The Transpersonal Way

Healthy Spirituality/Transpersonal Psychology by Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

Can spirituality be good for your health? The answer, according to many researchers, turns out to be, “Yes!”

Transpersonal Psychology, an approach that emerged in the late 1960s, suggests that nurturing and developing spirituality and awareness can help individuals develop greater physical and mental health as well as a deeper personal understanding of themselves. This type of psychology marries a number of approaches and disciplines, including cognitive psychology, humanistic psychology, behaviorism, Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy, mysticism, mindfulness and multiple elements from the world’s various religions.

A Path to Transformation

This psychological approach can help a person transform his/her life. Transpersonal psychology is rooted in the idea that people who are in any form of relationship have a space between them. That space includes a profound spiritual “something” that influences each person, thus causing changes in each party in the relationship.  Each person begins to dwell less on the day-to-day efforts to take care of basic human needs and instead adopts a transcendent approach that takes into account others as well as the universe as a whole. This form of psychology encourages inner peace, trust, a feeling of being fully alive, selfless service and compassion.

Practices such as prayer, meditation, yoga and Qigong can help individuals achieve this state of transcendence. Furthermore, incorporating these practices into a daily routine can lead to real health benefits. For instance, some researchers suggest that transpersonal experiences are tied to optimal mental health. Not surprisingly, this approach can help individuals who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and grief or who are considering suicide. Researchers also have found that these types of transpersonal practices can help people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

A Bond to Nature

A practice of transpersonal psychology often involves spending time in nature, which is considered a key factor for optimal health. One study found that prolonged wilderness trips that include natural history as well as solitary time can lead to peak or mystical experiences in both adults and adolescents. This immersion into nature helped many participants’ identify a different way of thinking about the world and their own surroundings. An analysis of these individuals’ journal entries suggested that they started to develop more satisfying responses to day-to-day opportunities and challenges after their experiences on these trips.

Primary Sources for This Blog:

Davis, J. (2004). Psychological Benefits of Nature Experiences: An Outline of Research and Theory with Special Reference to Transpersonal Psychology. Naropa University and School of Lost Borders.

McKeown, P. (1996). Transpersonal Psychology Provides Health Benefits.

Tartakovsky, M. (2011). 6 Facts About Transpersonal Psychology. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2016, from

When Hearts Speak

By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga 

Is it better to speak from the head or from the heart? Research suggests that the latter may offer some real benefits at the individual, familial and societal levels. 

A Different Approach to Communicating

Also known as Nonviolent Communication or Compassionate Communication, heart-based communication is grounded in the concept that people are compassionate by nature. However, during their lifetime, many people may have moved the locus of their communication from the heart to the head.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who developed the Nonviolent Communication approach, believes that many people are taught early in their lives to speak from their head. This approach often involves subjective judgments (right vs. wrong, attractive vs. ugly, good vs. bad) as well as demands for specific action based on the listener’s guilt, shame or fear. Head-based communication can lead to defensiveness, resistance and fighting and can make it difficult for people to live in harmony with one another.

Speaking from the heart offers a viewpoint that is not judgmental. Instead, a person voices what is happening in his or her own life and makes a request (instead of voicing a mandate). This form of communication promotes well-being both for the person who is voicing the statement and the listener. People who use heart-based communication do not place blame on another person; instead, the speaker believes that his own thoughts, wants and wishes are the basis for any feelings of frustration or anger that are being experienced.

In his article for Northwest Compassionate Communication, Dr. Rosenberg offers an example of a mother who wants her child to clean up her toys. He notes that in heart-based communication, the mother would say, “I feel angry because I want the living room to be clean and instead it’s a mess.” She would then ask her child for a different outcome by making a statement such as, “I’d feel so much better if you’d just put these toys away.” This approach runs counter to head-based communication, which might involve the mother saying, “How nice it would have been if you had cleaned the living room last night.”

Research into Nonviolent Communication

Researchers are finding that heart-based communication offers surprising benefits in multiple settings.

