For Mental Health Awareness Week, one of our yoga therapy trainees, Amanda Rowe, has offered to share her story about her psychotic episode and subsequent breakdown, how yoga supported her recovery, and how all the learning lead her to train as a yoga therapist...
Amanda says "I feel passionately that too much is covered up or unspoken within mental health. Consequently I promised myself that whenever I speak or write about my experiences they will be factual, truthful and never ever filtered and hopefully that will enable others to become 'real' and express themselves in a truly authentic way also".
Have you ever felt scared to be in your own body? I have daily. In the darkest moments, coma seemed like a welcome escape. Funny that I should later read that when patients are in a coma, their soul has temporarily departed, drifted to another plane, a nicer one maybe? Who knows? When I was unwell, I took solace in my writing. The piece that follows was written six months after my brief psychotic episode and subsequent breakdown. I have chosen to include it to give you a clear insight as to the mental and physical space I inhabited at that particular time of my life journey.
"And now the diary of a woman afraid to live, afraid to die, afraid of being alone, afraid of company, afraid of her own fight or flight reflex and the panic which my body has stored layer upon layer within each vertebrae of my spine, my neck and the frozen side of my head. Frozen with fear flashes repeatedly within my brain, illuminating the dark foggy aftermath of my breakdown" (2009)
My breakdown, the consequent stigma and the fear had closed down parts of me that I have struggled to access ever since. I had managed to heal mentally but was left with a body that did not feel connected or flowing anymore.
I remember my first yoga class on my journey to rehabilitation so clearly. The tears flowed like a never ending river, tears of grief, tears of pain, tears of relief even but mostly tears of fear. So much fear.
The right sided hemiplegic pain that I had intermittently been experiencing had felt like I was having a stroke. Intense pain on one side of my head which clawed above my ear and sent that side of my face into spasm. At times my speech was affected and pins and needles would cause my arm to feel numb. These symptoms understandably lay down the foundation for the now deeply ingrained fear of stroke. It wasn't until I entered that class and stepped onto my yoga mat that I realised how rigidly I had been holding myself and how afraid of my head I had become. Forward bends were a no no, inversions an impossibility and even twists were attempted with trepidation. The breath became my saviour. I found I was actually very good at ujjayi breathing sometimes known as ocean breath. Both the IN breath and the OUT breath were taken through the nostrils and I found it very balancing and calming breath. It helped me to stay present, self aware and grounded. It also gave me a good connection, an anchor even back to my body.
I have breathed myself through pain and fear and into calm and relaxation using just this breath ever since - so powerful to know what was not good for me, what worked and how finding something that ‘you’re good at’ can overcome fear so strongly. So not only offering breathing techniques, but finding what our clients ‘are good at’ has been a helpful insight in my yoga therapy training.
Alternate nostril breathing had been introduced to me a few weeks earlier by an Indian teacher who was actually giving me acupuncture to try to help with the migraines and the symptoms they cultivated for me. He said that my mind had been so busy, it was unable to switch off and that the pathways were overloaded. He showed me alternate nostril breathing as a way to calm and soothe my now frazzled brain. I used it as a holistic Diazepam if you will, in acute episodes of panic but also whenever I felt I just couldn't cope and my anxiety levels started to rise. Immediately my focus would be switched to the breath and once more a positive connection was made to my embodied self.
This became the start of my yoga path to holistic healing. Where my whole self would be welcomed and gently I could start to make sense of all the layers of trauma, grief, longing, shock, tightness, numbness and anger stored deep within my physical, emotional and etheric body. Each twisted memory, each knotted muscle, each frozen thought and the subsequent release of over exuberant adrenaline began to be sorted, sifted and filtered to enable the pointless war between fight and flight to be tamed and the true healing to begin.
We have the power to heal ourselves but as a society we are conditioned to hand that power over to others. Through my own experiences, I found if I could just slow down enough to listen to the messages and signals my body was giving me and then trust what it was that I did or didn't need in that present moment, I could indeed start to heal. Yoga and in particular pranayama gave me my holistic path back to self.
Sadly the scary alternative offered to me by the medical profession was in my opinion to 'lose' myself not find it. To heavily Medicate and numb all that my body had brought to the surface to be healed. I am glad I had the strength, courage and self belief to follow my inner yogi...
