Yoga as a Medicine

with Megan Kearney

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Episode Notes


Intro to Megan Kearney (01:56)
Yoga as an active exercise (05:05)
Different types of yoga (09:03)
Yoga Medicine® (12:06)
Stronger Shield Project (18:01)
Intentional movement (22:30)


Resources Mentioned in This Episode

 More information about Megan
Yoga Medicine website
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

About Megan

Megan is a creative vinyasa and thoughtful movement teacher who emphasizes the mind/body connection. Teaching vinyasa, yin and restorative, she integrates alignment and functional flow throughout her classes and always includes meditation and/or breath work.

She has a combined degree in kinesiology, business and leadership. She is specifically trained in myofascial release work, Thai massage, mindfulness-based meditation, yoga for traumatic brain injury resilience and mixed martial arts practice.

Lesya Liu 0:00
Hello everyone and welcome to the new episode of You Can Exhale Now podcast. Today I'm very excited to cover one of my favorite topics which is yoga. And I'm gonna do it together with Megan Kearney who is a E-RYT 500 as well as yoga medicine registered therapeutic specialist who currently works on her 1000 hours certification, which is really, really amazing. She's also certified Thai massage therapist, and she also holds additional training in yoga nidra animal locomotion and movement, mental health and traumatic brain injury, resist resilience. So I'm very excited to talk today about yoga and all things mental health is Megan.

Megan, welcome to the show.

Megan Kearney 1:44
Thank you, you got it all. That's awesome.

Lesya Liu 1:48
So why don't you tell us more about yourself and to people who are not sure what all of those different yoga are? Can you explain us a little bit more about that and give us a background as to how you started with yoga and specifically yoga medicine?

Megan Kearney 2:06
Yeah, I, you know, I'm just fascinated with the human body and how it works, how it heals itself, or adjust, compensate in, in our movement and everything we do. And it's just fascinating to me. So I call myself a student for life. And I think a lot of yoga teachers do. And it just depends on your area of study. For me, anatomy physiology is an area that it's always I've always been very passionate about. So wherever I have the opportunity to kind of dive in, learn a little bit more, whether it be about the brain and traumatic brain injury or locomotion. And how can we move the body a little bit differently. I'm all in. I'm all in. So whenever there's something that comes up, I jump in and I get trained for it. And I always find a way to bring it back and use it for my students or to play with it. But yoga in and of itself for how I got involved with yoga is kind of a roundabout story. I was a college athlete, I was using meditation in college very early on drawn to Eastern philosophy. And so I had an established meditation practice and someone had said to me, have you been to a yoga class, and I hadn't so they took me to my first Bikram class, which is a hot class obviously, and set poses. And I was addicted. My personality just absolutely loved that. And it went along with the activities that I was physically doing day in and day out, kind of tormenting my body in triathlon training. So for a while there, that was the only type of yoga I did and then I went to a vinyasa studio. A couple years in I was mid 20s, I then and the teacher told me I was like mid 90s, late 90s, rather, and the teacher said, You are too, too muscular to be in yoga. And so I jokingly refer to that as the moment that she kind of lit my fire because I was determined to come back, my mesomorphic body came back and proved myself to this teacher. Right or wrong. I stepped in, I stayed in yoga, and I found that by my 30s I needed it for healing. And that's where the yoga really took on a totally different meaning to me and I saw how powerful the tools were that yoga sets you up with so very similar to meditation and that you're developing a sense of awareness about yourself and how you react and how you how your body manages and compensates. Just the little things that we do in our lives. And so it was interesting to begin to cultivate this awareness about it. And so I started trying to get my athletes that I was training to do yoga, and therefore started teaching yoga, and decided to dive off and get trained as a yoga teacher, officially, in my 30. So that's kind of the story. I'm mid 40s. Now, so I've been doing it for a while I don't even try to add any work to the years, it just kind of all blends together. But I was really fortunate to find yoga medicine in 2016, and to progress and continue my training and develop some lifelong friendships there. Mm hmm.

Lesya Liu 5:52
Yeah, I have to agree that Yoga is an absolutely amazing tool that could potentially benefit absolutely everyone, you know, whether it's for physical health or mental health, or just a place to relax. I absolutely love that. There's so many different types of yoga as well to kind of suit our different personalities and different needs. However, I think, you know, some people still think of yoga as meditation as almost like passive not almost work, almost like it's not a workout in itself, but more of a like, passive activity. So what do you say to that? And how do you convince people to give your good try? Because obviously, after a couple of tries everyone I talked to is hooked. But how do to get just to then try and it's at least once?

Megan Kearney 6:53
Oh, I, you know, I get it all the time, because I am very strong and mesomorphic. And people want to know, what do you do, you must do something outside of yoga, and I'm very active, I will say, but primarily, all I do is yoga. And that's enough, a lot of times to pique the interest of the athlete who has always seen it as being something rather passive. But I spend a lot of time going to CrossFit gyms, I go to a lot of gyms in general and just introduce yoga, vinyasa to them. And they're kind of blown away at the physicality of people. We have this mindset that we have to push harder, it has to be fast for it to be working or building to build muscle. We also really hold tight to that we need some sort of weight. And really, we can use our own bodyweight. It's how we're moving as we're doing it. And what we're creating and that So usually, it's just let me let me just show you yoga, or i or i stand there and I do a practice. And they they Oh, that looks, that looks easy, I can do that I you know, most of the time, I would say they've come to me, if they're coming to me, it's because their physical therapist or their doctor has said, Hey, on top of what you're doing, I need you to do more yoga, you need to really put in some flexibility training into your plan. If I'm going to them, I'm showing them how yoga can also be about strength of mind and body, not just this passive activity. So yeah, it's not always easy, they're easy converts, but you have to kind of really show them what it is. shine the light on it rather, what they have thought it is, and their perceived idea of it and show what it really can be an ad that varies from person to person, right? It's not the same.

Lesya Liu 9:03
Absolutely. So can we speak a little bit about the different types of yoga because we've mentioned vinyasa yoga and nidre Yoga. So for somebody who is interested in yoga, but maybe doesn't know where to start, or what type of yoga would suit them best would pique their interest. Can you speak a little bit about the differences and you know, what kinds of people these what types of needs will find each one more useful or more applicant?

Megan Kearney 9:32
Yeah, because there's so many styles and types of yoga and and just to touch on a few, you know, vinyasa is this connection that we have breath and movement together. So we link the breath and the movement and the movement follows the breath. A lot of the classes that I teach in some of my other training, it's how we can slow down the movement and make it even slower. It might not be within a breath that we're taking it but we're really kind of exploring slower movement. So that's a whole new different style that that you're seeing come about. And then there's, you know, your traditional Hata, which is more of meditation breath work practice, not as much vinyasa flow as it is maybe actual poses that we hold for a little bit longer, a little bit more flexibility work, but can also be just as strong to hold a pose. And really work in that pose. And then you have things like I mentioned earlier, be grum are heated yoga, power yoga, or the room is heated. And it definitely appeals to a different type of Yogi, maybe the muscles or the joints or a little stronger, and they have the ability, and they would have a more vigorous practice, they might like the heat. So there's so many different styles out there. And I always tell people, if you go to a class, you don't necessarily love the first time you take it or the first studio you go to keep trying. Because it does, there's so many different, even one teacher can teach several different styles of yoga, and it has them all be completely different. So vn is a class that I love to teach where it's deep, static poses, I teach it a little differently. I teach it in our yoga medicine tradition, where we back out a little bit out of the joint or act out of coming into the pose at 100%, we back out to about 70 or 80%. And I also combine it with a little bit of myofascial release, because I just find that to be a really nice class where you can help people learn about their bodies and releasing and creating some tissue awareness as well. There's so much out there,

Lesya Liu 12:06
for sure. So can you tell us about yoga medicine, and how the training and the methodology differs from other types of yoga training?

Megan Kearney 12:19
Yeah, I'm, I'm not sure. I'm sure there's programs out there very similar to yoga medicine. I haven't experienced anything like yoga medicine before and really take Tiffany, Tiffany Cruickshank is the founder and creator of yoga medicine. So when I say they, I really mean her and the team that the training is very focused on a deeper scientific look, depending on what the trainee and a deeper scientific look at that issue or that joint or that mental health is another area that we've covered. So it just depends, but we take a deeper dive into it, we look at the science and the research behind it. The most current information that's provided as well as how does it apply as a yoga teacher? What are we seeing on the mat? How do we help people with maybe an element related to this or with issues? For instance, the orthopedic training is it's a really deep dive into, here's the joint here the workings of the joints. Now let's talk about how yoga helps some of the issues that we see in those joints? Depending on maybe it's hip, right? And so then we look at actual poses, and what are they doing and how are they building the muscles create either more flexibility in the hip or greater strength and structure integrity to that joint and so to teachers through yoga medicine are really looking at a science level a deeper dive, I say it's, it really helps you work with a body who, maybe an older body or an athlete's body, everybody has pain, though. And that's really at the end of the day when we can learn as much as we can. And we can try different things. It's kind of outcome based work that we do, where we'll try something and see if that helps with a student and introduce maybe some yoga like conditioning behavior. So these training sessions are really, really just amazing for a yoga teacher to go a little bit deeper into the poses as far as the human body and the physiology. kinesthetics is concerned, like, how can I help this person? And like I said, we've gone and branched out to mental health. We have trauma, the summer trauma informed training and so on. Tiffany and the crew kind of bring in the best of the best with their curriculum and and teach the teachers how to use it in the classroom setting how to have to know that gives them the information and the tools to be a better teacher.

