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Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family
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You need peace and calm in your household, and you can provide the touch that supports all other approaches:  Therapy; disciplined meditation and yoga, anti-anxiety medications (don’t be afraid to use them), but they’re not the best long-term solution.  There are proven techniques for calming yourself, your stormy child, and all other family members.

1. Calming yourself in the tension-filled moment

Become consciously aware of your tension and ask:  What are my options for coping with my tension right now?  Brainstorm options ahead of time and create a list because you won’t be able to process in the moment.  For example:  take a very deep breath, then silently count to 10 backwards.  Another idea:  eliminate distractions.  Turn off the cell phone, send others out of the room, pull the car over, turn off the music…  You must strategically choose your response to a common situation.

Ways to calm your child in the moment

Note:  the techniques are different for each child depending on their disorder and its characteristics.  Experiment to find out what works with your child’s typical patterns at home, in school, with others, and in other situations that are stressful for them.

In a steady voice, give them directions or requests to calm down.  You will need to repeat yourself periodically as they struggle with their inner storm.  If you ask them to move to another space or use their own calming, skills, use your body language to initiate the act.  If you ask them to take a deep breath, do it yourself.  If it helps them to punch a pillow, punch it yourself and hand it over.

2. Be your own cheerleader.

Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control;” “I am the calm upon the face of troubled waters…”  Have fun with it.

3. Give your child a calm place to go.

There’s nothing like a kid cave, or a blanket fort, a special garden spot, or other time-out space, even the car.  My personal favorite is a tree house.

4. Give them extra time to “change channels”

An anxious child or teen is stuck in a fear loop, and has great difficulty moving from one environment to another–something called “transitioning.”  Some typical transition problems occur when: coming home from school; getting out of the car after a long ride; going to bed after a stimulating activity; and waking up in the morning.  Plan extra time for transitions.  If they are too wound up but not hurting anything, wait them out.

5. Redirect their focus to physical action.

Draw attention to something to distract them in the moment (this is a useful kind of channel-changing).  A young child could be directed to a physical activity (draw, grapple with clay, throw a Nerf ball against the wall), a teen can be allowed to play their favorite music (if you hate it, have them use headphones, or you use earplugs, seriously.); shoot baskets; or take the dog for a walk.

6. Other supports

Animals heal, but strategically pick the best animals.  See “Animals that make the best therapy pets.”  Think of a calm smiling dog, a calm affectionate cat, or a little mellow animal like a hamster or turtle, and you’ve got pet therapists.  Energetic or barking dogs or scratchy kitties probably won’t work.

A big squeeze.  People and many kinds of animals are comforted with enveloping physical pressure, like a full hug.  I’ve completely wrapped anxious children and teens in a blanket or coat, and they quickly calmed down.  Teach your child the self hug… and hug yourself often, too!

You may be able to stop things before they start.  Once a situation has passed, ask yourself what happened just prior to your child’s episode.  Was there a trigger?  Did they just transition from one kind of place to another?  Do you have options for removing the trigger?  Triggering events can be so small or elusive that you miss it.  The child’s sibling could have sniffed or rolled their eyes without you noticing.  An object your child or teen reached for (like a remote control) could have just been unintentionally grabbed by someone else.  If you can identify the little frustrations that send them to the stratosphere and address them immediately, it will reduce the length of distress.

Calming your home for the long term

Calm your emotional self first and think Zen.  If you can take 5 minutes during a day, even a stressful day, sit quietly and breathe, and consciously work at eliminating all thoughts, ALL THOUGHTS, you would calm down.  Not thinking anything is the hard part of meditation, yet it is the skill that makes it work, and there’s proof.

Maintain bodily calm with the big three: exercise, sleep, and healthy diet.  I know you’ve heard this a million times already, but there’s good reason and proof.  If you can’t simultaneously maintain all three habits in your family, take one at time and you will still see benefits.

Calm the sensations that exist in your home environment.  Reduce noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, and the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV and other screen time, etc.  Create a place for quiet time in your home where anyone can go that’s contemplative, where people agree to behave as if they’re in a library, or a place of worship, or a safe zone.  Or create a time period for settling in, such as right after school, or right before dinner.

Did you know that psychiatric hospital units are designed to keep patients calm?  I’ve toured a number of psychiatric hospitals, and the best ones I saw had these elements.

  • Soothing visual environment:  they had windows and lots of light, plants, beautiful aquariums with gorgeous fish and lots of bubbles, and a TV screen with a film or a burning log.  All great for relaxation and brain-calming.
  • Soothing sound environment:  besides the bubbling aquarium, there was low-energy music of various styles.
  • Soothing physical environment:  soft furniture, a large table where people could gather in the comfort and buzz of a group, and nooks where people could remove themselves from the group buzz to avoid over-stimulation or listen to music on headphones.

Add these to your home too, or create a special calming room: Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums for kids with autism or other disorders.

