Below you will find some video clips intended as resources to help introduce your client and you to body-mind practices that support stress relief. Links to additional resources for both professionals and the general public can be found at the bottom of the page.
These videos were originally developed as resources for trainees at neuroscience, behavior and movement workshop for mental health professionals and yoga instructors. They have been made accessible to the general public in the hopes that these skills may help individuals to learn skills that will support improved mind-body health.
These videos are NOT intended to be a replacement for mental health treatment, nor are they a replacement for formal professional training for mental health professionals. They are offered as resources that you can use as examples, to build your own coping skills and mindfulness practices.
A note for yoga teachers:
The therapeutic yoga components of my instruction are based on my training as a licensed social worker (LSW), not derived from my status as an RYT ®with Yoga Alliance Registry.
My instruction is not intended to equip yoga teachers to diagnose and/or treat a mental or physical health condition. These claims are within the scope of the practice of medicine and/or licensed health care professions. Rather, I educate yoga teachers on general therapeutic benefits of yoga practices that can promote and restore wellness, in keeping with the guidelines of Yoga Alliance.
My hope in conducting these cross-profession trainings is to increase opportunities for collaboration and referral between mental health practitioners and yoga teachers – each functioning within their professional role as dictated by their skills and the ethics of their profession.
Basic sensory grounding
This practice is a simple way to center one’s attention in the present moment. It can be done at start of session or at any time during session to re-center. To keep the video brief, I give the cues one after the other. In real life, I pause between each cue, to give time for noticing. The length of my pause depends on what I observe happening non-verbally with my client. So you can use this video to learn get the gist of the “script” then adapt, ad-lib, and improvise as fits your style and your clients’ needs. The basics are to orient to the body in contact with whatever is supporting it, sensory input, and breath.
This practice can be useful when agitated or anxious, to help to calm the nervous system by shifting from hyper- or hypo-arousal to using the cortex by making choices to notice, and using sensory input. There is no magic formula; I simply use Take 3 because it’s easy to remember in a pinch, when one’s executive functioning is going offline. Many people find it helpful to repeat this practice a few times, going more into detail about what they notice each time, and perhaps taking a deep breath with each thing noticed. (For instance, a person pulled over on the side of the road with an anxiety attack may notice weeds on the side of the road, the steering wheel, and the sky; then they may breathe and notice the color of the flowers on the weeds, the color and texture of the steering wheel, the color of and clouds in the sky.) Some people do the touching first, some the noticing first – each person can customize to what works best for them. You can also add scent and taste sensations
In going with the slogan, “Keep it Simple, Sweetie” – simply noticing the breath is an important practice that should not be glossed over in eagerness to teach breathing techniques. Many people who experience anxiety breathe very shallowly – sometimes rapidly (baseline hyper-aroused), sometimes holding the breath (baseline hypo-aroused). This practice asks us to normalize the difficulties that may be common in people impacted by stress and anxiety: performance anxiety – wanting to breathe “correctly” and fear of “breathing wrong;” uncomfortable/possibly overwhelming sensation triggered by establishing contact with what’s happening in the body; anxiety that is triggered by relaxation (Relaxation may feel unsafe to someone whose baseline is to be highly alert). Trauma-informed teaching/counseling guides us to validate and normalize. Whatever a person is experiencing is acceptable; they can choose to “dip their toe in the water” to try a breath or a few at a time; they are in charge of how often and when they choose to do this. Never tell a person how a certain technique “should” make them feel. Everyone is different. By practicing curiosity and nonjudgment with your students and clients, you are empowering them to have agency over their own experience. It is wise to have the some sensory grounding skills practiced prior, so that these skills can be used to respond to any anxiety or emotional flooding that may occur with the breathing practices.
Full/natural/diaphragmatic breathing practice
Once a person is able to stay present in awareness of the breath, this practice can help the person learn to use the breath to regulate the nervous system. This practice can be complemented by simple movement/yoga asana practices aimed at releasing muscle constriction around the lungs and at developing proprioception of the core muscles. I like to start with simple seated practices as suggested in Kelly McGonigal’s book, Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain copyright © 2009 by New Harbinger Publications.
Using bilateral stimulation to count while breathing – extending the length of the exhalations. Once a person is able to stay present in awareness of the breath, and to explore a more full, natural, less constricted breath, this practice can help the person learn to use the breath to calm the nervous system.
This practice is from David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper’s book, Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body (copyright © 2011 by Justice Resource Institute, Inc.). This body-awareness and gentle movement practice is especially helpful for people who are in hypo-arousal, i.e., whose adaptations to stress include a disconnection from the experience of the body, and who may exhibit diminished motor activity. It may be helpful to start with a basic sensory grounding practice, then ease into the sun breath practice with invitational (rather than directive) language. The aspect of being able to choose type and size of movement promotes a self-agency; when someone has adapted to a difficult situation with learned helplessness, and/or has internalized the message that their wants/needs/choices are not valid – this practice of being curious about what choices they may want to make, being curious about their experience in making those choices – can profoundly empowering (and it can be intimidating – as their facilitator in this practice, your job is to be curious and to validate)
Movement mirroring to music
So many benefits to this fun practice! For people who are hypo-aroused (feeling disconnected from their bodies, perhaps frozen) this practice can bring them back into their bodies and help to regulate the nervous system. It can also help someone who is hyper-aroused/agitated to regulate their nervous system – especially if they are able to combine breath with simple movement flow (starting with movements as quick as their breathing, gradually broadening and slowing the movements as it becomes accessible to do so). Music can support affect regulation and help to shift attention. The practice of mirroring can support the practices of empathy and connection, and an experience of acceptance and validation. The creative expression of movement and choice of music can help to strengthen a positive sense of identity.
Please visit the following links to explore more on these topics:
Trauma therapist Tom Zimmerman’s blog, Go with That for guidance and illuminating perspectives on trauma treatment. Tom’s article, Deep Breathing Doesn’t Work for Me, is invaluable for trauma therapists.