– A 2015 study found that the use of parental empathy in a relationship with adolescent children that offers a variety of benefits to both parties. An empathetic approach was significantly associated with an adolescent’s ability to regulate emotions and also lowered markers of systemic inflammation in the teens. Parents who practiced empathy were found to have greater self-esteem and purpose in life (although researchers found that these parents did have higher systemic inflammation).

– Two studies published jointly in 2014 looked at prisoners who had been trained by the Freedom Project in nonviolent communication and meditation. The first study found that prisoners who had received the training were less likely to return to criminal behavior. In the second study, prisoners who were trained in these strategies had improvements in self-reported anger, self-compassion and certain forms of mindfulness. They also showed increased social skills.

– A 2012 study reported that Nonviolent Communication helps participants build trusting personal relationships in on-line mentoring programs. This type of communication helped offset the communication issues such as silence and a limited sensory environment that can hamper the creation of online relationships.

Learning to take a heart-based approach to communication may take some effort since the head-based communication style is so ingrained in U.S. culture. However, learning to speak from the heart offers numerous psychological and physical benefits – as well as the potential for healthier and more collaborative relationships with family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

 Sources for This Blog:

Rosenberg, M. (1995). Compassionate Communication. Northwest Compassionate Communication.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication. (ND). NVC Research.

Reversing PTSD with Mindfulness

By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

The term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been in the nation’s vernacular for a while, thanks to movies such as American Sniper, Saving Private Ryan, Born on the Fourth of July, Forest Gump, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. While these films’ focus on the mental and emotional health of our military veterans is important, PTSD’s grasp actually extends far beyond those tested in war situations.

PTSD’s Prevalence in the U.S.

In fact, approximately 24.4 million Americans suffer from PTSD at any one time, according to PTSD United, Inc. That’s because 70 percent of all U.S. adults have experienced some form of traumatic event – such as rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, violent crime or natural disaster — at least once during their lifetime. Up to 20 percent of these adults will develop PTSD, which involves feeling greater stress or fright even when the person is no longer in danger. And contrary to what popular culture portrays, women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD; approximately one in nine women suffer from this condition.

PTSD and Yoga

While the main treatments include psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both, researchers are starting to find that a regular practice of yoga may benefit people with PTSD. For example, one small study in 2014 evaluated the effect of taking a 10-week trauma-informed yoga class on women who had chronic PTSD that wasn’t responding to treatment. The researchers’ analysis found that participating in this type of yoga statistically reduced PTSD symptoms. In fact, slightly more than half of the women in this study who were in the yoga group no longer met PTSD-diagnosis criteria by the study’s end.

Trauma-informed yoga, which is being pioneered at Houston’s Menninger Clinic, uses specific methods to create a safe environment in which participants make their own choices and, thus, regain control over their own bodies. For instance the teacher does not make hands-on adjustments without getting a participant’s permission since nonconsensual touch can trigger a PTSD episode. Yoga teachers also use specific words – “invited” instead of “instructed” and “form” instead of “pose” – that are more inclusive and less threatening. The classes also do not discuss the actual trauma that triggered the individual’s PTSD.

This approach also has implications for yoga classes that are not specifically tailored for PTSD patients. “When yoga teachers neglect to inform themselves about trauma phenomena they can inadvertently create signals that, to the student who has suffered a traumatic injury, are processed as danger,” Margaret Howard, a human trafficking policy advocate and mental health professional, wrote in a 2013 blog for The HuffingtonPost. “When that happens, the student can become ‘triggered’ — thrown into a physiological response to that perceived danger, because his or her body has been conditioned to respond that way by the traumatic event(s).”  Therefore, yoga instructors should be even more mindful of creating an inviting and safe environment for their students, some of whom may be quietly dealing with PTSD.

Primary Sources for This Blog:

Howard, M. (2013). Part I: Trauma Training Should Be Mandatory for Yoga Teachers. Huffington Post. (ND). Here’s a List of 10 Films About PTSD.

Jones, J. (2015). ‘Trauma-Centered Yoga’ Helps Patients With PTSD and Chronic Pain. Houston Chronicle.

National Institute of Mental Health. (ND). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute. (ND). Yoga as a Complementary Treatment for Chronic PTSD.