Posts tagged psychology
Beads on a String

Our lives are a constant interweaving of the wounds and the resources, the sufferings and victories that when strung together with devotion to ones esteemed path becomes a work of art to be prayed with, beautified with and through which we adorn ourselves and the lives of whom our work touches.  It is easy, too easy really, in cultures priding or privileging the wounded healer to focus too entirely on the moments in which we were missed, abused, hurt, or dealt an unlucky hand of sorts.  Looking to these places of scathing helps to cultivate interest in how to heal both ourselves and others which is an invaluable contribution. The shadow of this searching for healing out of our wound is that too much time focusing on all the painful beads stringing our lives together is simply only half the picture. We can become fixated in how much we have overcome. I can assure you it is not a contest. The person fixated on how much hurt their family bestowed is as much an emotional sinner as the person in complete denial of any madness they encountered.

Sitting at dinner the other night, my husband said to me “Well your parents must have done plenty of somethings right because you turned out really fine.” Well in fact, my beloved is correct. If I reflect, if I really look back at the truth, I can see not only the bloody gore of emotional upheaval, but I see many beads of both matter-of-fact rightness and easy rhythm as well as sparkling moments of positivity. My parents did a whole lot of things right actually. They took me to the opera from the time I was a little girl. I was raised going to theater and museums. The first snow of every winter my mother and I baked chocolate chip cookies. My father played catch with me in our yard. We had a garden. My mother read to me every night. My dad proofread my papers. I was allowed to apply to any college I wanted. We ate dinner together almost every night.

There are of course plenty of memories that lay in mind far from ideal that have left scar marks on my heart. But lest I forget the many more moments of health and true love my parents bestowed to me in my life. In the face of our very human family flaws there were many more moments of family rhythm, normalcy, congruency, and freedom and love. Enough of these moments got strung together like beads to create a space in which frankly, I really ended up totally fine.

I did not leave unscathed, but then again who does. Frankly, leaving home not hurt is unlikely and I might even guess unnecessary even. For how else do we then feel the call to make things better? How else do we learn to tolerate the pain of being hurt by the things and people we love? The way in which we learn this and the how in which we continue on from those places becomes our medicine, our teachings, our lessons for other down the road. No bead on the string of our life is arbitrarily placed--not when you are endowed to a life of devotion.


Think of a string of mala beads. All one hundred and seven of them plus the last one making one hundred and eight, are strung together with a prayer.  Each bead is unto itself individual, but it is connected to all the others for the entirety of the strand. Each bead is momentarily focused on during meditation to keep pace and rhythm, which focuses our attentional muscle toward greater awareness of both higher and deeper states of consciousness. If each bead on the mala of your life is a moment or memory then how will you choose the beads that make the strand? For me, coming out of a school where the culture is to privilege the wound, it is easy to string a slew of disfigured beads together. I could ruminate on those all day. This however feels inaccurate, and it focuses my awareness to encapsulate an energy only in the pattern of get wounded, get healed, repeat. A strand of only the most glamorous memory beads feels equally as inauthentic. It skips some of the essence of why I am meditating and praying anyway.  It skips the cuts and scrapes that inspired me to sit down in the first place. The most accurate mala I can fashion from the memory beads of my life are a rich and diverse combination. I must fashion a mala that holds within it beads of memory filled with inherent resource, health, comedy and love.

These strands of beads hold tremendous power for focusing and broadening our awareness. So why then should we focus our life work only out of the instances and memories of the times there was less than (fill in the blank). Let us weave bead after bead with prayer and devotion in such a way that all the health of the things that went just right and all the things that went good enough and all the things that went better than expected are woven into the fabric of our consciousness. The wounded healer has tremendous power--I know this to be true. But the compassionate sees the goodness and wellness right in front of their eyes. If we do not hold this for ourselves the people with whom we work will not learn to hold those moments either. 

The mala is the garland of a life we wear made memory-by-memory, moment-by-moment, that is strung together with a devotion to the privileging of life in all its forms. Its beauty does not rest on the glow of each bead individually, but rather the potency of the collected pieces strung together. This is good enough.

The Truth Is...

I have been trying to figure out the best way to articulate the HOW and WHY the combination of psychology and yoga are so important. In the traditional psychology world we see more uses and applications for yoga with individuals struggling with eating disorders, extreme mental states, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and various types of abuse. This speaks to the transformative power of yoga asana practice and pranayma not only for those who practice, but for those who are in the practitioners various circles.

Honestly though, little credit is often given to the inherently healing power of yoga itself within the psychotherapeutic context. We often see yoga combined WITH something or FOR something. We see many ads and studies using YOGA FOR.....(enter population of choice). The yoga is always noted as being successful in treatment, but the credit is given by-in-large to yoga as part of the intervention, not the entire intervention.

