Yoga Therapy on the Main Line: Why Your Breath is Your Best Friend by Melanie Taylor, LMFT, RYT-500

Yoga Therapy on the Main Line: 

Why Your Breath is Your Best Friend

 By: Melanie Taylor, LMFT, RYT-500

Yoga therapy for anxiety and depression on the Philadelphia Main Line in Bryn Mawr, Ardmore, Villanova and Lower Merion

 What if you could find a friend that would stay by your side always? Someone who’s sole purpose was to make sure you not only stayed alive but also thrived in your life. Someone who knew just what to do to provide you a pick-me-up when depressed or tired or could ease your body and mind when anxious or upset. What if you had access to this friend 24/7 and the only thing this friend needed from you was a willingness to accept their support? 

Well, my friends, I have some exciting news to share. This friend exists, and not only does the friend exist, it exists within you! Its your breath. You see, your breath is both a complicated and conveniently simple process that weaves together the communication between your body and mind. Linked to your nervous system, your breath has the capabilities of keeping you alive, soothing your body and mind and increasing energy. Your breath can let you know how you’re feeling and if you’re relaxed or tense. Think about it… when panic sets into the body and mind, the breath oftentimes responds rapidly, assuming the need to prepare for survival. Your breath may become shorter and choppier or maybe even appear nonexistent and stuck. This same breath, the one coming and going from your lungs, can be trained to deepen and soften during panic, activating your calming nervous system, thus subsiding the panic in both your body and mind.  Or, maybe your nervous system is feeling too subdued, you’re falling asleep at work or feeling unable to pull yourself out of bed to face the day. In these moments, accentuating the inhale can increase energy and focus, even lifting your mood in the moment. Your breath holds a wealth of resources for you. All you have to do is attend to it. Here’s some ways to access its usefulness.

1. A breathing practice to soothe the nervous system: Paced Breathing 

When to use:

To soothe anxiety, panic or restlessness, if you are having difficulty sleeping and/or relaxing, when you feel worked up or frazzled. 

How to use:

When attempting to soothe or relax the nervous system, accentuate the exhale. Paced breathing patterns the breath to increase the length of the exhale to twice as long as the inhale. You will count the breaths in your head. If able, breathe both in and out of your nose. If you need to breathe out of your mouth due to sinus issues, it can help to purse the lips so that the breath is able to stay long and controlled. Let your breath carry deep into your body… allow your stomach to expand on your inhales, and gently contract your stomach in on your exhales. Try the counts of 4 to inhale and 8 to exhale. If this feels difficult or creates more tension in the body, reduce the numbers, just making sure the exhale is 2x as long as the inhale. Our lungs often need time to practice expanding (in our society, we don’t usually use much of our breathing capacity from day-to-day), so be patient and just do what feels comfortable. Remember, this is intended to relax and soothe you. 

Here we go:

It can help to sit upright allowing spaciousness in your chest or lying down (especially if you are using this to help with sleep). Close your eyes if comfortable. If you prefer to have your eyes open, maybe gaze at a soft spot on the floor or in front of you. Now, inhale…2…3…4, Exhale…2…3…4…5…6…7…8, Inhale…2…3…4, Exhale…2…3…4…5…6…7…8, repeat this sequence multiple times. I recommend at least 10 rounds, but as many as you would like until you start to feel soothed, more at ease or fall asleep. 

Contraindications:

The only time to avoid this breath is if you are already relaxed or tired  and do not want to fall asleep of become more relaxed. If this is the case and you are looking for a pick-me-up, try the breath below.

2. A breathing practice to enliven your nervous system: Breath of Joy

When to use:

when tired, depressed, energy depleted, feeling stuck, lacking interest or focus.

How to use:

When attempting to lift your energy, focus or mood, accentuating the inhale wakes up the nervous system. Breath of Joy calls for 3 quick inhales and one large exhale. This breath can be done standing or sitting in a chair. Make sure you have arms-length of space around and above you. 

Here we go:

On your first quick inhale through your nose, swing your arms out in front of you. 

