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  1. As I ventured into Part Three of this yoga series, I began to see something pop up again and again… The mood is vital to our living a happy life. Psych Central, The Journal of Depression and Anxiety, Psychologist World and many more agree that happy people live healthier lives and make better decisions. Through that, happy folks bring more positive experiences into their lives. The sources also agree that our mood affects our happiness. It takes mere seconds for even the most fortunate people I know to go from beaming with joy to sour-faced and irritated. That's where we need resilience.  This is due to the vast amount of stimuli that can affect our mood. We might get cut off in traffic, receive a bad review at work, hear a song or get a whiff of a random smell and that can trigger a mood shift. Even when I'm happy overall in life, I can lose the feeling for days at a time if I don’t address my current mood of anger or sadness or fear or anxiety.  When my current mood takes centre stage, all my focus shifts there. If the mood is a slight shift, I don’t tend to notice, and both the emotion and my overall happiness can coexist within me. But the moment my emotion moves to a place of being the focus; then it tends to hide my happiness from me.  Yoga for Mood Swings Since yoga was doing so well for me in other areas, I began looking at Adriene’s videos on mood. I’d already used hers for Parts One and Two, so this was a natural place to search. To my surprise, she had several options!  I decided to try Yoga for Mood Swings. While there were options, this one called to me most because in the description she mentioned life’s little annoyances and how they can shift our mood fast.  She also said the stress hormones and how yoga can help. The most commonly discussed is the stress hormone Cortisol. According to the American Psychology Association, this hormone is natural to the body and helps regulate certain systems, but when there is too much, it can cause adverse effects. When too much cortisol is in the system, it’s time to give it the boot.  The Practice Adriene begins with a suggestion to let go and not worry about ‘doing it right’ for this practice. Her focus is more on the body’s needs, so she suggests allowing whatever is going on to exist. To do this, she keeps the practitioner in Sukhāsana or Easy pose for longer than I found in other videos. The easy pose is the pose you most often see in meditation - a cross legged sitting position. There is a heavy focus on breath and listening to the body rather than movement.  As she brings the hands into play, she gives the option to have soft hands or active hands. This was helpful because when we’re angry, we may want more pressure and use of our muscles. I found that personally, I was able to release anger more efficiently when I maintained active muscles. On the contrary, when I'm sad or depressed, keeping my muscles soft assisted releasing those emotions more effectively. The heavy focus on listening to our body in this video made a significant difference in the way I worked through my current mood.  Another aspect of this practice that I felt helped me was the release portion. Rather than suggest the practitioners release slowly, she suggested doing what felt right at that moment. It might be jerky and fast, slow and steady, or whatever we need to release our emotion. When I was angry, the quicker and firmer movements helped. When I was sad, the slower releases from poses was most effective.  We then moved into Downward Dog, then into Walk the Dog. The walking kept my legs active. I was again surprised to notice that even when I did the practice during a sad moment, by the time we’d reached this spot in the video, the walking and active legs was also helping. Even though prior, the softer muscles worked best. I took this as a sign that the releasing was working and I made a conscious note of it. Had I started with Walk the Dog, it would have added to my sad mood rather than help.  After Walk the Dog we went back to a seated position and stayed there through the rest of the video, placing much focus on stretching. This was to bring us back into our flow, as Adriene calls it. The flow we have when the little things don’t happen to shift our mood.  Adriene maintains positive affirmations throughout the yoga for mood swings video. Things like, “I am supported”. Which I found incredibly helpful in combination with the poses.  She ended with the Reclining Goddess Pose, also known as Supta Baddha Konasana. The moment I was in this pose, I felt relief from the emotions that had affected my mood so much. I don’t know why it worked, but it did.  Perhaps because spreading my legs open in such a manner forces my heart upward at the same time as it puts me in a vulnerable position at my base. As a victim of sexual abuse, opening my legs can be a struggle even when I’m alone. The more I trust myself and the situation, the easier it becomes to open my legs. But no matter how safe I feel, that position still makes me feel very vulnerable.  When I’m able to feel vulnerable rather than shut down, it means I’m working through whatever is causing me emotional pain.  Shifting Mood and Thought I wholeheartedly believe that proper yoga for mood swings can change our attitude. If I was doing the wrong kind, like a bunch of super soft poses while I was full of rage, I don’t think that would be helpful. But with Adriene's method of listening to our body’s needs, we can embrace what our instincts tell us and work through the emotions that are sucking the happiness from us.  