I first became familiar with yoga several years ago as an exercise practice, something I used to do during a class at my local YMCA. And according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, yoga is a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from Yoga but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being. That’s definitely true, and yoga is so much more, as I learned during my interview with Stephannie Weikert. She is a Certified Yoga Therapist who helps smart, capable men and women manage stress with some of the most fundamental, yet little-known principles of yoga.
On this episode of the Live. Love. Engage. Podcast:
- Find out the difference between yoga exercise and yoga therapy
- Stephannie shares the personal crisis that led her to become a yoga therapist
- Why it’s important to Make Peace with Stress
- How Stephannie works with clients to help them be present, calm and confident
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Gloria: Namaste. I am Gloria Grace Rand, and welcome, welcome to Live. Love. Engage. I’m delighted to be with you again and also delighted to have a guest with us. And, I just realized that I blew it because I forgot to double check how to pronounce her last name. So I’m hopefully going to pronounce it. Stephannie Weikert.
Stephannie: That’s correct.
Gloria: Oh good. I’m so glad. Yeah. So Stephanie is a certified.Yoga therapis who helps smart, capable men and women manage stress with some of those, some of the most fundamental, yet little known. principles of yoga. And she’s been teaching therapy, therapeutic yoga for stress in studios, hospitals, businesses, and with one-on-one clients for quite a while now, since 2005, and now she’s got a mission to make meaningful, personal growth, doable, and practical with her signature, Make Peace with Stress approach. And so that each of us can be present calm and confident and change the world. Boy, if there’s any time that we need that it is right now. I am really delighted to welcome you to live love, engage. And we’re going to talk about this.For sure. And I love that.I love your mission.
Stephannie: Well thanks for having me. I truly believe that changing the world begins within the hearts and minds of individuals. If we can work on an individual level, then we can change our collective experience for sure.
Gloria: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve, probably people who are either watching this on YouTube or listening have certainly are, I hope have probably been exposed to yoga teachers, but I don’t know that I’ve ever actually met a certified yoga therapist before. How did you get into that type of work and really what is, what’s different about yoga therapy as opposed to yoga for like exercise for instance?
Yeah, it’s a great question. I’d love to start there what yoga therapy really is. And then I’ll tell you how I discovered it. Yoga therapy is really about using yoga, which is so much more than just a physical practice. It’s so much more than sun salutations. That’s just one small part of it. Using the insights and the practices of yoga, specifically as a plan of treatment or as a remedy. The way that I love to describe it is when you have a cold and you go to the drug store to get a cold medicine, you determine what symptoms you have in order to choose the proper medication, right? You don’t buy a medication for sneezing. if you’re not sneezing, if you’re coughing, right, you don’t buy a decongestant if your nose is running.
You get very specific and that’s what a yoga therapy is all about. It’s really about using all the parts and pieces of yoga in a way that’s specific to your symptoms or what you need or what you’re trying to get out of it. And yeah, it’s really, it’s good work. It’s such good work because yoga is such an amazing, has such an amazing depth of, tools and practices that really meet you where you are. A great example of this is any physical posture, right? Let’s say down dog, most people know that or tree pose. You don’t do that once or twice to get good at it and then say, okay, I’m done with that.
I don’t need that anymore. You get on the mat and practice tree pose and get something out of it every single time based on where you are and what you need. Some days, your balance might be great, but your hip’s not so open. Some days, your hips are open and your balance is terrible, or your concentration is off. Whatever you are coming to the mat with, so to speak, yoga really meets you there. That’s a great segue into how I discovered yoga therapy. The shortest version of the story is that for just over a decade, I really struggled with what I now know is chronic stress. It was essentially all through my twenties and I, I was just, so my life was in chaos on so many levels and I was really struggling.
