Q&A Series: Yoga Therapy

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In our Q&A series we’ve unpacked the paleo diet, the gluten-free diet, and cleanses. This week, Kayla Walker, MFT Intern, spoke with Kelly Schauermann, CPRYT & Yoga Intructor, to learn about yoga therapy and Kelly’s upcoming “Seasons of Life, Reaping + Harvesting: Acknowledging Growth” workshop.

Kayla: You are a Certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. What exactly is yoga therapy?

Kelly: It’s a way to experience how the mind and the body work together through assisted stretches and client centered dialogue. In short, I move you through stretches, ask you, “what’s happening now?” and you respond with whatever comes up. I may reflect back to you your OWN words, so that you have the opportunity to really hear what’s happening when you’re in postures. Each session begins with a centering time to connect with your breath, body, mind and spirit, and ends with a time to integrate everything you noticed from your session by creating some tangible steps to take your newfound wisdom off the mat and into your daily life.

My intention with yoga therapy is to create a safe space for people to listen to their bodies and notice what they feel, to explore their stories, and to listen to themselves without judgement, and to be heard without judgement. Creating a safe space free of judgement is important because it’s not often you have that space to be witnessed. It’s key to have that safety and to connect it with body movement, especially for those who have felt unsafe in the past, or experienced trauma. In that way, it’s an extension of talk therapy—there is so much that someone can explore and experience when they engage their bodies.

Kayla: Who can benefit from yoga therapy?

Kelly: Anyone who feels physically and emotionally ready to experience bodywork can benefit. Working with your body can be a very vulnerable space, especially for someone who has experienced trauma or has food and body issues. Usually, if someone is referred to me by a therapist, I trust that they are ready, but if someone isn’t sure if they’re ready to receive a session, then I encourage them to contact me and/or their current therapist to discuss if they are ready to try yoga and/or yoga therapy. You don’t need any exercise or yoga experience to practice with me.

Kayla: What is “Phoenix Rising?”

Kelly: “Phoenix Rising” refers to my training facility. There are different styles of yoga therapy, some are more prescriptive and specifically address physical ailments, along the lines of physical therapy but emphasizing yoga postures. My training with Phoenix Rising focuses more on a psychological level.

Instead of being prescriptive, I am trained to meet people where they are at, to listen to them, to watch their breath and the way they move, then guide the session from there. It’s a very organic process.I never assume I know how someone feels physically or emotionally. I use the dialogue piece to get an idea of what THEY are thinking and feeling, not just what I think they are feeling. Dialogue is one of the main differences between Phoenix Rising and other forms of bodywork and yoga. By giving a client space to speak freely about their experience, they can feel empowered and known.

Kayla: That sounds very different from a yoga class…

Kelly: It’s not like a class where I would have a set routine or flow of postures. Each session is different. I have no plan going in, instead each session is influenced by the dialogue and where the client is. If the person feels safe with physical touch, I incorporate light, safe touch to assist with movements and stretches, but if not, that’s okay, I can work without touch. I use a large futon mat instead of a yoga mat and many props like blankets, bolsters and blocks, to better support the clients body in longer held stretches.

Kayla: Your “Seasons of Life” yoga workshop is coming up this Saturday. Would you tell me a little bit about that?

Kelly: I’ve been working on a series of workshops this year in which I use the seasons as a reflection of our own life journeys. I think our bodies and our whole disposition can reflect the same thing the seasons do. For example, spring is a time of a lot of movement, change, growth and rebirth, so I designed a workshop around stretches and postures that help participants feel the movement and changes in their own body, as well as notice what’s emerging and growing in their own
lives.

Our bodies are such a reflection of what we feel and need on an emotional level, and these workshops help bring awareness to how we can awaken those deeper parts of ourselves. Following time of safe movement, participants have had an opportunity to journal about what they learned and even do some creative drawing or light crafting to express what it is they wanted for the 2013 year.

For the upcoming workshop, we’ll be focusing on the transition from summer to fall. Fall is also full of energy, with school starting and the big shift from warm weather to cool weather, harvesting plants and falling leaves. It’s a time to prepare for the more inward nature of Winter. So we’ll be doing a mix of stretches, postures and movements that reflect those transitions, and focus on bringing together what they’ve learned through the year thus far.

Kayla: What would you like people to know about your work as a yoga therapist?

Kelly: I want people to understand that my work isn’t about religion or pushing beliefs or philosophy on anyone. I think the idea of yoga can send up red flags in the faith community—some people are okay with it, but others seem uncomfortable with the idea of yoga practice. Yoga doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice, but it can be depending on the person doing it and if he/she wants to incorporate his/her beliefs. It’s personal.

I’m not about preaching or telling people how they should be or should think. I want people to feel safe to explore that for themselves regardless of their faith background. What’s most important is that people are learning to connect with themselves on all levels, not just physical, not just mental, not just spiritual. It’s a whole practice, and one that can be so rich with wisdom.

Thanks for reading our Q&A on Yoga!  What additional questions do you have about yoga as a support to healing and wellness?  Have you found yoga helpful in your own healing process?  We would love to hear from you and let us know any additional questions you have about yoga for future a furture Q&A post. 

Warmly – Kayla and Kelly

PS – We still have some space at this Saturday’s workshop.  You can register here.  We hope to see you soon!