As this piece has hopefully demonstrated I feel I have great empathy and experience to offer people experiencing Mental Health problems. I have seen both sides of the coin I have worked in Mental Health and been a Mental Health in-patient also. I appreciate the unspoken suffering, the shame, the guilt and in some cases the neglect of the health professionals who are supposed to be looking after you. I realise that in some cases medication is definitely needed and some people benefit from the psychological effects of taking a tablet to be fixed. But I feel strongly that the current system doesn't accommodate individuals who recognise that they are unwell and need help to get to the root of the cause without being numbed out by medication. Even at the height of my illness whilst I was sectioned all I could think was 'there has to be a reason for this!'. It really did feel like one flew over the cuckoo's nest and I couldn't quite believe how horrifically people are treated and bullied to conform. The prescription seems to be 'let's make you nice and calm, manageable even and then let's send you home!'
Having previously been an Advocacy worker, I hope to work within Mental Health as a yoga therapist. I feel that yoga therapy could offer a safe place for individuals to be heard, seen and never ever judged. The reason is so clear now! Yoga therapy could offer a beautiful nourishing space to be held, witnessed and to take steps towards self healing. Through my yoga therapy training with Yoga United, I am finding this sensitive and intuitive approach to be an amazing way to do THIS - Here are a few ways to describe what 'this' means to me...
- Union...of physical and spiritual self
- Therapeutic integration.... Joining the dots of self, healing and discovery
- Inherent power... A chance to connect with all the resources you actually have inside yourself
- Soul voice work... A chance to listen deeply to all you never heard before
- An anchor back to the body... A chance to reconnect on all levels love this too!
If you would like to find out more about yoga therapy for your Self, or training to become a professional yoga therapist,
CONTACT JUDY HIRSH SAMPATH, the course director
Aghh, doing nothing - maybe I'm just not the type! I love the idea of a day of doing nothing BUT...I get fidgety, bored, miserable, and my mood can change as the emotions of emptiness that emerge - It takes courage to sit with yourself and 'do nothing' The reason we keep busy is often so we don't have to face our own sadness, self-deception, and resistance. It can make us feel vulnerable to be 'doing nothing' - yikes, we might just have to face some of the stuff we have been running away from, or issues that feel too difficult to process.
I like it as a concept for relaxation but when I settle into it as a practice, I'm not sure what it means - sit still, lie down and snooze, am I doing, am I being, am I trying do nothing so it becomes 'trying', 'doing' again...and then I start thinking about how I can't 'do nothing' and maybe...and off I go into 'not enough'...again!
This is where meditation can become a useful practice for yoga therapy - maybe its not the right time so your body and mind will protect you from going too deep but often issues arise to the surface because they are ready to be seen, heard and brought into the light - so they can be worked through, and out of the body for good.
There is an opportunity to release held negativity, traumatic events or harmful words that you remain as scars inside your head or your body - this is a journey of self-discovery and healing...
I love this quote by Michael Lee, the inspiring founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy as it take the pressure off trying to do anything special or clever - 'Your body has a wonderful intelligence of its own and it will give you the experience you need when you need it, and when you can handle it - it won't take you to places you shouldn't be going so trust it and be open to whatever it give you'
Yoga United Education are bringing Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy to London - you do not need to be a yoga teacher or therapist to enter into this journey of discovery. In Phoenix Rising Essentials (32hrs), you will learn to skillfully guide yourself and others to align the wisdom of their body and mind in an individualised direct experience.
Discover how to be a catalyst for powerful change through this research-backed, body-centered approach to clear insight and life-changing action.
and sign up, click HERE
Hope to see you soon,
Love and light,
Judy Hirsh Sampath, course director at Yoga United Education,
Judy is a Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist, leads mindfulness, restorative, yoga nidra workshops, yoga therapy training, and therapeutic yoga retreats in India.
Find out more about Yoga United Education
Find out more about Yoga Retreats in India
Find out more about working with Judy Hirsh Sampath
Here is a guided meditation practice that I have been offering on a recent meditation course. I don't think it is possible to teach meditation, the same way you can't teach someone how to sleep but here are some pointers to ensuring the conditions are optimised to enable you to enter into a state of concentration and mindful attention whereby you might slip into meditation and timelessness - so you have direct experience of it and know when you're doing it - a glimpse before you become aware of it in your mind again.
1. Find somewhere where you will not be disturbed, somewhere clear of clutter. Sit in a comfortable position on a chair, or on your yoga mat on a yoga block or bolster to support your spine.
2. Take time to sit with your self – take a few long breaths as if you're sighing out, a sigh of relief to stop doing, rushing, busy...become 'present' - notice and name what is true eg. I can feel the ground underneath me, I notice my hands are cold, I can hear the birds singing outside etc...
3. Stay long enough to settle into position, to allow the dust to settle and notice your thoughts - set your timer for 20 minutes.
4. Notice the breath, the body, all sensations – smells, taste…linger on touch of your hands, your clothes on your skin, the air on your body, any images behind your eye lids or anywhere else in your body, the sounds you can hear inside and outside. Feel yourself still and the vibration of any sound you can here passing through. Without disturbance – this is awareness without attachment.
