Insight Mind Body Talk

Ep 4: Trauma-informed Yoga Therapy with Nikki Cook

April 18, 2021 Jessica Warpula Schultz, LMFT Season 1 Episode 4
Insight Mind Body Talk
Ep 4: Trauma-informed Yoga Therapy with Nikki Cook
Show Notes Transcript

Jessica Warpula Schultz, licensed mental health professional, and guest, certified yoga therapist Nikki Cook, talk about yoga therapy. What it is and who would benefit from yoga therapy (hint: EVERYONE!).  Listeners will learn what to expect in a yoga therapy session, how yoga therapy can increase traditional talk therapy results, and how even the every-day, non-yoga practicing person can start healing through short, easy-to-do yoga moves.




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Produced by Jessica Warpula Schultz 
Edited by Jessica Warpula Schultz

Music by Jason A. Schultz

Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-centered mental health podcast. We're your hosts, Jess Warpula Schultz and Jeanne Kolker. Whether you've tried everything to feel better and something is still missing or you're already tuned into the wisdom of the body, this podcast will encourage and support you in healing, strengthening relationships, and developing your inner potential by accessing your mind-body connection.

Please know, this podcast is not a substitute for mental health treatment and is not considered psychotherapy.  

Let's begin a conversation about what happens when we take a body centered approach to improving our mental health. 

Today's episode of Insight Mind Body Talk explores yoga therapy with our guest Nikki Cook. Nikki is a yoga therapist. She holds a master's degree in education counseling and she certified as a trauma informed yoga teacher. She specializes in yoga treatment for eating disorders, addiction, and trauma. 

Welcome!  We're so excited to have you as a guest.    

Thank you. I'm really happy to be here and looking forward to our conversation today. 

I'm grateful you're here sharing your expertise with our listeners will demystify the practice of yoga, explain what we mean by trauma informed yoga, give you the listener, a taste of what you might experience in a yoga therapy session, and end our episode with body centered tools for mental wellbeing.  

Nikki, you believe yoga is a powerful practice for every person that it can be any effective component of the healing and recovery process. Let's start by discussing what is yoga? And who can do yoga?

That's a great question. Lots of people. Are unsure if they are a good fit for yoga. And when we can just talk a little bit about what yoga is. And how we can [00:02:00] approach it, that will oftentimes allow people to see themselves in the practice. Well, yoga can be approached from many different standpoints. It often is a practice where we're. Moving our bodies. In certain postures. And linking movement with breath. Yeah. That is part of yoga. We also have other components of yoga. There's eight limbs to yoga. So the movement portion is really just one of them. We also have yoga philosophy where. We talk about different ways of being, which often has to do with treating ourselves with kindness and compassion and treating others with kindness and compassion. There's another lamb that has to do with breasts and meditation. Is much more encompassing than what a lot of people see, maybe when they think about a yoga class. At a gym or a studio, or may see something on a magazine or on TV. So there's a lot that people can access, even if they feel that. Physical part. May not quite be for them. Yeah. However, I'd like to challenge that, that physical part isn't for them also. Because yoga movement can be as simple as taking a breath in. Reaching your arms up. And then as you exhale, releasing the arms down. And you can do that from anywhere. If you can find the right. 

Offering for what you need. You will find that there's so many different variations that it really is for everybody. Yeah, a traditional view of yoga or at least a mainstream view of yoga is a certain type of person.  Going to a boutique studio or the gym. And it's very body centered in the way that we. We build strength and increase our flexibility. And, maybe that's as [00:04:00] far as it goes, which for some people that's wonderful and useful. I like how you bring in the other tenants of yoga philosophy into a more holistic lens. That being said, who's a primary candidate for yoga therapy?

I would say everybody is. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think part of it again is. Landing in the right place and finding somebody that either, whether it's a yoga therapist or yoga teacher, That you feel comfortable with? And once you establish that relationship. None. You can really start to explore in a safe way.  You know, a lot of people will come to yoga. As you said before, was more of that. Body focused  physical wellness. This is great. And then along the way, people will start to notice. The mental health benefit. But they feel, they start to notice that they're in their bodies in a different way. That just feels really good. Yeah. And then from there they find that it is this really you know, holistic approach to wellness. So really. Yeah, it works for everybody. 