Even in my graduate school program in Somatic Psychology there was a refusal to acknowledge that yoga was its own form of body-based therapy. I wrote a masters thesis (now a published article) on how yoga may be its own modality of Somatic Psychology if you overtly tie it to psychotherapeutic principles and the developmental movement patterns inlaid within asanas.

When you practice asana something happens. It is a mysterious alchemical process that transforms us. The beauty is that anyone who practices yoga would probably feel some mental result other than their arms becoming more buff. Likewise, the practitioner that goes after practice for the sake of more mental stability will get some secondary gain other than lower anxiety. They will gain those buff arms. So either way you enter the practice, you get primary and secondary gains.

Now let me flip this around on you a bit, and I'll share a personal story to kick the flip.

It wasn't so long ago that I lived a double life. I was teaching yoga full-time and touting all the messages that often come along with that. I was preaching health, vitality, and well being. I taught about gentleness and kindness. I taught about seeing the good and making everything we do a work of art.

Inside though I was a wreck. I was far from treating my body with the respect I taught others to do with their own bodies. I did not see the good inside myself. I did not feel like an artist or if I did I felt like a very troubled one--maybe like Van Gogh. I had dirty little secrets.

Even after years of being 'in recovery' from anorexia and bulimia, I found myself turning towards those behaviors repeatedly in times of stress. At this time I was actively bulimic and I felt like a complete sham and total fraud. I always felt that if someone found out they would never want to be my student, they would think I was crock of shit.  So I hid in secrecy and shame the very behavior that had brought me to the mat in the first place years before.

The other dirty little secret I held was that I was not kind to my relations. I was emotionally reactive to the point of destroying some very important relationships in my life. On the mat I was an angel but at home I was full of out of control. I could go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. Frankly I am surprised that the cops weren't called when the neighbors heard the yelling. It was a terrible time--time in my life I was most abusive to those I loved.

I tried to manage this incongruence by doing more yoga. I practiced close to 3 hours a day, locking people out of my life, not returning calls or emails, and believing that if I practiced long and hard enough Lord Ganesha would spontaneously remove all the obstacles in my life and I would be kissed by Krishna's love and never again find my head in the toilet or screaming like a banshee.

Well, the tactic worked. It worked so long as I didn't leave my mat. If I stayed on my sticky mat all was well. But the second I left the edges of my rubber universe the rest of my self--all of myself--would re-emerge. I would get frustrated with myself and be self-hateful, only then returning back to the recluses of the mat for refuge. And so the cycle repeated for years until I started my graduate program in psychotherapy.

I always knew I would gain skills in counseling others, but I never anticipated gaining the strength and courage to counsel myself and find an integrated SELF inside. In tandem with my program I saw the same therapist the entire four years. This relationship has proven to be the most reparative healing relationship I have ever had other than my husband whose presence in my life falls directly in conjunction with my therapists presence. So. Not. A. Coincidence.

So all of this is to say that there is a place where the sidewalk ends in the capacity for yoga practice to change us. As much as yoga practice transforms, it also elicits and illuminates. Yoga elicits old material that must be looked at and worked on. It illuminates the places inside ourselves where the pieces do not fit. Yoga shows us where we are off our center.

My question is: WHO, WHAT and WHERE do you gain the tools to get from the place yoga elicits and illuminates to the felt sense of integration and the observable difference in your life due to that congruency of inner and outer experience?

I have talked to many people who report similar experiences. They tell me "yoga has stopped working their inner process the way it used to." They say "yoga has brought me so far and now what?" I hear "yoga practice is getting great at yoga asana but what about all the other emotional stuff?" I am told "yoga practice is better and cheaper than going to therapy." My favorite one is: "I don't need a shrink i have yoga".

This space--the end of the yoga sidewalk if you will-- is the place I like to live in and work from. This 'no persons land' is chaotic, messy, and sometimes scary. (Which makes it the perfect breeding ground for me to work creatively and effectively-why thats so-i'll tell you another time).

This space is why I created Applied Psychology For Yogis.

I want to teach yoga teachers about psychology in a way that honors the traditions and crazy wisdom invested asana practice affords. Yoga is indeed inherently therapeutic. But despite that, we need skills to manage the precipices to which yoga pushes us. I want to teach skills to manage the place where the side walk ends. My deep wish is for people to be in their embodiment process for the long haul.

What is sustainable over a lifetime might involve other things besides just asana.

Let's be willing to go to a therapist, or seek supervision or mentorship around aspects of our yoga related process. Let's be willing to educate ourselves in such a way that our yoga classes can be about yoga and its magic--honoring its inherently therapeutic nature. In so doing we become willing to meet the place where the sidewalk ends, step off our mats and into the depths of our process with skill and grace.