This guest blog post is authored by Shannon Schueler, a registered nurse and professional yoga therapist-candidate. She currently works as an inpatient psychiatric nurse in an urban, county hospital. Shannon has the honor and privilege of sharing medical therapeutic yoga with her patients on a weekly basis. In addition, Shannon is a member of the American Holistic Nurses Association. She is currently continuing her public health and transcultural nursing education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. Shannon shares in her personal narrative how medical therapeutic yoga & holistic nursing go hand in hand to benefit both patient and provider.
Remembering the Spirit by Learning How to Breathe
Spirit is a word often used in nursing practice. In holistic nursing, we discuss the interconnectedness of body, mind, spirit, emotion, social/cultural, relationships, and context (AHNA.org, 2016). This biopsychosocial approach is in alignment with the pentagon of wellness used in Medical Therapeutic Yoga that gives equal weight to physical, psycho-emotional, energetic, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of healing (Garner, 2012). With respect to the integrated aspects of healing, the pervading focus of this piece of writing is spirit.
The word spirit comes from the Latin root, spiritus, which can be translated to breath (Varambally & Gangadhar, 2012). Unlike other components of patient care, spirit is not specifically measurable. We have metrics for physical strength. We can screen for cognitive ability. To assess and treat the spirit, however, we must rely on reports from our patients. In addition, we rely on our own senses and intuition with regard to spiritual interventions. The following is my personal narrative. First, I will discuss receiving an award. Second, I will describe the process of implementing Medical Therapeutic Yoga in psychiatric nursing. Lastly, I will share my inspiration for journeying into the career of nurse-medical yoga therapist.
A humbling realization
In June of 2016 I was a recipient of the Charlotte McGuire Scholarship from the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA). It was a great honor to travel from my Midwestern home to the state of Florida receive the award in person at the 36th Annual AHNA Conference. I had spent the previous 12 months investing my efforts in implementing therapeutic yoga programming for the patients that I work with in inpatient psychiatry. Holistic nurses from all over the world gathered to share their vast and impressive evidence-based knowledge and I was one of them. What an amazing gift this was. I felt like I was on my way to changing the world. My spirit was soaring.
Upon my return from the AHNA conference, I fell ill with pneumonia. I became weak. It was difficult even to breathe. Furthermore, I began to suffer from an unprecedented six week crying jag. I was miserable. I had just come from a place of feeling that I was invincible, and suddenly it was a struggle to get through an average day. My ego took a hit. The high level of self-confidence that I was accustomed to dwindled to an all-time low. It felt like my spirit was being crushed.
Ultimately I realized, though, that life had gifted me with the humbling knowledge that I was human, fallible, and imperfect. It was this understanding—that humans are fallible and imperfect—that first drew me to healing work.
We are complex creatures that require ongoing, holistic maintenance. For people who suffer from psychiatric illnesses, health maintenance frequently falls short of being holistic.
A different approach to healing
In inpatient psychiatry, psychiatric medications are often the first-line treatment for our patients. Many of these medications come with serious long-term side-effects such as weight gain, diabetes, and fall-risk. A substantial segment of our patient population is homeless or has limited resources. Many suffer from the very disease states that would benefit from holistic care, but most would not typically have access to education about it. For example, recent evidence supports therapeutic yoga as an adjunct treatment for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and alcohol dependence syndrome (Varambally & Gangadhar, 2012). The diagnoses listed are ones that are assigned to many of the patients that we serve daily.
I saw the need for change and felt compelled to act.
First, I proposed a plan to department leadership to add therapeutic yoga programming on our six inpatient psychiatry units. Next, I integrated my nursing and Medical Therapeutic Yoga education to create and lead a customized chair yoga group for our patients. Because I am a psychiatric nurse, I have the knowledge and ability to assess how my patients will tolerate therapeutic yoga interventions in relationship to their symptoms and medication side effects. My advanced training in Medical Therapeutic Yoga has provided me with the evidence-based knowledge and confidence required to implement safe, customized, yoga-based interventions. The foci of the chair-yoga practice was threefold: learning to consciously breathe, practicing present moment awareness, and coordinating purposeful body movements and hand positions (mudras) with the breath.
