Do What You Can Do Today: My Yogic Mental Health Toolkit

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The average stay at the crisis center where I teach yoga is 30 days, and since it’s an opt-in facility, there are no gates, searches or hospital gowns. When I go into my group meeting every Tuesday at 1:00, there are usually some familiar faces and some new patients.

There is also a broad range of mental illnesses ranging from suicidal depression to schizophrenia, OCD to psychosis. Group is a required part of the program and when many of them come in and hear they are about to practice yoga, the wall goes up.

So I start each class by saying, “Do what you can do today. If that’s just sitting still and listening, that counts. If you can do the breathing piece, even better. You still benefit from being in the room.”

The relief is palpable and more often than not, being in the room leads them to participate. That same reticent patient will likely put in even more effort at the next class. Some of the residents actually get really excited about the prospect of yoga because the results are empiric. That’s why it’s called yogic science; they see it for themselves.

I try to apply some of that spirit to my own practice. It’s hard with juggling a kid and multiple jobs and creative projects and my own mental resistance. Mornings are unusually accompanied by an internal groan, rather than a chipper “yay!”

But just asking myself, “what can I do today?” opens me up to more than doing nothing at all.

One of my teachers told me that when she was having a mental block against practicing, her teacher said, just roll out your mat everyday. Eventually, you’ll step onto it. She said just that act compelled the next act: breathing. Which compelled the next act: moving.

Yoga is no different than any other progression: there are days when nothing gets done. Acknowledging this lets my students apply what some teachers like to call, “imperfect action.” They are freed from the mental burden of having to perform. In a headspace where even the smallest demand feels unconquerable, and an environment where so much of their day is regimented, I give them permission to do whatever they can do.

Another thing that seems to help is giving my students tricks. I teach them easy poses, stretches, even awareness techniques that might come in handy during a bout of rage or extreme anxiety in a public place. I tell them why these actions help, what is going on in the brain, and it gives the smallest effort credibility.

I get anxious in public places on occasion, and I have bouts of rage too. In the moment, it can be difficult to think strategically, but that’s why we call it practice. With enough repetition, we can automate these tricks. Hopefully, we achieve the clarity to label them and activate the antidote. Or at least try.

Yoga is not a silver bullet. Meditation takes a certain amount of stillness and diligence that many of us, for whatever reason, don’t have. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

But to see these patients go from negative and lethargic to awake and relaxed in the course of 35 minutes, I’ll just say the practice continues to prove its worth. Just keep trying, and one of the valves will relieve the pressure.

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Teaching Yoga at Sutter Center for Psychiatry through the Yoga Seed Collective

I am lucky enough to be one of the teachers in on the ground floor of a project that provides #yoga to the patients at Sutter Center for Psychiatry.  It has been an enormous challenge and a third eye-opening experience.  The #YogaSeedCollective, the non-profit that organizes the outreach effort, is a quietly powerful force in the community, offering classes at the local prisons, drug rehabilitation centers and now at Sutter.  Getting involved with this community of hardworking, no-nonsense yogis is one of the best things that has happened to me since arriving in #Sacramento.  I feel inexpressible gratitude to them, on my own behalf and on behalf of all the people they serve.  

I wrote a short piece about my experience at Sutter, you can read it here in the Yoga Seed’s Outreach update:

http://www.theyogaseed.org/outreach-article1/?utm_source=Copy+of+Newsletter+for+9%2F10&utm_campaign=Constant+Contact+Newsletter&utm_medium=email

Also, I want to say, of my own volition, how impressed I am with Sutter’s facility.  The dedication and level of understanding I see every day with the staff is awe inspiring.  I recently lost someone in my life to suicide, and while that person was not part of this community, I wonder if his situation would have changed had he access to care like Sutter provides.  If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, I would strongly urge you to seek help and based on my limited experience, I would not hesitate to recommend SCP.  (I have not been paid or am in any way affiliated with Sutter; I am an independent contractor through the Yoga Seed.)

To visit Sutter’s website, vist: http://www.suttermedicalcenter.org/psychiatry

#mentalhealth #mentalillness #psychiatry

 

 

Some Unbridled Sharing about the Yoga Seed, Sacramento

I recently started teaching an outreach class through Yoga Seed Collective a non-profit studio on the 1400 Block of E street in Midtown Sacramento.  I teach at-risk teens one day a week at a charter school called Heritage Peaks in Oak Park.  The Yoga Seed handled all the paperwork, got me in there teaching immediately and got me paid.