Although on the outside, everything looked pretty fine, right? It wasn’t a scenario where it was really falling apart, so to speak, but on the inside, I was really struggling. One of the things that came out of that is, that I started, I developed this nervous habit or body focused, repetitive behavior, a common one that most people have heard of and relate to is nail biting right. It’s like a, it’s like a nervous thing. What happened to me, what I started doing is I started pulling on my eyebrows and eyelashes. Yeah. At some point about my mid twenties, I had no eyebrows or eyelashes at all. And yeah, it’s not a good look. I don’t remember. But it’s what really woke me up.
I saw myself in the mirror one day and just had this almost an out of body experience or what I now know is like a witness consciousness. I saw myself from beyond myself from the deeper part of myself. I recognize that I was doing that to myself and that if I didn’t take charge of it, that I was going to just that it was just going to get worse and worse and worse. I just realized in that moment, I think of it as a fork in the road moment that I had a very simple choice. That was just to stay stuck in all those patterns of, overwhelm and worry and frustration and fear and stress, or I could take charge of myself and start to change it. That was it. I was like one of two ways to go. And that really simplified it for me. I, I decided to stop pulling out eyebrows and eyelashes.
Gloria: That’s good.
There might’ve been a little vanity, but it’s what spurred me. In moments, when I found myself doing that, I would bend over wherever I was taking, sitting, standing, sometimes I’d run to the bathroom or whatever, but I’d bend over and I’d take some slow, deep breaths. I would say to myself, you don’t have to do that. You can stop yourself. You can stop yourself. It seems so simple and it was a really simple practice, but ultimately it evolved and really just showed me that, bending over, looking within, slowing everything down and aiming my mind on what I wanted versus staying caught up in that pattern of spiraling negativity, that I was able to take, I was able to reclaim that moment and I just did it as much as I needed to do. Eventually my eyebrows and eyelashes started growing back.
I was, I realized I was onto something and ultimately fast forward, I, I figured out what I was doing. I went to a yoga class and I was like, Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing. Cause I didn’t know anything about yoga at the time when I started doing this. Ultimately I decided to leave the work that I was had been doing through my twenties and, train to be a yoga therapist. Ever since then, like I said, for about 15 years, I’ve been really focused on teaching people how to integrate yoga in that same way, simple part of your daily life to take charge of your experience so that you can change the way your brain works.
Yeah, absolutely. I love that awakening moment and how you bent over, because I really think that what that enabled you to do in a way was to have your brain start getting closer to your heart and really connecting to what your heart wanted, which was for you to calm down and just relax. That’s beautiful that I, I’m full well, my spiritual beliefs have evolved over the years, but I do think that we are at our core that we have, we’re God centered. We we’ve got God inside of us and that whatever you call it, your higher power or whatever, but it’s that way of connecting and it wants to see you be well. So that’s awesome.
Stephannie: So yes, I absolutely agree.
Gloria: Now this was, you had a severe, well, maybe not so totally severe, but certainly a, substantial wake up call. Let’s put it that way. Definitely feeling, pulling out your eyebrows and eyelashes.·09:46
How can maybe listeners who are not quite that far off, but maybe there are some, maybe some warning signals that might help them to recognize that stress is starting to be an issue in their life and they need to pay attention to it.
Stephannie: Yeah. I think there’s a number of different ways. What I hear from the many people that I’ve worked with over the years is a sense of feeling stuck or powerless. Like, your life is running you. I’ve had clients talk about feeling like their life is a hamster wheel and just, always running, never getting anywhere.
In that same vein, if you feel like you’ve been trying to make positive changes in your life, but never really happens or maybe it happens for a little while, but then you fall back into your old ways, right? New year’s resolutions are kind of example of that. There’s some really major symptoms of chronic stress that a lot of people struggle with. Insomnia is a big one, perpetual worry, or, overwhelm or being frustrated easily or more than you want to be. Really having a, more of a negative bias, right? Like, catastrophizing like, Oh no, everything’s going wrong all the time. Which it’s really easy to fall into these days. It can feel that way.
