The Grounding Nature of Cooking

Caramelized onions may one day be studied for their antidepressant effects

Christmas and Hanukah reveal the chef inside me. I just took Fanny Farmer chocolate chip cookies out of the oven for the third time in 10 days. I could do that recipe with my eyes closed and they’d still turn out, I’ve made the very same ones on so many lonely Saturday nights that I’ve honestly stopped counting.

And though I am not the greatest cook, I believe cooking is great for me. Cooking is grounding.

To describe. Cooking is grounding because the food I prepare fills my belly when I’m done. This is due to the fact that I’m fucking hungry just before I cook, and doing so tells me I’m about to eat, which fills me with unequalled hope and other pleasant emotions. The equation is simple: on one side of the equals sign is most of my problems, and on the other side is a picture of me smiling and wiping au jus from my face.

Furthermore, I verge at times on hunger’s slightly less emotionally regulated, demented cousin, “hangry.” A good portion of the most fulfilling cooking-events throughout my life happened after I had waited way too long to eat. And as the sage noted, “eat when hungry.” But I am nearly positive he/she just forgot to also mention to “eat when hangry.“ If only they’d thought of it. Eating food is guaranteed to remove hunger and “hanger,” and looking forward to that while in the process of preparing food is pleasant in a way I call grounding.

Preparing food is also grounding because it’s inventive. True story: I used to cook for myself when I was a bit poorer. Oft times as a teenager, I went from despondently scanning our sparingly stocked cupboards to turning out an edible three-course meal, sometimes even for my buddies, too. It was creative. A piece of bacon, half a broccoli, butter and some fettuccini. Voila! These memories are conjured when I cook. They remind me of the fun I had creating something from nothing.

Keep in mind, my mom had to feed my brother and I when our teenage bodies were expanding on a daily basis, a growth that was facilitated by our unique ability to wolf down several days’ meals’ worth of food and then take long, unearned naps, behaviour patterns seen only in some dogs and bears basically operating on a gorge-fast cycle.

Moving on. Cooking also reduces anxiety. For starters, hunger causes a type of anxiety that only eating can quench- the anxiety of not knowing if you’ll have enough to eat. Poverty also makes hunger worse in that you don’t have as much food going into your body, which in turn could exacerbate anxiety on a physiological level. It’s therefore easy to see how eating- including the preparation of food- might protect against anxiousness, especially the type related to poorness and hungriness.

Also, the act of making food can clearly be made into a mindfulness practice- which is good for anxiety. Working with our hands, creating something, following a recipe, chopping vegetables, seasoning meats. Each produces inherent gratification because of their meditative aspect. Further, cooking is often done to feed others, and contributing to others can boost feelings of gratitude, connection and help us to enjoy the moment. Helping others basically helps us feel better about ourselves. Cooking is an ideal thing to do for someone else.

(Ahem.. cant help but to reflect on the positive impact on romantic intentions- themselves often hampered by anxiety- that can be wrought from some garlic and butter sizzling in a pan).

Physical tasks like food-prep are also naturally therapeutic. Work such as cooking, painting a bedroom and gardening inspire mindfulness, but they also produce something quite tangible. Making things can be good for us. Doesn’t hurt that with food, we get to eat it afterwards.

Finally, cooking is grounding in that it smells good. Can we not agree that certain kitchen odours, such as onions in olive oil, ought to be studied one day for their anxiolytic effects? Maybe they already have. Try it sometime. Remove anxiousness by making some good-smelling stuff: Cookies. Toast. French fried potatoes.

Who doesn’t like the smell of coffee, even if actually drinking it might contribute to anxiety? Who doesn’t love snapping open a fresh kielbasa, especially if your wife is vegetarian and eating sausage is like dining on rare burgundy truffles? Who hasn’t noticed that the food court at Sherway Gardens is one of the few places we can take a well-earned break from fast fashion outlets and Hudson’s Bay sales reps still hawking “Fahrenheit”? It’s the one place in the mall I can be myself, order the same, steaming pile of tempura that the last guy got, and allow myself to simply witness the ecstatic dance between MSG, my salivating tongue, evaporating hunger, and Christmas shopping. It’s like coming home.


Reflections on Kali

The Goddess Kali fresh from Her battle against evil.

This morning at the Sattva Yoga Retreat Centre, where Lisa and I are staying in India, we did a morning yoga practice themed on the Hindu Goddess Kali.

