There’s new research below on yoga nidra, and an interesting study that compares the effects of therapeutic yoga with mindfulness on stress in the workplace. It turns out that both interventions work well, far better than doing nothing at all! LifeForce Yoga practitioner, Sherry Rubin, LICSW, does a beautifully balanced review of the controversial new book The Science of Yoga by William Broad. Since Broad discusses LifeForce Yoga and my approach to dealing with emotions, I thought it a conflict of interests to review the book myself. I do review Robin Rothenberg’s new yoga nidra CD, and LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Rose Kress reviews a yoga DVD by Carol Shwidock designed for anyone suffering immobility issues.
By now you’ve heard the news that my new book, Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management will be available in bookstores on April 9th. Meanwhile, you can preorder from the publisher and receive a 20 % discount, books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=24012 Use promo code OAW1958 for your discount.
Later this month, I’ll be at one of my favorite conferences–the 30th! Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, then presenting at Willow Street Yoga in Silver Spring, MD, and then at Kashi Atlanta Center for Yoga. I hope to see you on the path of yoga soon!
In This Issue:
- Research: Why does Yoga work?
- Research: Yoga Nidra reduces Anxiety in Women with Menstrual Disorders
- Research: MBSR and Yoga work Equally Well in Reducing Work Place Stress
- Research: Yoga Keeps High School Students Emotionally Fit
- Review: The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad Reviewed by Sherry Rubin
- Review: Soothing the Spirit: Yoga Nidra to Reduce Anxiety with Robin Rothenberg, Reviewed by Amy Weintraub
- Review: Bedside Yoga DVD with Carol Shwidock, Reviewed by Rose Kress
- News: Yoga Techniques to Lift Your Mood: Simple Yoga Practices for Depression and Anxiety
- News: LifeForce Yoga for Emotional Healing and Mood Management – New York Area!
- News: Breath~Body~Mind: Live Online Workshop for Trauma
- News: First Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training on the West Coast
- News: Inner Peace Yoga Therapy Training
- Calendar Highlights
In this article, still in press, five well-published researchers from different institutions, who independently study the effects of yoga on depression and stress as well as other medical conditions like epilepsy, collaborated on an important paper that theorizes why yoga works to restore optimal balance in the central nervous system. Citing their previous studies, the authors hypothesize that yoga works in several ways. First, yoga corrects under activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the aspect of the autonomic nervous system that slows the heart beat and increases digestion, resulting in a calming effect to the body mind. Secondly, yoga elevates gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA), which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter with a calming, anti-stress effect that is often low in people with depression, anxiety and PTSD. The heightened PNS response and the elevation of GABA induced by yoga is in part through the stimulation of the vagus nerve, which is the main pathway of the PNS. “According to the proposed theory,” the researchers state, “the decreased PNS and GABAergic activity that underlies stress-related disorders can be corrected by yoga practices resulting in amelioration of disease symptoms. This has far-reaching implications for the integration of yoga-based practices in the treatment of a broad array of disorders exacerbated by stress.”
Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Saper RB, Ciraulo DA, Brown RP., “Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Medical Hypothesis, 2012, in press.
In a randomized controlled pilot study involving 239 employee volunteers, researchers evaluated both a mindfulness-based and therapeutic yoga based stress-reduction programs. The study also compared two versions of the mindfulness based program, one on-line and one in-person. All three programs were compared to a control group over time on perceived stress, sleep quality, mood, pain levels, work productivity, mindfulness, blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate variability (a measure of autonomic balance). Compared with the control group, all three mind-body interventions showed significantly greater improvements on perceived stress, sleep quality, and the heart rhythm coherence ratio of heart rate variability. The two delivery venues for the mindfulness program produced basically equivalent results. The authors conclude that “both the mindfulness-based and therapeutic yoga programs may provide viable and effective interventions to target high stress levels, sleep quality, and autonomic balance in employees.”
Wolever RQ, Bobinet KJ, McCabe K, Mackenzie ER, Fekete E, Kusnick CA, Baime M, Effective and Viable Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2012, in press.