I would say another thing that is really potent in that regard is, if you’re, if you don’t feel deeply content and at peace in your life, then there’s an element of conditioning or patterning, or shoulding or whatever that’s happening within you. That is, that is blocking you from that sense of meaning in your life. That sense of purposefulness, that sense of, feeling really at peace with the way things are going, even if they’re not going the way you think that they should so to speak. Sadly I think that, most of us struggle with at least some form of chronic stress because, I mean it’s a chaotic world and we’re all sensitive to that collective experience.
As I mentioned earlier, I think that’s all the more reason to focus on doing the inner work because, when you think about it, we’re all contributing to the world based on what we’re giving to ourselves, what we’re cultivating within ourselves. We wake up in a worry in a panic and, if we’re constantly frustrated, if we’re going through life, railing against everything all the time, that’s our contribution to the world. We can’t expect it to change out there if we’re not working on changing it within.
Absolutely. And frankly, if you’re being that way and you are railing against things and it just tends to rile up other people and then it just spreads. So we need to spread more peace and contentment in the world that will be a lot better for everyone when we can do that. It’s great that you got into this practice and helping others.
I know one of the things that in researching your work and whatnot, One of the things you’ve talked about I guess, is that, stress does have this bad connotation to it, but also it can actually fuel personal growth in fact, massive personal growth. Why do you say that? Cause people probably listening are like, no way. It’s it just makes me miserable. What are you talking about?
That’s right. That’s right. Well think about it this way. Stress is really your body’s way of helping you through a situation, right? And if you think about, from an evolutionary perspective, the stress response, evolved in our bodies so that when were in physical danger, we had the ability to get out of it, to fight our way out of it, to run, to flee, right. That’s why the stress response is often called fight or flight,
Stephannie: While we thankfully are mostly not in physical danger on the daily anymore, we still, our bodies and minds still react to things that are threatening. From my experience, 99% of the time it’s what’s between our ears. That’s that thing. It’s that negative response to things; it’s that inner resistance to what is happening.
That is the, that is basically putting up a red flag saying, no, I don’t want this. Life is there for us as an opportunity to grow, to learn about ourselves, to understand what we want out of our experience, to care for ourselves and others, to love, to enjoy. It really truly is. When we are perpetually reacting, in a way that’s resistant to that, we are literally putting, we are blocking our own ability to thrive, to grow. When you start to change your mind about stress, right, you feel that, the tension, the headache, the digestive issues, the insomnia, the frustration, the, all the things, right? The nervous habits, the desire to drink more wine than you probably should, or get on Netflix and binge and numb out, right? There’s so many ways to avoid your feelings. That’s really what it is.
Gloria: Yeah, to tune yourself out.
Stephannie: There’s so many ways to avoid your feelings. When you notice that, when you notice that you’re trying to avoid your feelings, and that is part of the stress response, that is the opportunity that you have just like in those moments back for me, 30 years ago that I decided, when I find myself searching for eyebrow hairs, that aren’t even there, then that’s the moment that I have to try to change what I’m doing, right? This had become an automatic response to managing that sense of inner chaos that was within me. And we all have these mechanisms.
Like I said, we all have these ways of avoiding those feelings, but when that comes up, that is your opportunity to work with it, which is why, my, I call my work, make peace with stress because most people here are, “I’m so stressed out.”. I’m sorry, what can you do to relieve it or reduce it or manage it? I think all of those things are the exact wrong way to look at stress. My question is what can you do to embrace the signals of your body and your mind and your heart and your spirit from within to recognize that whatever’s going on for you mostly in here is threatening your ability to be your best self?
Well, that’s a good segue because I was just going to ask you, so maybe you probably alluded to it but what is this make peace with program all about how does it work? I mean, if someone signs up for it, what’s involved?