The center is 30 minutes drive north of Rishakesh, along a rather perilous mountainside road. The compound sits at the base of a valley formed by steep mountains, forested dense-green all the way to the top. They are perhaps 1500 feet high. A small river about 50 feet across runs just outside the length of the grounds at the base of this valley, which the Sattva Center overlooks. Its course is no deeper than five feet in any one spot, a measurement I personally gauged by accidentally wading through it on my first day here, after nearly getting lost on a hike.

A few miles down, this small river feeds into the mighty Ganges. Before it does, it courses over almost pure rock- no mud- which produces the vibrant sound of a bubbling stream heard from anywhere on the property. Our room is stationed on the second floor only 20 feet or so from the river’s edge. A prime spot indeed, although there are no poorly situated rooms here. These gorgeous foothills of the Himalayas surround each of us.

It is not hard to imagine that this geography is among the very birthplaces of yoga.

The Kali practice today was provocative and joined to dark human themes. We roared like lions, pounded our chests and stoked our inner fires. Unlike usual yoga classes- at least North American ones that tend to acknowledge notions of light and love- the Kali practice by definition revives Dionysian energy, shadowy, mysterious, and ferocious.

I admit that the Hindu people’s God-representations are fascinating. One reason for my genuine curiosity in figures such as Kali, is not their religious significance so much as their relevance to the psychoanalytic process. I am, perhaps obnoxiously, interested in what figures like the Goddess Kali have to say about our human psychology.

Viewed this way, Kali is the archetypal pattern of the black mother, or dark mother, a destroyer and a liberator. A version of her exists in diverse cultures. For better or worse, She is one of the archetypes I relate to the most.

So, what does Kali teach us about ourselves?

The story goes, that Kali is the mother of the universe, confers enlightenment, and is the destroyer of evil. She once became so consumed with slaughtering an army of demons that she became uncontainable. Shiva, another aspect of god, looked on in despair, wondering what will be left of the world in the wake of her battle against the evil demons. Then Shiva has an idea: He lies prostrate at her feet, hoping to end her rampage. Fortunately it works.

Have you ever fought against something evil in the world? Have you ever tried to remove all the “toxicity” in your life, to the point where you were more alone and unhappy than ever? Have you ever felt exhausted glimpsing the world’s violence, hatred and suffering? Fighting evil can go too far.

Think of the “Reign Of Terror” perpetrated in the wake of the French Revolution, where a mass slaughter took place against anyone who appeared to stand in the way of the new French Republic, slain in public by guillotine. That brief era had Kali written all over it, in my opinion.

Kali’s dark and destructive nature is taboo, perhaps even more because she is feminine. Kali is also of the shadow, as repressed as our own destructive feminine side. Contextualized by the social world around us, Kali’s darkness is special to behold from the perspective of a Westerner. To insist that femininity can become uncontrollable and enraged is mildly heretical. After all, the few prominent female religious figures to emerge from Christianity tend to be basic replications of the Virgin Mother. Indeed a different type of femininity than Kali.

We see in others what we cannot bear to see in ourselves, usually in critical terms: “There’s something about her I don’t like,” etc. In Jungian Analysis, we might notice Kali-energy through a woman who is a domineering protector in our lives. We may feel unable to escape her. She contains the quintessential “dark energy” of mother. The flip side of loving maternity isn’t hatred but unstoppable, overbearing protection.

The tale also suggests that a humble spiritual enlightenment, depicted as the Shiva prostrate at Kali’s feet. This points to one of the few options available to us when we are protecting ourselves or being protected in destructive ways. The Kali tale also implies the slightly revolutionary idea that feminine energy is usually the more powerful, and that masculinity ultimately submits to it, and not the other way around.

Kali bridges certain energies. She describes the ferociousness of our drive towards enlightenment and individuation. She capsizes the pretty white boats in the harbour, shined up and hoping to impress God. Instead of polish, politeness, white linens and the piousness of temples, Kali brings destruction in her battle against evil, and possesses uncontainable rage. She is so potent that God Himself must lay at her feet.

Kali is the part of me that yearns and is desperate for enlightenment, for truth in an otherwise insane world, for mastery over our own dark impulses. I believe that many stages of yoga are struggle and challenge; often the more effective the yoga, the more the challenge it presents- to both body and mind. Today’s practice was like that. Not flowery, easy or smooth, but hard, disruptive, and strong. I thank Kali for that.