In a six-month study that evaluated the effect of Yoga Nidra on anxiety and depressive symptoms in patients with menstrual disorders, 126 women were divided into either an intervention or a control group. The authors conclude that “the patients with mild to moderate anxiety and depressive symptoms improved significantly with ‘Yoga Nidra’ intervention. There is no significant improvement in the patients with severe anxiety and depressive symptoms.”
Comment from AW: I would hypothesize that the instruction to lie down in yoga nidra practice for someone with severe anxiety and depressive symptoms, does not meet the current mood, and could actually exacerbate those symptoms. If someone is highly anxious, it may be best to meet that anxiety with a vigorous physical practice before lying down for the Yoga Nidra intervention.
Rani K, Tiwari S, Singh U, Singh I, Srivastava N., “Yoga Nidra as a complementary treatment of anxiety and depressive symptoms in patients with menstrual disorder,” International Journal of Yoga2012 Jan;5(1):52-6.
A new study looked at the inclusion of yoga in a public high school curriculum in Massachusetts. Physical Education students were randomly divided into regular PE classes or Kripalu Yoga classes and attended 2-3 times a week for ten weeks. Over the course of the semester, the control group who did regular PE showed an increase in negative mood states in all measured categories while the Yoga group maintained baseline scores or improved. The Kripalu Yoga protocol included physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation.
Noggle JJ, Steiner NJ, Minami T, Khalsa SB. “Benefits of Yoga for Psychosocial Well-Being in a US High School Curriculum: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics. 2012, in press.
Book Review: The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards by William J. Broad
Reviewed by Sherry Rubin
The Science of Yoga was widely and wildly discussed even before the public could purchase the book. In addition to several articles about it and a controversial excerpt in the New York Times, there are more Google references, u-tube reviews, blogs, face book posts and tweets about this book than there are pages in it. This review will attempt to dive beneath the controversy, most of which centers primarily on the chapter on injuries, as well as on the opinions about the International Association of Yoga Therapy, one of its co-founders, and where the science and delivery of yoga for healthcare needs to go.
Author William Broad, a senior science writer at the New York Times, has won impressive awards for his journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize. He has also practiced yoga since 1970 and sets out in this book to, in his words, “…zero in relentlessly on what science tells us about postural yoga….I mean no disrespect to the Hindu religion or spiritual traditions that embrace the big picture. But if this book succeeds, it does so because it limits itself to a poorly known body of reductionist findings.” Many criticisms I have heard and read center around Broad not addressing the “big picture,” but, as he clearly states, that was not his intent.
The book provides an excellent read as Broad carefully tells the history of the development of yoga from its origins and presents research findings that support and debunk various claims. Reading about this history and early efforts to substantiate yoga’s benefits is fascinating. The science and facts he presents are important for everyone involved with yoga. Among his findings, he explains with precision how yoga does not “oxygenate” the blood, nor “rev up metabolism,” both claims long associated with the practice. In fact, many of yoga’s benefits come from slowing down the metabolic rate which means that fewer calories are burned. He does note that body awareness, mindfulness in general and an overall calming effect that yoga cultivates often help to reduce stress eating and bring more awareness to what we choose to eat, both of which help the goal of weight loss for those who are trying. He also presents data that discount the claims that yoga can provide the kind of cardiovascular exercise that qualifies it as a total fitness workout. Although vigorous parts of certain types of yoga (astanga, power and vinyasa) do elevate heart rate, the activity isn’t sustained enough to provide the maximum cardiovascular benefits that other aerobic exercise does.
It seems that the chapter on injuries is what is getting the most discussion as he details scary case histories involving ruptured lungs, stroke and death. He does some number crunching to calculate how many people suffer stroke each year, and in order to arrive there, one must be willing to see correlation as causation, which it is not. There is a provocative tone in this chapter, so if the reader does some ujjayi breathing extending the exhalation, thereby calming the reactivity triggered by the tone and fear response, it is possible to get beyond the descriptions to the message that care and caution must be taken when practicing yoga. Specifically, the warnings from this chapter are: some yoga postures and some types of breathing practiced for long periods of time aren’t safe for everyone; certain postures carry with them more risk than others; the way some yoga is taught and the quality and training of some teachers are all factors that make the practice more or less risky. Erring on the side of safety is paramount.
