This week’s blog is a guest post from my friend and fellow psychotherapist, Kendra McCallie, LIMHP, LLC. Her thoughtful writing about the benefits of yoga for healing both our minds and our bodies is compelling. Enjoy her fresh voice, and then check her out on her website below.
I went to Denver to visit, and help, my parents last week. Dad has Alzheimer’s and Mom has her share of medical issues. Overall, however, my mom is in pretty good health, and she keeps this way partly by participating in the “Golden Sneakers” senior exercise class at the local fitness center. I went to one class with her while I was there, and was struck by how much yoga was involved. Many of the exercises we were doing were actually yoga postures. After the class I approached the teacher and thanked her for making me feel welcome. I also mentioned how ‘yogic’ the class was. She winked at me and admitted that she is a yoga teacher but that the fitness center directors don’t like her to use the word “yoga” for this specific class, so as not to scare anyone off. Hmmmm . . .
“You’re kidding me, right?” I said. “Nope. They do have a yoga class on the schedule but they don’t feel the seniors would feel comfortable with yoga so . . .”
I went home to Mom and Dad and told them about the interaction. Now, as I stated before, my dad has Alzheimer’s. He is in a moderate stage of decline, and so asks me often why I teach exercises when I am already a “doctor” and have a job. I have to remind him often that I am not a doctor but a clinical social worker (psychotherapist) and, it turns out, a yoga teacher. I talk to him about how beautifully yoga and mental health fit together to improve healing. I have shown him chair postures he can do, and I have shown him how his breath can assist in relaxation and help him with some of his chronic pain and daily worries. When we’re done he tells me how much he likes it and how much it helps. He remembers, for a short time, why yoga is so powerful. Then we start over again.
Since my dad regularly forgets I’m not a doctor and tells everyone in his social circle that I am, I’m going to go with it. Here is the “doctor” explanation of why yoga heals both the body and the mind (and hundreds of sound research studies support this theory): it all comes down to the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the brain to rewire itself.
When most people think of yoga, they probably think of just the poses or movement involved. Yet yoga is posture, breath and meditation. Each of these elements is yoga, and each works with the other to help rewire the brain and heal the body.
It works like this. Focusing our awareness inward (meditating) on our breathing, or where we are placing our foot on the yoga matt, requires mindfulness, living in the present moment. And studies show that being in a mindful state calms our nervous systems down, allowing our Gamma brain waves (the waves in charge of compassion and intellectual functioning) to increase. The more we are able to be mindful, the more these Gamma waves increase, and the more our brain changes, becoming better at tasks like showing compassion and thinking. And guess what happens when our brains expand in their ability to grow compassion and create (positive) thoughts? We get better in both mind and body.
Moreover, when we do yoga over and over again, the brain can actually make lasting changes, because the more a neuro-pathway (path) in the brain is used, the more ingrained it becomes.
I became a yoga teacher because yoga has helped me so much personally. For example, I have always tended to be a bit of a worrier. What I have observed over time as I have worked on my own yoga practice is that I am not such a worrier any more.
As a psychotherapist in private practice, I want my clients to have the opportunity to benefit as I have from the healing power of yoga, so I integrate some yoga practices in my work with clients. I also teach a yoga class at the Omaha Yoga and Body Work Center called Yoga for Mental Wellness. Happily, the students in my class have told me that the work they do with me helps them feel calmer, not only during the class, but also throughout the week, which just underscores how yoga helps us long after we are “off the matt.”
If I lived closer to my parents I could do yoga with my dad more often. I can only hope he remembers some of the yoga we’ve done together so he can worry less and relax more. I’m thrilled that my mom has a yoga, I mean “Golden Sneakers,” class she attends a few times a week, because I know it can be stressful taking care of my dad. They may call it a senior fitness class, but I know my mom is getting the mind and body benefits of breathing, moving and mindfulness.
Call it what you will. I know yoga heals, mind and body.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Kendra McCallie LIMHP, LLC is a licensed psychotherapist and a certified yoga teacher in Omaha, Nebraska. She practices both of her disciplines at the Omaha Yoga and Body Work Center, a holistic wellness center offering certified yoga instruction, psychotherapy, massage therapy, nutrition services and Bowenwork. You can find out more about Kendra, her philosophy and her work by visiting her web site at www.kendramccallie.com.