Can you explain how that's different than a regular yoga practice? Yep. Absolutely. And there's definitely. Crossovers and similarities. That you will find in both. For a regular, yoga practice. Right. But it doesn't have the yoga therapy. You're not working with a yoga therapist. That's what you typically will find in. A studio in a gym and everybody is. Given pretty much the same instruction. Hopefully some variations and different options. You're there participating as an individual, but within the group setting. So not a lot of individual attention. You may have a teacher. Who. Will be really great and talk to you if you're new and [00:06:00] just check in to see what any physical needs that you have. So we're really, you are. Being instructed as part of a group  yoga therapy. On the other hand. Whether it's individual or it's group, because we keep our groups pretty small. We start to get to know the person as an individual.  When I start working with somebody else. First appointment. Our first session is mainly discussion with just maybe a little bit of movement. And we'll use different assessment tools to talk about. How is your body right now? Do you have some injuries? Do you have some concern? Getting to know the, the physical needs also our emotional needs. A lot of times people are looking for. Different. Than you, different ways to increase. Their emotional wellness and emotional. Fidelity. So we really talk about. How can we also bring that in  to the work that we do together? And then from there, we create specific goals for you. Like, what do you want to work on?  What's your, your overall hope. You know, two months from now, where do we hope to be? It's very collaborative. 

I as a yoga therapist will be checking in to say, how does that feel on your body? What are you noticing? Is it good? Is it working? Is it getting us towards that goal that we have today is so great. If not let's pivot and let's do something else. So. It not only. Allows you to be in a situation where you're getting your individual needs mat, but you also are beginning to build those tools and that awareness of what works for me. 

And then that it makes it so much easier to transition into practicing those skills when you're not actually in the session, which is our ultimate hope. That we get these tools and we begin to use them on a [00:08:00] daily basis. Even when we're not doing our dedicated yoga practice per se. That sounds wonderful. And I appreciate the individualized plan because we're all different. We all have different needs, different nervous systems, different bodies. We've all had different life experiences. Which I appreciate how yoga therapy is also trauma informed. Can you share with our listeners what trauma informed means how it pertains to yoga therapy. When we're talking about trauma informed yoga. We're talking about. Working with a yoga therapist or a yoga teacher who has had specific training. Not only in how to deliver. A trauma informed class or individual session. But also training and knowledge of how trauma affects the nervous system, how trauma affects the body. And. That is very helpful in determining not only what we teach, but how we teach, right. And how we work with someone.  And when we're talking about using yoga from a trauma informed perspective, we think about using all of our tools, whether it's the breath work. Whether it's the postures. Right. The meditation. We're working on using these tools to help regulate the nervous system to help heal the effects of trauma from a physiological standpoint. A lot of the effects of trauma show up in the body show up in the nervous system. So It's very challenging  to talk your way out of a trauma response. Right. And if you're experienced. Some anxiety. Depressions. Some panic. It's the nervous system reacting. For example, if we're noticing that we're feeling a lot of anxiety and actually I had this I had, this happened to me yesterday. And I just, I just use it myself. So [00:10:00] I was on an airplane. And they were. There were issues with the airplane. So we had to wait for two hours on the plane and gosh. For them to determine what was wrong with the plane. Could they fix that? They determined that they could. And, you know, we eventually. We're given the go to, to take off. You're just sitting there In that small space. Waiting and wondering. And waiting. Yes. Yeah. So, you know, I could notice. That I was very grateful for. My yoga practice and specifically my trauma informed yoga practice at that point in time, because. I was, able to, you know, Sit there for the two hours and not have it. Had too much of an impact on me. Yeah. As I noticed the others around me becoming very anxious and sure. Threat responses, write someone a flee and get out of there. Some people may become more irritable, have that fight response. And even freeze or shut down. I'm sure there were all sorts of different nervous systems reacting around too. Their their work. And then I noticed. As soon as we were given the go ahead and we started texting. That. My heart started beating a little bit faster. My mind starts going. I hope  they really did fix it. And, you know, as we're taking off all the bumps and everything. Were affecting me in a different way than they had on my flight. Down there. Simply because of what had just happened. So it'd be very difficult to rationalize with myself at that point. Like to think my way through it? So I said, Nikki, let's start doing some breathing. And so the breathing technique that I used was focusing on the length of my exhale. And I chose to do that because one of the that we know about the body [00:12:00] and trauma. Is that if we can have a longer. Exhale then inhale. It. Engages our vagus nerve, which is very important with regulating our nervous system,  we started feeling calm or safe. Yeah. Absolutely. And so I did. Probably a good five minutes. And. It, it works. I was able to just really settle myself.  I was so grateful for that. Just the knowledge of. Changing our breasts, what that can do for us.