However, problems and injuries due to mistakes or incompetence occur in every profession as well as in yoga. This is a critically important discussion for teachers and practitioners of yoga to have. Perhaps the provocative flair is helpful in encouraging these important conversations; it will undoubtedly help with book sales—I hope it doesn’t dissuade people from trying or continuing to practice yoga.
Although the entire book read well and was of interest to me, as a clinical social worker and LifeForce Yoga® practitioner, the chapter on moods was most compelling. There is an unqualified endorsement based on research data for yoga’s efficacy in working well with moods. There are clear explanations about how yoga effects the neurotransmitter GABA to bring about the positive mood effects. In LifeForce Yoga, attention is paid to balancing moods, bringing energy to lethargic states and calming the agitated ones in the same practice. Broad comments that combining these practices and doing yoga in this way results in “….new abilities to achieve states of inner balance and harmony.” He also details studies that conclude that “yoga showed much promise for treating anxiety and depression….The portrait of yoga that emerges from decades of mood and metabolic studies is of a discipline that succeeds brilliantly at smoothing the ups and down of emotional life.” Broad describes his experience at a Kripalu LifeForce® Yoga to Manage Moods week-end led by Amy Weintraub. In his epilogue, he writes that her “testimony still rings in my ears, giving me hope for better ways of fighting the blues.”
Other good news based on science carefully detailed in this book, is that yoga lowers stress, fosters relaxation, improves aspects of cardiovascular health, keeps the spine healthy, is helpful for osteoporosis, can slow the body’s biological clock, has a positive effect on creativity, and can revitalize sex through surges of sex hormones. Research data on breathing practices show many benefits as well.
Broad believes that to come of age in global healthcare, yoga needs to have professional accreditation, government evaluations and perhaps even be part of the insurance industry with its “dreaded red tape.” I’m not sure how well regulation and participation in the health care system has served mental health practitioners or consumers, but this is a segue into another critically important discussion.
Broad was less than generous in his description of some aspects of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and co-founder, Larry Payne. In fact, IAYT has supported research and education since 1989 and publishes an annual, peer-reviewed, PubMed indexed journal, a tri-annual yoga publication for yoga professionals, and they are working on developing educational standards for the training of yoga therapists. It would serve readers well to learn more about what the IAYT is, their mission, and their considerable good work so there can be informed discussions by all who teach, practice and promote yoga. (www.IAYT.org)
For all the criticism that I’ve read and heard from yoga fans about parts of this book, it’s worth quoting Broad again. “Yoga can turn our bodies into customized pharmaceutical plants that churn out tailored hormones and nerve impulses that heal, cure, raise moods, lower cholesterol, induce sleep and do a million other things. Moreover, yoga can do it at an extremely low cost with little or no risk of side effects.” That sounds like an unqualified endorsement that ought to overshadow the critical parts of this book; clearly the benefits far outweigh the risks when knowledge and caution are exercised in practice.
I highly recommend this important, informative, controversial, well written and researched book. Broad is the most provocative in precisely those areas (safety and the future of yoga) where we will benefit the most from learning as much as we can and coming together to dialogue. I hope the stir this book has caused can be usefully channeled into important conversations that will serve yoga and all of its stakeholders.
CD Review: Soothing the Spirit: Yoga Nidra to Reduce Anxiety by Robin Rothenberg
Reviewed by Amy Weintraub
Robin Rothenberg, a master yoga teacher trainer, known for her contribution to two definitive National Institute of Health (NIH) studies on yoga for lower back pain and her popular yoga program for low back pain, originally produced this yoga nidra practice for a National Institute of Health and Aging study that looked at yoga for hot flash relief for women in menopause. She collaborated on both the study and this CD with the Grammy-award-winning composer and performer Nancy Rumbel.
