Kindness. It’s true that most people are much better at being kind to others than they are at being kind to themselves.
Sometimes we think that we’re kind to ourselves, but when things get hard, or we don’t do something right, or we gain a bit of weight, when we stand in front of the mirror or sitting with our thoughts, we perhaps notice that we’re kind but only to a degree. Sometimes it’s hard to put what we know we should be doing into practice. And to go even a step further, when dealing with physical trauma (or mental/emotional, for that matter), we so often put ourselves into a sort of fight mode, where we’re actually treating the body (or mind) as an enemy to be beaten into submission.
Of course, even without that, trauma gets stored in the body. But with this approach, it becomes even harder to resolve it.
Cheri Clampett is the founder and director of the Therapeutic Yoga Training Program. For her, it was yoga that brought her back into a place of healing where you work with the body and mind, not against them, and she has been sharing these healing tools with others for over 25 years.
In this interview, you’ll discover:
- Different techniques that help with healing.
- How to soften around pain to reduce it tremendously without pain medication.
- How to help your body through the power of your mind.
- Hands-on work: meditation session for easily reducing (chronic) pain.
Tune in + Share ❤
Show notes & links
The show notes are written in chronological order.
- Cheri Clampett’s website: https://www.therapeuticyoga.com/
- Cheri Clampett’s book: The Therapeutic Yoga Kit [get it here]
- Bernie Siegel: Love Medicine and Miracles [get it here]
- Joseph Le Page / Integrative Yoga Therapy [discover more here]
- International Association of Yoga Therapists [discover more here]
- Ice Age Acupuncture [read it here]
- Insight Timer App [discover more here]
00:00 – excerpt from the episode
01:16 – intro (listen to discover a little more about your host. Martin will tell you a new lesser-known fact about Dr. Maya)
Dr. Maya Novak:
Kindness. It’s true that most people are much better at being kind to others than they are at being kind to themselves. Sometimes we think that we’re kind to ourselves, but when things get hard, or we don’t do something right, or we gain a bit of weight, when we stand in front of the mirror or sitting with our thoughts, we perhaps notice that we’re kind but only to a degree. Sometimes it’s hard to put what we know we should be doing into practice. And to go even a step further, when dealing with physical trauma (or mental/emotional, for that matter), we so often put ourselves into a sort of fight mode, where we’re actually treating the body (or mind) as an enemy to be beaten into submission. I think it was 2018 when I was sitting in a friends living room, chatting away. In one moment, because we were talking about healing as well, she said “You should look into the work of Cheri Clampett – she is truly amazing.” Thank goodness for that conversation because I didn’t just learn so much from her, but soon afterwards Cheri and I got connected and we did an interview in 2019. It’s full of golden nuggets and this is the reason why I’m sharing it here on this podcast as well. Please enjoy.
Dr. Maya Novak:
In this interview, I’m joined by Cheri Clampett, who is a certified yoga therapist with over 25 years of teaching experience. She is passionate about bringing the benefits of yoga to those recovering from or living with injury or illness. Cheri is also the founder and director of the Therapeutic Yoga Training Program, and author of The Therapeutic Yoga Kit. Her teaching focuses on the healing aspects of yoga, on freeing the body, the breath, and flow of energy, and practicing with awareness, compassion, and love - all the tools that help you connect with your inner wisdom and step on the journey towards better health and wellness. Cheri, thank you so much for being here.
Thank you for having me, Maya. It’s great to be here.
Dr. Maya Novak:
I’m so extremely excited about our conversation because I know that this is going to change so many people’s lives. So before we go really deep into it, can you please share about your story? How and why did you become a yoga therapist?
Well, what happened for me was I was in my 20s and I had been invited to a yoga class. Some friends took me to this yoga class and in the class at the very end; there was a feeling in my body that was quite powerful. I was crying. I felt a disconnect from the waist down and then there was this knowing that something was really wrong. I had been – gone through a lot of painful procedures as a child. I had had reoccurring bladder infections and had some very painful procedures where they would tie me in stirrups and they would use instruments to dilate my urethra because they thought that this was what was causing the reoccurring bladder infections. So I had a lot of trauma in that area of my body - a lot of physical pain from a young age. I was suicidal around age 11-12 because I felt I couldn’t handle any more of these procedures, which were weekly. I had bladder surgery, I was in a children’s hospital. So here I was in this yoga class in my 20s having this awareness that I was not only disconnected but that there was a kind of a crying out from my body. To make a long story short, that moment of Shavasana, of quiet, of listening, brought me into connection with something that my body really needed me to hear. That was related to the trauma but I didn’t realize that right away. I ended up being diagnosed with cancer. I had surgery shortly thereafter. It was an interesting journey for me because of the pain of it and the cutting out and the releasing, I almost feel like surgeons are shamans. There was a certain amount of taking away of some of that trauma, but it was also bringing attention back to that place where there was so much held. After that experience, even though I had a very successful business and profession, I came out it fascinated with what happened and how the body heals. I began to read books like Bernie Siegel’s Love Medicine and Miracles and looking at how I could I also affect my own healing process, and pain and things like that. I even had a really interesting experience where I started hemorrhaging after the surgery. I went back in, and a girlfriend had taken me, and the doctor was having a hard time finding where the bleeding from coming from. She was quite – the surgeon was like I don’t know what to do you’ll have to help me. I said can you bring my friend in. She came in and she said I want you to visualize something. She had me close my eyes and breathe and visualize an angel coming down and putting pressure on where the bleeding was happening, and the bleeding stopped. So that was another turning point moment for me of seeing the power of focusing. It was like I could feel from inside where it was happening. Just with that visualization, I felt – I don’t know how much of it was energetic, how much it was physical, but it worked in that moment. So there’s a part of me that was very affected by those things and going through my healing process. I came out of that and began to study energetic healing and massage. I didn’t think I’d be a yoga teacher or a yoga therapist but as I kept working with yoga I became very enamored with yoga and studying it extensively. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. I became fascinated with how I could release a tight muscle, or I could – you don’t necessarily need a massage, right, to be able to get into these areas of your body with breath and awareness. I became more and more in tune with myself and scanning my body and listening. Then almost five years later I had a reoccurrence of the cancer and the doctor wanted to do a hysterectomy, a partial hysterectomy at the time. I said you know, I feel like I need to understand why this keeps happening. So at that time, I did the deepest work I’ve ever done, and that was the trauma work. I went into the trauma that I had gone through as a child and I started to release it because it was really connected to a lot of emotional holding. There was a lot of rage in my body and it was actually a doctor that said to me, you are full of rage. I said no, no, I’m very spiritual, you know. I was bypassing my emotions around what had happened to me. But the truth is when I was on that table as a child and the doctor would yell at me and he was very unkind to me, there was a lot of different feelings going on in me and I wasn’t able to experience the fight or flight response fully. I wasn’t able to run away. I wasn’t able to deal with it at that time and my body had brilliantly held it for me. So as I started to meet it and go into it, there was a great unwinding of all of the emotional pain. I found a great therapist that helped me who was bioenergetics in nature, which meant very much body based. I still work with the trauma therapist who does tapping and all kinds of things to help me because the layers of that trauma are still present, and yet I know how to self-soothe, I know how to use yoga and breath work and different healing techniques to help me meet that when it starts to arise. What I see is the body is brilliant. It talks to you all the time. The pain – sometimes it will be yelling. Sometimes that pain is not because there’s an actual problem with the body right now, but it could be that there’s emotional holding, trauma holding, physical tension from what you’ve been through that hasn’t yet gotten a chance to release. The shaking and the things that the body naturally does to release trauma – sometimes we stop that because we don’t understand it. So it was very valuable for me to keep working with the yoga, and around that time, I found this incredible teacher who I assisted in her prenatal classes, Anna Delores, and she was teaching restorative yoga. I ended up getting certified as a teacher and starting to learn because I knew that yoga was really a way to self-heal, and that fascinated me. I learned restorative yoga at the time when I was working with people with HIV and AIDS during the AIDS crisis in the late 80s. I was teaching classes in several places – the Marianne Williamson Center in West LA, also at the Center for Yoga. Some of the people that came to class were very, very sick. Some were symptomatic, maybe HIV positive but still strong. So I would meet them with what they needed and went deeper into meeting the needs of the individual. Rather than trying to fit them into a yoga practice, how can I support this person who has no energy today? The propping with restorative yoga was so beautiful. Anna had shown me that with the pregnancy - because she was teaching pregnancy classes and I was assisting her. I started to just bring it into these HIV classes and AIDS classes and saw great results. That’s how I started to simplify and change some of the poses, incorporate gentle movements, gentle yoga movements, even sometimes in a restorative pose moving gently, opening areas with breath and awareness. Then incorporating some of what I had done in my journey, which was breathing, guided meditation, and also giving your body a voice. Body talk – what does the pain have to say? Is it screaming? Does it have a voice? My cancer actually had a very specific voice and accent and communicated quite clearly a lot of the rage. So in working with that in therapy, clearing some of that, my body started to heal. I didn’t have the hysterectomy. I healed naturally. I had help with a lot of different practitioners and I kept on top of it with biopsies. I really believe that cancer is caused by many, many different things. I want to be clear that I would never just recommend somebody not do treatment. I teach at the local cancer center here, ongoing classes. But to meet it with these other aspects where you can support your body in healing. So whatever treatment you choose, also doing your breath work, your stress relaxation practices, bringing your hand to areas that are healing. Last week at the cancer center a man was telling me about his painful arthritic knees and that he lightly taps his knees and says there, there, and they calm down when they’re getting really loud or very painful. It’s so beautiful sometimes how simple some of these practices can be. So I became certified through integrative yoga therapy many years ago and then Joseph Le Page saw the work I was doing with the AIDS patients and invited me to co-teach his training. I brought in restorative yoga, shared almost like a Thai massage yoga-sage, different teachings into that. I have since developed my own training with Arturo Peel. I’m really focused on the therapeutic aspects. The training works also with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, as well as yoga teachers – people that are interested in bringing this into the hospitals, working with patients, working bedside. Many of my graduates, of our graduates, are doing beautiful work with people that are really dealing with grave challenges – chronic illness, coming out of major surgeries, accidents. So it’s been a great honor to share these yoga techniques, which are so powerful for self-healing, and to share with others.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Beautiful. I love this. You mentioned a few very, very important things. What you said, that pain is talking to us, the body is talking to us. It’s really important for us to listen. Because I had this experience a couple of years ago. I got the answer. My body told me what it was, but I was like, oh, that probably is not it, so I pushed it aside. It took me a few months to really come back to the first answer and realize that maybe there is something that I have to do. It’s also true what you said about the onion that we are peeling with trauma. It’s not something that you do one time, and that’s it. It’s something that you come back to over and over and over again. You mentioned therapeutic yoga – my question here is, what is actually the difference between someone doing regular yoga or someone who does therapeutic yoga?