I agree. Later we'll go over the long breadth as a skill for listeners. If you're interested in tying that into your life. So Nicki's gonna lead us through that in a little bit. I was reading on good therapy.org that yoga can even boost the neurotransmitter GABA, which is important because GABA levels are statistically low and people who experienced. Substance abuse. Anxiety depression.  When we think about yoga therapy, who would you say would benefit from this practice? 

Well, before the pandemic, I would say maybe. The grouping of people that would benefit from. Yoga therapy or trauma informed therapy. Was a little bit smaller. Or focused, a bit differently. One thing that I have noticed just talking with a variety of people is. Then we've all navigated a year of this handout. 

And we've been dealing with really a threat to our safety and much so. It may not always feel like it, but it is the underlying current. We all have so many of us are really working with dysregulated nervous systems right now. And from that standpoint, I think we all could benefit from. A yoga practice. Whether it's individual or group yoga therapy that is taught from that trauma informed perspective where we'll attuned to. How to [00:14:00] create a sense of safety. In either the individual or the group session.  And so that's a very broad kind of oversleeping thing to say everybody. But I think that's important. We're all going. Right through. A major trauma right now. And we won't even see the effects on our bodies, our minds until it's over and it's not over yet. I appreciate how you're bringing the yoga philosophy into how we're coping with the pandemic, as well as how we will treat the effects of the pandemic. Once things. You know, return to normal. Ish. Whatever the new normal is. I think that's going to take awhile as well. I think as people start to go out and do things, it's going to feel  for example, I was just on a plan that felt odd. Right. Being in an airport with a lot of people that felt strange. And so it's going to be these small, everyday thing that you're going to want to have additional tool to help cope with the effects of that. We might do more irritable. Right? I mean, it may not show up as we feel anxious at that time, but maybe afterwards. After we come back from the grocery store or whatever outing. We might. Snap at our kids or. Or partner or whoever, and wonder where that came from. Right.  Having that awareness that. It's normal that we're going to feel a little bit different. And that we're not alone in that because it's happening to all of us to varying degrees. I really encourage people to start to explore whether it's yoga. Or some other Body-based nervous system regulating tool.   I hear what you're saying, where there are different physiological and psychological aspects that yoga therapy can treat. What about the common concerns of, if people are saying, you know, I'm not flexible. I don't think this is something  I feel comfortable trying. I've never done yoga before. [00:16:00] How do you calm those, first time jitters. 

I let people know that that is probably one of the most common things I hear about concerns of doing yoga. I can't do yoga because I'm flexible and my response. Often is that's one of the reasons we do yoga. Because it increases our flexibility. Right. And also that, again, everybody's different, that is something  I talk about a lot as well. Right. Whether we're an individual session or if we're in a group setting, It's just human nature we're going to look around the room, right. Even if I'm doing it virtually. And wonder why does my body look different than that? There's so many different reasons and it doesn't even necessarily have to do with the fact that you're not flexible 

enough. Maybe your body just doesn't do it that way. And that's okay. Because what we want to do is use the poses to certify and a sense of comfort and ease within the body. Right. You know another difference for what you might find in yoga therapy. And our teachers that are trauma informed is that. We want to give choice…

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…Thank you again for joining us on Insight Mind Body Talk, a body centered mental health podcast.  We hope today's episode encouraged and supported you in learning new skills and strengthening your mind-body connection. Please join us next week as we continue to explore integrative approaches to wellbeing. Until then, take care.