I have been working with Danielle since I began developing migraines and balance issues. At first, when my neurologist recommended that I try yoga and meditation, I was reluctant. I did not understand the power of deep breathing, and a simple yoga pose. However, through her thoughtful approach, and support I improved each week. I learned how to be mindful, take a real deep breath, regain my balance, strength and confidence. In this interview, Danielle explains how she modifies her approach to support people with chronic pain and disabilities so they can live better lives.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Danielle Ayer. I am a licensed physical therapist and a licensed yoga instructor. I started doing physical therapy in an early intervention setting before working in an outpatient hospital. I now work in the school system by combining my physical therapy practice with my yoga education.
I began teaching yoga in 2007 with a primary focus on adults, until four years ago when I completed a yoga training for children with special needs. Following this training, I started incorporating yoga with my physical therapy background to help both children and adults.
How do you help people with chronic pain and disabilities heal?
I think it is essential to build the mind and body connection, whether it be through meditation or yoga. My methods help my patients to mentally and emotionally focus on their breath to calm their autonomic nervous system and slow down their heart rate. I assist them in building a Mind-Body Connection which they may not have recognized or experienced before. To calm their racing mind and thoughts, I have them focus on their breath and recite a simple mantra or a word that they resonate with. These techniques help slow down the mind, relax the whole nervous systems, and help build a stronger mind-body connection. This enables people to be more mindful of their thoughts, physical actions, and physical abilities. Ultimately, they become more in tune with their body.
How can someone with Post Concussion Syndrome or a concussion make modifications when doing yoga?
It all depends on the person who is trying to do yoga and their instructor. It is important to find an instructor who understands what their client is going through physically, mentally, and medically so they can make the correct recommendations. Modifications using props are a great idea, whether it's pillows, blocks, yoga belts, a chair, or changing the environment, they all can be helpful. Another way to meet your client’s needs is by dimming the lights, or subtly playing relaxing music.
What would you tell somebody who is hesitant about trying yoga?
It's always worth giving it a try. There are many types of yoga teachers out there. It is worth exploring and experimenting to find the best one for you. When in class, be open to the different variations and modifications they give you. It doesn't hurt to try it. If yoga poses are too difficult, simply focus on your breath, even simply lying there and deep breathing can calm the mind.
What meditation technique would you recommend to someone who just began to meditate?
Focusing on the breath. There is a simple meditation technique that allows you to focus on your belly breathing by feeling your breath as it travels through your belly, expands with your inhales, and draws down with your exhales.
There are some great meditation apps to help you focus on relaxing one part of your body at a time while keeping your attention focused. You can achieve that mind-body connection by relaxing each part of your body piece by piece.
There are also meditations that focus on a simple phrase or saying that you resonate with. This helps you to feel that sense of calm within yourself. It’s good to start off slowly because it is hard. It’s hard not to fidget, or stop your mind from wandering. It takes practice and time to build up your practice and become comfortable with meditating.
Why are yoga and mediation helpful to people with a long term illness?
Yoga helps them build a mind-body connection. This will help them become more in tune with and mindful of their body, as well as being mindful of what they can do with their bodies. Recognizing how this condition affects you is key. Through your yoga instructor, you can find someone to focus on your individual symptoms and goals, because not everyone with your illness has the same experience as you. It's a process and it's a journey. Our body stores a lot of memories, emotions, tensions, and stresses without realizing it. The more you practice and the more you allow yourself to breathe through that tension, the more you can break down and release any stress that is not serving you.