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.

Wait, the Point is Pleasure!? June Ayurveda Essentials

Quick: Can you name a calorie-free, addiction-free, just downright FREE daily pleasure that doesn’t involve another person? If an answer doesn’t come to you quickly, but a whole list of other crap does, then you may need a refresher course in the simpler things in life.

That’s how it was for me.  I was knee deep in my third career, and – even though I loved my job – my career, my friends, a handful of vacation days and whole lot of hustle were all I had.

When I burned out and searched for another way to live, I luckily found myself in an Ayurveda course. The first lesson was that Kama – or pleasure – is one of the primary reasons for life.

Not just something you do one day a week,
Not just something to distract you,
Not in a bottle,
Not in an invite,
And definitely NOT a diversion, but
Pleasure is the POINT of life.

Every day offers us a multitude of opportunities to be fed by beauty, healthy rituals, amazing food, and uplifting study and community.  Real energy lies in “pleasure refueling,” and finding these free sources of mojo can significantly cut down on the Starbucks bills!

As a teacher, the Ayurvedic lens saves me time and effort, and has made my yoga therapy work infinitely more precise, effective, and direct.  Imagine if you could determine what a person needs just by looking at them – isn’t that a skill you’d like to have, especially if you are in the healing arts?  And wouldn’t you love to empower your clients to nourish their health and happiness?

That’s why our June Prema Yoga Ayurvedic Training is both an essential life course and a required course for therapeutic teachers.

We study outside,
We indulge in the senses,
We seek to become better listeners,
Better teachers,
And better caretakers of our bodies and minds,
All through infinite sources of pleasure.