We will always be affected by our surroundings. We live in a chaotic world the majority of the time. Having the tools to stop, breathe, listen to our body, then move in a manner that releases, could change how we go about our day.  Imagine if I was in line at the grocery store and someone cut in front of me knowing I was there first. No matter what I chose to do at that moment, I’d still have emotions around what happened. I might get angry and say something. I might decide to suck it up and not start an argument. But either way, I’m going to feel slighted. If I don’t deal with the emotion at that moment, it would add to the list other things that happened that day until I became overwhelmed and full of rage.  But what if I recognised my anger and what the person did, then tuned into my body right there in the line. I could focus on my tense muscles. Listen to my body and what it needed. Then I could stretch or move onto my toes to activate my calf muscles. Many things could be done to release the feeling right there. And releasing means, I don’t need to carry what happened beyond the store.  By shifting my thoughts on how to respond to others, I can also change my mood. I feel if we all began behaving in this manner, the chaos that so many of us know would eventually cease to exist.  Yoga for Happiness Series Wrap If you haven’t read them yet, please see Parts One: Compassion Yoga and Two: Gratitude Yoga as well. This series is designed to give tools that will assist with the pursuit and ability to maintain happiness and introduce mindfulness also for those who have difficulties with meditation. From my experiences, Adriene’s yoga series worked for achieving a greater level of happiness. But I had to commit to it completely.  This experience taught me that balancing the mind, body, and soul become easier when incorporating the practices of yoga and mindfulness. I now pay attention to my thoughts, my body and the tension in it, and my gut, which will conflict with my thoughts more often than I care to admit. These parts of me make up the whole me and keeping them in balance is vital to me being present, complete, and happy.  ~ Namaste  Modelphotos: colourbox.com  Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
  2. After hearing how healing and peaceful yoga can be, I've had interest for years and spent a lot of time going to different gyms and trying yoga videos I purchased or found on YouTube, but none gave me the peacefulness I was promised. Sure they stretched my body, but there wasn't the calm afterwards that I desperately desired. It all felt so body specific. For me, this was a problem and kept me from fully embracing the healing aspects of having a daily yoga practice.  One day I attended a class with a friend while out of town and my entire view on yoga changed. The instructor did a lot more with focusing on proper breath through the movements as opposed to the poses themselves, and I left feeling so euphoric and relaxed. The sensation stuck with me for hours, and as a person with high anxiety and Complex PTSD, this feeling of peace and relaxation was more than welcome.  Discovering trauma sensitive yoga I went home and tried to find a class like that in my area, but the price was either too high or I couldn't find what I was looking for. Because of my PTSD, I don’t do well with people touching me or in larger classes. So my therapist suggested I try Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY)—a type of yoga focused on people with mental trauma—created by a man named David Emerson: Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body. She sent me to a nearby studio that taught his methods, then helped me get a scholarship. For the next three months, my world changed for the better.  At first I thought I’d hate it. Trauma sensitive yoga was different than others. The instructor, Morgan Vanderpool, didn't do fancy poses or show off like other teachers I’d seen. In fact, I learned very few actual yoga poses during the class. It was all about focusing on breath and being present in our bodies. One of the ways she’d keep us present is to tell us to focus on how it feels when our palm touches the floor. Or she’d ask us to be aware of what parts of our body were feeling the pose, then to breath to that area. I learned quickly that much of the reason I’d hated yoga was because I hadn't been truly present. My mind was wandering constantly, so I never practised properly.  I also felt no pressure to take part in poses that were triggering for me, a problem I’d had in many other classes. Nor did I feel the need to talk to others. The class I attended had a maximum of eight people per session and we were able to leave at any time if we needed to. The trauma sensitive yoga instructor also had experience working in therapy, so she knew how to respond to my triggers. She was warm, always calm and used a quiet voice, and she kept my focus on listening to my body.  Respecting my body and listening to it Respecting my body is difficult for me. I was so used to disassociating from it that I often ignored the pain in my body. I even ignored tiredness, hunger, thirst, and desire. My instructor helped me to be present in my body without fear. In fact, my first class with her helped me realize how little I was present in my body or in the moment. Her constant reminder to feel my contact points—hands on floor, feet on floor, butt on floor, pressure in each location—kept me re-engaging when I’d drift.  