“Humans are More Than Hardware”

I always welcome guest writers at this blog, and today’s writer is Alex O’Malley whom I connected with when we did the Trauma Sensitive Yoga training together in Boston — and it’s always cool to meet your Facebook friends!

We both have an interest in yoga therapy so when she said she was attending SYTAR (Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research) that is put on by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, I asked her to write about her experience this year.

Thank you, Alex!

healing hands

“Aerin Alex O’Malley is a graduate student in Somatic Psychology at JFKU, CA.  Having traveled extensively, she has practiced and taught yoga in many parts of the world and is currently based in San Francisco, CA, teaching privately.  In the spirit of yoga she is excited by all styles and teachers, therapeutic uses of practice, and the power of conscious change.  You can contact her at alex [AT] meeturfeet [DOT] com –  www.meeturfeet.com


In September, 2011 I attended the International Journal of Yoga Therapy Symposium.  Hosted by the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT), it was an awesome event full of some of the brightest minds and yogis from around the world.  It was held in Monterey, CA. at the Asilomar conference center.  The gist of the symposium was to share empirical research that impacts not only how the established medical community is beginning to embrace yoga as a healing modality but also how the yoga community is beginning to recognize the power of the practices we share to make a somatic impression on every individual we encounter.  What follows is a smattering of some of what I learned.

There are numerous studies in the works and recently published regarding the efficacy of yoga as a prescription for preventative healthcare, depression, anxiety, lymphedema, PTSD, ADD, insomnia, pain relief, and stress.  The IAYT Journal has recently been accepted into the WEB MD publications as a source for healthcare alternatives.  The IAYT itself is a member of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC) and the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA).  These relationships are important because they demonstrate the commitment to science within the Yoga Therapy community in order to more wholly blend ancient knowledge from the east with current western practices.  As Yoga translates from the Sanskrit, to yoke, this blending represents a real time example of the changing paradigm from conventional mind-body dualism towards integration.

Doctor Rajmani Tiguanit, PHD, the spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, addressed the symposium about the importance of defining therapy.  He stressed the need to incorporate philosophy, psychology, and Metaphysics in training and treatment.  As therapists, he said, it is our job to combine the components for treatment.  There were a number of variations on this theme throughout the weekend.  A woman from the Bible Belt talked about the gigantic church in her town which has denounced Yoga as devilish and asked for suggestions about how to present her work.  Gary Kraftsow from the American Viniyoga Institue, suggested that in place of the word “yoga”, she introduce the use of “breath and stretching for relaxation.”  This idea, that the use of language can reach an audience who would not be open to yoga is beautiful and again, incorporates all that is the essence of Yoga!

Technology has jumped by leaps and bounds over the last 25 years and has provided a window into the functions of the brain and connections between the brain and body.  The key concepts that drive many of today’s researchers are that of neuroplasticity and awareness of the basic structure of the brain.  Neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of the brain and the nervous system to “reprogram” messages/stimulation and interaction with the body and mind.  Understanding the structure of the brain plays a crucial role in the ability of therapists to make choices about appropriate treatment.  Here are some of the ways in which yogis, doctors and psychologists are incorporating the science to create more efficient, holistic treatments for patients with any number of emotional and physical challenges.

Shoosh Lettick Crotzer specializes in developing yoga practices for the prevention and treatment of Lymphedema, arthritis, MS, and fibromyalgia.  At the symposium she shared a practice for breast cancer survivors, approximately 38% of who develop lymphedema.

Matt Fritts and Mona Bingham presented the work they are doing with the U.S. military to create a system called Total Force Fitness.  This system incorporates yoga and mindfulness training into the traditional requirements for military readiness in order to build emotional stamina as well as physical.  [“Humans are more than hardware” comes from Matt Fritts’ presentation: Yoga for Military and Veteran Populations, International Journal of Yoga Therapy Symposium. Asilomar, Monterey, CA. Sept, 2011.]

William Hutschmidt discussed his weekly yoga classes with homeless vets.  One of every 4 veterans is homeless in the US.  Hutschmidt’s yogic practice manifests as a relief from the constant stressor of homelessness and the emotional, physical, and psychological toll it can take.

Bo Forbes discussed the role of yoga as therapy in the treatment of mental health.  She emphasized that yoga and psychotherapy are in the business of transformation and spoke to the need to narrow the gap between understanding the process of emotions and the real experience of change.

What each of these practitioners add to the working pool of knowledge is the connection of yoga to the treatment of physical ailments, preventative health care, and mental health respectively.  It is exciting as a yoga teacher and practitioner to realize that so much of what has been only a felt sense of the power of yoga is being studied.  The general takeaway from this symposium is that we can “change” our minds and in turn have an impact on our biology.  In the age old argument over nature vs. nurture, it is becoming more and more evident that it is wise to include both and to nurture what we can on both the physiological and emotional levels for the most positive outcomes.  Yoga Heals!

Satya is balanced with Ahimsa - No Trolls Allowed

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