The first time I walked into the studio, I knew there was something unique about this place.   The room is large with exposed beams, it feels old and solid, very peaceful.  I attended a class called All Bodies, and it is exactly that.  There were people recovering from injuries, obese people, young, old, all colors, shapes and sizes.  The class was slow and methodical, but rigorous at the same time.  It was also what you might call an open dialogue class, where people were free to ask questions or make observations.  I loved it when ML, the teacher said something to the effect of  “we are not trying to wrap our leg around our head, we are trying to prevent slipping in the shower.”

The thing is, most yoga studios are trying to turn a profit.  So while they employ the gentlest form of capitalism, there is still a tension there between wanting to offer the community a service and making money.  We all wish we could rise above the system but we all have to pay the rent.

The difference with Yoga Seed is that the money comes from donors, big or small, so whoever wants to practice, can.  It’s kind of like, dare I say it, socialized healthcare, where those who can pay in, do, and those who can’t still get care.

The team of people who work there are not just good teachers, they are advocates.  Yoga is the platform for a larger social awareness.  They teach in the prison, at rehab centers, they even offer a class to the employees at the Department of Education.

I’m impressed by this approach because it loosens the financial grip that prohibits a lot of people from practicing. I’m also thrilled to be a part of the goal, in my small way.

theyogaseed.org

ADHD and Adderall; Alternative Treatments for our High Energy Children

I just published an article in the Elephant Journal about my experience teaching at the juvenile hall.  Many of them were taking Adderall or some other stimulant and so I decided to do some research.  You can read the article here:http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/01/monkey-mind-a-yoga-teachers-experience-with-adderall-miranda-culp/

and please feel free to comment either here on my blog or on the site.  

 

Prenatal Yoga and Why You Should do it, Mamas.

ImageI just finished my yoga teacher training when I got pregnant.  I was in the best shape of my life after having practiced yoga at least twice a day for a month, eating only vegetarian food, giving up wine and limiting my sugar intake to a little good chocolate.  And spiritually, I had spent a month meditating on whether or not it was within my dharma to be a mother.  

What I wish someone had told me, after a month of exerting conscious effort to draw my physical and mental energy upward, was that becoming pregnant was like turning the hourglass upside down: everything my body and my mind had suddenly and radically dropped down into my womb.  The exhaustion, the nausea, the extreme dreams made me feel like I had fallen down a black hole.  I fell away from my practice and ate and slept my way through the first trimester.  

This is how nature sets it up, rerouting the bodies energy to form a placenta (can we just pause and note the miracle of the pregnant bodies’ ability to build a new organ whose sole job is to nourish a new baby?) but good grief!  It felt like my body had been the victim of an alien attack and something else beside me was moving my limbs.

Had I to do it all over again, and who knows I may, I would immediately seek out a prenatal class from the very git.  Because even after completing my own training, I did not know how to reconnect with my body through all this new experience.  When I finally found a class, it was like climbing into a warm bath.  I had to relearn how work with my own sensitivities, to deeply relax and in doing so, discovered a whole new store of energy.  I began an in vitro dialogue with my baby that continues to this moment.  And I also learned how to conquer heartburn, backaches and swollen ankles.  

My birth was a beautiful experience but there were many, many moments that everything could have gone off the rails.   Certainly I was lucky; birth is not a solo but a duet and it often doesn’t turn out how we plan or expect.  But the preparation of doing some simple breathing, stretching and movement sets up the nervous system for the full-tilt, hard work of labor.  Mentally, yoga allows us to release some of our expectations and be present to the moment when our baby arrives.  

It’s not just my anecdotal experience either, the research shows that women who practice are less likely to develop preclampsia, high blood pressure, diabetes and a host of other complications that can arise with pregnancy.  It shortens active labor time, it makes tearing less likely.  

Witnessing a roomful of mamas treat their bodies and their babies with respect and awareness is tremendously rewarding.  And being one of those mamas, doubly so.  

for more information about my prenatal yoga class visit : www.kinfolkyoga.com