Make Peace with Stress is a philosophy. It’s a, a practice or a process and there’s a program to learn all of it. The philosophy is really just what I just said. That stress is not something to reduce, relieve, or manage. It’s something to embrace as a call to action as an opportunity for personal, or massive personal growth. The process is completely tools from yoga. This is why I say the little known tools, because while we do some breathing to work with our nervous system, and we might do some very minor movements to just give ourselves opportunities to relax tension and these sorts of things, mostly the process of make peace with stress is three steps. The first step is self-study, which in Sanskrit, the yoga language is Svādhyāya. This is really about paying attention to your inner signals.
That’s it noticing when you’re stressed, depressed? That’s really it. Second step in the process is, surrender or in Sanskrit – ishvara pranidhanat. The simplest way to think about this is just to open to the experience, right? It’s that fork in the road moment, you notice that you’re going down that same old path and you have a choice. Do I take this opportunity to work with this, to work on myself or not? And so the not is the continued resistance. The take the opportunity is the opening to it, or surrendering to the challenge and saying, okay, what’s here for me? I love to talk about this in this way. Whenever you find yourself reacting on some level as like, Oh no, what am I going to do? Instead, change it to, okay. Okay.
What am I going to do? Yes, it’s a simple, but profound shift, right from to ok. So surrender is the second step. Once you’re open to the experience that you’re having, as purposeful, as meaningful, as there for you to help you, then the third step in the make peace with stress process is intention or sankalpa, which I talk a lot about as welcoming what you do want. When you think back to my original practice, before I knew what I was doing, I bent over, I slowed my breathing down, and I would say to myself, you can stop. You don’t have to do this. You can stop yourself. Right? And in doing that, I started planting that seed in my mind. I started creating that neural and strengthening that neural pathway of actually I don’t have to.
It was, it got to the point where, when I found myself doing it, I didn’t have to, run to the bathroom and deep breath. I would just say, Oh, I can stop because that pattern became strong. Eventually that pattern took over and I just stopped doing it all together. And that’s exactly how your brain works. When you get to that third step of the make piece of stress process and start to focus on what it is you really want, what is, what’s really valuable and important to you in that moment, how you want to show up, then you start to create that possibility in your mind, and the more you practice it just becomes your default reaction.
Instead of, the negative, the catastrophizing, the, stuffing your feelings or numbing or whatever. You just start to be more confident in your ability to be in your life in a way that is not about running and hiding or fighting, right. It’s about, you know, being present.
That’s awesome. I think, especially right now, even as we’re still, some places are opening up due to the pandemic, but there’s still a lot of people who are cautious about stepping out.It sounds like this is something that people could probably do right from, the safety of their home. I presume you have, it’s probably like an online program that you’re offering right now.
Yeah. Make Peace with Stress is offered as a one-on-one mentorship. If you just want to work directly with me, we do that for six months and we go through the curriculum on your time and based on what you’re really working on in that moment. I also have a group version of it and, that’s a one year program and the core curriculum of make peace with stress is six modules. In the one year program, you go through the six modules, one per week, three times. Once in the winter, once in the spring and once in the fall, because what I find is when you’re doing it that way, it’s really great to get your, get in there and get a good understanding and start to implement the practices, two months to really work with this in your life.
then you come back and you get a little more, it gets a little deeper, you understand it. You have another two months to really, practice and do this work. And then you do it a third time where I feel like it really just hits home. So yes, and it works really well.
Yeah. It’s awesome. Yeah. That’s, I noticed that you said the word practice, because that’s what it is, you’re you really are practicing it and it’s, and it does take time whenever you’re learning anything new, you have to be able to practice it until it becomes really ingrained in you. Like you said that now you don’t have to freak out because you’re like, Oh, Nope. I’m okay. I can choose. I can choose. And that’s the important thing.
Yeah. When what’s great I said that yoga, really meets you where you are, what I have found in my personal experience and my years working with people through this process, I think of it as an upward spiral. Like yes, you get to the point where you’re not reacting to, some of the minor inconveniences, like, traffic or a leak in the plumbing or whatever. But as that, as you start to move past some of those layers, there are some other things can come up for you, some deeper, more ingrained patterns. And this process works for that too.
