Yoga and mental health

Yoga and its connection to mental health | Nikolai Blinow | TEDxSalveReginaU

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hi now I’m willing to bet if I went

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around the room and I asked how many of

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you have ever wanted to improve your

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quality of life probably almost every

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hand would go up and guess what you are

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not alone Americans spend almost thirty

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four million dollars annually on

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alternative health anything from

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acupuncture to yoga the self-improvement

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industry is currently valued at almost

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ten billion dollars and of the roughly

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10 million Americans living with serious

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and persistent mental illness roughly

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2/3 of those people elect to receive

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psychotherapy or counseling treatment so

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what do these numbers tell us well these

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numbers tell us that a number of people

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really are looking to improve the

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quality of their lives and we are

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willing to use a variety of strategies

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to do so and that’s exactly what I set

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up to do when I started going to my

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first yoga class about 14 years ago and

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when I completed my yoga teacher

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training about six years ago and finally

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when I completed my master’s degree and

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got my licensure and mental health

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counseling about two years ago I wanted

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to find strategies to improve my quality

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of life and to help other people do the

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same now being both a yoga teacher and a

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mental health counselor is a bit of an

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interesting experience sometimes I feel

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like I have one leg in each world and we

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don’t always speak the same language now

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in the mental health world we operate

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largely for

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medical model of treatment in this model

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we find diseases and we treat them

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criticisms for this model that we

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sometimes find and the yoga and holistic

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communities are that because we focus on

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treating the symptoms sometimes we get

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the vibe that we focus on what’s going

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wrong with people instead of what’s

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going right or that we break people into

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parts instead of looking at them as a

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whole and on the flip side in the yoga

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community we help people foster

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spiritual and personal development by

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learning strategies to help decrease

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your susceptibility to any mental

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illness or stressor in the first place

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we look at treating the root of the

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unhappiness versus just treating the

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symptoms but there are criticisms here

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just like there are with anything and in

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the mental health community worst case

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scenario is that some people think that

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these yoga practices might be a little

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bit too woowoo as I like to call it and

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in the best case scenario people are

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actually very open to it but they don’t

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always understand the philosophy or the

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mechanisms with how yoga helps people to

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make these changes but imagine if we

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really could integrate these two models

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and have proactive supportive strategies

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to help improve the quality of our lives

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and also techniques to help treat the

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distress or the symptoms when they come

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up now that for me would be a truly

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holistic model of treatment and I’m here

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to tell you as a yoga teacher and a

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mental health counselor I actually don’t

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think it would be that difficult because

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I believe that these two systems have a

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lot more in common than you might think

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so let me show you this is the Ashtanga

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eight limbed path of yoga and

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historically yoga teachers have used

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this as a pathway to enlightenment in

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the mental health world we would call

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this a treatment plan a list of steps

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that we’re going to take

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help make you feel better I’m not going

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to go into the nitty-gritty but I want

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to give you a basic understanding so we

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can find where the similarities lie now

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the first two steps of this eight limped

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path are known as the Yama’s and the

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knee Yama’s these are behaviors and

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attitudes that we cultivate to help

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ourselves improve our quality of life

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and examples of behaviors that fall

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under these categories are things like

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non-violence moderation and perseverance

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the next step

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asana is what most people are familiar

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with when they think of a yoga class

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these are the poses downward dog child’s

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pose

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after that we cultivate what’s called

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pranayama or breath control learning to

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change the way that we breathe and I

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think of this being so helpful we think

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if people have something going on like

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anxiety where we all know that feeling

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of not being able to catch our breath

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the next step is known as pratyahara in

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this step we learn to draw our senses

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inward to shut out external stimuli so

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that we can really look at what are we

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thinking what are we feeling and what

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are we doing

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from here we cultivate concentration we

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learn to focus once we’ve drawn the

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senses inward we can focus on just about

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anything does it really matter what the

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point of focus is just that we learn how

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to focus on something and from here we

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achieve what some people to consider

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meditation true meditation some people

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call this witness consciousness so now

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that we’ve moved inside we’ve started to

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concentrate we’re able to use that

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witness consciousness to explore what

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we’re thinking what we’re feeling and

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what we’re doing from a place of

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non-attachment and non judgment and

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finally we’ve cultivated all of these

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practices hopefully we achieve Samadhi

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or the Bliss state some people call this

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unity consciousness so where we feel

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totally integrated within ourselves

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possibly with our higher power or with

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the greater community

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now how do

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connect to evidence-based mental health

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treatment I want to introduce you to

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cognitive behavioral therapy this is one

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of the most widely studied forms of

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therapy it was developed in the 1950s

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and 1960s and has been extensively

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researched to treat everything from

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anxiety to depression to OCD PTSD or

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even phobias of things like spiders

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Heights or airplanes and cognitive

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behavioral therapy basically says if you

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change the way you think and you change

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what you do you will change how you feel

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and this is my favorite form of

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cognitive behavioral therapy which takes

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that a step further and this says it’s

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not just what we think and what we do

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that affects how we feel it’s also how

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we feel in our physical body and the

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environments in which we live

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so having heard a little bit about both

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of these models I want to ask you really

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what is so different sure one may be a

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linear model and one may technically

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have more components but look what

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happens when we start to combine them we

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start to see that this eight limbed path

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actually has a lot to offer to change

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our emotional state through practices

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like the Yama’s and the jnanis we learn

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to change our behavior through asana and

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pranayama we alleviate the physical

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distress that can trigger things like

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anxiety or depression we learn to look

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inside to study our feelings and if

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we’re lucky enough to achieve that bliss

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state or that unity consciousness that

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can certainly affect the way that we

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feel and through the process of learning

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to focus our mind we change the way that

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our brain is thinking so the thought

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process but through the witness

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consciousness we’re also looking at the

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thought content what are we thinking and

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we can compare or contrast what we’re

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thinking to see how it matches up with

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what’s going on in the environment so

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I would actually argue in many ways that

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yoga could be considered the original

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form of cognitive behavioral therapy and

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imagine if we really truly did integrate

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these two models using the

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self-awareness and the insight that we

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practice during our yoga practice and

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then having a professional support with

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which we can process this experience and

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then obtain guidance and feedback so for

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me when I think a holistic model I think

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that would be really the most holistic

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healing experience that we could provide

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so I want to leave you with this I said

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in some areas that there are people out

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there who still believe that yoga may be

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a little bit woowoo I hope that you

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leave here today understanding why I

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believe that is not the case and that

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you consider using these practices to

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help yourself heal help yourself learn

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and help yourself grow

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[Music]

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[Laughter]

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[Music]

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