Restorative yoga supports the body with blankets and bolsters, and it allows the body to relax, to release held tensions, stress, and trauma in a very soft way. Then there’s gentle yoga where there’s gentle yoga movements, which lubricate, help create energy flow if there’s stagnation - which can also create a pain in the body, also excessive energy, in the theory also of Chinese medicine. Also, breath work or breath awareness including breathing into areas. Now, you say well, but my nose is here and mouth is here but I can’t focus, let’s say, on breathing into a tender area – visualizing. So it’s a visualization technique, but also wherever our focus is, is where the energy flows, right. The work of breath work in pranayama in yoga is very much a focus on bringing in energy, invigorating those areas with prana, with energy. So it’s very, very, powerful and very helpful for clearing stress and tension - the exhalation, letting go, releasing, where the inhalation is a drawing in and nourishing the area with energy. There’s energy work with our hands. We all have marma points or small chakras in the palms of our hands. So as we bring our hands to an area, or even over an area, we start to bring a focus and energy to that area. So it can be on body, off body, with touch. It’s so interesting. If you think of any time you’ve hurt yourself, the tendency is to bring your hands there right away, because it calms, it self-soothes and it begins that calming, healing process. We do that with children. As healers, we can bring that to others. What I mean is that we hold that healing intention. Of course, their body always does the healing, but we can bring that energy and support to help nourish. So in my training, we teach energy healing, various techniques in energy healing. Then also, guided meditation – invoking the mind towards healing, visualizing what would be your medicine. Sometimes it’s very specific. So in the one-on-one therapeutic yoga sessions, we may invite someone to go inside, maybe in a body scan, feel into the place where there’s pain. What would be the medicine for that pain? They might say oh, it’s a golden honey, it’s warm. So I might then take them through a meditation where that warm golden honey flows into that area of pain, melting the pain or dispersing it, or whatever using that imagery to help. So it might come from them. But if we’re teaching a group class in therapeutic yoga, the teacher might guide everyone in a meditation, a healing imagery. Often inviting people, if the image isn’t working for them, to just let it go. So you’re able to bring that focus of the mind though towards healing and calming and relaxing the body. So those are the main tenets of therapeutic yoga. Things that my partner, Arturo Peel and I, have found very healing and supportive and nurturing towards healing. Many of our graduates teach in hospitals, wellness centers. There’s more and more people now because of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, they have a beautiful certification program. People are becoming certified as yoga therapists. So you can find a good yoga therapist if you look through their website that has been trained in how to work with various conditions. That’s the difference between a regular yoga class and a therapeutic class. It’s really focused on yoga for healing and it really is – there’s lots of space for people to do what feels good to them. Then there’s the knowledge of the instructor to also know because they studied extensively what might benefit them, what might also be something they should avoid, in addition to working closely with their doctors often.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, knowing – and in regards to pain – because pain is such a big part of every recovery journey. We don’t want to feel pain, but we are definitely experiencing it. The regular approach is getting painkillers, and when I was recovering from the fracture, no one told me what to do instead of just taking the painkillers. Back then, I did not have enough knowledge to be able to soothe my body. In the past – you told me before we started the interview – in the past, you also taught doctors and nurses in the hospitals what to do, how to help their patients when they’re unable to give them more painkillers because it could be dangerous to their life. Can you talk a bit about this?
