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December 2, 2019

Yoga heals trauma with Beth Shaw

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Beth Shaw is the President and Founder of Yoga Fit Training systems. The leader in mind, body education, yoga fit has trained more than 200,000 fitness instructors on six continents. Today we're going to talk about how yoga can be used to address trauma, both emotional and physical.

Allan: 01:12 Beth, welcome to 40+ Fitness.

Beth: 01:14 Thank you very much, Allan. It's a pleasure to be here.

Allan: 01:17 You know, I was excited to get an opportunity, I haven't had anyone on to talk about yoga in quite some time. And you know, most of the time when we're talking about it, we're getting into the strength aspects or the mobility aspects or the stress reduction aspects of it. But it was pretty cool to see that there's also some opportunity for us to use yoga in a therapeutic way around trauma.

Beth: 01:41 Yeah, it's a wonderful tool for anyone who needs to heal.

Allan: 01:45 And that's what I, that's what I really got out of your book. And I guess, you know, I grew up and I, you know, obviously I kind of went through your ACE tests and I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I, I'm going to say I scored better than 50% on your test, but I guess I tend to be maybe a little bit more resilient at some level. And, and that was where you kinda got into in the book is that trauma doesn't affect everybody the same way. And so we all are kind of dealing with our own battle with trauma at some level.

Beth: 02:17 Yeah. You know, we're all like snowflakes, whether it's physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically. So we all handle things differently. But, you know, I think that it's common to the human condition for people to struggle.

Allan: 02:33 It is, you know, it's kind of a core tentant of Buddhism is that, you know, that's what life is really kind of about. And it's more about embracing that than running away from it. And yoga kind of gives you a tool to do just that.

Beth: 02:48 Yes, it does. It really, it gives us the opportunity, um, you know, not only to heal but also to be the witness to our own process.

Allan: 02:57 Now in the book you shared something, it was called the ACE test that I spoke about a little earlier. Can you kind of go through this ACE test and what it, what it does and some of the questions that you ask and that would be asked in that test. So, you know, we can kind of figure out where do we lie on this and what are some of the things we may want to address as we go forward with, using yoga as a therapy?

Beth: 03:21 Well the adverse childhood experience test is a simple test, with under 10 questions. Basically asking if anyone was abusive to you, uh, in your household while growing up. If there was violence in your household, if you had a parent who died, you know, if he was a witness to any type of trauma, if you had any head injuries. So it kind of, it's the opportunity for us to index ourselves physically and emotionally and just answer yes or no questions. And, and typically if you have more than five yeses on that test, uh, you are susceptible to a lot of trauma related issues, including addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and so on.

Allan: 04:15 Okay, and I guess that's why we really kind of piqued my interest because I took the test and I'm like, okay, this is not a test you want to score high on. But I did and so as I got into.

Beth: 04:26 Allan, I just wished that that one, I wish that I had had that test when I was 18 years old. And two, I wish that they would give this test to everyone who's, let's say a junior in high school. Um, because, you know, had I've understood myself better as a young adult, my life, of course probably would've been a lot easier.

Allan: 04:50 And I agree with you, I think, you know, some of the choices and decisions I made, you know what I mean? We kind of sit there and tell ourselves, uh, when we're at that age, it's like, Oh, I would never do that. I would never act like that. Uh, you know, that's not who I'm going to be. Uh, and then you find yourself 10 years later doing some of those exact things you said you would never do. And so I think that's how, you know, and in a sense, you know, I, I had always told myself when I was younger, it's like, well, I'm always going to be fit. I'm always going to be in shape. Um, I'm always going to take care of myself. Uh, but my kind of my drive to perfection with my job, cause I think maybe that's where I buried a lot of this stuff was just okay, I need to be successful.

