build is actively released as is this thing that we call life. Sometimes the greatest challenge that we have is to remain within stillness and unlock the pain and stress which is stored deep within the memory of our muscles. Oftentimes the most unusual thoughts may occur as you are settling into the tight hips, during the hip openers allow your mind to become aware of what it is thinking, it could be a great thought to journal about at a later time.
One of the final sequences to a yoga practice are the inversions such as head stand. Please do not fret, if you have not yet cultivated the ability to balance your entire body upside down upon your forearms then the less challenging shoulder stand is a great option. The most essential component of this series is to yield your freshly oxygenated blood towards the brain while simultaneously slowing one’s self down, towards the limp bodied finale. In very old age, we often invert ourselves as the realities of changing bodies are stated with cosmic exactitude, we feel ourselves slow. Inverting oneself with legs in the air, balancing precariously on one’s own stamina can be a source of much pride. It takes much strength and repetitive falls to experience the of glory of gravities defiance, just as any worthwhile life accomplishment it must be worked towards in increments after developing strength and balance.
The final pose for every last thing within the known universe, it comes after we have known the exhilaration of a hastened heartbeat, the process of learning to melt into the matt until we are able to find comfort in stillness. Final relaxation, Dead Man’s pose or Shivasana in Sanskrit. If your practice has been done well and you have taken advantage of each opportunity for movement then your relaxation may be approached with gratitude as the heart beat slows. Those sweat beads ebbing and drying, the body cooling down, and as the mind meanders in meditation you may recall that within this hour on the yoga matt you have experienced the very rhythm which hallmarks life. From the moments of your infancy where you are crawling on your hands and knees, discovering balance and learning to walk and the greater complexities of those balancing series. Later in life relaxing into the self during later adulthood until the very last breathe of shivasana, final relaxation. As your instructor beckons from this highly restorative pose and the body is summoned to bow while uttering “Namaste,” meaning the goodness in me salutes the goodness in you. Perhaps the rest of your day will somehow be a bit lighter, a bit more enthusiastic after working out those internal stresses and calming the breath. The intimate yogic knowledge that today is yet another day of life, fully colorful and abundant life which is to be expressed joyfully in all of these motions before that cosmic and eternal, final relaxation.
Being mindful of your breathing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to evoke a sense of calm, become centered, and re-energize. Our regular contributor and resident wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, shares her insights and techniques on breathing and its meditative powers and benefits. Enjoy!
In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
Breathe By Stephanie McCracken, MS
Everyone does it. So if you don’t mind my asking, when was the last time that you really did it? When was the last time you allowed it to propel you to the heights of Nirvana only to have it gently slide you back down into limp flesh, relaxed? I bet many of you didn’t even know that it could be so good, like sweet cream on a warm summer’s evening. After all, this very act sustains the life you are living.
I want to share with you the secrets of doing it really well. I will warn you, it’s not as simple as it seems. It takes training, discipline and wisdom if you really want to experience its full potential. Take some time for yourself. This time will give you the chance to develop tools that will offer an opportunity for clarity, strength, calm, and wisdom throughout all parts of your living and being.
Come. Take some time. Breathe with me.
There is a common misconception that we know all that we need to about the breathing process. After all, isn’t it our first physical act once emerging from the warmth of the womb? Yet, there are gurus, yogis, monks and other wellness facilitators who devote a lifetime of practice to this complex and exhilarating act. As with most everything, what you see is not what you necessarily get because there are many layers of power to be harnessed and experienced within the act of breathing.
Let us journey to our core. Begin by sitting in a chair in an upright position. Now close your eyes, allow them to gently block the outside world. Find yourself in a warm, tranquil space that exists on the backside of your eyelids. You notice the beating of your heart as it pushes warm, oxygen rich blood to the rest of your body. Begin to connect with the rest of your physical self. Notice the distinct calm feeling in your hands as they rest on the tops of your legs. Open your palms in a position of reception for the energy that is coming toward you. Accept this as a gift, a connection from the universe to you. Your feet should be planted flat on the ground. Notice how the floor feels beneath them. What does it feel like to be connected to something as grand as the earth?
Now that you are settled in a peaceful position, we are going to go even deeper inside. Take a slow and steady inhalation through your nose. Feel the warmth of the air as it makes it ascent from the tip of your nose and fills the back of your throat. Feel your shoulders rise as the air continues to spill inside of your chest, filling you down to the bottom of your belly which has expanded to allow the air space inside.
This breath feeds and nourishes your body as you hold the inhalation and very slowly, let it go, let it go, let it go. The act of taking in should match the process of letting go, equal strength and time allotted to each of them. Notice how your body softens as you exhale, feel your shoulders falling as the tightness disappears from your neck and your brow. Now let’s fill our lungs again, taking in the rich air which surrounds us. All that is full of life and power brings the breath into us until we are full. Now hold the breath as your chest expands and your belly begins to soften on the release. These sacred breaths allow everything within you to fall naturally and evenly away, as you savor in the calm which washes over you on the exhale.
Take attention to your body. Feel the energy coursing through your hands and legs. Such supple feelings of softness as you float in the space behind your eyes. Whatever you are noticing, you are exactly where you should be. You are comforted and cradled in warmth. You are present and you are calm in this moment.
Spend time at least once a day to focus on your breathing and the physical sensations related to it. If you can dedicate 5 or 10 minutes of your hectic day to breathe in this manner, you will notice a greater calm and clarity in the rest of those moments where you are devoted to work and family and all of the other tasks related to living life. Always remember the importance of your breathing. Notice the ever evolving shape and speed of your inhalation and the physical sensations attached to this. Close your eyes and for a brief moment, escape, soothe, relish. There are so many ways to do it simply and elegantly.
Love, peace and happiness,