Yeah, well in, I think it was 2001, I was invited to St. Vincent’s Hospital and that is – it was a very old hospital in New York. It was opened in the late 1800s. It was one of the hospitals actually, interestingly enough, where they brought the people that survived the Titanic disaster in 1912, and it was the hardest hit hospital in the World Trade Center disaster because it was closest to the World Trade Center. So they triaged a lot of the survivors there. After that time, I was invited to come and work with the pain management division of St. Vincent’s, my partner Arturo and I, to teach them yoga techniques for in those situations where the patients had their limit of pain meds. What else can you do? Some of the things that we taught were breathing, guided meditation, softening around the areas of the pain. One of the things that happens quite often with pain is when it’s intense especially, there’s a pulling away from it. In pulling away from it, there’s a tightening and fear because it can be so intense and frightening. So one of the techniques – and I’ve experienced this actually personally after a surgery for a skin cancer on my nose where they had to take some of the cancer out of the bone of my nose and then reconstruct my nose. It was a seven-hour surgery and I was awake for it and it was quite traumatic. One of the things that was interesting is I said to myself oh, I’ll be able to breathe deeply and calm myself. Well, my swelling was so bad I had trouble breathing. When I came out of the surgery, I had not – the anesthesia wore off quicker than I had expected and I hadn’t gotten my pain meds from the pharmacy yet, my husband was going to go do that. I started to feel as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to the side of my face. There was a panic. I started to panic and I started to cry and as I started to cry it was more painful and he saw that it was like I was drowning. I describe this in my teacher trainings as well, because when you’re working with somebody like this, it’s very important you don’t jump in the water with them and say oh, you know, but he stayed really strong. Because I had had grafting I couldn’t lie flat, but he put me in a restorative pose on the couch. I was in a panic and he took my hand and he said I’m going to guide you through meditation. He put on some calming music and he started to calm me with his voice – listen to my voice and follow my voice. As I started to follow him and relaxing my body and softening. I was breathing through my mouth but I was able to slow it down and calm my breath. Then he had me in a temple with the women in my life surrounding me and sending me healing energy. It was such a powerful image for me what he chose in the moment. I couldn’t have been better – to have my mother, my grandmother, my girlfriends. I imagined them. I saw their faces. He had me look at each face. That focused my mind. In thinking about that, I also want to mention something that you might have talked about – I don’t know – with pain for burn victims when they change the bandages it’s one of the most painful experiences. They only have so much pain medication they can give them. Well, one of the new techniques is they’re giving them virtual reality goggles. As they’re changing their bandages, they’re having them play in a winter wonderland. Part of it is the focus of the mind. The mind isn’t focused here where that bandage is getting changed and the pain is so intense, it’s focused elsewhere. He was so clearly having me see everyone’s face, really engaging my mind out of my pain and into something else that was healing for me. It was amazing. What was fascinating was I couldn’t get there myself, even though knew these techniques! I was completely so overtaken with the pain that I could not get there myself. So that’s also an important thing to remember sometimes when the pain is so great. You might need help. That’s where we can come into community, or turn on a meditation that helps you focus, or bring in some breath to those areas that are tightening and really going into a stress response. I think it really does create a very interesting response of stress and it is traumatic when you’re experiencing that. Then sometimes I think it can continue in chronic pain. There may not be that physical response the same, but there’s a physical response of contraction and the memory even of it. We can go back and back and back into that over, and over again. I think it does take practices, and that’s where yoga and yoga therapy can be so helpful and therapeutic yoga. These practices help to help us shift out of that response that we’re so used to. They help us take an active role in letting go of those things that are so difficult when we’re in pain. The fear, the mental focus on it, and then the contracting – the breathing changes - often very shallow here. As we breathe deeply, we also know that we’re affecting our vagus nerve, the branch of the vagus nerve, which runs all the way into the belly, and down into the colon. Those simple things can be very calming. You also notice sometimes people will put their hands on their face, or on their head, and these are all self-soothing ways that we can calm ourselves, placing our hands in different areas when we’re having a really difficult moment or time with our body. Something that’s, I find, really difficult is that it takes time to heal, and the patience that it takes to heal. We just want to have our old life back and our old body back. It’s very emotional and it’s very difficult. That’s also one of the things I’ve found in yoga, that I can bring a safe space to the person working I’m working with where they can feel their emotional pain around what they’re going through with their body whether it be aging and arthritis, or an accident where they’re not quite the same afterward. All of those things are brought onto the mat. If they can let the emotions go, release the emotional holding that also frees up a lot of energy. I think it can clear trauma, held trauma. I think it’s very connected to emotions clearing – clearing the emotional holdings. So that’s another thing that I really feel is important is giving ourselves space to feel our pain and it’s always accepted. We have a lot of rules about that in society, and even with our children when they cry or scream. Recently a friend of mine was telling me that when she was 16 and she had a bone marrow biopsy for cancer, she was diagnosed with cancer, she said it was incredibly painful and she didn’t hold back. She screamed as loud as she could as she felt this pain in her body from this biopsy. She said I felt like because I did that I didn’t carry the trauma of that experience. I let it out in the moment. Sometimes we don’t feel we can do that but to later put a pillow over your face and argh, you know, let it out. Or take a towel and squeeze it, if you can. Or whatever part of your body you can push into something and let that energy move out. I think it can really be helpful.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, yes, yes. What you mentioned a few moments ago – you mentioned patience and that people do not expect that. You nailed it because I think that with any kind of serious injury, or even disease, people don’t expect that it’s going to take longer. I know how it was for me with my fracture. I thought, okay, a couple of weeks and then I’m back on track. Oh my goodness, you know, two years later, yes I did my first long distance triathlon, but I never actually expected it to be such a long journey. For me, I would say that I was a really impatient person before my accident. It really pushed me to practice patience and just doing it one day at a time, not being overwhelmed with everything. So you really nailed this patience thing.