Yoga Nidra is a Tantric meditation practice that is usually done in a supine position (savasana). Not only does it support a deep release of muscular, emotional and mental tension, but the state of relaxation that yoga nidra provides can help restructure personality by freeing us from, as Rothenberg describes it in the liner notes, “habitually held beliefs, emotions and thought patterns.”
Although Rothenberg follows the standard yoga nidra model of inviting the listener to create a resolve, which she calls a “heartfelt intention” (sankalpa) and an inner sanctuary, which she calls a “safe house,” and a “personal sanctuary” and moves through each of the proscribed stages, based on the kosha model as outlined in the classic yoga nidra text by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, and in Richard Miller’s iRest protocol, there is nothing standard about this script. It stays true to the kosha model and yet it’s one of the most lyrical and creative yoga nidras available. Her language is vivid, clear and original.
Throughout the rotation of consciousness in the track called “Physical Body” (anamaya kosha), guidance is given to attend to the space within, combining the proven benefits of Open-Focus Meditation for promoting alpha states as developed Les Fermi, PhD, in the 1970’s, along with a visual suggestion of imagining “white gold pulsating light” flowing through the open spaces. Her language is a gentle invitation to experience “hollow spaces” with “lines of energy” flowing through. “Feel the space within the hollows between the fingers filled with radiant healing light,” she says, evoking inner spaciousness and weaving glimpses of expanded awareness (anandamaya kosha) through a traditional body scan that is anything but basic. She invites us to feel “the spaces between the ribs…and around the lungs and heart…the whole circumference of the torso…hollow space filled with light.”
In the “Mental Body” segment (manomaya kosha), Rothenberg creatively explores the opposites of form and space and of density and light.
The exploration of the “Breath Body” (pranamaya kosha) is nearly seven minutes long. Rothenberg keeps the listener’s attention focused on the exhalation, progressively segmenting the out breath into six sections, “pausing,” she says, “like a comma” between each segment of the exhalation, maintaining “equality and symmetry between segments.” When we reach the sixth segment, we are guided to reverse directions. “Unwind the breath incrementally,” she guides, “just as you built it.” Although focus is enhanced with this practice, a long extended exhalation is generally thought to be most appropriate for the anxious (rajasic) state. The segmented exhalations may be too stimulating for some people.
In the nearly eight minute “Wisdom Body” (vijnanamaya kosha) track, we are invited first to recall a pleasant experience with all our senses, and then to drop the memory itself and “Immerse yourself,” in the raw experience of “pleasure, joy, delight.” Next, Rothenberg invites us to recall an experience of “pain, alienation, despair.” As we did with our earlier pleasant memory, we are instructed to let the memory go and remain in the raw pain and discomfort. She keeps the listener present and engaged with inquiries—is it sharp or dull, localized or general; where is it in the body? How does it affect the breath? Are there a beliefs about yourself or the world that attach themselves to this feeling, this event? In both the feelings of joy and the feelings of pain, she encourages the listener to observe the “pure unadulterated energy” of the raw emotion, “neither drawing it close, or pushing it away.” The language here creates a witnessing. Over time with practice, this spacious awareness grows to tolerate and accept both pleasure and pain. A full yoga nidra practice that explores the opposites of emotions and beliefs as this one does can also facilitate a dis-identification with negative mood states, fostering a sense that though pain may be present, “I am more than my pain.” As Rothenberg states in her liner notes, “This helps re-train our nervous system to become comfortable with the wide-range of potential responses to life that lie between freaking out and checking out.”
We return to the breath body again with a four minute offering of Rapid Imagery that opens the doorway to imagination and perception. Here again, the images are common and yet poetic, lyrical and yet easy to imagine. Most are soothing, but some are startling, increasing our capacity to accept the varieties of life experience with equanimity and ease.
In the final track, we rest in pure awareness (anandamaya kosha), gazing down on the physical body before returning to a felt sense of the body on the floor in the room where we are practicing. As we return to a sensory awareness of our bodies, we are guided to repeat the intention.
In too many cases, music during yoga nidra can be at worst a distraction and at best unobtrusive. The music on Soothing the Spirit not only is an enhancement to the relaxed, liminal state between sleep and wakefulness, deactivating a stressed limbic system, but it is also appropriately nuanced to complement the rotation of consciousness and the attention to shifting mood states through which Rothenberg guides us.
