Sprout Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

Susi’s Story

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I asked Susi Costello, director and trainer extraordinaire for a blurb on her path of recovery. She shared with me an answer to a question she wrote that touched my heart. So without further ado –

“Do you recall a time when you allowed yourself to experience the dark side of an emotion in order to later experience the light?” Funny you should ask. I remember so clearly. 

I was 28 years old, participating in a 10 day retreat, seriously anorexic, probably weighing about 80 pounds. I probably looked depressed but I really wasn’t. Mostly, I was emotionless. I guess I was looking for a change, throwing myself into spiritual practices, getting more serious about yoga, meditation. I had no expectations; I really had no idea if anything could help me. 

More than halfway through the retreat, we learned metta. Apparently one of the traditional ways to learn this is to picture a newborn baby and allow feelings of innocent love and wishes for well-being to arise in yourself and then transfer those feelings to yourself and others. OK, this was 1983….you didn’t hear people talk about “triggering PTSD” but I guess that’s what happened. The only newborn baby I could picture was my own, my small daughter born during a very late and very unfortunate illegal abortion 12 years before. My eyes teared and I began to, once again, turn away from my feelings. But I had a crystal clear thought, almost like a voice, “This is your choice….you can be like this forever or just face it.” At that moment, I stopped seeing my robot-like emotional life as something that just happened to me and realized it was something I was doing to myself. 

OK, I don’t think the monks were particularly thrilled that I had such an emotional release that day. (Stern looks were not having the desired effect on my sobbing however I did leave the room at some point.) I allowed myself to look at the snapshots in my mind and physically re-experience the emotions that came with them. Fear when I saw an actual moving baby. And then, crazy as it sounds, I remembered thinking of this baby bird that my family saved by feeding it, round the clock, with a medicine dropper. Surely someone would help my baby with a medicine dropper…”or an incubator?” I naively asked. “We just took her out of an incubator, honey, we’re not putting her back in one.” Feeling that stricture in my chest when I made eye contact with this lovely little girl and realized no one was going to try to save her. Can a newborn baby’s eyes look pleading? Cause I would have sworn, hers did. Horrible as these memories were, I drank them in. 

That was the beginning of my slow, maybe lifelong, recovery. That’s why I come to my mat every day.

Thank you Susi for sharing your story with us! I think we can all relate to her experience in some way or another. It really is amazing just how unique we all are and yet – we are all truly the same.

Love and light,



Fresh Start

In Eating Disorders and Yoga on January 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Dear Sprouters,

As some of you know know, and many of you might not, I am the new blogger for Sprout Yoga.

I stumbled upon Sprout’s webpage many months ago and as I was perusing their site, something just felt right. I felt like I was coming home.

Although I claim I started binging when I was dealing with the breakup of my first real relationship freshman year in college, truth be told I can now tell you I’ve had binge incidences since I was very young. A repressed memory that only came out during an intense therapy session, I can now distinctly remember when I was six years old waking up one morning to an empty apartment. I was terrified and lonely, so I went to the kitchen and grabbed myself a bowl of powered milk, something of a commodity in Brazil. I just kept eating it and eating it and my mom came home to a sick little girl.

Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, I had a pretty great childhood. But incidences like those, as rare as they might have been, are stored in the brain and the body . The feelings of abandonment and loneliness I felt when my boyfriend and I broke up triggered the same feelings that little girl felt over a decade before. It also didn’t help I was feeling very insecure of my body and had surrounded myself with friends with unhealthy relationships with food. I fell into a downward spiral of binging, starving, over exercising, and binging some more. I decided early on in this vicious circle to go to therapy and although it helped me identify the source of my struggles and why I went to food for comfort (because as we all know, eating disorders are never really about the food), I still had my binges. I still felt my waistline expand. I still hated myself.