Yes. It’s one of the hard things. When you look at how the body can heal, the body has incredible wisdom inside of it to heal. I think that one of the things that’s great about the integrative medicine work, or the holistic practices coming in. I think of almost like a quilt – that we’re coming together with allopathic medicine to really support and uphold people in their healing process. It’s safe. It really is something that I just feel that it’s so important that we come back to some of the ancient ways that we healed. Not just expect the doctor to fix us. Not just expect the medicine to fix us. But to have these ways that we listen to our body as it’s healing itself. The body heals itself and it has a pharmacy inside of it. It has incredible wisdom inside of it and we forget that. We almost like – when our body goes through an injury or an illness – we get mad at it. We sort of don’t treat it well because it’s not working as well as it was. That’s when our body needs the most love, the most attention, the most care, the best nutrients, the deepest sleep. All of those things because it’s working extra hard, right. So I also think that that’s a really important thing. I remember I broke my finger when I was a child. My grandmother was a healer and she made me salve and put it in a tin and gave it to me and said, the way that your finger will heal is every time it hurts you rub that salve into it and you give it your love, and the love is what heals. I think that’s – love is the most powerful healer. There’s so much negativity around self-love and what does that mean but just think of compassion and kindness that you would give to a child that had fallen and hurt its knee. You would take it in your arms and you might hold it while it’s crying, the child in you would tend to that need. We don’t do that with ourselves. We actually have to have somebody tell us to do it. Can you give yourself this? Can you take a hot bath when you hurt? All these things – so I think that it needs to become more ingrained. In my book, which I co-authored with Biff Mithoefer by the way, I wrote about the Iceman. He was discovered in the Alps and they realized long before acupuncture he had tapped to the areas around his arthritis. They believed he was self-treating his arthritic pain with a pointed stone that he had with him. He had pouches with different herbs and remedies for diarrhea and constipation and healing. He had his own little healing things with him to take care of his body. This was before medicine. This was before Chinese medicine 5000 years ago. So our body knows how to heal itself and sometimes it needs something different than what we give it and it won’t heal as well, and sometimes it will heal beautifully. I see some people who their self-care is really in place and they heal so beautifully - they’re just really – and then other people that are beating themselves up and pushing themselves and not resting enough and not listening enough and it makes it much more difficult. So these are some of the yogic things that you can bring in to your life when you’re going through a healing process. I really believe that we’re all healing at various levels, but when there’s pain it’s very difficult sometimes and scary to meet your body, to feel into it, to explore what’s there because it can be frightening. It can be hard to do that - just those baby steps, little by little starting a process of taking time each day. I was teaching at the cancer center this week. I do three classes a week, both for the doctors and nurses and staff as well as the patients. I was teaching a four-week series as well for stress reduction practices. One of the things I teach is something that was inspired by one of my doctors who said if people every day would put their hands on their body, close their eyes and check in with themselves, they would get information that would guide them and they’d be healthier. So I started this practice, I call it Me Time, where you put one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly – if you can touch yourself – if not, you can just close your eyes and feel inside. Just as if you were talking to a good friend, you ask your body how are you? You also ask it what do you need, how can I support you? Last week, one of the students there, she said I’ve been having a lot of stomach pain and when I put my hands on my body and I asked it how it was and what do you need, it showed me the pain in my stomach. Then it showed me – it wasn’t necessarily words because sometimes it’s a feeling, a sense – she realized her body said I don’t like what you’re feeding me. You’re feeding me a lot of Mexican food and it’s not good for me, it’s hurting my stomach. She went oh, what would you like she asked it, and it told her what it wanted to eat. Then she said it was just kind of amazing for her to be able to ask her body a question and actually have it tell her. It sounds like you’ve had that experience as well. The trick is, and I always say the last step, is to follow the guidance because if your body doesn’t feel like you’re following through, it’s just like a bad relationship, right. You want to feel heard, and you want somebody to really follow through what you need. So it may say I need more sleep, maybe you could go to sleep earlier. Or I need more water, or I want to lie down, or can you elevate my leg, or can you put ice here, or heat. It’s quite remarkable the things that the body has said in the sessions that I’ve done. I find it guides me and the person I’m working with always towards healing, and often in a very simple way, right.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, and what you mentioned is really important. It’s not like a cookie cutter type of thing. It’s not like copy-paste. It’s not like do this and everything will be okay. Really listen to yourself. I’ll share my experience, for example after my fracture, but also this year when I had a wisdom tooth extraction surgery that was much, much more severe than anyone expected. I had a tooth growing really weirdly. The surgeon suggested using ice; however, I did not feel good with icing. Now, if were following just tips on the internet or what my surgeon told me, I would be doing that. However, my body was like, don’t do that. It’s not good. So it’s really important to listen to ourselves because we do have the wisdom. But then many times we’re like, well, who am I? Those are the people who have the knowledge, so I should be listening to them and we’re really ignoring ourselves. I think what you just described is so extremely important.
Yes, and if you haven’t done it before sometimes it feels foreign, trying anything. What I often tell the patients that I work with is it’s like playing an instrument. When you first start, you’re getting the hands on the keys; you’re learning how to hold the – it’s very mental when you first start. After a while, you just play a song, once you keep practicing. So sometimes people will try to meditate and they’ll say oh, I can’t meditate. And you tried once, you know. Or they say it just doesn’t work for me. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes they might need something else. They might need a movement meditation like Tai Chi or Qi Gong, or they might need a walking meditation. They might need a laying down meditation rather than sitting because they’re not comfortable sitting. So sometimes people will take one yoga class and start sitting and there’s so much pain and they say I’ll never be back here, instead of just laying down instead – which I often will tell people if we are sitting. If you need to lay down, lay down. Honor that. I really teach that in my classes. What is the message your body is giving to you because what we don’t realize is when we’re not listening to our body, it’s actually a form of self-aggression. I really think it can be. When you’re pushing and there’s pain and you’re not listening, the pain is trying to tell you something. So sometimes if we hurt all the time it can be difficult to find ease. It can be difficult to find a place of ease. That’s where the propping of restorative yoga is so beautiful. I will often if somebody’s in chronic pain, I will keep propping, keep propping, and adjusting until we find that place where they’re oh, I feel good, I don’t feel any pain. Then it’s easier to do that work. So sometimes playing around with a prop under something, which takes the pressure out of the tender area, can really make somebody feel comfortable. So you can play with propping yourself and then try meditating. There’s a lot of beautiful meditations that you can do, guided meditations. Well, maybe we should do one right now? Does that sound good?
