An Interview with Dr. Shari Becker – Yoga for Positive Body Image

Dr. Shari Becker will be leading PYI’s specialty training, “Yoga for Positive Body Image” September 24-25, 2017 in Manhattan.  The class is part of Prema Yoga Institute’s offered Specialty Yoga Therapy Courses.

GREAT NEWS:  NYS Social Workers can receive 16 CEU’s for this course!  You can sign up for the class directly at Kula for Karma’s website. Enjoy the interview!
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DANA SLAMP: Hello Shari! I understand that you’ve been a clinical psychologist and practicing since 1998. Tell me about the realization you came to when you started practicing yoga.

SHARI BECKER: Hello, Dana! Your question addresses my favorite topic: the integration of traditional psychotherapy with the philosophy and teachings of yoga. About 3 years into my clinical practice, a yoga studio opened up in my area. I took my first class with Sheryl Edsall, and I was hooked! I could move my body in ways that didn’t require athleticism AND listen to her talk about spiritual concepts that resonated with me at the same time?? I’m in! In her words, through yoga, I found answers to some of the issues I had been struggling with in my own life. “Speak your truth and let go of the results” is an example of a life-changing comment she made during one class. “Live in faith, not in fear” is another. Once I started integrating the teachings and lessons I learned from my own practice into my life off the mat, I soon began to recognize specific ways in which this wisdom could help some of my patients with their struggles.

DS: Did you see some natural applications of yoga philosophy and techniques in the clinical setting? Or was it odd to consider at first?

SB: While the relevance of yoga philosophy in the clinical setting seemed quite apparent to me in a very natural way, I ran into two issues. The first was that my training, a traditional approach to clinical psychology, strongly discouraged therapists from “self-disclosing” or bringing their own experiences or beliefs into the therapy process. I was a fairly new therapist and still following the rules. Even mentioning that I had gone to yoga class that week was outside the structure of traditional psychological treatment. In addition, we were taught as psychologists the importance of empirical validation, or research to support our methodology. Yikes! I couldn’t find any research to support what I was doing. It was pretty scary to leave the tried and true approach that I had been trained in.

However, I recognized that with careful attention to the impact on my patient, I could responsibly introduce the subject of yoga and respectfully ask each patient individually, if the appropriate circumstances arose. I also jokingly told them they were free to call the “therapy police” on me if they were so inclined! Over time, my anxiety around breaking the rules lessened and I witnessed the successful application of yogic wisdom in facilitating happier and healthier lives for my patients. One of the first patients I introduced to yoga found a community that she desperately needed in the yoga studio and became a beautiful yoga teacher herself!

DS: Eating disorders are known to be very complicated diagnoses. What about yoga is useful in such a case?

SB: This is a great question, Dana, and the answers will be found in the upcoming Advanced Yoga Teacher Training for Disordered Eating and Negative Body Image. Yoga is an ideal adjunct modality to complement more traditional approaches to treating eating disorders. The training will draw upon many of the therapeutic qualities of yoga to inform yoga teachers and therapists about how they can promote healing, in a very deep and embodied way, for the eating disorder population.

Yoga offers us new perspectives, interrupts our habitual patterns of thinking, teaches us to recognize physiological signals, and invites us to slow down, reflect and pause before we move into action. In addition to addressing the specific needs of the diagnosed eating disorder population, our training will provide information and practical application of yoga philosophy and practice to those who struggle on a regular basis with sub-clinical disordered eating habits and negative body image.

DS: As yoga teachers, so many of us know students who are struggling with negative body image, and most of us have danced with that demon ourselves. It strikes me that in our image-saturated culture, it’s not really a fair fight. How can yoga help us reclaim our self love and worth?

SB: This question raises an important and provocative issue that evokes passionate response in many. Advertisements and messages about food consumption and body image prevail in our society. It is never easy to go against the flow of cultural norms, but no one ever said practicing yoga was easy! Many people have a misconception of yoga and believe it is a physical practice. In its fullest form, yoga invites us to explore our inner selves to get to know our mental, emotional, spiritual and relational bodies as well as our physical body. Once we are able to recognize that we are so much more than our physical bodies, we are able to disengage from the superficial values promoted by the media and other societal factions. From this safe position of boundary and clarity, we are free to cultivate love and compassion for ourselves.

DS: Our Kula for Karma friends have shared how giving you have been in supporting their efforts to bring yoga to at-risk communities and groups. Tell me about what drew you to serve with Kula as a teacher.

SB: Kula for Karma recognizes the therapeutic value of yoga and touches the lives of individuals who are greatly in need of healing, medically, emotionally and spiritually. The populations served by Kula reap the benefits that yoga offers, including stress and anxiety reduction, increased awareness of physical and emotional experience, and self-compassion.

Kula for Karma was founded in my NJ community 10 years ago by two incredible women, Geri Topfer and Penni Feiner, I knew Geri and Penni from our local yoga studios and was very interested in the work they were doing right from the start. Fortunately, Kula offers many opportunities for volunteering and involvement at every level of the organization, so I was able to support them for many years before I was certified as a yoga teacher. It has been a great source of pride and joy to watch my teenage sons join the Kula team by volunteering their IT skills at the annual gala.

DS: We’re so thrilled to now invite Social Workers into the program, and to provide them with 18 CE’s in New York – a huge feat! Other then just about every yoga teacher (IMO!), who else could benefit from this two-day intensive?