Lesya Liu 15:21
Mm hmm. So what kind of things can a yoga medicine trained teacher work with students on I know, you've covered a couple of different varieties, you know, for example, trauma, are we talking about physical trauma, mental trauma, or both Sivan?

Megan Kearney 15:42
Definitely both, I've worked with, we have a really large family yoga medicine family. And that's kind of what it's like when you go to a training and catch up with everybody, especially some of the newer training that everybody wants to take. There's thousands of us around the world. But it's nice that we all kind of Can, can jump in and talk. So I know from my experience there that there are teachers that are out there working with the military, there are teachers working with trauma, trauma from past, excuse me past incidences in their lives that have created some mental health challenges and anxieties, physical traumas, like brain, traumatic brain injury, kind of trauma, so all of the above, right. And then there's teachers like myself, where I really see myself as an extension, that's how the yoga medicine program was created to be a bridge between Western medicine and Eastern medicine and yoga. So the way I try to create myself in the community, or the way I work with other professionals in the community is, hey, physical therapist or social worker or counselor, or psychiatrist, or even from me and my training or registered dietitian, like how do I work with them, I take their efforts or their plans with a client, and then take it to the next step. And I help with yoga or meditation to kind of work out those plans and help integrate into that person's life. You know, you think about physical therapy, kind of, you get a set time window when you go to physical therapy, but then eventually it ends so that then what happens, right, and so my work starts where the physical therapist ends off and passes them on to me. And so I really see myself as listening to them and taking their lead and, and being that bridge. And I know I'm not alone. This is not my idea. It's what other teachers do as well.

Lesya Liu 18:01
Mm hmm. And I know that you have also launched a stronger shield project, which is a nonprofit dedicated to helping first responders use yoga and breathwork and meditation for improved mental as well as physical well being. Can you speak a little bit about that, you know, what kind of prompted you to do that. And the importance of dress, literally, you know, the most basic function of our body that we take for granted so often, and how integrating breathwork and mindfulness meditation and yoga can help really anyone if it can help people on, you know, the first lines of defense?

Megan Kearney 18:46
Yeah, so I got involved, we started stronger shield and we've been a little sidetrack this year, obviously, with a pandemic, that's, that's kind of hit us but I, we started stronger shield because my I am married to a firefighter and EMT. And so we experience firsthand how sleep deprivation and post traumatic stress from incidents on the job that they endure, and can really break them down their mental health challenge is challenged. And their well being is challenging. So my husband, and I created a curriculum or a class setting around helping them connect and become more aware. breath is really important because that becomes a single point of focus. When we're having any kind of issue that comes up or is struggling with anything, breath really centers as makeup makes us present in the moment. And so it sounds kind of funny, right to tell people like we're gonna teach you about your breath or you know, Become aware of your breath. Because it is just there. It's our body that does it intuitively. But what we mean, as teachers, what we're saying to our first responders, or to just students alike, is to notice all of the sensations around the breath, because that grounds you, or anchors you into the present moment. And from there, then we develop a, we develop and cultivate that ability to sit longer and to watch, not just our breath, but to watch our reactions to things or watch, maybe agitation sitting at a surface level or watch some of the negative mind storm that takes over talking about an incident or kind of recreating things or even anxiety so and when they start to arise, we come back, we focus on the breath, we bring ourselves into this moment, right here. And now. And so breath is really the anchor. And mindfulness is that place that we get to as we start to follow the breath and anchor in that moment. And then yoga just comes along for the ride. So the practice can be a little more gentle or a gentler and more practice, if they're coming like post shifts, where we're really trying to set the body up to restore itself. Like, for instance, a lot of these, these first responders come off a shift and they haven't slept, or maybe they're a night shift. And so their circadian rhythm is already out of whack. So we're doing our best to kind of bring them back down to support the body, but most importantly, support the brain. We have done some videos with YOGA INTERNATIONAL, and they'll be coming out this summer actually where they're on shift. And how do we express some of this adrenaline dump that we've experienced from a call that we've been brought back on. And so the practice is actually very physical in the beginning. And I'm bringing us down to a place where at the end, we're focused on the breath. And do we have different classes for different aspects of first responders' careers that said, like you had mentioned, is that it really is beneficial for all of us, we all have varying degrees of stress. And I think, first responders are an obvious one, because of what they see day in and day out. But, you know, the stress is relative. And it really just depends on the person's perception of that stress. And so all of the work is very effective for everyone to do, regardless of whether they're first responders or not.