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, I would love that. So it’s really, in practice, how to soften with the pain, around the pain, so that we don’t feel so tense. So please, guide us through.
Okay, there’s lots of different forms of meditation…
Dr. Maya Novak:
We'll continue in just a moment. I wanted to quickly jump in for two things. First, thank you for tuning in. And second, I’m sure you have at least one friend, colleague, or family member who would very much appreciate this episode. So share it with them and help us spread the word. Now let’s continue…
… and I really invite everyone that’s listening to take a moment to get comfortable, as comfortable as you can be, which means that you feel free to change your position at any time, to adjust in the ways that are good for your body. You can keep your eyes open, softly focusing on a point in the room, or you can close your eyes. Notice what feels the best to you. As you close your eyes, take a moment to feel your body in this moment. Notice the sensations within. If you’re a very thinking kind of person, maybe analytic and you have a tendency to really analyze things, you can take a little veil or a little shade over the left side of your brain. This often helps the right brain to come on a little bit brighter. This is the part of us that makes it more easy to meditate. So bringing down just a little quiet to your left-brain, and you can just let it rest and let the more intuitive side, the more sensitive side come online there, just the creative side of us, the right brain. Take a few gentle breaths, and with anything I invite you to do, if it doesn’t work for you, let it go. You can explore what does feel good and what works for you in this meditation. Noticing the feeling of the breath flowing in and flowing out. Begin to lengthen, as best you can, your inhalation and your exhalation. As you inhale, feel the sensation of the breath softly expanding the body, creating a very gentle massage. Noticing as you breath if there are places or an area that might have accumulated tension, physical tension or stress. Noticing those areas and beginning to turn towards them. There may be discomfort. There may be pain or achiness. Noticing how that area feels. Sometimes it’s good to just put a number on it so that after the end of the meditation you can see if it was helpful for you. So if there’s pain or tenderness or achiness, just number that. Is it a three or an eight, or how does it feel in this moment? As you begin to turn towards that feeling, that area of your body that maybe has the most sensation or tension, begin to feel into the apex of that area. Is there a center of it? A place where you feel it is most activated. For those of you that feel drawn to take the energy of your hand, the center of the palm, the chakra energy center, to that place. You can always take your hand either into the energy field over the place of tenderness, or you can lightly bring your hand to that area and see how that feels, feeling the energy that your hand holds to soothe, to comfort, to calm. If it’s not possible to bring your hand there, bring breath there and imagine that as you’re inhaling you’re able to breathe in a beautiful medicine mist. This mist can be cool or warm. It might have a color that feels good to you, that feels healing and soothing. As you inhale in imagine that your body is drinking in, receiving, this medicinal energy as it softly flows in with each breath. As the breath flows out, feel the body relaxing more deeply, the muscles letting go of any chronic contraction or tension or holding. As you begin to feel this softening from deep within, the medicinal energy, the mist softly penetrating the skin, the muscles, and perhaps even flowing into the bones, feel a beautiful calming of the nerves. The nerves are now becoming quieter, softer, feeling a deep relaxation through the layers of your body. You might feel emotions start to rise or you might have an awareness or perhaps your body has a message for you, something it would like you to know. Let yourself be open and receptive to whatever you’re feeling in this moment. Taking a few slow deep breaths and visualizing this healing energy staying in this place, staying with your body like a blanket of comfort, inviting it to stay here today and at any time you start to feel any discomfort, any tenderness arising, breathing that medicinal mist, healing energy into this area with or without touch. Feel your body unwinding, softening, and your nervous system calming as if the pain or discomfort was turned all the way down, all the way down. When you feel ready, you can slowly release, bringing your awareness back slowly into the room. Noticing as you revisit your body in this moment, noticing if there has been any shift or change to how you feel. When you feel ready, you can slowly open your eyes. So that’s just a little taste of something that you can do and it can be very special to bring these practices in during moments. Sometimes I think of pain like a crying baby and the tendency with medication, and I absolutely believe that pain medication is a godsend when you need it. It’s amazing and it’s wonderful and I don’t want to be negative about it in that when you really need it, it’s great to have it. And to be able to able to work with our own pain, for various reasons, is a really wonderful gift. So that crying baby, when you turn towards it – so this is symbolic of pain – turn towards it and you pick it up and you listen to it – what do you need? Do you need milk? Do you need your diaper changed? Or your stomach is hurting, you’re teething? What’s going on? As you do that, then you can meet the need better instead of just sticking the bottle in the mouth. Not that that’s not important to make sure the baby’s well fed and everything, but it’s a similar kind of thing with drugs I think. Sometimes we just give the drug, we numb the pain, but we’re not really listening to maybe a message that might be very valuable. So I think to use both techniques – especially if you’re dealing with acute pain – having medication is incredible. But also getting off it as soon as you can, which can help with constipation and some of the other issues that happen that can be painful too. Sometimes we take medications for one thing and then they cause these other problems, including addiction. So to be able to bring your attention to yourself, picking up that pain and turning towards it. What do you need? What are you communicating? Why are you so loud right now? And being able to meet that with what you can do in that moment. These meditations are great ways to offer that listening.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Thank you, Cheri, that was very, very beautiful. What you mentioned in regards to painkillers, they definitely have a part in the recovery process. However, if we are taking them for a really long time we are just numbing ourselves. I really see pain as a guide. It can be a really beautifully guide to you. Even though it’s not the most pleasant experience, it can be very, very beneficial for the whole journey. So without numbing, we can actually listen to our bodies better and know what they need in that moment in time.