After much preparation, I implemented a pilot program with a group on one of the units. The pilot proved successful, so I introduced the community chair-yoga group to four additional inpatient psychiatry units.
Word of our success with community chair-yoga groups made its way to executive leadership. As a result, in July of 2016 the chief nursing officer of our organization came to shadow me while I worked on the floor as a psychiatric nurse. She participated in our community chair-yoga group and was enthusiastic about the program. In August of 2016, our chief nursing officer cited the community chair-yoga practice in her newsletter to all employees in the organization, stating:
…I saw this (genuine) kindness when I recently shadowed a nurse in Inpatient Psychiatry. It was evident in the deep listening, the caring during the chair-yoga that I participated in with our patients, and the true caring the patients had for each other as well as the staff.”
Embracing the spirit
True caring is what pulled me into nursing as a career. The essence of nursing is to unabashedly care for others. Nurse theorist Jean Watson founded her Caring Science work on the basis of transpersonal caring (Sitzman, 2014). “Transpersonal caring occurs when the one caring connects with and embraces the spirit of the other through authentic, full attention to the here and now” (p.17). At times, when I lead community chair-yoga for the inpatient psychiatry patients, I recognize moments in which this transpersonal caring occurs. I remember being approached by a patient after leading community chair-yoga who thanked me for the session, adding: “I had forgotten what it feels like to have a spirit.”
We cannot measure spirit, and yet we remain certain that it exists. Wellness of the spirit is a prime indicator of holistic wellness. We as practitioners must assess and treat our own spiritual wellness in order to come into our healing environments whole. In holistic nursing, a regular practice of holistic self-care is considered a critical component of sustainable success in nursing (Thornton, 2008). In learning the practice of Medical Therapeutic Yoga with the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute, I have learned to dedicate time to daily self-care practices that include experiencing nature, practicing mindful gratitude, and being present with the breath. My practice of Medical Therapeutic Yoga has given me an avenue to teach self-care practices to patients. As humans and caregivers, we must allow ourselves to see the spiritual benefits that our patients are gleaning from in learning how to breathe.
- Garner, G. (2012) Professional Yoga Therapy, Volume I/II Course Manuals.
- Sitzman, K., & Watson, J. (2014). Caring science, mindful practice; implementing Watson’s human caring theory. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
- Thornton, L. (2008), Holistic nursing: a way of being, a way of living, a way of practice, Imprint, 55 (1)32-39.
- Varambally, S., & Gangadhar, B. (2012). Yoga: A spiritual practice with therapeutic value in psychiatry. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 5, 186-189.
- What is holistic nursing? (2016). http://AHNA.org
About the Author
Shannon graduated in 2014 from Minneapolis Community and Technical College with her associates degree in nursing. She currently attends the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing completion program at Augsburg College. Through this program, Shannon’s focus is in public health, Transcultural Nursing, and Holistic Nursing. In addition to these studies, Shannon has been a student of the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute since 2013. She will become fully certified as a Professional Yoga Therapist and a Board Certified Holistic Nurse in early 2017.
Shannon was a two-time recipient of the Charlotte McGuire Scholarship through the American Holistic Nurses Association in the years 2013 and 2016. With her knowledge of Holistic Nursing and Medical Therapeutic Yoga, Shannon has introduced additional healing methods to her inpatient psychiatry patients and colleagues.
Shannon lives in the Midwestern United States with her spouse, three children, large dog, and two cats. She enjoys spending time in nature as often as possible, especially while biking, kayaking, or singing.
It is Shannon’s goal to branch out from psychiatry into a variety of nursing specialties. By doing this, Shannon will be able to determine ways to deliver therapeutic yoga interventions to a diverse population of healthcare seekers. Shannon has set her intention to bring the highest good to those seeking holistic health.
To contact Shannon via email: HealingHeartHolistics@gmail.com