It took years before I realized that although therapy helped verbalize what I was feeling, I still wasn’t really in touch with my body. That’s where yoga came in. I first went to yoga I because I was bored and had nothing to do. But I found myself going time and time again, even when my schedule got hectic. Eventually I found myself loving the yoga philosophies of breath, connection, openness, compassion, and trust. As I began to respect my body, it started respecting me back. For the first time I started viewing my body as a partner in this path of life rather than a slave. 

The most transformative lesson I learned through yoga and therapy is that I have a choice of how I view my binge eating disorder. I can either see it as a curse, and wallow in my misery for the rest of my life. Or I can view it as a way of learning more about myself and using it as a stepping stone for mindful presence.

I decided to undergo yoga teacher training because I knew I wanted to share this magical connection I have found with others. I want to give those with food issues an option. A way out. A little strand of hope that you do not have to suffer forever. That there really IS a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Now, let me level with you. I am not telling you this from a place of total “healing”, whatever that may be. I still struggle with loving myself, loving my dysfunctional relationship with food, and loving a life that has given me this obstacle. I am much further than I was those dark days of college. But I still have an exciting road ahead of me. And I wouldn’t trade it all for the world.

So why am I sharing all this with you?

Well because I want you to know that you are not alone. I am right there with you, cheering you on, spreading the light, and providing you a platform for you to find hope again.

I want this blog to be source of healing. A place that you can come and read words of those who are right there along with you. Body image warriors who advocate that there is more to life than looking a certain way. Recovered anorexics who can give you guidance and reassurance. Therapists who know techniques for when you are at your worse state. You’ll hear from Maggie, our wonderful founder from time to time, as well as Sprout teachers from around the country. There will be videos, essays, poems, and factual pieces about new legislation and scientific discoveries of the world of yoga and eating disorders. A little bit of everything!

That is what I aspire for in this space. I hope you all enjoy our time together.

If you would like to contact me for more details on how you can help Sprout, if you would like to contribute to the blog, or if you just want to say hi, my email is -thaiscgui@gmail.com

Namaste friends!


What therapies ARE available for PTSD?

In PTSD and Yoga on February 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) was first diagnosed in the 1970s among returning vietnam veterans. In essence, it was a revamped updated and more complete version of what was formerly called Shell Shock.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a pattern of behavior that develops after a traumatic event. A traumatic event in this context is defined as one that may bring serious injury or death to oneself or to another person. Traumatic events capable of causing post- traumatic stress disorder include kidnapping, natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, etc), physical and sexual abuse, combat, drug abuse, and near-death experiences.” (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12516)

I’ve also described that yoga can be of assistance in combination with other therapies. So what are the current therapies available and in use?

Drug Therapy

There has been some evidence that administering propranolol within 20 hours of the traumatic event can reduce anxiety and stress symptoms by up to half of those not given the drug. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20031027-000002.html).  Propranolol is also called Inderol and it acts by  blocking the sympathetic nervous system. (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12516)

Other studies have shown that the use of  Zoloft for those with PTSD (a drug commonly administered to those suffering from depression) has shown some relief.  Initially, researchers targed the neurotransmitters responsible for the occurrence of flashbacks. ” For example, antidepressants including imipramine and phenelzine (Nardil) that alter neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine have been found do more to reduce flashbacks and the feelings of helplessness more than placebo (a dummy pill). Unfortunately, however, side effects interfered with the long-term use of these drugs. ” (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12516)

However, it should be noted that the studies showing positive effects with treatment of Zoloft, as noted above, involved women who developed PTSD after an episode of sexual violence. The result was a 50% reduction in stress symptoms as opposed to a 30% for those treated witha  placebo (or sugar pill). When replicated, the results were not shown again. Additionally, there was no effect when the same study was tried on veterans. (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12516)

Other drugs are being studied, including:  Nefazodone (Serzone), mirtazapine (Remeron) fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa).

Counseling/Talk Therapy

Talk therapy has also been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. Specifically, the earlier treatment is given to someone with PTSD, the more effective it can be.  For help finding a therapist specifically trained to work with trauma and its effects,  contact the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute by email at help@sidran.org or by phone at (410) 825-8888 ext. 203.