6. It may be difficult to accept thoughts, attitudes, criticism - the mind may want to protect you from what is happening now – it may distract you with physical discomfort, your body calling for attention, thoughts that will stop you from any kind of deep experience.
7. Ask yourself WHAT NEEDS TO BE HEARD? You may be surprised - meditation can be very helpful and healing but you have to give it time so don't give up after a few minutes, or even 10. And if you are impatient, ask yourself if there is a connection between this attitude now and how you operate in your life outside - is there teaching here?
Some more thoughts on meditation, what it means, how you know when you're doing it and what is it useful for?
What actually is meditation and how do you know when you're doing it? As with many practices that are difficult to describe in words, meditation is often misunderstood - beginners often tell me they cannot clear their mind, they cannot meditate or sit still long enough, or even sit still! So we could start by asking what meditation IS rather than how to 'do it'.
It's simple really - meditation IS awareness. When you close you close your eyes and shift your attention from the outside world to the inside world, what do you become aware of? What do you notice? Can you track constant change and flux that IS the movement of the body, the breath, the mind, energy, emotions, mood - and this is the tricky part:
NOTICE WITHOUT TRYING to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
To rest your full attention on the NOW...to suspend your life for some time to become timeless...to focus fully on the present...to narrow down your life to this moment...
For deep questions, we need to be focused on listening for the answers and be awake to whatever arises whether that comes in the form of answers...or quite often, no answers...trust that what arises, what is revealed may have a message for you that you don't need to work out right now!
Talking of questions, what you hope to receive from meditating - to know yourself more deeply? to be with the truth of what is affecting you right now? to accept everything that emerges from the depths of your body/mind/soul? to simply be? to welcome discomfort and conflict as well as joy and peace?
Before you start, ask yourself what is the difference between thinking and knowing? Are you concentrating hard to ‘do something’ or can you be attentive to what is already there?
The deepest question we can ask ourselves is
‘Who am I?'
Don't TRY to work this out by thinking - If we remain in our heads, we end up overthinking, analysing, considering, compartmentalising - this is NOT meditation
If we can simply DROP the trying to work it out, trying to stop our thoughts, we may find that we create room for simply tuning in our deep 'knowing', and experience a sense of awareness of a timeless being that is deep inside us, maybe just a glimpse.
The good news is that practice can create new pathways in the brain that makes it easier to drop into the present moment and give ourselves a break from overthinking, from criticising and judging, chewing over what's happened in the past, and worrying about the future.
Judy Hirsh Sampath, Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist, leads mindfulness, restorative, yoga nidra workshops, yoga therapy training, and therapeutic yoga retreats in India.
Find out more about Yoga United Education
Find out more about Yoga Retreats in India
Find out more about working with Judy Hirsh Sampath
Dear yoga practitioners, teachers, carers, health professionals, anyone who is stressed out and over-tired...
This morning I have:
- shaken off my nervous system
- draped myself over a bolster or two
- covered my eyes with an eye pillow
- breathed deeply & fully
- given myself permission to do nothing
- suspended my busy life for some time so all the cells in my body can feel the benefit of clarity, repair and joy
- moved to some music
- received a yoga nidra practice for creativity
- thanked my body for all that it does for me
I find these practices a great way to kick off a restful weekend
And now I’m ready to offer some of these self-care therapeutic practices to you -
- See the Restorative, Yoga Nidra and yoga therapy afternoon with me and my special lovely guest Lyn Tally from the USA! (parking free after 1.30pm) https://www.yogaunited.com/yoga-therapy-taster-apr...
- Monday evening class resumes tomorrow 13 May at the Muswell Hill Methodist Church 7.30–9pm. Hopefully we will be able to get out into the garden before too long! You can book online with paypal or drop in as usual http://www.yogaheadspace.co.uk/open-class/ - Please bring a friend for FREE if you know anyone who would like to try out the class
- INDIA 2020 – my theme will be ‘Therapeutic Yoga & Wholeness Retreat’ - hope to holiday with you https://www.yogaunited.com/india-retreat-judy-hirs...
If you’d like to deepen your understanding of yoga and how it supports you through life’s challenges and joys, have a look at our courses – the next yoga therapy course starts next weekend! https://www.yogaunited.com/education
Please email to set up a phone consultation if you’d like to know more about 1-2-1 yoga therapy or join a class, workshop or training.
Hope to see you on the mat very soon,
With warm wishes,
Judy Hirsh Sampath
Founder, Yoga United Educatin
Yoga Development Courses & Training with Yoga United Education