Yoga, Healing & Resilience, Part III
"As a trauma-informed yoga teacher, I believe that the flip-chips are fantastic,” wrote Naval Special Warfare veteran and Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT) instructor Anthony Scaletta in a message to Yogaflipchip. Eager to support Anthony in his work as a trauma-informed yoga teacher, we sent some flip-chips his way. MYT is one of the five programs of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, which supports and funds certified yoga teachers of all traditions to bring yoga and mindfulness techniques to underserved and under-resourced segments of the community. In his work with the MYT program, Anthony shares the transformative power of yoga with various trauma-sensitive populations and with veterans in particular. Jessie, our fearless intern, recently conducted an in-depth interview with Anthony. What follows is Part III of their illuminating discussion about yoga, healing and resilience. Enjoy!
Jessie: Do you have any specific examples of experiences with students that have impacted you personally?
Anthony: Oh, so many. Getting to work with my fellow veterans always holds a special place in my heart. I readily recognize that we're all human and we all need these practices, but veterans really are a special bunch. They are a population that can benefit tremendously from yoga. To see someone that's really struggling when they walk in the room and then take to the practice and experience a shift – that’s really special.
After class they might share with me some comments such as they felt at peace, or that their mind wasn't racing for first time since deployment, or that they were actually able to sleep a little better later that night. Lack of proper sleep is a major issue with so many veterans, so anything that helps with that is huge. When you're not sleeping, it doesn't matter what else you're doing to try and feel better. It all begins with quality sleep and yoga is such a great tool and in particular yoga nidra is wonderful for this. Veterans tend to really gravitate toward yoga nidra for this reason and I really love sharing it with them.
Jessie: What is yoga nidra?
Anthony: Yoga nidra translates as yogic sleep. It’s sometimes classified as a form of meditation but I really believe it falls into a unique category all of its own. It's a guided deep-relaxation and it's designed to bring you into what the yogis call the 4th state of consciousness, known as turiya.
This means that the practice of yoga nidra plays the line between waking and dreaming and is designed to bring the practitioner into the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining awake and aware. A lot of the time people do fall asleep during yoga nidra, especially veterans, and sometimes there's nothing better. If someone falls asleep, it just means they need to sleep. A lot of teachers of yoga nidra say it doesn’t matter because you still get the benefits and I completely agree.
Yoga nidra has been relatively well studied and found to be hugely beneficial for veterans. You're relaxing the body at the physical, mental, and emotional level and that's when true healing can happen. It's a very interesting practice because you feel like you're sleeping, but you're still hearing the sound of the instructor’s voice guiding you. It's a really awesome practice. Plus, it's a pretty easy practice to do on your own while lying down and listening to a recording. We have one you can stream or download on the Mindful Yoga Therapy website, under the 'Tools' tab.
Jessie: When you work with veterans, and underserved populations, and people who have been traumatized, has anyone expressed interest in becoming an instructor?
I’ve had a few I’ve helped guide towards training. I always encourage anyone that expresses interest to just take the training, even if they have no intention of teaching. It’s an opportunity to go deeper. You don’t have to go in with an intention to do anything other than learn; just being willing and curious is a great approach. A 200 Hour YTT barely scratches the surface but you’ve gotta start somewhere.
Jessie: What advice would you give to someone beginning a daily yoga practice?
Anthony: I love that you said, “daily practice.” The big thing that I try to convey to others is that the magic of yoga (broadly defined) comes from a daily practice. And there're so many different ways that you can have a daily practice of yoga - it might be just sitting your butt down on the cushion for 5 minutes and meditating even if your mind's all over the place. It's the consistency of the practice day in and day out that produces the results. And I preach this from deep within — I can't tell you how many times I was literally dragging myself onto my mat just to breathe or to sit and meditate. There were so many times that I just didn't want to, but then I did, and the magic happened and I felt so much better. In the beginning even if you devote 5 minutes of some sort of practice everyday (which might look like putting on your favorite music and just moving your body and noticing your breath) then eventually, day by day, over time the shifts begin to happen. I believe the consistency of the practice is the most important factor.
And the key is to not be hard on yourself. Worrying if there’s a right way to do it - that’s our conditioning getting in the way and it’s what we’ve been taught from a very young age so it’s understandable. But for someone beginning a home practice, I say: think less and feel more. Yoga is all about the balancing of energies - between dark and light/masculine and feminine. So, most Westerners can really benefit from moving away from the externally focused analytical approach and toward a more fluid and explorative one. Yes, you ultimately need both for balance, you can’t just go purely inward or purely outward, but we can initially create more harmony by loosening the grip and letting the practice simply be what will serve our highest good in that moment without over complicating things. It is a balance between honoring your commitment to a daily practice and then being willing to let go of the outcome. Show up and let go, rinse and repeat.
