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: the instructors showed off, while the 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 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 (pose/position of the body).
Jill Satterfield's journey of discovering her own process began when she was fairly young, around the age of 19. 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 — but 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 meditation and wasn’t going to take this bad 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 the doctors claimed wasn’t possible. This led her down the path of 35 years of what she coins “integrative healthcare”.
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What Jill Satterfield has done – and continues to do – is combine many methods of yoga, meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, and so forth, to achieve her goals. Jill teaches internationally: she's 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.
Indeed, Jill certainly knows her stuff! Shambhala Sun magazine (now Lion's Roar) named her one of the four leading yoga and Buddhist teachers in the United Kingdom.
While there are many parts to her practice, one of Jill's methods I found helpful is called Checking In. Unlike some practices that have the practitioner focus solely on their breathing and body, during 'check in', Jill has the practitioner focus on the room as well:
Check out how to check in: Jill Satterfield's yoga © YouTube/Eckhart Yoga
Jill's 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.
“After a few years of meditation and specific yoga practices, Jill Satterfield managed to heal parts of herself that the doctors claimed wasn’t possible.”
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 the asanas. The difference is rather than a rigid body pose — a thing I struggle with constantly — the body is much 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.
The art of heart: Jill's Heart Opening seqeuence © YouTube/Eckhart Yoga
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.
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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's 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.
“Being mindful – which includes being present in the mind and body – directly leads to happiness. It shatters this internal conflict of these two aspects of ourselves.”
While the review goes into several reasons as to why this happened, it's clear that mindfulness helps us to 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 to see that the gap between who we are and who we want to be isn’t as big as we thought.
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Being mindful — which includes being present in the mind and body — directly leads to happiness. It shatters this internal conflict of these two aspects of ourselves.
The Berkeley Science Review brings me back to what Jill Satterfield shared in her interview with Jennifer. Jill 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 Satterfield’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. ●
Main photo: Colorbox.com Portrait of Jill Satterfield: vajrayoga.com
Sienna 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.
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