On the second inhale through your nose, swing your arms from in front of you, out to the sides in a “T” position. 

On the third inhale through your nose, swing your arms from the “T” position above your head in a touchdown position. 

Next, exhale forcefully out of your mouth with an audible “Ha” as you fold at the waist and swing your arms down by your legs

Repeat this at least 3 times, more if you like. 

Main Line Yoga Therapy, Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr, anxiety, depression

Contraindications- 

If you have any severe back issues, bulging discs, osteoporosis or hypertension, folding forward or hanging your head upside down is usually not safe. Good news, you can still do this breath! Just make sure to avoid folding over and instead swing your arms down by your side while exhaling a “Ha” forcefully.  

If you are interested in learning more about how to balance your mind and body through your breath and other yoga techniques, consider yoga therapy. To learn more about how to get connected with a yoga therapist, give us a call at 484-784-6244 for a free 15-minute consultation.   

5 Things You need to know before you start counseling

So, you’ve decided to start counseling and you’re ready to go.  Perhaps you’ve never done therapy before or maybe you’re looking to take a new approach.  Here are some things you need to know before you start counseling.

1.  Finding a therapist that you feel safe with is most important. 

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You can line up a bunch of great therapists, but if they’re not the best fit for you, you’re not going to do the intense, deep work you’re looking to do.  The role of a therapist is to be a guide through your journey, reflect back to you what we see and help you to overcome obstacles towards meeting your goals.  If you don’t click with your therapist or don’t feel safe enough to trust them, reaching your goals with them is unlikely.  Your therapist should be someone you can relax around and speak freely without fear of being judged.  Trust and safety are of paramount importance when you’re looking to do deep work on things like eating disorders, trauma, PTSD, couples’ work or issues specific to the LGBTQIA community.

2.  Specialties mean that there’s been special training in a particular issue. 

Our training in graduate school and doctoral programs very rarely provides training for specific diagnoses like PTSD, eating disorders or addictions.  So when a therapist decides to have a particular specialty, we need to seek out training geared specifically towards these issues.  If you notice that a therapist you’re interested in has indicated that we specialize in a particular area, you might want to ask us what sorts of training we’ve done to qualify us as an expert.  This will give you a better idea of how equipped we are to help you with your specific struggle.

3.  When you hire a therapist, you are paying for a space that is yours, for you.

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I’ve heard people say that therapy is like paying someone to be your friend.  This is actually not true.  When you hire a therapist and you pay money, what you are paying for is a safe, neutral, objective space and time where you can do your work.  It is an energy exchange.  You are not paying your therapist to care about you, you are paying for an hour in a room that is completely and totally about you and no one else.  In friendships, there’s a give and take, there’s a social obligation to ask how they are and be a support to them.  In a relationship with your therapist, you are taking time for yourself only and receiving support that is not reciprocated emotionally, only financially.  This dynamic can be extremely healing and empowering and for many, it is the only time and space where healing can truly take place.

4.  The more consistently you go, the more effective therapy is.

Sometimes, in an attempt to save money or save time, people want to schedule therapy sessions every other week or once per month.  While there’s nothing particularly wrong with scheduling like this, you may want to rethink the frequency and consistency of your therapy schedule.  You don’t have to be in therapy forever.  You can establish and work towards specific measurable goals with your therapist and see regular progress.  However, progress is more difficult to measure when you attend therapy inconsistently.  You may be having symptoms of PTSD, for example, and when several weeks go by without working on those particular symptoms, it is more difficult to get traction.  If you’re struggling with binging and purging and you go every week, you can check in with your therapist about the particular triggers and behaviors that may have lead to your binge and purge.  Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.  Set a goal with your counselor and try going weekly, write down your progress and notice the differences between your weekly sessions over a period of at least 3 months versus bi-weekly or monthly progress over a 3-month period.  You may be surprised with the results.