Brief Protocol for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

This protocol is a suggested brief intervention tool for use in settings such as retreats, where strict limitations on time requires adaptation of the eight phases of EMDR. Here, we will only use one disturbing event, and the main purpose of selecting it is to more concretely establish safety/ calm, container and resource installations.

Therapists establish safety and calm prior to working on more disturbing material such as trauma. Standard trust and rapport building encapsulate much of this kind of work, however strategic use of visualizations offers additional options to increase positive affect within the client. And many of these first stage therapy techniques are valuable all on their own. In this brief protocol, we are using them independent of work on trauma, to help people simply increase positivity, resilience in stressful situations, confidence, and self-soothing.

I am not intending to replace in-depth trauma work with this abbreviated protocol. Should you wish to explore traumatic experiences in more depth, I offer a range of strategies to clients including EMDR and yoga to resolve these in a more fulsome way.

A Note About Bilateral Stimulation (BLS)

BLS is bilateral stimulation. The inspiration for the whole EMDR technique came when Francine Shapiro was out walking in the park, when she realized that she became more emotionally resilient afterwards. She attributed these feelings of well being to the multiple ways in which her body enacted bilateral stimulation spontaneously while walking, including clear patterns of spontaneous eye movement. The mind’s information processing system is activated during BLS (think also rem sleep). With EMDR, bilateral stimulation includes techniques to create eye movements, tactile stimulation and sound to engage awareness from side-to-side. This enables you to achieve greater access to the mind’s information processing system.

  1. Safe Calm Place
  • We use the 5 senses to create a safe calm place. This can be a place that is imaginary, real or a combination of the two. Perhaps it’s a beach, a cottage, or a place you’ve always wanted to visit. Name it, then visualize it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it, and then sense the emotions that go along with your perceptions. Create a cue word (ie: Alaskan Waterfront Sunrise).
  • Safe-calm place should contain zero negative themes, persons or experiences. If this is a challenge, I can help during our session and leading up to it.
  • In our telephone consult, I will answer questions and offer direction.
  • Next, we will choose a mildly disturbing incident that rates on a 0-10 scale of distress no higher than 2.5 or 3 out of 10. (ie, you lost a friendly but competitive soccer match; someone butted in front of you in line at grocery store; you couldn’t find your car keys the other day and ran late for an appointment). This is usually something we decide during your session, this disturbing thing should be recent, rather than something from the distant past. Also, I want you to feel supported as you access something even mildly disturbing.
  • We will then use your safe calm place visualization and the mildly disturbing incident to anchor and strengthen thoughts and feelings of well-being. With EMDR, we are really accessing the body-mind’s unique healing capacity to create permanent changes in how we feel.
  • Even a 1 degree adjustment to a sailboat’s direction turns into hundreds of miles of difference over the course of a long journey. EMDR kick starts what usually ends up a longer healing process of tectonic and permanent changes in clients’ responses to previously traumatic material.

Instructions:

  • Imagine a place of safety and calm. Begin to own that visualization by using all five senses. Please jot down what you notice about your place.
  • Container
  • Container is another visualization exercise that can help. We use it to create a sense of autonomy and privacy. Opening ourselves up to others can be inherently difficult. Creating a “container” that securely holds our inner material (memories, feelings, reflections) can help us feel more secure, safe and confident in our disclosures. People with trauma often feel that others can see right through them. Container exercises teach that we decide when where and with whom to disclose. This often helps to inspire hope and courage when facing difficulties.
  • Container is also useful when our goal is simply to establish more strength, resiliency and calm- it is not only people who wish to work on trauma who can benefit from it.

Instructions:

  • Visualize a container that you can open and close. It is a strong-box, essentially, with hinges and a functioning lock mechanism. We can place anything into our container. It is especially helpful to imagine ourselves putting disturbing memories into it.  Then, smell it, feel it, practice opening and closing it.  Please jot down any sense perceptions of your container (sight, sound etc).

  • Resource Development
  • Choose a positive emotion or state of being you would like more of in your life.
  • During our session together, we will choose a challenging situation, feeling, thought or relationship that you would like to balance with positivity or confidence (note, this should be something recent and not super-significant)
  • Many clients choose confidence, self worth, well-being, mental clarity, intelligence etc. Feel free to choose a positive emotion from a feeling wheel. When you think about (confidence, joy), what comes to mind? What would it feel like to have this emotion? What if all your cells were full of this emotion? What would it be like to have more of this emotion? If you felt that emotion, what would follow? What would follow from that? How would your thinking or behavior be different with this resource available to you?  
  • Please choose an object, animal, ancestor or symbol that best represents your resource. Take your time, and even allow this image, ancestor or symbol to emerge “by invitation.”
  • We will use BLS to “install” this resource. Address intrusions by using the resource. Apply to future templates.

