Originally published on StartAgain Media
I began practicing yoga several years into my career as a helping professional. When I started getting involved at a studio near my home, I noticed a poster for a class that just spoke to me and captured everything I needed: Restorative Yoga. Usually described as a gentle yoga practice that helps its practitioners to deeply relax, Restorative Yoga is spectacular for helping all people to find a deep core of balance and total peace. When I found Restorative Yoga many years ago, I knew that I needed the help to relax. After all, helping people to relax was such an important part of my job as a therapist, but who was helping me?
People who practice yoga primarily for physical fitness may judge Restorative Yoga with as a wimpy practice that makes use of all of those props. As one person I know would be likely to say, “Well it’s not very challenging.” For me, a recovering workaholic who is always on the go, my mind always moving, Restorative Yoga provides a tremendous challenge. Anytime a recovering workaholic and co-dependent can earmark a couple of hours for herself to not only relax, but receive assistance to relax in the form of a Restorative Yoga teacher or facilitator, it is a challenge. Speaking for myself, long affected by old messages that I must being “doing” something in order to be worthy of taking up space, any time I can enjoy just “being” is a major point of progress in my recovery.
Dr. Judith Hanson Lasater is typically credited as the founding mother of Restorative Yoga as a practice. As shared on her website, “We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to rest. Restorative yoga poses help us learn to relax and rest deeply and completely.” As a helping professional, I need this practice! Although I’ve taken Restorative Yoga classes from a variety of teachers over the years, and have even learned to self-practice, my most recent experience with Restorative Yoga has been the most impacting. My yoga teacher and mentor, Maureen Lauer-Gatta, E-RYT-500 recently teamed up with two other talented people at our studio, Teresa Lisum, a retired educator/Dancing Mindfulness facilitator and Ethical Massage Practitioner, and Anthony Ellis, a singing bowl player. They offer monthly events called Retune and Recharge in which Maureen leads the participants through a restorative yoga class as Anthony plays; Teresa circulates the room assisting Maureen with deepening relaxation through appropriate physical touch.
This past weekend, on my much-needed day off, I made my way to my home studio not to teach or to lead, but simply to receive. The whole practice, as promised, helped to retune and recharge me after a very stressful couple of weeks. There was a point in the class where I was lying there in a reclined, supported bound angle pose, completely relaxed in my breath, noticing the flow of the singing bowls’ vibrations moving through my body. The sonic vibrations were literally healing my insides energetically, and with every tone, my breath quality just continued to deepen. I was completely relaxed, and ultimately, completely grateful. Grateful for the practice and the event, grateful to Maureen, Teresa, and Anthony for their service, grateful for the studio, grateful for the resources I have to take such a class, and most importantly, grateful to myself for recognizing the importance of nurturing myself in this way!
Wherever you’re at in the country or in the world, I encourage you to look up where Restorative Yoga may be offered in your community. Even if you have a very active, physically challenging yoga practice and experience the benefits of such a practice, consider giving Restorative Yoga a try; you might be surprised at the results, especially if you work as a helper or healer. For more information online, you can go to www.restorativeyogateachers.com, and there are a variety of home practice DVDs that you can access.
Originally Published on StartAgain Media
When I was in graduate school for mental health counseling, I didn’t learn a damn thing about self-care. The official curriculum obsessively focused on theories and techniques, standards and measures; the faculty just seemed to assume that we knew how to take care of ourselves. My Ph.D. program didn’t offer me with much more in the way of guidance and instruction, and in talking to my peers in the helping professionals, not learning to take care of ourselves as professionals is the exception rather than the rule in graduate training. And then we wonder why there is such high turnover in the counseling professions; we lament when people, on average end of leaving the fields of helping after 3-4 years of work. Clearly something is lacking in how we train helping professionals…
Although the field has evolved since the days where psychodynamic methods ruled the landscape, there is something to be said about the tradition of that to become a psychoanalyst, you needed to be psychoanalyzed yourself. When I asked my graduate school advisor (Master’s level) why personal counseling is not required to become a counselor, she answered that too many legal barriers exist in the modern era to making people do counseling. Other research-driven peers insist that the empirical literature is not conclusive on whether or not you have to go through personal therapy to be a good therapist. Yet there is some evidence out of an amazing study done in Australia (Charman, 2005) to suggest that high performers (e.g., therapists whose patients are more likely to meet established outcomes measures) describe themselves as mindful, intelligent, intuitive, open, patient, creative, flexible in personality, and self-aware. Moreover, these helpers also identify as not having an agenda, as having care and concern for others, having an awareness of their own issues, and are able to take care of themselves. In my view, this study gives evidence to what may of us discover the hard way---you must take care of yourself in order to be effective as a helper. “Counselor, heal thyself” is more than just a cute saying. There are other ways besides professional therapy to take care of oneself (yet speaking for myself, I would never have survived as a therapist if I didn’t have my own therapy at the onset and at strategic points throughout); regular practices in meditation and mindfulness, spiritual practices, involvement with 12-step or other support groups, regular exercise, setting time aside for hobbies, and having clear release rituals are just a few that jump out as powerful strategies.
In the coming weeks, I will be featuring a series on strategies for improving self-care as helping professionals. I’ll discuss some of the methods I talked about here in greater depth, take a look at why it is so hard for those of us who are drawn to helping others to follow our own suggestions for self-care, and I’ll talk about my practice’s commitment to helping other professionals in an approach that I call Healing the Wounded Healers.
Charman, D. (2005). What makes for a “good” therapist? A review. Psychotherapy in Australia, 11(3), 68–72.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity