Friday, December 7, 2012

Adapting Ancient Techniques to Help Cope With Mental Illness

By Jenna Ritter, Founder and Senior Teacher at DHARA
Yoga for Mental Wellness
We are fortunate that Yoga has become mainstream. Contrary to popular belief, Yoga is actually about healing more than it is about exercise. Yoga is one of many alternative modalities that offer a very real and cost effective solution to current health care needs. Yoga inspires a ripple effect of health that starts within each of us. The sign of a healthy Yoga practice is when the practitioner experiences a sense of flow and harmony. When there is flow and harmony inwardly the conditions necessary to cultivate a healthier, more positive relationship with the self and others are created and supported outwardly, and vice versa. With practice over time the Yoga student’s life gets better, then their interactions with other people get better, and, as result, society gets better. At its central core, then, Yoga is a cultivated lifestyle rooted in relationship.
In itself mental illness can be very isolating. On top of this, the restraints of stigma can keep individuals hidden creating a container of fear, anxiety, depression and anger to stew. Learning how to apply effective and practical techniques to break out of isolation and move into various degrees of relationship is highly desirable. Today there is an abundance of information available on alternative treatments. When one becomes interested in exploring something like Yoga it is easy to become overwhelmed and confused. For special needs populations navigating this terrain can be even more challenging. In efforts to clarify and keep things simple I have developed my work through my nonprofit project DHARA. DHARA accesses and teaches foundational elements essential to a healthy and safe Yoga healing practice. Classes nurture sustainable empowerment within a safe environment for those living in highly stressful, chaotic, and uncomfortable life situations.
I have been studying Yoga for 12 years, teaching for 8 years. As part of my personal healing and training I lived in India and China studying with master teachers. Before Yoga, I was an early childhood special education teacher very interested in inclusion models of education that highlighted resiliency and empowerment. Reflecting on my journey and integrating my knowledge, I have come to understand Yoga to be about accessing and working with prana or qi, the vital life force energy which is in each one of us. It is my personal experience that the body has an innate wisdom to heal itself when we learn to work with it. Yoga enables serious students to come out of their shell, to realize the gift that they are, and to offer that to the world effortlessly.
Knowing that some Yoga can be unsafe and actually harmful, I utilize my special education background and unique training experiences to develop curricula that provides clear foundational practices—something like the “ABC’s” of Yoga healing—to support people in their recovery and reintegration. The breath is central to a good Yoga practice: the breath provides an indicator as to our mood at any given time, as well as is an effective vehicle to begin the shift into a more desired state of mind. In my classes I teach practical and effective ways to build inner strength through using easy to apply tools of breath and gentle movement. With practice over time a greater harmony and joy in life is experienced. As students begin to fall into a rhythm with their practice I see them begin to return to the rhythm of their lives. Students begin to more easily show up for themselves and each other in a way that wasn’t possible before attending classes. Students emerge more centered, grounded and whole. There is a new enthusiasm—a joy—that simply is. I suspect with continued practice the ripples of these effects will impact the larger communities around us all.
Note: Jenna Ritter, Founder & Senior Teacher at DHARA, teaches low-income adults living with various emotional and mental health issues self-healing through ancient Indian and Chinese lifestyle systems adapted to modern-day living situations. Programs and trainings are also available for service providers Contact for more information on classes and special workshop offerings.

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