What is your resource:

Object, animal or ancestor:

  • Positive Cognition
  • Choose a self-referential statement such as, “I am worthy,” “I am kind,” “I am hopeful.”
  • Scale 0-7 for believability (0=not believable at all, 7= totally believable)
  • We will use BLS to develop towards 7.

Feeling Wheel

Description: mage result for feeling wheel pics

Addiction and Social Justice

Loneliness, like addiction, may be among the inescapable features of our modern industrial communities. Yet since these conditions are generally treated as individual problems originating in either maladaptive behaviour or biologically determined predispositions, treatment plans offered to depressed, addicted and disconnected people rarely take into consideration what author George Monbiot calls Western society’s “epidemic of loneliness”:

Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as the disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents—all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.

Loneliness has become a major public health issue, with multiple other associated illnesses. The commonness of the phenomenon of loneliness reflects the relative health of our communities as a whole, and how they tend to inspire or undermine empathetic connecting. When communities fail to provide sufficient opportunities to meaningfully connect, mass addiction is one of the unfortunate results.

Psychology researcher Bruce Alexander has shown that communities based on free market capitalism lack socialization opportunities in a way that would otherwise prevent conditions like addiction from becoming epidemic-like crises: “There is little drug consumption in the natural environment and a lot when the people or animals are placed in an environment that produces social and cultural isolation.” The rats in Alexander’s Rat Park experiments only pushed the levers for cocaine or heroin when the creatures were kept isolated from their rat-buddies. Yet isolating the rodents in cages had characterized almost every experiment on drug addiction until Rat Park. When Alexander instead gave the little rats generous opportunities to connect, the results were dramatic: addiction waned and even disappeared in rat communities predicated on socialization. When he put the rats back into individual cages, the animals again developed severe addictions.

So if rats are such socially needy creatures that they become heroin addicts by merely being alone, how much more vulnerable are humans to the forces of isolation and a lack of what Dr Alexander calls, “the psychologically sustaining” aspect of culture?

From another angle, consider also how routinely market capitalist forces inspire a sense of disconnection in how they market their products. Advertisements in the beauty industry design campaigns to erode the consumer’s sense of social well-being, exploiting feelings of disconnection and shame. It helps to sell something expensive if your customers believe it will fill an existential hole that your industry created in the first place! At that point they’ll pretty much buy anything from you.

Furthermore we are currently exposed to ever more sophisticated marketing that relies on the same equation: lonely people buy things in order to repair feelings of disconnection. Heroin is only one of a zillion answers to this kind of thing. Addiction to social media has become another. 

Research keeps piling up on the possibility that platforms like Facebook exploit powerful feelings of disconnection among users. Rather than fulfilling the vague promise to revolutionize democratic information sharing, which most of us bought as an idea in the 1980s and 90s, the age of the internet is now dominated by silicon-valley oligarchies. Mark Zukerberg announces that his company is addressing fake news or other bits of bad information, without ever addressing the possibility that the platform itself is a set up for disconnection, setting in motion the very substrate of addictive behaviour.

The social media companies we now rely upon for our daily activities, furthermore employ algorithms designed specifically to make users feel like we are in conflict or crises. Multiple whistleblowers from within the hallowed vestiges of these massive corporations have now come forward to advise users to quit until the owners of these platforms take seriously the addictive and corrosive nature of their company’s product. Such people have outed the fact that these platforms were designed from their inception to encourage feelings of fear and loneliness- not unlike the manner and design of casinos, which make lavish profits from gamblers feelings of loss (Lanier, Jared, 10 Arguments).

For these reasons, loneliness and addiction are not just individual problems, and a paradigm shift is required for us to see that we may have become more like the rats in the cages, than we are like the rats in the park. Treatment strategies such as psychotherapy and pharmacology work for sufferers of addiction, in part since they are aimed at helping us feel more connected. But these must also somehow address the vast oppression of loneliness, otherwise we can only meet the problem half way.

