Over the last four and a half years, my life has literally turned upside down. After 18 years together, my husband and I sadly parted ways. While I’d lived on the East Coast my entire adult life, it no longer felt right to be there after our split. And so, a few years after the […]
Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT 500, is the author of the books Yoga for Depression and Yoga Skills for Therapists, and creator of the award-winning DVD series LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Founder of the LifeForce Yoga® Healing Institute, she offers professional trainings in LifeForce Yoga for Mood Management, and speaks at medical and psychological conferences internationally. www.yogafordepression.com
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A I inspire others to use yoga practices to remove whatever blocks them from knowing their true nature.
Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
A I came to my first yoga teacher training at Kripalu in 1992 to deepen my own sadhana. I left with a passion to share with others the practice that had literally saved my life and had slowly helped me live a life free of medication for depression.
Q What do you love about teaching?
What You Believe and How You Digest May Go Hand in Hand
In this excerpt from their book, The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health, Kripalu Nutritionist Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN, and coauthor Gerard E. Mullin share insights on how cultivating a spiritual practice can help you reduce stress, recover from illness, and lead a life of wellness.
Many studies have demonstrated a connection between spirituality and lower rates of stress and even depression. Maintaining a spiritual practice can help people cope better with stressful situations, thus reducing their anxiety levels and lessening the impact of chronic stress. Numerous researchers have documented a link between spirituality and depression: Spiritually healthy practices like finding meaning and purpose in life, having an intrinsic value system, and belonging to a supportive community with shared values may reduce depressive symptoms. Since stress and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression have such a profound impact on gut health, it stands to reason that engaging in a spiritual practice could have a positive impact on stress-related digestive disorders, too.
Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson was one of the first to study the relationship between spirituality and health. He revolutionized the field by showing that meditating in a trancelike state reduces stress and improves health while simultaneously raising consciousness and spiritual awareness. Though his finding is still considered groundbreaking by many in the West, ancient cultures have integrated spirituality into healing for millennia. Shamanic priests were regarded as “healers” long before the development of pharmaceuticals, and meditation and prayer have been at the very center of healing practices since the dawn of time.
“Can you create the life of your dreams?” asks Susan B. Lord, MD, in her R&R retreat lecture Mindful Living. More often than not, however, creating such a life can be challenging. As Susan points out, our culture can be quite isolating, demanding, and overstimulating. We live in a society that promotes linear thinking; meanwhile, our intuition, what Susan refers to as “the gut brain,” tends to be set aside. Because of this emphasis on a linear, head-centered existence, many of us are divorced from our bodies, and thus removed from the intuitive wisdom that resides within. We neglect our bodies—and our intrinsic physical needs—by sitting, often slumped, in front of a computer for eight (or more) hours a day; by not drinking enough water; or by over- or undereating. Because of this, Susan notes, many of us deny what we truly need through temporary measures, such as seeking out comfort foods or other unhealthy distractions, whenever we feel stressed, agitated, or lonely.
By cultivating a sense of mindfulness in our actions and experiences, however, we can create more space in our lives and encourage our intuition to flourish.
One of the keys to tapping into our intuition and creating a more mindful life is to step back and dis-identify from your stressors. You can do this, Susan says, simply by observing your stressors without judgment whenever they arise, and perhaps writing them down. For example, are you so harried that you often skip breakfast and end up feeling cranky and depleted before you even get to the office? By noticing this habit, you could make a plan to set aside time each morning to nourish yourself with a healthful breakfast before jumping into the day’s demands. “Pay attention to your body and give it what it needs in the moment,” Susan says. When you listen to what your body is telling you, you bring more awareness into your life.
How can we suffer less when faced with tough situations? Think about those times when things don’t go as planned or hoped for—at work, for example, or in a relationship. In these moments, we often wish that things were different: “If only _________.”
But, as Kripalu Senior Life Coach Aruni Nan Futuronsky states in her R&R retreat workshop Riding the Waves, yoga teaches us that we can’t control reality. But, when we allow ourselves to simply be in the present moment, softening our grip and letting go of expectations, we can begin to open our perspectives.
As Aruni says, allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we’re feeling with any given experience can help us find equanimity with whatever life gives us. From that foundation, we can shift our awareness from struggling to acceptance.
One powerful way to ride the waves of life’s challenges is one of the benchmarks of the Kripalu tradition. It’s a practice called BRFWA, which stands for Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow. Next time you feel anxious or uncertain about a situation you’re facing, try the following techniques and see what happens.
Taking charge of your stress means taking a holistic view of your health.
Jane, a 45-year-old holistic health worker from Rhode Island, was having trouble dealing with stress—stress about deadlines, stress about her workload, stress about being newly single after the end of a long-term relationship. She also carried a weightier worry about the innumerable things she felt she couldn’t control. “My sense of not knowing—of not having answers to some of my questions about my future—was especially stressful, because I wasn’t sure how to address something that intangible,” Jane says.
She’s hardly alone. Susan B. Lord, MD, who teaches Kripalu’s popular Healthy Living immersion program called Transforming Stress, sees dozens of men and women who come to her program with concerns about their levels of stress. Some people, like Jane, are looking for ways to free themselves from anxieties, while others are seeking solutions to stress that causes emotional anguish as well as serious physical health concerns.