Yoga Journal Interviews Amy Weintraub

Yoga teacher Amy Weintraub, the author of Yoga for Depression, has been bringing together yoga and mental health care for more than two decades, training therapists and yoga teachers to use breathing exercises, simple mantras, meditation, and yoga nidra (yogic sleep) in clinical settings. Her new book, Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management, offers mental health professionals yoga-based techniques for helping clients manage their moods. Weintraub, who recovered from her own depression with the help of yoga and meditation, culled through the vast treasury of yoga’s teachings to find accessible tools that help to balance the emotions. Yoga Journal spoke with her about yoga’s power to make you feel better.

Yoga Journal: Why has the use of yoga as a tool for mental health care become more prevalent?

Yoga Skills for TherapistsAmy Weintraub: There’s a growing number of research studies providing evidence that yoga belongs in a mental health treatment plan. It lowers cortisol, the stress hormone; it activates the parasympathetic system, which is calming; and it deactivates the limbic brain, which is overactive in people who are very anxious or have a history of trauma. And more therapists are experiencing the effects of yoga themselves and realizing this is a wonderful tool to offer clients.

YJ: What’s the connection between mood and the body and breath?

AW: As yogis have understood for thousands of years, when we have events in our lives that are difficult, the body constricts. Any emotional constriction has a physical corollary. We can address the emotions by working with the body and the breath. For example, when we’re anxious, the breath is shallow in the upper chest. When we deepen the breath, we’re activating the parasympathetic nervous system and releasing some of the anxiety. We’re actually balancing the mood by extending the exhalation.

YJ: Can yoga’s philosophical teachings also help with anxiety and depression?

AW: The message of yoga is that deep within you, you are whole and healed, no matter what is going on in your life. Yoga can help you reconnect with a felt sense of that wholeness, of who you really are, beneath the current mood.

YJ: What underlies your approach to bringing yoga into therapy?

AW: My teaching is based on the pillars of self-awareness and self-acceptance: svadhyaya and karuna. Self-awareness in a yoga practice is paying attention to sensations in the body, being attentive and attuned. But when you’re paying attention to sensation, emotion will arise. If all you did was look at yourself without compassion, you’d burn up. It would be like Shiva dancing in the fire of self-awareness. That’s why you have to stay present with karuna. And that’s what both good psychotherapy and yoga practices offer.

YJ: Your book is a good argument for mental health professionals to learn about yoga. Is it also valuable for yoga teachers to know about mental health?

AW: It’s important for yoga teachers to know how to set a safe container and give options and modifications. There are certain breathing practices that can trigger anxiety, for example, and some that are contraindicated for bipolar disorder or eating disorders. There are a lot of subtleties that yoga teachers could benefit from learning.

Interview by Carmel Wroth, May 2013 Issue
Yoga Journal Interviews Amy Weintraub

 

About the Author

Amy Weintraub

Amy Weintraub E-RYT 500, MFA, YACEP, C-IAYT, founded the LifeForce Yoga® Healing Institute, which trains yoga and health professionals internationally, and is the author of Yoga for Depression and Yoga Skills for Therapists. The LifeForce Yoga protocol is used by health care providers worldwide. She is involved in ongoing research on the effects of yoga on mood.