I remember after the first session, lying back on the floor and as I stared up at the ceiling, I felt like I could drift away in that moment. I’d gone into the class full of tension and fear and in that moment I didn't want to get up. I wanted to stay there and feel all of that release.  The feeling was so strong that when I left the studio I called one of my partners because I felt too dizzy to drive yet. He talked to me about my experience and how I felt after coming through it and all I could do was cry. I had literally released so much that I didn't want to stop. The more I let go of, the lighter I felt.  During the session, I let my body do what it needed. I pushed as far as I felt I should, got into positions that my body felt good in, and when I got overwhelmed, I sat in silence until I felt I could rejoin the group. I honoured my body and in doing so, took my first steps toward respecting my body and healing the trauma that I’d stored there most of my life.  The class changed me. Now, I can participate many types of yoga and feel the benefits in a physical and mentally calming way. I even use the methods when I get triggered or full of stress. I stop, focus on my feet touching the ground, the pressure in my leg muscles, the tension in my back, then I breath it out. The more I've practised this, the more I've come to understand that in order to truly be happy in life, I needed to be present all the time.  Trauma Sensitive Yoga started me on my path to finding and creating my own practice. Some days I incorporate gentle dance. Other days I do more meditation than movement. It just depends on the day and what my needs are in that moment. And that’s what being present means. Honouring the moment.  While I've still had small bouts of depression or moments of stress and anxiety, I now have the tools to release those negative emotions and get back on track with being present. When I'm living in the moment, I'm not stressed. I'm not focused on the tasks that need doing in the following week or the annoying incident that happened last week. I'm focused on the moment.  When I'm present, I'm happy. Trauma Sensitive Yoga helped me achieve this. I can’t recommend it enough, no matter your level of trauma or PTSD.  Happiness is achievable regardless of our circumstances when we are in the moment and not allowing ourselves to live elsewhere.    Modelpictures: colourbox.com  Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
  3. Happiness, joy, bliss… these things aren't easy to find or maintain. I've worked for fifteen years now at this and only recently realised that being present is the key. But there is work to be done still. Being present is only the first step of many, all of which include being present inside the body too. Not just mentally and emotionally in the moment, but physically as well.  Therapy, openness, and great friends indeed help me maintain joy with my mental and emotional states, but my body is more complicated for me. I’m still getting used to being present in my body and learning to listen when my body needs something is hard. Since I know yoga works well for this, I wanted to explore specific yoga practices like trauma sensitive yoga designed to bring joy, happiness, compassion, and gratitude.  This marks the first of a three part series involving yoga for finding and maintaining happiness. Rather than do each practice just once, I’m repeating them during different parts of the day and when I'm in varying moods.  Compassion Yoga The first practice I tried was called "Compassion Yoga - Yoga With Adriene". Some of her videos, including the one above, are free on YouTube. This is a fifty-eight-minute video surrounding compassion. Since the instructor has the practitioners set their intentions, I set mine for self-compassion.  Self-compassion isn't easy for me. But I was already feeling great, uplifted, and my heart was full of gratitude. So setting my intent for self-compassion seemed the right choice. There were two things I was going to focus on for self-compassion:  Keep trying, even when it’s hard Listen to my body Listening to my body is a struggle not only because I tend to push it, but also because when I’m stressed, I carry so much tension in my neck, shoulders, and back. It’s distracting and hard to maintain staying in my place of peace when I’m full of tension. The tightening of my muscles is a clear indication that I need to release something I'm holding onto. It might be an emotional, mental, or physical strain. No matter the source, tension makes me grumpy and pulls me from being present and feeling joy. By listening to my body, this enabled me to focus on my areas of tension. Adriene also asked that we focus on compassion, the highest form of love. Then she asked that we say ‘yes’ to our practice. She wanted us to be present and aware of our movements.  Observations and Practice Adriene suggested exploring and to move slowly. Not rush.  What I instantly noticed was that I began paying attention to the spaces between what I thought were the important poses. It was the movements from one position to another that I started to really connect with my body as opposed to just repeating what was on the screen. I found I moved differently than Adriene.  