An analysis of how we structure our communities should be urgently undertaken- especially by the politically motivated left- so that therapies can continue to accommodate the known socio-cultural factors that play into mental health problems. A fractured, siloed, us-versus them approach, which unfortunately characterizes many of our political aims, will simply not be sufficient to address people’s underlying feelings of loneliness and shame.

Yoga As Phase One Trauma Treatment in EMDR

Before a course of trauma therapy gets into a client’s troubling experiences, they and their therapist usually work diligently to establish a sense of safety and calm in the present moment. I use yoga for this purpose as well. It helps me help clients to develop inner and outer resources required for the treatment of their trauma, because it connects people to their bodies and helps them feel strong and relaxed. Yoga can be felt as increased resiliency, relaxation and more adaptive thinking.

Safety and calm are trauma recovery skills. Traditional EMDR teaches the use of visualization exercises to increase these, but there is a wide set of available skills to increase or establish safety that do not require visualizations. Learning to feel safe and calm is what we are really after, not that we “know” the course of a particular mindfulness routine. Safe/calm place exercises are thus called affect regulation skills- where we make ourselves feel better. The body and breath are allies in this journey to increase regulation.

What inner resources and skills are you already using for the things you find stressful in your life? What helps you feel like you are rebounding after stressful things happen? Maybe therapy, maybe music, maybe your partner, friends and allies. Hatha yoga is simply another type to add.

Hatha yoga- generally speaking the physical branch of yoga- is a means to create space for inner awareness. It includes ancient as well as ever-evolving sets of techniques that remain viable thousands years later for millions of people due in part to the benefits of slowing down the mind’s compulsive thought-emotion-behavior patterns. Yoga increases awareness of and control over the body, necessary parts of the creation of a sense of safety and calm.

Neuroception

Polyvagal theory explains why yoga and other mindfulness are so helpful in phase one trauma treatment. Polyvagal postulates that the body is specially equipped to quickly sense safety and danger, which through the vagus nerve accumulates information and sends it back to the brain, informing it about the environment. This talent is called “neuroception.” Polyvagal shows that when we strategically engage and relax some of these parts of the body, our entire nervous system including the brain benefits, leading to various gains related to stress resiliency and trauma recovery.

Polyvagal refers to a set of three possible responses to our circumstances. It seems we had first conceived of two possible responses to our outside worlds: Sympathetic fight/ flight, and parasympathetic rest/digest. The third response third response – socialization- is considered in polyvagal to come first. We first try to resolve things with cooperating and communicating. It is only when this fails that we end up fighting, fleeing or freezing (parasympathetic from this standpoint talked of as freeze).

Associated with more recent evolution, this third response is also called our “smart vagus.”

Smart vagus is critical to having a functional relationship to our environment. Since fight, fight and freeze are less adaptive and require more caloric energy, they are less sustainable than connecting. Polyvagal’s developer Stephen Porges sstates,“To switch effectively from defensive to social engagement strategies, the nervous system must do two things: (1) Assess risk, and (2) if the environment looks safe, inhibit the primitive defensive reactions to fight, flee, or freeze.” Our intelligence and communication skills act as brakes on our more primitive responses.

When a person experiences trauma, socialization and problem solving responses are sacrificed. Sometimes this becomes a tragic and permanent transformation. We can become stuck in fight, flight or freeze responses. But we have reason to hope: We can re-teach the mind-body that we are safe in the world. Socialization and problem solving can again take precedence in our lives, keeping less adaptive and defensive thinking in the background. That is the promise of neuroception.

Hatha yoga may be a kind of neuroceptive activity, where chronic defense activations associated with trauma are re-written by controlling certain aspects of our physical lives. Yoga teaches we are simply at our best more often when we are not only relaxed, but when we know we can make ourselves relaxed, an empowerment that is indispensible to trauma recovery plans.

Stage one trauma work is about practicing the talents of safety, trust, strength and connection. Yoga provides the psychotherapy space with a host of specific techniques, such as asana and pranayama, each with hundreds of exercises to choose from. Coordinating with a trained yoga instructor- better yet one who knows therapeutic yoga- can play an important role in helping psychotherapy clients gain control of their inherent abilities to relax and be present. Hatha yoga is also a good alternative for clients who do not respond to verbally-guided mindfulness meditations. Adding coordinated breath and physical movement to relaxation programs can draw such clients in, make them want to try different things, and ultimately reap more of the the benefits of phase one trauma treatment.

Reflections on Mind-Body Transformation

The body teaches me things that help me understand my mind. In this piece I compare the deepening of hatha, physically-based yoga practice to the way clients improve during psychotherapy.