It’s so true, yes. I saw an incredible show about – there’s a certain small percentage of people that are born with no pain receptors, and it’s so dangerous. I mean they don’t know when they’re hurting themselves. They can put their hand on the stove and not realize that they – so our ability to feel is a gift and when we numb ourselves, we lose our ability to feel on many different levels. So to be able to be alive to our pain, our grief, our sorrow, as well as our joy, helps us to be really alive in life, you know. I see sometimes when people have too much pain medication there’s a tendency to not have that resilience to feel as deeply because they’re in that loop. So start to take baby steps if you are experiencing chronic pain and you’ve been on a lot of medications - just start to slowly, slowly work towards little baby steps towards getting yourself feeling better. In my 25 years as a yoga therapist, I’ve worked with a lot of different people. I’ve worked with a man who couldn’t walk who was having terrible pain and just wanted people to operate on him, why won’t somebody just fix me. The doctors all said we can’t. I did a body scan and we found in the body scan, just from having him tune inside, that it wasn’t coming from his hips and his legs, that it was coming from his spine. We are able to work with yoga for healing and strengthening. He went from not being able to walk to walking again and walking now in nature. So I’ve seen great healing, but it’s not like suddenly you’re without pain. It’s baby steps, little steps here and there and getting stronger and working on your resilience. That technique I used at the very end of the meditation of turning the pain receptors down, like you had them on a volume level. That can be helpful for chronic pain when the body is just sort of stuck on pain to go into a meditative state and imagine that you can just turn it down. Just tell your body I hear you, you don’t have to be so loud. Can you turn that down? No, more, I need to you to – good, that’s great. I can hear you there. It’s going to inform my movement and how I feel when I’m sitting and everything else. But it doesn’t have to be so loud that I can’t function well. So that can be a good step for people that are dealing with a lot of pain.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Beautiful. Cheri, thank you so much for sharing this. My next question here is what is your number one advice for someone who is recovering from a physical injury?
I think that reaching out to get the support that you need and tuning into what that might be for you. Sometimes it’s things that helped us as children recover from falls and things. Music, beauty, things that calm you, things that support you, being loving and kind and compassionate with yourself, being patient, trusting and knowing. I think the most important thing is to know that there an incredible energy and wisdom within you that knows how to heal, that you will heal. To have that foresight and even … I have worked in hospice. I even believe that when we are knowing that we’re coming to the end of our life and we’re in that stage of knowing that we have a terminal illness and we may not heal from this in this way, that there is a healing process that we do go through as we’re dying as well. So to realize that the deeper aspects of this body and this life, the teachings in yoga that we’re not our body. Our body is the temple of the spirit. It is a beautiful vehicle for this lifetime. When it’s time to leave the body, it’s said to be almost like slipping off an old shoe that’s too tight. It doesn’t fit us, our energy needs to be free again and we shed and we let go of this body, this mortal coil. It’s part of life we all will experience but when we’re healing and we choose to live and we know that there is potential for recovery to trust the body’s wisdom. To know that there is a wisdom within to heal and to meet that it in every way that you can. I think nutrition is incredibly important, and getting enough rest, but movement is also really important and remembering to not just lay down for too long. Even if you’re in bed – I worked with a woman who was in a head-on car crash. She lost an eye and had broken a lot of bones, and her first part of her recovery was visualizing doing yoga. Her body couldn’t move, but she pictured movement. She pictured doing the sun salute and breathing. What they’ve discovered is even visualizing movement before you move can keep the bones strong if you’re in a place where you’re not yet able to move. When she first did her first downward dog, I was with her. After that accident, after much recovery, she’d broken her ankle. She cried that she was able to come back to something she never thought she’d be able to do after such a grave injury. So to remember that healing is possible. I have seen the most incredible healing in life. It takes great courage and strength, but it also grows our compassion. It grows things in us that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t gone through it, and it’s part of life. Suffering is part of being in a body. It’s part of life. We all will have injuries. We’ll have beautiful moments in our body and we all, at some point, will die. We have to prepare for that to some degree.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Since you mentioned suffering, from your personal experience but also professional experience, this journey – this healing journey is not always the easiest. Many times people start losing hope about their healing. So what would you say to someone who is losing hope about their recovery?
I think, as I told the story earlier about sometimes when somebody feels like they’re drowning, you need somebody there to help you. There can be terrible depression that is actually part of the healing pattern or journey. It can also be associated with our medications as well. Sometimes you need help and when you see that in yourself, when you see that you’re losing hope, reach for someone. There needs to be help and support for you. Sometimes we just can’t do it alone, and sometimes we don’t want the burden on our family or our loved ones, but that’s one of the things I feel so honored to be able to do is to come work with people that are really sick. I mean I work with people that - I have somebody that I’m working with a neurological disease very similar to ALS who is losing the ability to walk and talk and coming to that point of aspiration, not being able to breathe and eat and so forth. To be able to be there and hold space for this journey, and to bring what I can to his experience with yoga and with touch and with visualization. I’ve even taught him a form of alternative nostril breathing that is imagined. He doesn’t have to bring his hand to his nose, but when he is feeling upset he can do that, when he’s feeling the loss of hope, and it helps him shift, which is interesting because stimulating the different sides of the body affects the part of the brain that deals with trauma. So even something as simple as that can be helpful. So there is hope. There is always hope and help, you just sometimes need to reach out. If you’re somebody who doesn’t do that, practice that. Practice asking for help and letting it be more than okay. We all have to be there for each other at times - think about what would be the best for you, and what would help you now. Sometimes it’s just having someone to listen, someone to be there to listen to how you are. For other people, it’s not talking but it’s receiving some kind of touch or treatment can be very helpful.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, reaching out is important. It’s like that saying, it takes a village to raise a child – and we do have the power to heal ourselves – however, we cannot do it on our own completely, like being on a desert island. And that is my last question that I have. It’s a bit more of a fun question. If you were stuck on a desert island alone, let’s say, with an injury and you could bring only one thing with you that would help you heal beautifully, perfectly, what would that be?
I would bring meditation. Meditation visualization because that has been, for me, the most helpful. That can be going inside feeling into that injury, visualizing what it needs, what would help it heal, drawing that in and visualizing energy, the power of energy and light. I do a lot of meditation with light when I’m healing my own body. The yogis did a lot of meditation with light, visualizing the chakras and the colors of the rainbow flowing in. So I’ve found that you can choose even colors that feel good at the time. Sometimes if there’s stagnation a warm color, a bright orange or yellow light feels good. Sometimes if there’s heat and there’s inflammation, a cool green, emerald green or a blue or water, visualizing that flowing through. It’s so powerful and it’s always right there. There are times when you can’t breathe well, for whatever reason, but you can always in the stillness of your mind find peace and healing, the sanctuary that lies within no matter what’s happening in the body, no matter what’s happening in the world or in our lives. Meditation is always a place where we can find peace and our connection to source and to the light of healing.
Dr. Maya Novak:
It really – your answer goes back to when you were – just after the surgery and you were in a panic mode. Even though you knew what you should do, it was impossible for you to do it on your own. So having something – even someone that guides you or a guided meditation or a visualization can be really, really beneficial.
Absolutely, and that’s one reason over the years, for the last 20 years, I’ve recorded a lot of different meditations - a chakra and meridian meditation for moving energy through the chakras; a sun-moon meditation where I take you out into space. Most recently a doctor at Huntington Hospital, a surgeon, asked me to do a meditation for his patients to prepare them for surgery, and a meditation for after they come out of surgery to help them with pain and recovery. When I was testing out the meditation I used for many people. They used it even afterward for pain and found that the breathing at the beginning of the meditation also really helped in their recovery afterwards. So it’s a passion of mine – meditation and sharing meditations. I find that they’re really, really valuable to have a meditation that’s recorded that you can listen to over and over again. It’s a sort of psycho-neurological response. You listen to it once and you relax. Then over time it just can become a place that you can go to and have for yourself, especially in those moments that are difficult where you need that support, that hand up or help. There’s also an app that I love, it’s Insight Timer. It’s a meditation app that you can get through the Apple store that’s wonderful. You can also set a timer where it rings a bell to just sit quietly and that can be really wonderful too.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Beautiful. Cheri, I so enjoyed our conversation. I’m sure that many people would love to know more about you, so where can they read more, reach out - please share this information.
Thank you. Well, I teach therapeutic yoga trainings all over the country. My website is therapeuticyogatraining.com for the trainings. For me, for retreats, workshops, classes, and things that I do that would be therapeuticyoga.com. So that’s me, and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I know that we’re maybe going to bring some meditations together too, to the people that you’re reaching out to here. And Maya, I just want to acknowledge your incredible intention here. It’s been a joy to be here with you and to be a part of this and reach out far and wide to help many people.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Cheri, thank you so much for being here and really sharing all these golden nuggets that I know are changing lives around the world. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Maya.
Dr. Maya Novak:
This wraps up today’s episode with Cheri Clampett. If you haven’t done it yet, subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you’re using to tune in, and share it with your loved ones. As you know: sharing is caring. To access show notes, links, and transcript of today’s episode go to mayanovak.com/podcast. To learn more about The Mindful Injury Recovery Method visit my website mayanovak.com and find my book Heal Beyond Expectations on Amazon. Until next time – keep evolving, blooming, and healing.