Psychotherapeutic yoga: Yoga for your brain.

by Melanie Wells | March 15, 2016 10:26 pm

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I first met Lindy* when her father brought the whole family in for therapy after her mom died. Following a brief, sudden period of weakness in her arm, Lindy’s mom had gone to the doctor a few years back and gotten the bad news. Within months, her muscles became slack until they slowly atrophied and eventually stopped working altogether, leaving her trapped inside a rapidly withering body. After a three-year struggle with muscular dystrophy, she died when her lungs finally failed and she was unable to take even one more breath.

Lindy was thirteen at the time.

The family had the benefit of a long goodbye, but the kids experienced the extended agony of watching their mother’s vibrant, active mind outlive her body. When I walked into my waiting room to greet them all for the first time, the kids had the haunted, stunned look of war-zone refugees.

The youngest, a boy, was bright but difficult. He had recently been suspended from school for bringing a knife from home and planting it in another kid’s locker. Not an optimal coping skill but you had to admire his spunk and creativity. The oldest boy had just returned from residential treatment for cocaine use. He was scheduled to depart for therapeutic boarding school if he couldn’t get his act together and stay sober. When I met him, he said he didn’t need a shrink and flipped me the bird. I liked him instantly.

Dad was a control freak, but was a decent soul who hadn’t a clue how to help his kids. He was ex-military, a former tank commander. I figured he could be trained.

Lindy was the kid no one worried about. That’s the kid I always worry about.

I worked with the family for a few years, on and off. The kids gradually adjusted to life without their mom. Dad stopped trying to bomb the hell out of every problem and learned to listen to his children. The younger boy put down the knife and made the honor roll and the lacrosse team. The oldest boy decided to become a therapist and went off to college to study psychology. We hugged and flipped each other the bird when he left my office the last time.

Lindy – the one nobody worried about – studied art and stayed out of trouble. Until she stopped eating.

She was eighteen by then and after a few weeks on celery and water figured out that this was no way to live your life. She called me and we worked on living life and eventually she started to eat and she began to paint again.

The real trouble began for Lindy when her art became violent and disturbing. She drew pictures of razors cutting skin – her skin. She drew portraits of herself shriveling up as her mother had. She went back to the celery. She began to fantasize about how she’d kill herself.

I called in my adolescent team and my eating disorder therapist and we got to work.

We did the whole suicide contract thing and Lindy committed, one week at a time, to stay alive until the next appointment. That was our deal. She worked hard at staying alive and eventually her depression lifted and she stopped fantasizing about dying. She ditched the celery and regained an age-appropriate fondness for cheeseburgers and beer.

But she couldn’t escape her dreams. That was the worst of it for her. The unrelenting nightmares about her mother leaving. About her mother’s body disintegrating. About her own body disintegrating. About being trapped inside muggy, sweaty darkness and suffocating.

After all the time I’d spent with her, I couldn’t uproot those dreams. I just couldn’t get to them.

On a hunch, I asked a yogi friend of mine to work with her. Maybe yoga could tap into some part of her mind I hadn’t been able to reach.

He said sure, why not. So we moved my coffee table out of the way and he saw her a few times in my office.

A few times. Like, maybe four. And the nightmares were gone and the art became upbeat and groovy and she went off to UC Berkeley to be a hippie and an artist and to live her life.

I’m no dummy so I built a yoga studio and started hiring yogis.

Yoga and psychotherapy are fraternal twins who don’t spend a ton of time together, which is a shame, because the two together are synergistically more whole than either one can possibly be alone. After my experience with Lindy and the many, many patients that followed, I resolved to get those twins together and make psychotherapeutic yoga a thing.

So I founded LISPY.

LISPY stands for the Lifeologie institute school for psychotherapeutic yoga. Yoga for your brain.

LISPY’s mission is to offer psychotherapeutic yoga training to therapists and yogis, focusing on specific protocols designed to treat a wide range of mental health issues. LISPY’s 1000 hour program is, well, lengthy, to say the least. 600 hours of coursework and 400 hours of supervised, collaborative internship with a team of psychotherapists and other psychotherapeutic yogis.

The LISPY faculty – seasoned yogis and therapists dedicated to the field of psychotherapeutic yoga – created a program that covers everything from neurobiology and abnormal psychology to breath-work and asana. The LISPY program integrates all this information to address a broad spectrum of mental and emotional concerns.

Concerns like depression, eating disorders, trauma recovery and sleep disturbance. Concerns like Lindy’s.

LISPY was founded because psychotherapy isn’t always enough. And yoga isn’t always enough.

But together, they can drill all the way down to the subconscious level of the mind, boring into the limbic system and uprooting trauma and anxiety and depression. Together, they can retrain the body’s fight or flight response and rewire the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.

Psychotherapeutic yoga can help heal a damaged heart and wounded mind so that a kid can eat and sleep and laugh and love and make art and go to college and become a hippie and live her life.

Which is what Lindy is still doing.

Which is how Lindy became the kid I no longer worry about.

And that’s how Lindy inspired LISPY.

*names and details of this story have been changed to protect the privacy of Lindy and her family

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