What kind of therapy?

  • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD and trauma involves carefully and gradually “exposing” yourself to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind you of the trauma. Therapy also involves identifying upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event–particularly thoughts that are distorted and irrational—and replacing them with more balanced picture.
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) – EMDR incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. Eye movements and other bilateral forms of stimulation are thought to work by “unfreezing” the brain’s information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress, leaving only frozen emotional fragments which retain their original intensity. Once EMDR frees these fragments of the trauma, they can be integrated into a cohesive memory and processed.
  • Family therapy. Since PTSD affects both you and those close to you, family therapy can be especially productive. Family therapy can help your loved ones understand what you’re going through. It can also help everyone in the family communicate better and work through relationship problems.

How does yoga fit into therapy?

Some therapists, such as Babette Rothschild, use movement and body feedback focusing in their talk therapy. By focusing on the body, sensations and movement, a client can begin engaging parts of the brain needed to tag the traumatic memories with a date and time, a space and place. By doing so, that allows that memory to stop repeating in the form of flashbacks.

Yoga can be used as a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy, in that it allows the practioner to learn to recognize feedback from their body, and due to positional memory (where holding a certain position can recall thoughts and feelings raised when the body was last in that position), can help gently begin the process of allowing traumatic memories to rise, and be recognized, then worked through in other talk therapy.

Secrets & Lives: PTSD cuts across cultures

In PTSD and Yoga, Uncategorized on February 13, 2009 at 4:16 am

What do an Iraq veteran and a Hasidic Jew have in common? Not much you’d think, at first. But two news stories released over the last few weeks show that they have the possibility to both suffer from PTSD.

First, what is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Clinically, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is caused by exposure to one or more traumatic events that threatened  or caused  serious physical harm. Commonly, people associate PTSD with veterans, and rightly so. Many Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD without getting adequate access to mental health therapies.  However, research in the mid 1980s showed that rape and sexual abuse survivors also held the possibility of developing this disorder. I’ve read some estimates as high as 80% of all rape survivors have developed PTSD. PTSD can also be triggered by diagnosis of a life threatening illness, such as cancer or other diseases. Some individuals who survived childhood cancer experience PTSD as they grow into their teen and adult years, due to the repeatedly traumatic experiences of surgery, testing, and radiation.

So if we assembled a group of people to “look” like PTSD, it would be composed of veterans, rape and torture survivors, and possibly survivors of childhood illnesses. Which explains why I’m talking about an Iraq war veteran. But what’s up with the Hasidic Jew?

NPR featured a story last week concerning serious sexual abuse of hasidic children in NYC, and some allegations of cover ups by the synagogues. The story, which can be found here:   http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99913807

mirrors what many of the children abused at the hands of the Catholic Church suffered – a blame shifting, a denigration of whether the abuse was “that bad” or “not serious.” Essentially, adults telling kids that their fear and guilt, their response to a traumatic, overwhelming experience was overblown. That in turn, causes the child to submerge their feelings even deeper, causing more and more serious levels of emotional disturbances.

I care about these issues, because right now, right here, in this country, nothing is more important than making sure everyone has the capacity to be productive, useful members of society. But letting PTSD go untreated leads to parts of our community leading splintered or fractured lives, holding back from expressing their skills and talents into a world that needs creative solutions to energy, poverty, growth, homelessness, food security, violence and many other problems. Unleashing the power of so many individuals to possess their own sense of ease, of confidence and the ability to live, maybe not without fear, but with less fear, more ease, could create a very different society in the next few decades. Yoga can help people with PTSD, when combined with other treatment modalities.

So the soldier and the hasidic jew, they both may suffer from PTSD, but not know how they can get treatment that can make them feel strong, capable and ready to handle taking those traumatic memories that are not properly given a time and place and continue to bump into their daily lives in the form of flashbacks or dissociation.