Most people in the West consider body and mind as separate entities. One of the grandfathers of modern science, Rene Descartes, defined our bodies as “distinct” from our minds, a viewpoint that has come to be known as body-mind dualism. Healing on physical -psychological levels is the subject of multiple Western sciences, medical protocols, treatments and kinds of holistic care, and most of these subscribe in one way or another to Descartes’ view of mind-body separateness.

Yet plenty of other cultures and their medicines do not presume this. Some that easily come to mind, include healthcare practices from India like yoga and Ayurveda, and those that come from indigenous cultures around the world. These tend to view dualism as dilemma rather than gift which is at the heart of the way that human beings feel sick or out of place in the world.

Yoga is considered a science. After practicing I now understand why: The title of India’s inconceivably wonderful contribution to the world of healing, Yoga, literally means “to yoke” or “to connect,” and connecting mind and body is one of the most basic, but everlasting lessons in Yoga.

Treating dualism with yoga is simple really. Yoga teaches by it’s very practice, that our separation of things, one from another, convinces the us that life is an enduring suffering. We are just another separate thing in a vast universe of other separate things, most of which care little for each others daily lives. We have concepts of God, but these usually place him at “the head” of the whole affair, in much the same way that we view ourselves as the “commander” of our bodies.

In the Vedic philosophy from which Yoga emanated the term maya refers to this ability of the human mind to conjure illusions which we then act upon as if they were real. Separateness is one such belief. Yoga teaches rather that the universe is deeply in love with the individual, and that we are not any sort of genetic accident, as the scientific materialists insist. Beyond the mind, the state of moksha exists, where student experiences this deep connected state. We are threads in the very fabric of the unfolding universe.

Yoga reconciles our smallness and vulnerability as we become our higher Selves. “We are lions,” as Swami Vivekenanda states in the yoga classic, Pathways to Joy. We are not weak or alone by any means. In fact, the whole universe is said to be behind each and every person. They are as raindrops to a lake.

Breath work is an antidote to this kind of existential pain, especially insofar as it creates a relationship to the body. Breath work, pranayama, is practice (yama) of breath (prana). More, pranayama is actually the practice our life-force, a concept very similar to Chi. Life force transcends mind- body, self -spirit, object- subject paradoxes of consciousness. The breath is where union can take place, and out of which our health radiates like a byproduct.

Developing a relationship to our bodies inspires healing. For people with mental health concerns, the experience of tragic separateness is core to disease and it’s resolution. If one ruminates on thoughts like it, they can make us sick. I have noticed in my practice that people, for example, with psychotic conditions are particularly affected by feelings of dualism. Descrates’ dilemma is not harmless. It is like a delusion, indeed, except one that large numbers of people believe. Yoga wrings some of these assumptions out of students in a short order of practice. It can therefore be indispensable to people with serious mental illnesses.

I have met a number of previously seriously mentally ill people who nearly reversed their conditions with a powerful yoga practice. One, a full blown schizophrenic who had been homeless for 12 years though he had been brought up in wealth, used daily Bikram Yoga, medication and the fellowships of AA to regain his entire life back.

Our bodies get deeper into yoga poses by daily practice. Therapists use reinforcement strategies to make sure client progress is maintained in the same way that we can track our greater satisfaction, wrought from yoga. As one’s hips move towards being pointed fully forward in Warrior 1, a sense of physical alignment is paralleled by feelings of mental alignment. We put our bodies into therapeutic positions, then breathing as we do to “reinforce” them. It could take weeks or months for a client to be able to stop drinking, as each of their particular efforts at the cause bear fruit and hold steady. In the same way, it can take time to get deeper into certain poses and practices.

At one point while practicing Warrior 1, my yoga instructor wondered aloud, “What adjustments to this body-position can you make that would enable you to remain in this position indefinitely?” The answer was immediately, to relax both mind and body as a means of conservation. My mind’s rigidity and perfectionism was reduced, and as I became softer and more resilient, so did my body. It is so important that people reflect on the changes they are making, and how far they have come.

Psychotherapists and their clients can capitalize on reversing the erroneous belief of separation between body and mind, by adding some yoga to their practice.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an advanced psychotherapy technique used primarily to treat trauma. Known for it’s potent, predictable and relatively fast treatment effects, EMDR is supported by a wide body of research literature. It is an excellent treatment option for conditions like PTSD, addiction, dissociation and anxiety.