Soothing the Spirit is a welcome addition to the growing cannon of full yoga nidra practices that sustain optimum mental health. I highly recommend this practice for those with a history of trauma and high levels of anxiety. Rothenberg’s script stays true to the ancient practice—there are no journeys of discovery down beaches or through forests—and yet it adds originality and creative expression to the growing body of yoga nidra practices available.
There are times in life when it is impossible to get out of bed to find your way to the yoga mat. Perhaps immobility issues, an illness, an injury, or maybe you are recovering from a surgery. Carol Shwicok’s DVD, Bedside Yoga, is the perfect practice for those times when the bed seems to be your permanent home. Carol shares that this practice is one she came to after donating 60% of her liver to her husband. After practicing yoga for 15 years, she found herself in bed, unable to get up to get to her mat. One night, lying in bed and looking up at the moon, Carol found herself beginning to move slowly and gently. She now shares this practice with the world, through her DVD.
Carol uses the short introduction to share her story, as well as her intention that this DVD be used pre-op, post-op, or simply when you feel you need a gentle yoga practice. She cautions that yoga is never about pain and as such, do what you can, and back off when needed. The practice is Kripalu Yoga and kripalu means “giver of compassion.”
The next chapter of the DVD is Breathing Techniques. Carol begins by leading a gentle sensing of the body and the mind to take a ‘baseline’ before moving into any practices. All of the simple breathing practices, 3-part breath, ujjayi, and a 2:1 count breath, are led lying down on the bed. She ends the breathing practices by reading Danna Faulds’ poem “Breath by Breath.”
Upright Yoga is led seated on the side of the bed with something to support the feet. Carol suggests that this portion can also be done in a wheelchair or a chair next to the bed. The postures are easy to do and breath centered, “breath begins, movement follows,” is repeated often to invite breath awareness. This practice is followed by a supine practice with a strap. Carol leads a flow that includes some very gentle abdominal muscles awakening. There are places where an individual recovering from surgery may find a challenge, but Carol gives plenty of permission to modify as the body allows.
The final practice on this DVD is Restorative Yoga. Carol brings in a student to demonstrate the poses while she gives instructions and modifies. Restorative Yoga at a studio involves blocks, yoga blankets and other props, which are not always readily available at home. However, Carol demonstrates the poses with pillows, hand towels and blankets. During this portion, Carol leads gentle body sensing in the positions, gives encouraging words, and leaves plenty of silence. She gently concludes the practice with Metta Meditation or Loving Kindness Meditation.
Carol does a wonderful job of compiling a practice that is sweet and accessible for almost everyone. It is easy to see that Carol teaches from the personal experience of immobility, the need to rest and heal, coupled with the desire to begin moving in a way that supports the body. She offers subtle challenges, encouraging words, poetry, and most of all a safe container for experiencing the body. I would recommend this DVD to anyone who needs to give the body a little extra TLC – whether recovering from a major illness, suffering from immobility, or just because you had a really bad day.
Order your copy here: harmonyogastudio.com/products/
Two-part webinar with Amy Weintraub, Thursday, April 26 and Thursday, May 3, 5:30pm Pacific / 8:30pm Eastern, (access forever)
Learn simple strategies anyone can adopt to balance mood and uplift emotions. Based on her new book, Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management, Amy will show examples of powerful hand gestures, key calming breathing practices, Yogic Nondual interventions, and meditations with tones that will ground and balance mind and emotions during stressful and challenging times. Free Yoga Nidra Practice with Amy! As a special bonus, all participants will receive a soothing recorded yoga nidra practice designed to induce greater relaxation and stress relief. bit.ly/wbBcGq
With: Penni Feiner, ERYT and Certified LFY Practitioner & Deborah Lubetkin, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist & Certified LFY Practitioner, 5 Wednesdays, beginning April 4, 2012, 6-7:30pm, New York Open Center
Discover the ancient, yet evidence-based practice of LFY to naturally manage imbalances of mood. Participants will be able to develop their own home practice to support individual needs and goals.
with Drs. Richard Brown & Patricia Gebarg, April 14th and 15th (access for 5 days)
11.5 Category 1 CME Credit. The Presenters are offering special group rates for non-profits and state healthcare facilities, and scholarship for disaster survivors and those in developing countries available.