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What People Say

“I integrate strategies like mantra tones and pranayama, but above all I invite myself and those I teach to cultivate svadhyaya, to practice self-observation without judgment.” — Barbara Sherman, RYT 200, LFYP, Tucson, AZ
“I have gained an incredible opening and clearing of old obstructions. I hope to return to my life and fill this opening with things I love to do and that give me joy!” — Lisa Shine, administrative assistant, Ballston Lake, NY
“This program changed my life in a significant way. It helped me connect with the spirit which is something you can’t get from psychotherapy and medication.” – G. W., artist, Pittsburgh, PA
“I began a fantasy during the meditation exercise... almost as if I’d been there. It’s now an on-going work of fiction.” — Serian Strauss, Tanzania
“I learned lots of ways to reduce the anxiety and depression of my patients and myself.” – Aviva Sinvany-Nubel, PhD, APN, CNSC, RN, psychotherapist, Bridgewater, N.J.
“Words do not do justice to all that I learned. This workshop changed my life!” — Jen Nolan, Teacher, Cortland, NY
“Giving my clients a strategy and permission to quiet their minds and rebalance the sympathetic nervous system has been very beneficial to them and in our work together.” — Sue Dilsworth, PhD, RYT 200, LFYP, Allendale, MI
“I utilize the LFY techniques in both a class room setting and one-on-one environment. The skills have infused my teachings with compassion, mindfulness, and awareness.” — Kat Larsen, CYT, LFYP
“My patients can now have the same effects as many medications without having to actually take medication!” — Deborah Lubetkin, PSY.D, LFYP, West Caldwell, NJ
“My life is already changed! I will use the tools I learned in my own practice and in my work. I feel safe and seen.” — Susan Andrea Weiner, MA, teacher/expressive arts facilitator, El Cerrito, CA.
“I have found the LFYP training to be incredibly useful in giving people specific tools to use in maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, and further opening their intuitive abilities.” — Nancy Windheart, RYT-200, LFYP, Reiki Master, Animal communication teacher, Prescott, AZ
“Yoga Skills for Therapists is the ideal resource for those who want to bring yoga practices into psychotherapy or healthcare. Weintraub, a leader in the field of yoga therapy, offers evidence-based, easy-to-introduce strategies for managing anxiety, improving mood, and relieving suffering. Helpful clinical insights and case examples emphasize safety, trust, and skillful adaptation to the individual, making it easy to apply the wisdom of yoga effectively in the therapeutic context.” — Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author, Yoga for Pain Relief, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Yoga Therapy
“I gained perspective of who I am in the world and this will change my life significantly.” — Mary Ford, artist, Southport, CT
“A client who returned said, "When I came before, you helped me understand and get where I wanted to go. Now you show me yoga practices I use to help myself understand and get where I want to go.” — Sherry Rubin, LCSW, BCD, LFYP, Downingtown, PA
“I feel profoundly transformed, both physically and emotionally. The connection between mind, body and spirit was clearly evident to me, but revealed to me through this workshop as an integrally vital link to overall health.” — Nadine Richardson, program manager at rehab agency, Monroe, CT
“I have been reminded that I am not on this path alone, that others are sharing the journey that sometimes seems so difficult. I have also been reminded of the importance of daily practice and I will do that. The whole program has been an incredible experience for me. Thank you!” — Lorraine Plauth, retired teacher, Voorheesville, NY
“I gained tools for working with my own depression and with my clients’ depressions.” — Robert Sgona, LCSW, RYT, psychotherapist, Yoga teacher, Camden, ME.
“I came hoping to learn to move past some of the obstacles blocking my creativity. Over the course of this weekend, I feel I’ve gained a certain measure of faith in myself and in my ability to change. I also had some realizations that I believe will be very helpful to me. I feel encouraged. Both the content and presentation of this program were so well-thought out that I can’t think of any way to improve it.” — Andrea Gollin, writer & editor, Miami, FL
“I have found the pranayama (breathing practices) especially easy to introduce in a clinical setting. Some people have benefited quickly in unexpected and transformative ways.” — Liz Brenner, LICSW, LFYP, Watertown, MA
“I have gained a softer heart, more receptive mind, and tools to enrich both personal and professional aspects of my life.” – Regina Trailweaver, LICSW, clinical social worker, Hancock, VT.
I absolutely love this stuff! I have been using it with my clients and I am just finding it to be so incredibly helpful. There seriously something for everything. Although I am not as skilled as I hope to be someday, even at my level of training I’m finding that I am beginning to figure out what to do. It just blows my mind! - Christine Brudnicki, MS, LPC
“My personal practice will change, as well as my yoga classes. I have a better understanding of yoga!” — Andrea Gattuso, RYT, Yoga Teacher, Hackettstown, N.J.
“This workshop has changed so much — my self-image and my life. My own heart’s desire is 100% clear. I gained tools to help myself and others to live life fully.” — Marcia Siegel, Yoga teacher, therapist, Carlsbad, CA.
“This workshop helped me rededicate my energies and begin to work through some of the blocks I’ve felt creatively.” — Steve Mark, college professor, New Haven, CT
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