She also kept repeating that she wanted those practising with her to have an experience, not just ‘do yoga’. This changed the nature of what we were doing for me. It gave me the freedom to explore my body and not worry about doing the pose exactly how Adriene did. This was helpful as I have hypermobility and shouldn't do certain poses for health reasons.  Downward-Facing Dog As we moved through the practice, I discovered that poses that historically bothered me—like Downward-Facing Dog—weren't so unpleasant. Some of that was me taking my time getting into the pose, and the rest was really settling into the pose. I found so much tension in my back and shoulders released out through my hands and feet as I allowed myself to stay in Downward Dog. The burn moving through me was pleasant, like a phoenix burning up all the unwanted energies of my day.  Compassion Yoga Warrior 1 Pose  Warrior Pose We also did what Adriene referred to as holding a beach ball. There were several positions where we held our imaginary beach balls. Some as we sat, other as we stood tall—Mountain Pose—some while in Warrior poses, and I found that this really opened my heart and chest.  I was able to breathe deeper and let go of more stress in my upper back and shoulders. One thing I noticed was that I kept smiling, even when the moves were more difficult for me.  I was feeling the gratitude in my body, not just thinking it. I felt it move through me like a wave of pleasant energy and that’s what was making me smile and I couldn't stop myself if I’d tried. By the time I finished, my entire body was relaxed. I’d also learned during my practice that I had issues with my knee and hip, something I’d not been aware of before. Taking the time to hold compassion and stay present in my body made a huge difference in my result.  I left the practice full of joy and self-love. I felt euphoric, which isn't something that I've historically felt after yoga. The second time I did the video, I wasn't in a good place. I’d dealt with some trauma and was genuinely sad. While I still felt grateful for all the goodness in my life and inside me, I was in pain, and it closed off that lovely flow of energy I’d been feeling move from my root chakra up through my crown.  Boat Pose This time, I entered into the practice with an intention to release the sadness and trauma that had caused my pain. For me, releasing pain and trauma are the highest form of self-love and self-compassion. While I still moved slowly on my second go, because I needed to release emotional build-ups, I stayed in the tougher positions for longer. I kept my body active. My muscles and breathing active.  One pose I found particularly helpful when releasing sadness was Boat Pose. I’m not sure why, but it seemed to keep all the parts of my core that like to hold onto trauma engaged. The longer my muscles were involved, the more I released when I left the pose. I also found Cobra pose particularly helpful during my state of sadness.  Compassion Yoga - Boat Pose  When I'm sad and holding onto trauma, it affects my core and heart chakra. So by opening my chest up and my entire body with Cobra, I was able to feel a lot of the negativity move out through my heart. I felt like a blast of sadness shot from my chest, and it pushed right through my open window and into the earth. After finishing a second time, I’d managed to release the negative emotions I was feeling. I couldn't explain why, though. My inner scientist wanted to understand how the sessions—which seemed to impact me more than shorter sessions I’d done—affected me so positively, even when I came into it full of sadness.  Yoga Alleviates Depression and Sadness According to Science Daily, Boston University School of Medicine did a study in 2007 to find out if yoga alleviated depression and sadness. The researchers found that practising yoga may elevate brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels.  GABA is a major neurotransmitter that brain cells use to communicate with each other. People with low levels of GABA often experience depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders that affect happiness. The study included testing nineteen subjects. All had their GABA levels tested before their tasks. Eight were sent to do an hour of yoga and eleven sent to read for an hour. After one hour, all the subjects were tested again.  Those that read for an hour had no change in their GABA levels. But those who did an hour of yoga experienced an increase in GABA levels. After more research, the team came to the conclusion that an hour of yoga may help alleviate depression and assist with happiness. The study was more comprehensive than my summary here, so I do suggest the read.  Conclusion – Compassion Yoga Works My research and experience explained why the Compassion Yoga video was so much more effective than others I’d done. Each time I came away with a feeling of being high, though still in control of my facilities! It seems that the length of this particular video weighed into my results just as much as my focus on compassion and releasing. While this video is longer than the other two in this series, it is my favourite when I have the hour to complete it! I highly recommend trying Compassion Yoga with Adriene. Be sure to watch for Part Two, Grounding Into Gratitude! - Namaste -  Model photos colourbox.com  Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