Allan: 05:32 That's how I'm going to be a measure of, you know, difference is to be successful. And I applied a lot of that energy to my job and I didn't apply it towards some of the more healthier pursuits like eating right and doing yoga. And so eventually kinda things fell apart for me. Uh, and it wasn't until after I kind of rebounded and said, okay, I've got to fix this, but I started doing some of these things. And I think I was able to turn it around. But from your book, I'm kinda getting an idea that I, you know, I may need to do a little bit deeper exploration. Guys don't tend to want to do that that often, but I think it might be worth it for me to do a little bit deeper dive. And one of the areas that I was…

Beth: 06:18 They said that they say that the unexamined life is not worth living. And yeah, I think it's good for anyone at any age to continue diving because sometimes even workaholism can be just another way of escaping one's pain. It's perhaps healthier than you know, being an alcoholic. But nevertheless, and this is just speaking from someone you know, I'm a workaholic. I excessively exercise their coping mechanisms.

Allan: 06:52 Yes. So when we're trying to do this, obviously trauma, trauma is not just a, it's not just an emotion. It actually physically changes our body and our brain. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Beth: 07:05 Yeah, trauma really does affect both our body and our brain in terms of what it does to the brain. It overstimulates different parts of the brain in particular the amygdala. And this is an almond shaped mass located deep in the brain and is responsible for survival related threat identification as well as tagging memories with emotion. So after a trauma, uh, this part of the brain can become highly alert and activated, which makes us perceive threats everywhere and also can make us hypervigilant. Also it affects our hippocampus and increases, uh, cortisol levels. And this, you know, can cause a whole variety of problems. Inflammation in the body, keeping the body and mind stimulated in a reaction mode constantly. And, also our prefrontal cortex shrinks and this is our decision making part of the brain. So we're not always making the best decisions for ourselves. Uh, so there are lots of changes in the brain and you know, your brain is really responsible for a lot of things. So it becomes problematic because of the very motor that's running us is not functioning properly.

Allan: 08:23 Yeah. Now, so obviously, uh, you know, as, as folks can go through the ACE test, is that something they could find online or is it available.

Beth: 08:31 Yes, they can find it online. They just need to Google adverse childhood experiences test and it will pop up.

Allan: 08:37 Okay. So if someone goes through that test or they suspect, okay. There, there was some or know that there was some trauma in their, in their past, uh, because of various events that were still kinda there. How has yoga going to help them with this journey?

Beth: 08:52 You know, well, first of all, yoga in its very is calming and relaxing. It lowers blood pressure, it lowers the heart rate, it gives us a pause. So it's just going to kind of take you back to a more neutral place. Um, it also gives you the opportunity to witness the body and the mind so you can kind of see what's going on in your body. If you're, you know, with repetitive practice, you'll be able to observe mental patterns that perhaps are not serving you. Perhaps you can then if you're a more contemplated person, witness patterns in your life that aren't serving you, you know, whether it's with relationships, friendships, job, and then also it, uh, helps our bodies produce GABA. And GABA is a calming agent produced by the brain. And when we're really stressed out our GABA levels are really low. So yoga is actually one of the only, it's not the only way other than if we take a GABA, you know, supplement or, or pharmaceutical, which strips you of your emotions. By the way, this is a great way to get GABA active in the body.

Allan: 10:04 Now when, when you start talking about trauma, this is just one of the things that kind of hit me because you have some case studies in the book that are really, really good and men, men and women, uh, and some with PSTD and other things. And I was just thinking, um, because one reason to hit home was I was in that unit, that guy, I can't remember his name, the plane crash. I was in 82nd airborne. I mean not not 82nd a hundred force airborne. Just right after that I joined the military and I was stationed at Fort Campbell. So we were hearing about the plane crash, you know, cause it was a peace time thing. And so you know, you would have these accidents and it was a question what's going on? Because we had some helicopter accidents, we weren't actively involved, but it was some people in our unit.

Allan: 10:51 So you kept, we kept having these, these series of accidents and you're like, okay, we're in peace time and we're, you know, we're at risk. And so every time you're getting on the helicopter, everything doing something, you just, like you said, hyper villaging you're, you're, you're watching out for your buddy, you're watching out for yourself. You're like, okay, we don't want to be the ones that had the accident. So it was, that's when I say it was kind of drew me in because I was like, okay, I can, I can feel with this guy's feeling at some level. It's hard sometimes to kind of lean into those feelings though. So you know, you're thinking about going into yoga. It just seems to be that there has to be a trust factor between you and the Yogi that you're learning from to take that step.