Two things to avoid

1.  Do not communicate strong emotions in your voice.  What you say absolutely does not matter as much as how you say it!  Negative tone of voice is the only thing an upset child or teen will hear.  Yes I know, this is hard to control when you are excited or under stress! (Later on, after the incident, apologize for how you said something, but don’t apologize for an appropriate direction or request you made.)  Practice vocal neutrality.  Take a deep breath and an extra 2 seconds to squash the urge.  Which is better: “Will you please let the cat out?” versus “Will you PULLEEEEZ let the cat OUT!!!

2.  Don’t pressure the child to calm down when they’re not ready—it takes time for anyone to unwind.  Wait patiently while a child or teen works through ugly emotions and finishes spewing their ugly stuff.  Let them have their catharsis.  We all need to release our stuff, and we all need others to patiently listen and endure.

In my support group, I’ve observed that very stressed parents need at least one solid hour to vent and cry before they’re calm enough to benefit from other parents’ supportive words and sympathy.  They start out with ugly or devastating emotions–things they might not say to anyone outside the safety of the group–and eventually calm down and come to peace with their situation.  That’s when they are able to listen to the support and advice from other members.

–Margaret

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ABSTRACT – Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
Britta K. Hölzelab, James Carmodyc, Mark Vangela, Christina Congletona, Sita M. Yerramsettia, Tim Gardab, Sara W. Lazara
Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,Volume 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43 (30 January 2011)

Summary in plain English:  Meditation causes structural changes in the brain associated with memory, empathy, and stress, according to new research. Researchers examined MRI scans of participants over a period of 8 weeks. Daily meditation sessions of 30 minutes produced measurable changes in subjects with no previous meditation history. The anxiety and stress region of the brain, the amygdala, produced less gray matter. In a non-meditating control group, these positive changes did not take place.

“Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

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Filed under anger, animal therapy, anxiety, stress, therapy, yoga

Yoga – Safe and effective for depression and anxiety

Yoga – Safe and effective for depression and anxiety
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"Meditating, it makes you calm, and calm. Om."  Andre, 7

"Meditating, it makes you calm, and calm. Om." Andre, 7

Yoga is being taught to and practiced by adults with mental and emotional disorders, including those who are developmentally disabled.  And relatively recently, it is being taught to children and teens with similar challenges.  According to people who suffer brain disorders, a session of yoga has more than physical benefits:

  • Improving mood, and increasing self-esteem and energy
  • Reducing anger and hostility, reducing tension and anxiety, and reducing confusion or bewilderment in developmentally disabled people

Yoga is simple:  a series of gentle poses, postures, stretches, and breathing and physical exercises that can be practiced by most people.  Yoga is safe and anyone can benefit for free.  And from 65% to 73%  report they have been genuinely helped by yoga practice.  Types of yoga used in treatment settings are Iyengar and Hatha yoga (poses and exercise), and Pranayamas (breathing exercises).  The specifics of these types of yoga are best explained in the articloes at the end of this article.

There are a number of research studies showing that yoga qualitatively improves mood as self-reported by adult psychiatric patients (on evidence-based survey instruments, see below).  But yoga has also been shown to help children and teens with serious mental and behavioral disorders.  It is currently being taught in schools for special needs children (ex: Pioneer School in Portland, Oregon) and in psychiatric residential treatment programs for children.

At the end of this post are excerpts from articles on the benefits of yoga for calming, easing anxiety, and reducing depression in children and adults.

For more information on the practice of yoga specifically for troubled and traumatized children and teenagers, there are two organizations that provide yoga classes to help young people feel better, function better, and support their recovery.

The Flawless Foundation – “Creates and supports programs that enrich the lives of children who courageously face challenges of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders on a daily basis.”  http://www.flawlessfoundation.org/

Street Yoga – Street Yoga teaches yoga, mindfulness and compassionate communication to youth and families struggling with homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction, trauma,  and neurological and psychiatric issues, so that they can grow stronger, heal from past traumas, and create for themselves a life that is inspired, safe, and joyful.   http://www.streetyoga.org/

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Study: Yoga Enhances Mood

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, August 20, 2010

Research confirms what many have suspected—that yoga has positive effects on mood over other physical activities. In a recent study of 2 randomized groups of healthy participants, it was found that the group that practiced yoga 3 times a week for an hour increased brain gamma aminobutyric (GABA) levels over the other group that walked 3 times a week for an hour.

Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers compared participants’ GABA levels on the first and final day of the 12-week study through magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging. With his colleagues, lead author Chris Streeter, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM

Details available at: Streeter CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, et al. Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13:419-426.

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The effects of yoga on mood in psychiatric inpatients

Roberta Lavey, Tom Sherman, Kim T. Mueser, Donna D. Osborne, Melinda Currier, Rosemarie Wolfe

Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Volume 28, Number 4 / Spring 2005

Abstract

The effects of yoga on mood were examined in 113 psychiatric inpatients at New Hampshire Hospital.  Participants completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS) prior to and following participation in a yoga class.  Analyses indicated that participants reported significant improvements on all five of the negative emotion factors on the POMS, including tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility, fatigue-inertia, and confusion-bewilderment.  There was no significant change on the sixth POMS factor: vigor-activity.  Improvements in mood were not related to gender or diagnosis.  The results suggest that yoga was associated with improved mood, and may be a useful way of reducing stress during inpatient psychiatric treatment.