  4. Gratitude is a catalyst for happiness. When we are grateful for what we have we stop focusing on the things we lack. Why gratitude? Gratitude expert, Robert Emmons shares that when people help one another, they feel happier. The actions they take release the feel good chemical Oxytocin. The same chemical that positive touch activates. So while gratitude itself doesn't release the happy chemical, the actions we take when we are full of gratitude do.  From my personal experiences, I know that holding gratitude in my heart and mind always leads me to feel happier. For me, it’s not just the actions I take but the reminder that I have so much to be thankful and appreciative for. That alone can get my thinking from dark and depressed to being full of joy.  Gratitude is a vital step in my happiness.  Gratitude Yoga Since I’d done the Compassion Yoga with Adriene, I wanted to try Grounding Into Gratitude - Root Chakra Yoga with her as well. Gratitude—in my experience—is more practical as opposed to just a ‘feeling’, so incorporating it into my yoga practice sounded like an excellent method for increasing my gratitude and therefore, happiness.  Right from the start, Adriene asked that we trust ourselves, her, and the Gratitude Yoga practice. She opens with a request that we are the ‘observer’. It made perfect sense to me since, in order to feel full of gratitude, we have to be able to observe the good happening all around us. It takes us from a place of internal focus and allows us to look outward.  The video is also shorter, only about 30 minutes. So it’s a good video for those that don’t have a full hour for daily practice.  Chakras Next, she has the practitioners focus their energy in their root chakra which is the space right behind the pubic bone. Our root chakra is our base, foundation, our connection to the earth and the physical. When it is out of balance, we can experience higher levels of negativity, trouble eating, greater insecurity, greediness, and more. With all the negative aspects of the root being out of balance, having a practice that focuses on balance seemed the right choice.  While I mentioned the heart chakra in Part One, I didn't get much into it. But in this case, understanding chakras is helpful as they are often used in Yoga to focus on a particular area of the body, an energy flow. The chakras are associated with seven energy points in the body, colours, organs, and they have corresponding Yoga poses to help balance them.  Because yoga and balancing the mind, body, and spirit are very connected to the thoughts in our heads, Yoga Journal uses words like ‘imagine’. Which took the idea of the chakras from a place of ‘this is real, and therefore we must prove it’ to a place of ‘this is real in my mind and therefore, helpful for visualisations during my practice’.  I mention this because when I go to therapy, we often discuss the differences between things that are proven scientifically and things that we simply believe. Belief is powerful; there’s no doubt about it. But science and belief aren't the same. So if you are new to the idea of chakras and desire a science-based explanation, you might do better with the idea of chakras as visualisations as opposed to actual energy points in the body.  For our purposes here, the root is our base and our balance.  The Practice The first pose of Gratitude Yoga in which I felt my energy and grounding (or connection to earth with) was the in the Malasana pose. It is hard to stay in the pose at first as I felt unbalanced. But I kept trying.  Slowly, my hips opened. I felt my energy shoot from my root down through the floor and into the earth. Then fresh energy back up into me. I visualised this energy, and the more I did so, the sturdier I felt. Finally, I was able to stay in the Gratitude Yoga pose and fully embrace that feeling of balance. Which then led to me feeling so much giddy happiness. Because when I feel balanced, I feel like I can trust myself and that is a vital step in maintaining my joy.  During a variation of Malasana, Adriene has the practitioner work with their feet. She mentions that feet are an essential step in finding grounding. Since my feet often ache, I took what she said to heart and massaged my feet while rocking back and forth in a sort of frog-like squat. It’s close to Malasana, but not quite the same.  I found this helped me relax into the more challenging poses later on. If I was struggling with balance, I rubbed the bottoms of my feet for thirty seconds, and I was instantly able to balance more efficiently. Another Gratitude Yoga pose I found helpful was called Humble Warrior. I’d done Warrior pose many times, even Peaceful Warrior, but not Humble. I was amazed how much this pose released in my body. All the tension I carry in my shoulders and neck began to loosen, and the longer I maintained the posture, the more I felt the release.  Gratitude, I am, and Happiness I can’t deny that when I finished the video (and this happened multiple times) that I felt lighter, more grounded and connected to earth, and at peace with myself. One of the mantras Adriene used—because as she stated in the video, it relates to the root chakra—was ‘I am’.  During the entire session, I focused on gratitude for all the wonderful people in my life, for the healing in myself that I've allowed happening and worked so hard for, and also the thought “I Am”. I kept repeating ‘I am’ in my head. Sometimes I’d say it aloud. Each time, I felt more accepting of myself. Less judgement and self-shaming behaviour for all the things I am not.  