Yoga is about connecting to the breath and the body. I think in modern times it is especially helpful to have a way to deeply connect to our bodies. We have this vessel we inhabit all of our time here on earth, yet we can get so disconnected from it. Really feeling into and sensing your body brings you right into the present moment and it's soothing to your nervous system. So set the intention to connect with your body and your breath at the beginning of the practice and then see where that leads you.
I always open every class that I am sharing with others with some suggestions. I say, first of all, you don't have to move at all if you don’t want to. You can stay lying on your back or seated and just breathe and that would be some really deep yoga, but if you do want to move, start by being curious and then give yourself the gift of knowing that there's nothing that you have to get right or wrong. You are just here exploring what it's like to move and breathe in these different ways. There's no intended outcome. It's so empowering, and truly a gift when we can shed that because, again, we come from a cultural conditioning that promotes a performance-based, striving mindset. What if there was nothing to accomplish and we could practice simply to have a experience without any expectations?
Many times I’ve heard someone say, "I can't do this," "I'm not doing this right," etc. We want to label everything and analyze it and get carried away in our personal narratives. I like to think that the yoga space is one in which we can both examine our habitual thought patterns and then explore what happens when we drop them. The yoga practice provides us with a really great opportunity to unravel the many layers we have wrapped around our authentic selves. And we have a lot of layers to work through, that’s just how it is. The yoga is not teaching us anything new, rather it reveals what we've forgotten - it’s a remembering.
Jessie: Where do you see your practice evolving in the future?
Anthony: That’s a great question! Ultimately, I surrender to the universal flow and trust that all is unfolding exactly as it is meant to. I really have no idea where I’ll be in the future and that’s okay. I'm not really steering the ship anyway. I think that if I'm following my heart and continue to remain open, I will be guided to where I am meant to be. I'm open to anything at this point. My role now at Mindful Yoga Therapy has been awesome. I have the true privilege of getting to be one of the Mindful Yoga Therapy instructors in our 15-hour programs. We do 15-hour programs as an introduction to the method, and I think for some experienced teachers, that 15 hours helps them to feel comfortable enough to begin working with trauma-sensitive populations. I have the pleasure of getting to travel around to different yoga studios whenever they request the training.
Yoga has led me to a serious curiosity in Ayurveda and once I started to study Ayurveda, I realized how much it goes hand-in-hand with yoga, so much so that it’s often hard to separate the two. So that's what happened last January - I started to study Ayurveda a little on my own, and then I did an online intro course in Ayurveda, which led me to a deeper dive into meditation. Now, meditation has become the cornerstone of my yoga practice. The Ayurveda studies coupled with the meditation practice have led me into exploring the subtle body and that's opened so much - it's allowed me to really connect to my inner guidance in a way that I've never felt before.
Between the meditation and the Ayurveda, I was led to Reiki. I am now offering one-on-one Reiki sessions, and I'm still building that up, but I also volunteer for a Hospice organization. I go into various hospice settings, and, if the client is open to it, I give them a Reiki treatment. That's been really cool work. I'm excited to see where that goes. I'm being nudged now to start sharing Reiki with animals.
Then the Reiki led me to working with crystals in a healing capacity, which is something I never would have imagined. I recently completed my Crystal Healing Certification through the Love and Light School of Energy Medicine. When I step back and look at this beautiful, wild ride I find myself on, it’s easy to see that I am being guided and that I have been all along. So, I stopped questioning any of it a while ago. It was back in June that the crystals found me and they’ve been really phenomenal to work with in a healing capacity, both for myself and for others. The crystalline structure forms a spiral pattern that resembles the spiraling pattern of our DNA and allows the crystals to vibrate at a very pure frequency. When we study yoga and Ayurveda we understand that we are a microcosm of the macrocosm and that the patterns of nature, such as fractal patterns, move in spirals. Even the breath moves in and out of the nose in a spiral fashion. Crystals have this perfectly formed spiral pattern and because of that they are an excellent conductor and amplifier of energy. Reiki, crystals and yoga all fit together really well. So, this has developed into me offering private healing sessions that combine all three in order to custom tailor the session to best fit the individual's needs. The possibilities are endless and I’ll continue to follow this path as it unfolds with a genuine curiosity and willingness to learn, serve and grow.
Most recently I have been guided to begin formally studying meditation. I will soon begin a two year Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification program through UC Berkeley’s Awareness Training Institute. This unique program provides me with an opportunity to deepen my meditation practice while also learning how to skillfully share the practices with others. I have no doubt this where I am meant to be in this moment and I look forward to where this may lead.
I'm also realistic that I still have a lot work to do and it’s not always easy but I choose to keep showing up and leaning into the practice. For some time now, I have let the words of the Medicine Buddha Mantra become my manifesto. I’ll close by sharing this mantra with you: “May I live to heal myself, heal others, and to help all living beings find freedom from suffering.”