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Practitioners using yoga therapy to mend bodies and spirits (excerpt)

By Michelle Goodman, The Seattle Times, January 11, 2006

As Tisha Satow stretches into the standing yoga pose known as Warrior II, she encourages her student Shaun, clad in sneakers, jeans and a Seahawks T-shirt, to adjust his feet.  Across from Shaun, fellow yogi Susan, who travels with a baby stroller occupied by three teddy bears, grips a metal folding chair for balance.

Welcome to yoga therapy, one of the newer recreational activities available to clients of Seattle Mental Health on Capitol Hill. Shaun and Susan, adults who live in group homes and are diagnosed as both developmentally disabled and mentally ill, are regulars in this class, taught weekly by Satow or one of her co-workers at the Samarya Center, a Seattle nonprofit organization devoted to providing yoga to everyone it can, regardless of health issues or finances.

What is yoga therapy? Simply put, it’s the adaptation of yoga breathing, stretching, even chanting techniques to help people with health issues alleviate pain, gain energy and basically feel a heck of a lot better. Who can benefit from it? Anyone from typical backache sufferers to the terminally ill.

“Science is beginning to catch up to this, is beginning to validate this,” says John Kepner, director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, which has about 1,400 members worldwide.

For the Seattle Mental Health clients, who often attend less glamorous classes such as anger management and checkbook balancing, yoga seems a breath of fresh air. Shaun, who’s shy yet quick to share a laugh with his classmates, says he likes the stretching best. And Susan, who calls yoga “fun” and likes that it gives her a chance to “see people,” shows off her biceps after class so instructor Satow can feel how strong she’s getting.

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Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression:  Effects of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome  (excerpt)

David Shapiro; Ian A. Cook; Dmitry M. Davydov; Cristina Ottaviani; Andrew F. Leuchter; Michelle Abrams

Abstract

Our preliminary research findings support the potential of yoga as a complementary treatment of depressed patients who are taking anti-depressant medications but who are only in partial remission.  In this study, participants were diagnosed with unipolar major depression in partial remission.  They took classes led by senior Iyengar yoga teachers.  Significant reductions were shown for depression, anger, anxiety, neurotic symptoms and low frequency heart rate variability.  Of those in the study, 65% achieved remission levels post-intervention.  Yoga is cost-effective and easy to implement.  It produces many beneficial emotional, psychological and biological effects, as supported by observations in this study.

Iyengar yoga classes typically involve sitting and standing poses, inversions (head stand, shoulder stand), breathing exercises (pranayama) and short periods of relaxation at the end of each class (savasana–corpse pose).  An important feature of participation in Iyengar yoga is sustained attention and concentration.  Iyengar theory and practice specifies asanas (poses, postures, positions), and certain asanas have been found to enhance positive mood in healthy (non-depressed) participants.

Previous research on the effects of yoga on mood in non-depressed healthy subjects, suggests the potential of yoga for use in the management of clinical major depression.  In a form of yoga (Hatha Yoga) that has a strong exercise dimension much like Iyengar yoga, subjects reported being less anxious, tense, angry, fatigued and confused after classes than just before class.

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How Hatha Yoga saved the life of one manic depressive.  (excerpt)

By: Amy Weintraub ; Psychology Today Magazine, Nov/Dec 2000

When Jenny Smith was 41 years old, her mental illness became so severe that she could barely walk or speak.  After days of feeling wonderful one moment and hallucinating that spiders and bugs were crawling on her skin the next, she landed in the hospital.

Smith is a victim of bipolar disorder, an illness characterized by oscillating feelings of elation and utter depression.  And though she had tried 11 different medications for relief, some in combination, nothing seemed to work.  Upon leaving the hospital, Smith was told that she could expect to be in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the rest of her life.  Soon after her release, Smith decided to learn Hatha yoga, which incorporates specific postures, meditation and Pranayamas, deep abdominal breathing techniques that relax the body.  As she practiced daily, Smith noticed that her panic attacks—were subsiding.  She has since become a certified hatha yoga instructor, and with the help of only Paxil, Smith’s pattern of severe mood swings seems to have ended.

Key to reaping Hatha yoga’s mental benefits is reducing stress and anxiety.  To that end, Jon Cabot-Zinn, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts, developed the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program (SRRP), a system that emphasizes mindfulness, a meditation technique where practitioners observe their own mental process.  In the last 20 years, SRRP has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and depression, and thus alleviate mental illness.

Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India has shown a high success rate—up to 73 percent—for treating depression with sudharshan kriya, a pranayama technique taught in the U.S. as “The Healing Breath Technique.”  It involves breathing naturally through the nose, mouth closed, in three distinct rhythms.

According to Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist and author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, “Hatha yoga is an accessible form of learning self-soothing,” he says.”  Yoga students may also benefit from their relationship with the yoga instructor, Cope said, which can provide a “container” or a safe place for investigating, expressing and resolving emotional issues.

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Filed under borderline personality disorder, depression, mental illness, parenting, teens, therapy, yoga