I've known about ‘I am’ for years now. In fact, my first introduction to it was when I was young and being raised in a religious household. I was told that this was God’s response when asked what he was. Later I was shown meditations and Native American and Buddhist practices that incorporated it. But I didn't understand that really all ‘I am’ means is acceptance and embracing of the self. It’s not to embrace my bad habits, but to embrace that I have those bad habits and to choose to love myself anyway. It’s in accepting myself fully that I find the ability to break my bad habits.  Not only is the mantra ‘I am’ helpful for self-acceptance, but it’s also useful for gratitude toward others as well as affirmations. I am thankful… I am grateful… I am happy… Self-acceptance is an important step on our path to happiness. Self-help books and large goal setting can lead to unhappiness. There's a ‘should be’ and ‘should do’ mentality and it directly leads to ‘I am not enough’. The right place to start with developing one self though is self-acceptance "I am enough". While self-acceptance—I am—can result in seeing our worth as we are. As I mentioned above, this isn't reason to perpetuate bad habits. What it is, is an opportunity for embracing ourselves and loving who we are.  I feel gratitude, the ‘I am’ mantra, and happiness are connected. I didn't possess any of these until I jumped onto the wheel (as I see it in my mind’s eye). Once I had gratitude, I felt happier. Once I felt happier, I was able to accept the parts of myself that I was judging. Then when I let go of self-judgement, I felt a deeper level of gratitude. If I stay on this wheel, these things feed one another, and I end up feeling each stronger.  ~Namaste     Modelphotos: colourbox.com, Yoga with Adriene  Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
  5. According to the Yoga Journal, there are 38 health benefits to having a daily yoga practice. They range from physical body health, like flexibility, draining lymph nodes, increasing circulation, lowering blood pressure, to the mental aspects of better focus, finding your calm place, and the Yoga Journal isn’t alone in their claims. Places like the American Osteopathic Association and Psychology Today share their views on yoga in relation to physical and mental health. There has been a massive surge in interest in western cultures due to all the benefits. The only problem is with this rise in interest, a 'Yoga industry' boom was born. Now there are so many types and styles that it can often be difficult to find one that works well for you.  Healing Trauma with Yoga Yoga for people with PTSD I often say, “Yoga is as personal as underwear.” It either fits us and our needs or it doesn’t. For most folks exploring various YouTube channels or videos is enough. For others, it's going to gym classes or local yoga studios. But for anyone with trauma, especially if it’s something like PTSD, these methods of exploration become intolerable. If not impossible. For many people, it's difficult to find peace while being constantly worried about the people in the room who might potentially touch them. When it's suddenly too loud in the room. Or when getting too close is anything but relaxing. Having a panic attack in the middle of class isn’t the desired effect.  Trauma Sensitive Yoga Thankfully, in 2002, a man named David Emerson discovered he could treat trauma using yoga. He reached out to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk about his findings and desire to do more in the field. Together, they created a platform that would later become Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY), specifically used to help people with trauma and PTSD. Over the course of several years, he brought in different yoga instructors with varying expertise to assist in the development of the program. The National Institutes of Health even funded their trial.  Trauma Sensitive Yoga is different in many ways. Depending on the studio, the methods will vary, but usually, the classes are small. And unlike traditional yoga classes where you might get some evil eyes for leaving mid-session and disturbing the peaceful atmosphere, anyone can quietly come and go as they need during TSY. There is an understanding when you come to class about the sensitive nature of what is about to happen.  The studio I went to, Samdhana-Karana Yoga, was very low pressure. The instructor was also a therapist and had worked with trauma patients before. She also had my therapist’s number and emergency contacts in case of triggering. The prep work that went into the class even before I began was like nothing I’d experienced prior. This encouraged me to feel like I was in a safe space. Normally you can just show up at a studio or gym pay the fee and take the class. It's all quite impersonal for someone with trauma, in need of assurance that if something goes wrong, they're still in a safe space.  Your Body, Your Practice There is a lot of focus on ‘your body, your practice’. That helps the practitioner remember to honor their needs because it’s ‘their’ practice. Rather than performing traditional yoga poses, TSY encourages people to move as they need to, with minimal and gentle guidance. Attendees are asked to pay attention to contact points, i.e. the point where your back touches the ground, or your feet or hands, how much pressure there is, and so on. There are often no hard yoga moves or poses because the focus is on making it a safe space for those with trauma to heal and experience mindfulness with yoga. There are some great videos on the TSY website that give brief examples of what trauma-based yoga looks like.  