Lesya Liu 22:39
Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. And I think, you know, one thing that's important to keep in mind that not all stress is created equal. And a lot of times when you talk about trauma, people instantaneously think of, you know, like the most horrible things, you know, like war, rape, or something like that they don't really think that trauma can be any small thing that negatively impacted our mental health is stored somewhere. And that's, that brings me to my next question. You know, it's breath work and yoga. And meditation is very rooted in cymatics. And right now, there is more and more research, there's a huge growing body of research that suggests that we actually store trauma in our body that is stored those negative emotions, negative emotions, and memories and feelings in our bodies. And that over time, it's detrimental to both our physical and mental health. So can you speak about how yoga can kind of help us release some of that trauma, some of those negative memories experienced in our lives? And most importantly, how do we do it safely? How do we do it from a trauma informed perspective? Where instead of creating even more stress for ourselves and relieving some bad memories, how can we safely move through those and release that energy?

Megan Kearney 24:21
Yeah, that's a great question. And like you said, there's so many varying degrees to that, I think, what they'll break it down into different parts here. The most important thing is yes, you can work. We can work with anything. You know, in yoga, because it is about creating awareness and learning how to kind of step back and be an observer. So if you see yourself getting wrapped up, and I myself dealt with a couple years ago, some post traumatic stress and and I jokingly said to my therapist, you know, this was like an eye opening thing. For me, I'd never experienced it before . I would sit there and watch myself get wrapped up in it because I was looking at it as a scientist and he said, No, I need you to actually step back and find your breath. Because I was, it was fascinating to me to watch how quickly I get pulled in. And so once I learned my techniques, what that helped me was, was that awareness to notice, oh, wow, this spiral is happening. And I'm starting to get kind of sucked into it. And where's my breath. And almost intuitively, I was holding my breath in that moment when I was suffering the panic attack. So for me, I learned to work with the breath. And to stop looking at it as a scientist and really just saved myself from that moment. And, and so yoga, yoga in its work of creating this what we call spread, yeah, or self awareness or self study of ourselves, we start to see what am i triggered by? Why do I react that way? What you know, we ask a lot of questions of ourselves. Now, when we get down into a deeper road, and we start to uncover things that we can't work through, it is so important to have someone with the proper training in trauma to help you work through it. And so I highly recommend either a trauma informed teacher or someone who has been trained specifically in trauma because you are right, there's a great book called The body keeps score by Bessel Vander kolk. And I would say read it because it's phenomenal. But know that it doesn't, you can't necessarily assume you can just do it alone. I think that there's a lot out there and I think the more that we normalize, these kinds of things coming up and being able to talk with a professional to work through it is really key. Good friend of mine is a psychotherapist, but she's also trained in something called Phoenix Rising yoga, that works with trauma. I've worked with a lot of yoga medicine teachers that are specifically trained in trauma. I have done the arrest system through Richard Miller, and that works with pure specifically PTSD in and for him, he's whose work was done with the military, and they found the yoga nidra to be really helpful for them. So I think just making sure that you reach out to someone that's the greatest and possibly the hardest step right is to be able to say I am going to, I'm going to get a partner in this. That's why I like to see immediate partners. And they're, they're going to be there to kind of help me bounce ideas off of and I think the more again, we normalize that behavior, reaching out and asking for help when we need it, the better our country will be, or everyone will be. So hopefully I answered all of it several different

Lesya Liu 28:09
Yes. Thank you. Yeah. So I just want to thank you for this great episode. They think that you've shared so much wisdom and so much knowledge with us about yoga in general, and hopefully, you know, people give it a try those who have not tried yoga yet or didn't find their specific type of yoga that they enjoy. Hopefully, they will give it another try and feel better, both physically and emotionally. So thank you so much.

Megan Kearney 28:43
Absolutely, yeah. And if they are looking for a yoga medicine teacher, the best place to go, if all of this has resonated and they want a teacher is to look at yoga Madison's website. And there's a great little tool to be able to find a teacher near you and you can actually see what training they've had. So if you need to find someone who's done trauma training, or orthopedic training, or mental health training, you can find a teacher that's done all of that.

Lesya Liu 29:11
Absolutely. And all of those great resources mentioned in this episode will be in the episode notes below this podcast. So Megan, again, thank you so much for this great podcast episode.

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