5.  Therapy happens in stages.

Sometimes we think that as soon as we set foot in the door of a therapy office, we will be “cured” immediately or within a few sessions.  The reality is that there’s a therapeutic process which happens in stages.  The first stage is joining with your therapist or learning to trust them.  When we meet a new friend, we don’t usually tell them our deepest darkest right off the bat, it takes time and trust building to get to a place where we know they are a good friend.  A similar concept is applied in therapy.  Depending on the client, the level and amount of trauma and defenses, this stage can take anywhere from about a month to sometimes a year or even more.  Safety, trust and a therapeutic bond, known as a therapeutic alliance, is formed in order for the therapist to really know and understand the client and for the client to feel safe enough to open up and do their work. 

The second stage is where the work is done.  Since there’s now an underlying foundation established between therapist and client, the second stage is about vulnerability.  There is an unpacking, uncovering, examining and exploring the process that happens with the client and their trauma or their history.  This stage is where people see their patterns and make shifts and changes in their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.  The second stage of the therapeutic process is where clients reach their goals.

The third stage may or may not be part of the therapeutic process, dependent upon the client’s preference.  This stage is for maintenance.  The client continues therapy but perhaps doesn’t come every week any longer.  They use their therapist to check in with, get help with issues as they arise and review the goals and behaviors they established during the second stage.  Some people choose to forego this step and skip to the fourth stage.

The fourth stage of counseling is a closure process.  After attaining goals in the second stage, and maintaining new behaviors and thought processes in the fourth stage, this last and final stage is a review of accomplishments, work together and closure of the therapeutic relationship.  If the client chooses to end counseling, this practice of review and closure can be especially healing for those who have experienced traumatic grief or loss.  Saying goodbye in a healthy way, honoring the relationship without suddenly cutting it off is a beneficial process to learn about emotional maturity and sophistication. 

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I hope these tips have been helpful.  Please feel free to comment below with any other tips or feedback you have on this topic.  If you’d like to speak further about starting counseling or have any other questions about some of the things I’ve mentioned, please contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com or call 610-314-8402.  I wish you luck in your endeavors and look forward to hearing from you soon!!

The 5 Secrets to Quit Binging

At times, all of us have eaten a bit, or a lot more than is comfortable in our bodies.  Holidays, celebrations or sometimes mindless eating in front of the TV can leave us feeling overly full.  For some, this way of eating is more common and happens more frequently than we’d like.  The new DSM-V, the Psychiatric Association’s manual on diagnosis, has created a diagnosis under the eating disorder umbrella called Binge Eating Disorder or BED.  Whether you meet the criteria for this disorder, for bulimia, anorexia, or you just find yourself overly stuffed at times, these tools can be helpful:

1.     Notice what types of foods you’re binging on and write them down. 

It helps to look at your behavioral patterns.  Some people find themselves eating excessive sweets, some are more geared towards fats or starches.  Some people with emotional eating tendencies excessively eat any kind of meal including vegetables.  See if you can find a pattern in your binge choices. 

2.     Notice what you DON’T binge on. 

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Are there any types of foods that you’d never consider in a binge or never feel the need to over-eat?  In a recent session, a client was relaying the guilt and shame he felt after a binge.  He reported that he doesn’t usually allow pastries in the house, but was feeling strong recently and thought it’d be okay.  He found himself finishing off the pastries he had in one sitting.  Upon further investigation into what foods he was allowing himself to eat regularly, the client determined that he felt very satisfied when he ate waffles and allowed himself to eat waffles multiple times per week.  I asked him if he ever binges on waffles.  He was shocked when he thought about it and said that – no – he never binges on waffles.  Ok, great, so there’s no waffle binging going on, but how does that help?  Follow me here.

3.     Take a look at what you ‘allow’ yourself to eat regularly. 

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What foods do you consider safe?  In an attempt to be healthy, lose weight, or just get control over your food choices, you may be very rigid or restrictive about what you allow yourself to eat on a regular basis.  Perhaps your choices look benign enough like chicken and veggies multiple times per week.  Write down what you’ve eaten over the past 3 days to 1 week or track your food for a week.  What do you notice?