Neurogenic Yoga™ Trauma Sensitive Yoga isn’t the only option for trauma sufferers either. Another is Neurogenic Yoga™. While similar in many ways, Neurogenic Yoga™ stands out because it combines yoga asana and pranayama with the body’s natural, therapeutic shaking response.  Why is that last part so important? Peter A. Levine, PhD, the developer of Somatic Experiencing© and founder of the Foundation for Human Enrichment, has spent his life researching and treating trauma in patients. Some of his groundbreaking research includes the practice of releasing trauma through the body. In one of his books, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, Peter discusses how the body has a natural response to trauma. When our fight or flight responses don’t get to finish their cycle, we enter into fawning or freezing, thus creating trauma and storing that trauma in the body. He believes that by allowing the body to finish out the cycle of trauma—meaning allowing the body to shake when it needs to until it stops on its own—that we can heal our trauma.  His book and research are phenomenal and I highly recommend them to anyone with trauma. So Neurogenic Yoga™ including shaking into their trauma treatment is fantastic. While TSY helps, people that have trauma from car accidents, military tours, and violent attacks need a bit more than just the relaxation. They need to be allowed to shake and move the body in a different sort of way to release that trauma physically. Both practices are sure to help relieve sufferers of trauma.  How trauma and a wandering mind relate Trauma and PTSD are tiring. The problem with trauma is that the sufferer is rarely present in their body. Pete Walker is another expert, specifically on Complex PTSD, and his studies into the Four F’s explain a lot about why people with PTSD can seldom find relaxation. Rather than experience healthy and balanced responses with fight/flight/freeze/fawn (because we all have these responses), people with PTSD have two responses that they lean heavily on. So sufferers can get trapped in constant fight and flight or freeze and fawn. This means we aren’t present in daily life. We’re stuck on the ‘spin’ of PTSD and trauma. And when we’re stuck spinning and unable to be present, we aren’t able to experience joy and happiness.  Being present leads to happiness To dig into this a bit further, Science AAAS reported their findings on how being present leads to happiness, while mind wandering or spinning leads to unhappiness. This is different from a popular assumption that unhappiness leads to mind wandering. While mood can certainly lead to focusing on the past or future, it is not, in itself, the cause of unhappiness. It’s the focus on past and future that leads to the unhappiness. The article wraps with:  "In conclusion, a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost." For people with trauma, they mostly live in the past or in a place of fear surrounding the future. It is this lack of being present that directly relates to their unhappiness. The beauty of trauma-based yoga is that it takes you out of this place of fear. It trains your body to remake past experiences and to release them in a physically productive way.  Trauma-based yoga can assist with pulling the practitioner into the present using gentle and non-threatening ways. No matter which method you try, taking part in trauma-based yoga can make a huge difference in your experience. It can also assist in finding your own breath. A breath that brings peace in with each in-breath and releases tension and stress with every out-breath. Trauma-based yoga teaches those who aren’t generally present in their own body, how to be in their body. If you have trauma, these programs work wonders and can lead to a life full of joy and happiness through a daily practice of being present and living in the moment.  Model Photos: Colorbox.com  Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
  6. Vajra Yoga & Meditation – Working From the Inside Out Most yoga practices involve breathing and movement. Some are body-based and focus little on the mind or proper breathing and movement. My first experience with yoga was this kind... Instructors showed off, others in class competed to see who could get into the more difficult pose. This level of competition and showboating didn’t center me, relax me, or bring me any sort of joy.  It took years for me to discover that not all yoga was like the showy gym classes I’d taken. In fact, some instructors and practitioners take their methods to new levels by making the practice their own. Unique...  There are many reasons to make a practice your own. Whether it’s body limitations, personal desire, or simply following your intuition. One woman, Jill Satterfield, created a method called Vajra Yoga & Meditation. In Vajra, she combines mindfulness, meditation, compassion, Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and yoga asana (or pose/position of the body).  Jill Satterfield walks a different path. Her journey of discovering her own process began when she was fairly young, around the age of nineteen. She’d been diagnosed with chronic pain and for years, doctors were unable to find the cause. She endured multiple surgeries and eventually, a doctor found the problem. Surgery repaired some of the issue—see the interview with Jennifer Raye—it didn’t get rid of her pain. Later, Jill was told she’d have to live with the pain or take very risky steps to deaden her nerves.  