And why is this so necessary now? Well, recently more studies have shown that our returning vets are succombing to suicide at a rate double and triple that of the rest of the population. Information available here:


and here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100352110

To be blunt, they are dying because we can’t get treatment to them, in a way that will work for them. Why not try everything available? Why not try new ways of doing talk therapy, new drugs, new movement based therapy? What do we have to lose? If it saves half of those who might have committed suicide then it is a raging success.

Keeping secrets, of being abused, of being threatened and terrified and not willing to try therapy because of not being considered capable or strong, these secrets cost lives.

Why Yoga? Why use Yoga to Help People Heal Emotional Disorders?

In Eating Disorders and Yoga, PTSD and Yoga, Sprout Yoga Activities, Uncategorized on January 29, 2009 at 9:45 pm

My back hurts today. I mean, REALLY hurts. As in I couldn’t get off the heating pad yesterday, and even brought it into work with me. It hasn’t hurt this badly in almost ten years. That was the summer when I started applying to law school, working at a fancy firm in Washington, DC, crouched over my computer like quasimodo due to the way the set the keyboard and monitor up. Eventually I ended up with a lower lumbar sprain due to the horrid posture I had (my pleas for a new computer desk went entirely answered). I finally caved and went to the doctor when I couldn’t walk. I ended up in a backbrace in physical therapy for several months.

I realized that all the physical therapy exercises I’d been given were really yoga poses, so I asked if I could just do yoga instead.

“Sure you can honey, if you do it twice a day,” they told me. Well, I did. I did so much yoga it would shock and amaze you. Its incredible what constant pain will do for you.

And I was lucky that I had a good enough background in yoga that I could recognize that I could do yoga for lower back stretching and strengthing. And I’m lucky now that I can grab a yoga anatomy book and figure out which of the many muscles in my lower back are aching and which poses will help with that specific muscle.

So why yoga for people with eating disorders and post traumatic stress disorder? Because if you know yoga, you know that its purpose is not to build skinny lithe bodies, but to integrate your mind, spirit and body into one whole being. That means, as you get more familiar with yoga, you can do just what I did at the physical therapist’s office – recognize what yoga you need to do to take care of your physical body.

In hindsight, I’m sure that my tenseness over choosing a career and wondering if I’d be any good at it probably contributed to my lower back strain all those years ago. Because of my yoga experience, and training, opening and awakening, I can see what emotions do to specific parts of my body. For example, when I have too many things on my plate, I often get cramps in my hands, as if they’d been open too long, grasping a large ball too long. In essence, I’m trying to hold on to one too many things.

Similarly, people who are surviving an eating disorder must relearn the concepts of hungry, hurt, tired, sleepy and a whole host of other emotions and sensations. By learning how to listen to their bodies, through yoga, they are better able to process in the other therapeutic methods (like counseling, etc.). I’m not advocating to not seek treatment for an eating disorder, rather, I’m advocating to incorporate yoga into the several, or hundreds of different treatments to save a person with an eating disorder.

Just as movement therapy has been shown to increase the effectiveness of treatment for post traumatic stress disoder in books such as “The Body Remembers” by Babette Rothschild. In her very well written psychological book, she lovely advocates for the clients she treats. By that I mean, if one method isn’t working, try another, and another and another.

So why yoga? I think of what chicken little said when they found him, laying on the street with his feet in the air. “Why Chicken Little, do you really think you can keep the sky from falling down with those spindly little legs?”
“Well,” said Chicken Little, “one does what one can.”

Yoga is something that everyone, from any culture, age, racial background, language background, or gender can do. Its a tangible, sensible way to learn not only how to breathe, but also where you start to tense up when you are afraid – of a pose, of trying something new, etc. – but better yet, you learn to know when you are feeling afraid and that its alright to take care of that emotion.

So that’s why yoga – because everyone deserves to feel at ease with themselves and their bodies – everyone deserves to live a productive and beautiful life. We were created for that. In fact, right now, with the economy in the toilet, we need everyone we can get to be productive, producing members of society. Its good for us, its good for you.

And at the end of the day, its just yoga. Anyone with a pair of pajamas and a towel can do it.