It’s like, I still use it on the regular to, work with things when I’m feeling resistance in my life when I’m feeling like I don’t, I’m not sure what direction to go with things or with I’m feeling really negative about, I have teenagers, so I can meet you where you are. It’s great because once you learn this process, it becomes something that is a lifelong practice, as you mentioned.
Yeah. Cause that’s the thing is that stuff is always going to come up. You’re never going to be done.You’re going to be done is when you finally draw your last breath and until that’s right, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow and to practice. So.
Stephannie: Which is the purpose of life.
Gloria: Yeah absolutely is. Yeah.
For sure. If someone wanted to be able to learn more about the program and maybe to work one-on-one with you, what’s the best way for people to contact you?
Makepeacewithstress.com is where you can get information about the, both the one-on-one mentorship and the group program. Even if you don’t feel like, even if your listeners don’t feel like that’s necessarily the direction they want to go right now, I’d still love for them to go there. If they struggle with stress at all, because I have a stress-type quiz that you can take for free and, determine your specific stress type and then download a guide to your stress type that, really helps you understand what stress looks like for you in your life, how it manifests. And there’s a practice included. That’s just a very simple five minute thing that you can do daily.
Also the different parts of the practice are things that I think of as rescue practices like that you can do, like say you’re in the grocery store and you find yourself getting agitated about something, any one of the parts of the practice. There’s always three parts in every practice. Any one of those parts is something that you can say, Oh, I’m going to do this right now. It might be just something, a breathing thing that you can do while you’re walking down the aisle, or it might be more of a mental thing that you can do to talk yourself off the ledge or whatever, or it might be the, it might be just, something that you need to do in your body. Right.
It’s great because not only is it a practice that you can just integrate into your daily routine, it’s five minutes and it’s, we all have time for that, but then it’s something that can, you can take with you to use in moments of real need.
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well I’m really glad that you were able to share this information with us today. Cause it was, education for me. Like I said, because I’ve taken yoga classes at the Y before and I love them, but I didn’t. I know, I mean, there is, I have heard and read that it is a, has a good mental component as well, but I didn’t really correlate it and think about how it could be used for stress. So I appreciate what you’re doing and appreciate the work you’re doing. I encourage everyone to at least go to the website, at least take the quiz at the very least, because there’s a lot of stress going on in the world right now. And there always will be, so. Why not take advantage of it and really learn what you can do to make yourself feel better?
Stephannie: Yeah, absolutely.
Any last words of advice or wisdom before I end this broadcast today?
I think the main one and I talked about my mission, and we mentioned this at the beginning that I think the main thing that I would just love to repeat and share is that, whatever change you want to see in the world starts within you. This is true for 100% of us. Being that the world feels especially chaotic at the time of this recording. I, I just feel so compelled to shine light on that as a massive opportunity for us to focus on what we want in our world and focus on cultivating that within yourself every day, because that’s what you’re contributing and it doesn’t have to be hard at all. In fact, it is very simple. You only have to do it in any given moment. You don’t have to feel ashamed that you didn’t do it before.
You don’t have to worry about being able to make time to do it later. Right now in this moment, put your hands on yourself and say, how do I want to show up in this world? How do I want to contribute to this world right now? And work on feeling that within yourself. That’s it. That is literally the essence of this work.
Gloria: Absolutely. Yeah, because now is all we have, we don’t know what’s gonna happen, and the past is gone. All we really do have is right now and to make the most of it is excellent advice. Thank you again for sharing that with us. I appreciate you, and I appreciate everyone listening and watching. I appreciate you as well. If you have any comments, please leave them. I’d love to hear what you have to say, and if you have any ideas for future episodes. I’d love those as well. Until next time as always, I encourage you to live fully and love deeply and engage authentically.