SB: I agree with you that every yoga teacher could benefit from understanding how to teach in a way that promotes non-judgment, self-compassion, non-competitiveness and a gentle approach in relationship to our bodies. I also believe that mental health professionals would gain a different perspective on the struggles their patients face in relation to food, eating and body image. Many, if not most, women in particular spend an enormous amount of time and energy believing there is something wrong with themselves, their bodies and their eating habits. The yogic approach to healing offers many profound lessons that would serve all of our patients well. It is sometimes easier to think about our patients as the ones with the issues, but this training will also help each participant become more self-reflective about their own personal dance with the thoughts and feelings that often stand in our way of a healthy and joyful experience in our own bodies. We can only teach what we know, and most of us are works in process on this topic of food, eating and body image. I am looking forward to sharing my own journey with the participants in this training.

Sound Yoga Training – Interview with Jessica Caplan

Did you know that it is sound that creates the world? All the creation stories begin with sound – God spoke to create the world, “Om” is the sound of the Universe vibrating – sound is truly our most powerful tool for change.  Sound is where thought becomes action.  I was able to sit down with PYI’s resident Sound Healer and new mother Jessica Caplan to get the full scoop on how this alchemy works:

Dana: Hi Jess!  Please tell us about what led you to sound healing.

Jess: I’ve been a singer for my whole life, and a yoga teacher for over a decade. For the most part, those two parts of me were separate, and I had a strong desire to integrate them. I started to sing to my students in Savasana – usually improvised chants or melodies without English lyrics – and my students would often come up to me after and say how much my singing had helped them release and relax. Around the same time – and this is before this field became as popular as it is now – I started to hear the words “sound healing.” I started to research and read books on the subject. I quickly knew this was something I wanted to explore and practice. That led me to the wonderful year-long program at the Open Center, at the time supervised by Wendy Young. That was the beginning of my journey, and I am still exploring and learning so much. This subject is truly infinite.

D: I notice that many can reach a more meditative state using sound and music.  Why do you think this is?

J: Sound and music has such a profound impact upon us. It’s universal and it’s ancient. Sound works on the brain and body in real and measurable ways. For example, our brain waves entrain (fall in step with) sound waves, so certain sounds can actually shift our brain waves into the more meditative brain wave states of alpha and theta, and even delta (sleep). Sound can also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to relax and rest. In my experience, sound engages us in ways that can cut through the mental static and open us up to deeper parts of ourselves.

D: Sound Yoga Training often brings up the most delightful moments of the “school year” for me because you see people open up so easily.  What would you say to those who are a little hesitant to sign up because they aren’t “musical?”

J: I’d say that we are all inherently “musical”! What is sound, but vibration, and what are we, but vibrating atoms? This is another reason why sound has such a profound impact upon us: we are vibrational beings. Watch a baby explore her voice – she is totally free, playful and curious. Somewhere along the way, many of us have shut off our connection to the full range of our voice and our own musicality. Getting in touch with that part of ourselves is touching our essence. On a practical level, this training doesn’t require any previous musical experience – though musicians are always welcome. We’ll have plenty of instruments for beginners to explore playing (singing bowls, tuning forks, harmonium, shrutti box and more); all you need is an open, curious mind, and the ability to listen.

D: Awesome. What can we expect this May 10-12 from the training?

J:  A highly experiential weekend filled with exercises in deep listening, meditative sound and mantra, reconnection to our voices as an expression of our soul, and exploration of a wide range of traditional sound healing instruments. This is a get-your-hands-dirty immersion: less exposition, more experience. Like yoga, the magic of sound healing lies in the practice, not the theory. While students will come away with some understanding of the theory and science, what we really want them to leave with is a newfound connection to sound and music.

Ready to dive into the healing powers of sounds? Scroll down to download a free audio meditation track to help you let go.

Words of Wisdom: Sonja Rzepski

Master Yoga Teacher and Private Practice Manager at Pure Yoga

Sonja, you came to Pure with a full client roster culled over years of teaching.  Now you further the careers of so many young teachers as Private Practice Manager at Pure.  You must have heard some inspiring stories from our yoga therapy clients!

Absolutely!  One graduate of your training, who I had hired 9 months ago, has a student who had so many life-threatening conditions and surgeries, that when she showed up for her first session it probably took her 15-20 minutes to get to the reception desk, as she moved painfully and slowly with her walker, never lifting her gaze from the floor. The teacher had thought ahead and arranged for a chair and a massage table to be in the room as the student would not be able to get up and down to the floor. The teacher had done her homework and the student felt cared for right away. 8 months later (yesterday) I saw this same student (who practices 2 times a week now) smiling and walking briskly to her appointment casually swinging a cane, not really needing it at all. It brought tears to my eyes.
How do you suggest keeping yoga and training clients committed to their path?
Connection and bravery. In the private work, we as teachers are agreeing to the moment, to what is truly going on with the student. Basically it’s like going hiking, but the teacher has walked the trail before. Granted you may not know what challenges you will encounter, but you are a steward in a sense, clearing the path, so the student finds their own way. When guided correctly in the study of yoga, a student naturally realizes all of life is an opportunity to practice, and then the study becomes a priority.

You’re teaching “The Abundance Model of Yoga Business” in Prema Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy 7/14 – 8/2.  What are you excited to share with the students?
A plan. I have tools to share that have worked for me and for my staff. Working with the mentality of abundance theory we will cover: connecting with potential students, setting up the first session to succeed, defining a healthy teacher/client business relationship, and up to date info on such practicalities as structuring rates and getting referrals. I want to elevate the way in which we as yoga teachers do business, by believe it or not, using our yogic principals.

Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy teaches that asana should be applied specifically to time, place, and individual.  How have you learned to tune in to what the client truly needs? 
By getting out of the our own way and communicating. In other words, I am very careful to set strong clear boundaries and expectations. It is about two people working on a project, the project being the client’s yoga path, not our own. Trust what you do know, use mentors when you need to, and then treat each student like they are the Buddha sent to teach you something.

Thank you, Sonja, for sharing so generously with our yoga therapists-to-be!