4.     What is missing from your regular eating habits? 

Take those same meal journals and notice what you don’t have there.  If we consider all the food groups: protein, fat, starch, veggies, fruits and dairy – are there any food groups missing?  Are there lots of repeated meals without much variety?

Now I know this might seem completely insane and a bit scary, but HERE’S THE KEY to quit binging.  Ready?

5.     Allow yourself to eat the foods you binge on.

Try adding a portion or 2 of the foods you don’t allow yourself to eat and some of the most common foods you binge on to your regular meal schedule.  I know this might seem counter-intuitive.  Our society tells us to resist, have discipline, diet harder, avoid sugars and carbs and fats and this may be the only voice you’ve ever heard that encourages these things, but just give it a try for a month or even a week and see what happens.  If you are on the anti-carb kick, but then you find yourself binging on carbs, try adding a normal amount of carbs to each meal and see what your body craves after a while.

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Here’s the rub – We are creatures of desire. 

Food is part of life!  It’s nourishing and delicious and sensual.  When we restrict ourselves from eating foods we love, we may lose weight in the short run, but this does not happen without consequence.  Our animalistic nature, our Id, it craves pleasure and passion and vigor.  If we force ourselves to live inside a rigid box of rules around food and body, we will always desire to break free and stepping outside of that box causes immense shame and fear.  I am not telling you to overeat or teaching you how to binge differently, but what I am suggesting is that you try to take the power out of the foods that haunt you

If you regularly binge on entire cartons of ice cream, see what happens when you have a cup every night for a week.  What emotions come up when you eat it?  Can you journal about them and bring them into your therapist?  What do you find yourself craving after that week of glorious freedom with ice cream?

If you live near The Main Line of Philadelphia or West Chester and want to learn more about binging and how to quit, or you’re not sure where to find support for your feelings around food, you’re not alone.  Please feel free to contact me at 610.314.8402 – I’d be happy to help you find support.

12 Clinical Interventions for Eating Disorders

Here are some tips you might find helpful when working with clients with Eating Disorders, or Disordered Eating:

1.  Find a registered dietician who specializes in Eating Disorders.  It is important that your belief systems and theirs align when working together to treat a client.  For example, most people in the eating disorder recovery field believe that there are no "bad" foods and we work with clients to neutralize food.  However, some people believe in "abstinence" from certain foods or food groups.  When I am looking for a dietician, I make sure that they're not of the school of thought to tell my clients to restrict food groups as it would go against the work we are doing clinically.

2.  Buy large desk calendar and different stickers and create a behavior chart for meals and snacks well done according to their meal plan. Celebrate successes elaborately!

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3.  If age appropriate, work with parents on making "no Foods bad".  Everyone in the family can join in on recovery by coming together to share with all food groups. 

4.  If age appropriate, look into the Maudsley Method for re-feeding process.

5.  Work with your client to create an art project around beautiful people, models, actresses, friends or family and others in Pinterest or print outs who are not super skinny.  Process what they find beautiful about these people.  Encourage clients to post up these images on their wall so that they get used to seeing ideal beauty images and other than emaciated models.

6.  Make a list of all clients fear foods and safe foods and medium foods and use CBT to debunk myths of fear foods. 

7.  Eat 'normal meals' together in session - especially with fear foods - exposure therapy.

8.  Find studies that show that whatever fear foods are - are not 'bad' i.e. - sugar is not as evil as everyone says. 

9.  Use ego state work to find out which 'parts' in clients psyche are telling them not to eat and have conversations with them using Gestalt Chair Work. 

10.  Use the books Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer as a guilde book, everyone involved should read and the book 8 Keys to Recover from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin can be used for treatment and interventions as well.

11.  The therapist can have client draw their body in the size and shape she believes it's in, then have therapist actually trace clients body and process the difference. 

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12.  If there's one body part the client is upset about like their waist, have client draw what they believe is their waist size, then use a string to measure (not using numbers) the actual size and trace THAT onto the paper and process the difference. 

Hope this helps!!

What else do you use as interventions for clients?  Please comment below!!  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at 610.314.8402 or through www.TiffanySpilove.com