Jill had already explored movement and some meditation and wasn’t going to take the news lying down. So she decided to work with her mind since that’s where the pain was being registered. After a few years of meditation and specific yoga practices, she managed to heal parts of herself that doctors claimed, wasn’t possible. This led her down the path of thirty-five years of what she coins, integrative healthcare.  What she’s done and continues to do is combine many methods of yoga, meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, and so forth, to achieve her goals. Jill Satterfield teaches internationally. She is a wellness program director, speaks and coaches, and is the founder of Vajra Yoga & Meditation and founder and Director of the School for Compassionate Action: Meditation, Yoga and Educational Support for Communities in Need.  Jill certainly knows her stuff. Shambhala Sun Magazine named her one of the four leading yoga and Buddhist teachers in the country.  A happy and healthy life has more than one piece. While there are many parts to her practice, one of her methods I found helpful is called Checking In. Unlike some practices that have the practitioner focus solely on their breathing and body, during this check in, Jill has the practitioner focus on the room as well.  What temperature is it? Is there sound? Her method broadens the space of which we can be aware of our surroundings and present in them while keeping focus inside the body as well. It’s more of a meditation to use throughout the day or right before your yoga session. Combining the meditation and physical yoga movements really assist with balancing the mind and body.  Jill Satterfield also teaches how to move from the inside out. Rather than the very body-based yoga poses I’d previously tried, Jill teaches how to set the mind and heart straight first. Then go into positions. The difference is rather than a rigid body pose—a thing I struggle with constantly—the body is softer.  An example of this is in her Heart Opening sequence. The idea is to pull from a place of love within, then carry that into our poses. To push that feeling into our bodies and outward into our surroundings. Trying to feel peace from the actual pose has never worked for me. But beginning in the heart and moving outward into the body gives me the inner calm that leads me to feel filled with joy on a daily basis.  Mindfulness practices for yoga and every day. Adding in the Buddhist beliefs takes this practice to a place of even higher intent as it involves a lot more mindfulness than typical yoga. Buddhism is a way of living. Not just a belief, but daily actions. Being mindful means being aware of thoughts and actions. Buddha Net has a Five Minute Introduction to Buddhism where they explain some of the basic principles. Again, much of this is about mindfulness.  To fully understand how all of these things work together and make Jill Satterfield’s practice so effective, I did some research on how mindfulness itself helps us achieve happiness.  In 2012, Berkeley Science Review did a study on mindfulness and published the results. Once completed, researchers found what connects mindfulness with happiness. In their studies, they discuss something called the self-discrepancy gap. What this gap is, is the space between our actual self and our ideal self. It is in this gap that we fill ourselves with self-judgment. These two views of self tend to contradict one another. Thus creating negative emotions because our natural drive is to close the gap between these two selves.  We want to be this but we’re really that. After an eight-week mindfulness-based, cognitive therapy (for depression relapse prevention) session, those that completed the mindfulness therapy had fewer discrepancies between their actual self and ideal self. In essence, the gap became smaller. While the review goes into several reasons as to why this happened, it is clear that mindfulness helps us be present. When we’re present, we’re focused on the here and now. This isn’t to say we can’t have goals, but the practice helps us honor who we are in the moment. It helps us see that the gap between who we are and who we want to be isn’t as big as we thought.  Being mindful—which includes being present in mind and body—directly leads to happiness. It shatters this internal conflict of these two aspects of ourselves.  How your body can teach you to be mindful. The Berkeley Science Review brings me back to what Jill Satterfield shared in her interview with Jennifer. She knew that she needed to listen to her body and mind. That she needed to honor what her body was telling her it needed. She understood that the true healing would happen in her mind and carry out into her body.  If you haven’t tried this type of yoga practice, or if, like me, you were stuck in classes of people showing off, I can’t recommend Jill’s practice enough. She is supportive of people making their practices their own. She coaches as needed because she understands that we know what our bodies need.  The more present we are in our bodies, the faster we can go about healing ourselves. Jill Satterfield serves as an example of what we can achieve when we honour our needs and use integrative therapy to heal.  Modelphoto: Colorbox.com Portrait of Jill Satterfield vajrayoga.com  Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
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