The Dark Side to Celebrating Eating Contests

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For the last several years, I have started writing posts about the mixed messages of celebrating eating contests and the dangerous impact reverberated by these mixed messages – but I have never finished them.  This year, I am pushing back on my unhealthy perfectionism and finishing a post I started earlier this month.  I hear the PR voice in my head saying it is too late and the peak for sharing this has passed. 
Well, so be it.

The fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I am a fireworks fanatic and this year we brought both of our kids to watch the glorious display of firework fun in the sky. This holiday is a lovely time to rest,  play, and celebrate.

But one tradition around this holiday frustrates and concerns me: Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest and the many iterations that have followed its popularity. Some of my friends and family think I am a bit of a buzzkill for not being a fan of this kind of eating. Such is my life as an eating disorder specialist – I cannot unlearn what I know about the physical and emotional dangers of binge eating and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

I like this write up by the Mayo Clinic staff on BED:

You may have no obvious physical signs or symptoms when you have binge-eating disorder. You may be overweight or obese, or you may be at a normal weight. However, you likely have numerous behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food
  • Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
  • Experiencing depression and anxiety
  • Feeling isolated and having difficulty talking about your feelings
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
  • Losing and gaining weight repeatedly, also called yo-yo dieting

After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your eating may simply lead to more binge eating, creating a vicious cycle.

(Notation from Rebecca: Many fall somewhere along the spectrum of BED. You do not need to have all of these symptoms to struggle with the issue. Denial, minimizing, and rationalizing often keep people from getting the help they need because they do not feel like it is that serious.)

5 reasons eating contests hurt our collective psyche around food

1. Eating contests give the impression that binge eating is always a choice. As of May, Binge Eating Disorder is now a clinical diagnosis in the new DSM-V. This is a huge victory for those who struggle with these issues along with those who are passionate about treatment and advocacy. Prior to BED officially being placed in the DSM -V, there was a lot of controversy around whether this diagnosis should be included; many thought this diagnosis was making excuses for those making bad choices. If this struggle was simply fixed by a choice, there would not be millions of people struggling with this serious issue. Addressing core issues such as attachment wounds, anxiety, depression, distressing life events and traumas, perfectionism, shame, and identity issues are at the heart of this struggle, not a simple choice. The choice available to those with BED is reaching out and asking for helping instead of staying stuck in the cycle of shame, pain, isolation, and physical distress.

2. Eating contests make BED and related behaviors a joke and sport to many. We laugh. We cringe. We build up the hype. It is a business and we are buying into it. This recent Forbes post on whether eating contests should be considered a sport noted:

“While spectators question the validity of such a label, its organizers say there is no confusion – competitive eating is a serious business in the world of sport.”

Man Vs. Food with Adam Richman (I confess, I adore Adam — he is so endearing!) is a perfect example of eating as sport. Adam travels to a new town each episode to discover a city’s best sandwich or meal and then engages in a restaurant’s food challenge by eating an insane amount of food in a designated time period. People are around him cheering him on as he takes his body on a dangerous episode of binge eating — for all the world to watch.

But my work with people on the disordered eating spectrum has taught me food competitions do great harm to our collective understanding of eating disorders and related health issues. This double standard keeps people struggling with BED spectrum in silence, fear of reaching out for help and making binge eating behaviors a joke. A sport.
Binge Eating Disorder is not a sport. Though many who participate in these eating contests may not fit the clinical diagnosis of BED, many of the behaviors mirror this serious illness. When we make binge eating cool to watch, we decrease the seriousness of this issue. It is time to stop the jokes and change the dialogue around this issue.

As long as we are watching, cheering on, and participating, eating contests will be good for business. And bad for health – mind, body, and soul.

3. Binge eating is very hard on your body. If you have ever seen the line-up at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, you can see a representation of different ages, genders, and sizes of those who down dozens of hot dogs in a matter of minutes. Physically, binge eaters are at risk for developing: type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis, joint and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, sleep apnea, and other related health concerns. Professional binge eaters have the same health risks as those who are clinically struggling with BED. This is not something to be celebrated or perpetuated.

4. We have become obsessed with talking about food and eating contests just add to this unhealthy obsession. Food is personal and how we choose to feed ourselves is a very vulnerable topic. How we eat, what we eat, when we eat, and where we eat are all hot topics that can breed food shame and discord instead the joy of breaking bread with family and friends. Eating contests (and most reality shows for that matter) encourage us to become professional judgers and blamers. We talk about “good food vs. bad food” as if we are talking about sinning or staying pure; we Instagram our meals with a sense of awe and worship; the latest trends in eating, dieting, health dominate the majority of our conversations. We are obsessed with food. This obsession masks core issues of identity, worth, shame while fueling anxiety and depression. And the resistance to looking deeper is intense – understandably as it is much easier to talk about food than the messy, vulnerable, deep soul stuff.

5. Eating contests are a waste of food when so many are food insecure in our country and our world. In our country alone, food insecurity impacts about 15% of households. I often wonder about the positive impact companies and businesses that promote eating contents could make if they took their resources of time and money and fought hunger instead. We can change this demand by choosing not to watch and not to participate – which will shift how companies spend their advertising dollars.
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Post your feedback below and let me know what you think about eating contests? Do you think binge eating is just a choice?  I look forward to your thoughts on this controversial subject.

Happy belated 4th of July (take that perfectionism!)  –

Rebecca