Senior Kripalu Yoga teacher trainers Brahamani Liebman (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jashoda Edmunds (email@example.com) offer the first West Coast Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training in Berkeley, California. The training begins September 7 – 11, 2012 and continues through November 14 – 18, 2012, January 4 – 8, 2013, and March 1 – 6, 2013. For more information and to register, visit http://kripalu.org/study_with_us/305/
The 300-hour Inner Peace Yoga Therapy training program is designed for yoga teachers and health care professionals. Learn directly from top instructors in the fields of yoga therapy and Ayurveda including: Marc Halpern, Nischala Joy Devi, Maria Kali Ma, Amy Weintraub, and more. Register now and save on the upcoming 2012 program at Mt. Madonna! Session I: June 12-25, 2012. Session II: October 27-November 9, 2012. Learn more: innerpeaceyogatherapy.com/
March 10 — March 11, Tucson, AZ
Tucson Festival of Books
University of Arizona Campus, Amy will be presenting with Michele Herbert, author of The Tenth Door on Sunday, March 11 at 4pm at the U of A Bookstore. Festival is Free.
March 21 — March 25, Washington, DC
Psychotherapy Networker Symposium
Omni Shoreham Hotel, Amy will be leading morning yoga, afternoon meditations, a full Creativity Day workshop entitled “Yoga and Self-Inquiry,” along with a clinical presentation “Yoga for Self-Regulation.”
March 25, Silver Spring, MD
LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood
1:30 — 5:30pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, 301-270-8038
March 30 — April 1, Atlanta, GA
LifeForce Yoga to Manage Your Mood
Kashi Atlanta, 404-687-3353
April 3 — April 5, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Easter and Passover Symposium and Celebration – Yoga and Sacred Healing
Amy will be presenting at this Symposium. Please note: the Symposium dates are April 1 – 10.
Sivananda Ashram, Bahamas, 866-446-5934 yogafordepression.com/practitioner-training/
April 6 — April 12, Paradise Island, Bahamas
LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training for Depression & Anxiety – Level 1
Sivananda Ashram, Bahamas, 866-446-5934. This is a certification training for yoga teachers and health professionals. Joining Amy as faculty are Dr. Shirley Telles, as well as LifeForce Yoga Practitioners -Level 2, who are highly trained yoga and/or mental health professionals. Information on the LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training can be found here:
April 20, Tucson, AZ
Yoga Skills for Therapists Talk & Mini-Workshop
Antigone Books, 520-792-3715, 7 – 8pm
Amy will discuss her new book, Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Tools for Mood Management, and lead a mini workshop.
April 21, Tucson, AZ
Women’s Mental Health Symposium
University of Arizona, Grand Ballroom, Student Union Memorial Center, 2:15 – 3:15pm
Amy will be presenting on Yoga Skills for Therapists
April 26 & May 3
Your Home, 5:30pm Pacific / 8:30pm Eastern, (access forever)
Yoga Techniques to Lift Your Mood: Simple Yoga Practices for Depression and Anxiety
Learn simple strategies anyone can adopt to balance mood and uplift emotions. As a special bonus, all participants will receive a soothing recorded yoga nidra practice designed to induce greater relaxation and stress relief.
May 16 – May 19
Phoenix (Goodyear), AZ
FACES Conference: The Art & Science of Mindfulness – A Revolution of the Heart
featuring Jack Kornfield, Ph.D. & Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. Amy will offer an all-day pre-conference workshop on May 16th: Yoga Skills for Therapist: Effective Tools for Mood Management.
May 18 – May 20
Kripalu Center, 800-741-7353
LifeForce Yoga Meets the Hungry Ghost with addictions specialist Dr. Kathy Shafer www.funtherapist.com,