EMDR compliments and indeed relies upon the success of other psychotherapy strategies, while also being totally unique. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (BLS) during recall of traumatic memories to induce the mind’s own information processing/ healing systems. If eye movement is chosen as the BLS, client follows therapist’s hand to the left and right.

The central explanation put forth regarding EMDR’s effect is the Adaptive Information Processing model (AIP). This theory suggests that the mind normally stores memories in adaptive ways, which creates homeostasis and a sense of resilience after stressful things happen. According to AIP, we come to understand troubling memories in their rightful context as the mind inherently processes information.

But sometimes, what happens to us is so troubling, that the mind is hindered from normal integration of an experience. Childhood abuse, for example. Car accidents. In such cases, the mind’s natural ability to process information is impaired, and memories are stored in dysfunctional ways. Therapy is generally aimed at accessing these memories to resolve them.

Traumatic events can therefore damage the mind’s inherent ability to store memories in adaptive ways. This means that dysfunctional material is not connected to adaptive thinking and is easily activated in the present. It is quite literally as if the part of the mind of trauma sufferers lives in the past. This leads people to re-experience, have nightmares and be afraid- the hallmarks of traumatic injury.

EMDR clinician and client carefully access these maladaptive memory networks through 8 phases of treatment. As these are carried out, memory and physical sensations are reorganized from a state-specific, trauma-induced form, into an adaptive form. EMDR assists the mind to create new neural networks around old material, such as a car accident. Signs that new neural networks are forming around old material during sessions include relief of knots in the stomach, new perspectives on the disturbing event, clearer recall of the event, and a general feeling of calm and safety… in relation to the trauma.

 For those of you well versed in this kind of work, you can understand the importance of this distinction. EMDR in essence has the power to connect disconnected parts of the self. It reaches into the client’s very own history, heals it, and instills permanent gains in the various presentations of traumatic injury.

I am so excited to be offering this technique.

How it Works

As with any psychotherapy technique, EMDR relies upon general therapist skills such as rapport building, the ability to hold space, grounding techniques, and awareness of client readiness factors. The therapist’s job is to build a solid relationship and helps client develop self-soothing skills. It is then that reprocessing can begin.

This technique is very specific. As with any psychotherapy, its power to heal can also be the capacity to do harm. Maintaining fidelity to the core aspects of the technique is a must. Unskilled or amateur practitioners in EMDR could be a hazard to people dealing with real trauma.

To help clients prepare, EMDR therapists also use The Window of Tolerance model. I teach it to my clients. It can act as a form of biofeedback, similar to the SUD (subjective units of distress) scale. As such it is a valuable skill as well as a theoretical model.

The Window depicts a zone of optimal arousal, where feelings of safety and connectedness pervade the individual’s experience. This is sandwiched between zones of hyper and hypo arousal, where the client experiences fight/flight/bite/ freeze responses, typical to trauma. The EMDR therapist guides their client into these dysfunctional states to reprocess them, while working to keep the client in optimal (connected) arousal. This is a skill known as dual awareness- one foot in the past and one foot safely in the present. You and your therapist work towards developing dual awareness prior to reprocessing the memories you have selected.

SUDs from 1-10 help clients subjectively gauge their current level of upset for targeted memories. Each SUD adds to therapist’s growing clinical picture of what and how the client has been affected. A sense of competence emerges in clients through history-taking, as they begin to look forward to ameliorating problems that have been holding them back.

EMDR empowers clients to be bold. We can resolve our trauma! EMDR is one of the psychotherapy techniques that make this statement true.

You will be introduced to bilateral stimulation. Eye movement is my preferred method. I use hand pulsars or headphone beeps as a second option. Everything is explained as part of informed consent. Sometimes clients used to talk therapy find this technique feels quite different. EMDR does not place a high priority on the words that occur between sets as healing is taking place. Words spoken between sets are noted, held compassionately, but then followed up by another set of bilateral stimulation and processing is resumed immediately. There is a debrief after each session, where the things which did come up in reprocessing are discussed at greater length.

Clients can expect relatively rapid resolution of traumatic memories during EMDR. One of the best things about being an EMDR clinician is the effect seen in clients, often regarding issues that have proven resistant to other forms of therapy.

I am excited to be fully trained in a psychotherapy technique with the impact of properly conducted EMDR therapy. I offer free 20 minute telephone conversations to anyone interested in finding out if this kind of therapy is right for you.