Beth: 11:31 Well, yes and no. If you know, we take that test and we decide, okay, I recognize that I do, you know, I have, I have this issue. Um, and I just want to explore a yoga practice. Cause I also recognize that, you know, I've got high blood pressure, I'm hyper vigilant. Uh, I'm highly reactive, you know, or, or whatever the case may be. Um, you know, you can go to yoga, you can partake in the practice. You don't have to discuss any of your, uh, trauma with the instructor. Um, if, you know, if you were the victim of a violent attack, uh, you're gonna want to make sure that, you know, you're not getting any surprise hands on the chest by your instructor. Uh, we really focus on this a lot at yoga fit. In fact, there was a reason article in the New York times about yoga teachers who are, uh, let's say getting a little too handsy with their students. Um, that just came out in the New York times, uh, over the weekend. But we teach our students at yoga fit too, to make sure that, um, they tell students that they're going to make hands on adjustments if they do and, and give the student an opportunity to refuse because for people who have had physical or sexual trauma in their lives, the wrong touch at the wrong time can trigger them be highly triggering.

Allan: 13:06 Yeah, I could see that. So as we talk about yoga fit, cause you mean your training, you've trained hundreds of thousands of instructors, uh, there's seven steps of yoga fit. Could you kind of go through those to get us a little bit more familiar with the yoga fit?

Beth: 13:21 Uh, well, the essence of yoga fit is breathing, feeling, listening to the body, letting go of judgment, expectation and competition and being present in the moment. And we encourage anybody who takes a yoga fit workshop, retreat or training to really embody these principles in themselves because yoga is a practice and it's a process and it's not a a one, one time event, nor is it a one size fits all proposition. So, um, you know, allowing that to be our foundation. Uh, and when we practice to, you know, we don't want to be competing with the person next to us or competing with the body that we had 10 years ago. Um, we just want to show up for ourselves in that day. And just, you know, when I practice, I'm just, some days I have an injury, some days I'm tight, you just kind of, it's an opportunity to just be with what is and do a little inquiry into the body and see what's going on.

Allan: 14:25 You know, I as a hyper competitive person, I could, I, I would, I would still struggle a little bit. I think it would take me a long time of practicing to get comfortable with just not competing against myself. I'm not going to compete against anyone else, but I, I still do have this strong inclination in myself to just want to see if I can be a little bit better tomorrow. So I, I like the seven steps. So I think, you know, the, the, particularly when you're talking about breathing and just kind of being aware of yourself, I don't, I don't think we give ourselves enough of that on a day to day basis, but I do see that this is a kind of a process that you'd have to practice for a while to really get comfortable. I would have to practice for a while to get comfortable with.

Beth: 15:05 Yeah. And you know everything's a practice in my usually. So, um, I just think that engaging in the process is very beneficial. Whether it's your first time doing it or your 1000th time doing it, it's just you're always going to get some benefits. And that's the beauty of it.

Allan: 15:24 Yeah. Awesome. Now I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest, and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?

Beth: 15:35 Well, I believe, uh, listening to the body is very important. I believe in setting an intention and action plan and then you have to follow your plan. And then lastly, be a little bit flexible.

Allan: 15:52 I really, I really liked those, especially the action part. So many people plan, plan, plan and don't act. Thank you for that. If someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about your book Healing Trauma with Yoga or about Yoga Fit, where would you like for me to send them?

Beth: 16:09 Healing Trauma with Yoga, which is now out and available and shipping from warehouses everywhere and available in bookstores also can be ordered off of Amazon or off of yogafit.com if you're interested in the yoga fit workshop, conference or training, we have over 50 different educational programs as we run over a thousand trainings worldwide every year and 15 conferences across North America. They can go to yogafit.com. If you're interested in more health and wellness articles, anti-aging hacks, uh, information on dealing with depression via supplementation, red light therapy, weighted blankets, and all the other alternative and not so alternative things that I'm up to. You can visit me at bethshaw.com.

Allan: 17:03 Great. You can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/410 and I'll be sure to have all those links there. So Beth, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.

Beth: 17:14 Thank you. It was my pleasure and I wish everyone a fit and peaceful day.

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