Renae Stevens - Yoga, Art Therapy and Aerial Yoga Therapeutics
What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of aerial yoga? Is it a thin young woman, lithely moving about in an aerial hammock, maybe dangling upside down in some weird pretzel shape that barely resembles anything with the name yoga attached to it? Is it something more akin to a circus performance, with tricks and flips and a silk fabric digging into god knows where? To borrow a phrase from Morpheus of the matrix films, what if I were to tell you, that everything you know about aerial yoga is wrong? Well perhaps not wrong, but just not the full picture.
This is why we were so excited to speak with Renae Stevens for this episode. Renae is a senior yoga teacher with Yoga Australia, a certified yoga therapist and holds her master's degree in art therapy. In our opinion, she is the foremost aerial yoga teacher in Australia. She helped bring aerial yoga to Australia way back in 2011, being a senior trainer for antigravity - the organisation founded by Christopher Harrison.
This episode is sponsored by Yoga Australia:
Aerial Yoga Workshop: Break Free from Your Chair: https://www.gardenofyoga.com.au/workshops/aerial-yoga-workshop/
Aerial Yoga Therapeutics Foundations Training: https://www.gardenofyoga.com.au/workshops/aerial-therapeutics/
Renae's website: https://www.creativebodyflow.com/aerial-therapeutics/
The opinions expressed in this podcast do not reflect the view and opinions of the sponsor.
Click on a timecode to play from that time in the recording.1:40 Renae’s workshops at garden of yoga
3:18 Renae’s background growing up in far north queensland
4:29 How did Renae discover yoga?
6:15 Did Renae have any key teachers?
8:50 How does yoga help you be creative as an artist? How can being creative as a teacher help you respond to the needs of your students?
10:43 How did Renae discover Aerial Yoga?
11:56 What was it like introducing the concept of Aerial Yoga to Australia?
14:08 What are some common misconceptions of Aerial Yoga?
17:09 Renee talks about her Aerial Yoga Therapeutics course.
23:20 Support us on Patreon
24:51 What’s being covered in the Aerial Yoga Therapeutics course?
28:14 Bridging the gap between wellness practitioners and health professionals
35:00 Benefits for wellness professionals or people in the “feelgood” business
38:51 What would an aerial yoga therapeutics session look like?
42:04 Renae’s Art Therapy thesis
44:25 The importance of play
47:44 Where does Renae see this all leading?
49:10 What is the one core lesson that Renae would like to share with the world?
Please email us to report any transcription errorsRane Bowen: Hello. My name is Rane. This is the Flow Artist Podcast. Every episode, we interview inspiring movers, thinkers, and teachers about how they find their flow and much, much more. What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of aerial yoga? Is it a thin young woman lively moving about in an aerial hammock, maybe dangling upside down in some weird pretzel shape that barely resembles anything with the name yoga attached to it? Is it something more keen to a circus performance with tricks and flips in a silk fabric, digging into God knows where. To borrow a phrase from Morpheus of The Matrix films, what if I were to tell you that everything you know about aerial yoga is wrong? Perhaps not wrong, but just not the full picture. This is why my co-host Jo Stewart and myself were so excited to speak with Renae Stevens for this episode. Renae is a senior yoga teacher with Yoga Australia. A certified yoga therapist and holds her master's degree in art therapy. In our opinion, she's the foremost aerial yoga teacher in Australia. She helped bring aerial yoga to Australia way back in 2011, being a senior trainer for AntiGravity, the organization founded by Christopher Harrison. Jo and I were both lucky enough to have a private session with Renae recently. It really affected my approach to how I teach aerial yoga. It was a slow, gentle, yet strong class. She opened up so many pathways for internal inquiry and intra reception that only the hammock can provide. This is why Jo and I are really excited to be hosting Renae for two amazing workshops at our studio, Garden of Yoga. The first is a spine focused aerial yoga master class on Saturday, April 18, at 2:00 PM. This two-hour workshop is great for anyone from absolute beginners to yoga teachers curious about integrating some of the more therapeutic aspects of aerial yoga into their practice. The second is the aerial yoga therapeutics two day foundations training which runs from Sunday, April 19. This foundation course will provide an informed theoretical understanding of the mental and physical health benefits of the aerial hammock, the neurobiology of trauma and pain, and the role of creativity and flow state experiences in healing. This course is designed for physical or mental health professionals and movement educators seeking to harness the therapeutic power of the aerial hammock into their existing scope of practice. Jo and I will definitely be there. We can't wait to learn more from Renae. I'll leave links to both workshops on our website at podcast.flowartist.com. So go and have a look. Now, this episode was brought to you by our sponsor, Yoga Australia, registering teachers and training courses to ensure that everyone in Australia has access to quality yoga teachers. All right, I've talked for a while now. Let's get into our conversation with Renae Stevens.
Rane: Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your background and where you grew up.
Renae Stevens: Oh, that's going right back to the origins. [laughter] I was a rainforest baby. I grew up in Coriander, in the town of Queensland. It was a wonderful wild environment. My parents really seeked out living close to nature. So I have beautiful memories of my childhood. I was exposed to my parents to have an interest in health and healing. My father was a non-traditional general practitioner and worked in a lot of aboriginal communities as a medical doctor and in the flying doctor service. My stepmother was an acupuncturist and naturopath. My mother was a teacher for different disabilities in children, mostly deafness. I think growing up around the parents I had and the influences of them probably did start to direct me towards following a path that was interested in health and healing.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, absolutely. I could imagine how if that's the family background that surrounded you as your impressionable young kid, then growing up with that and seeing the things that are really important in life would really shape your direction in your future. I'm really wondering when did you discover yoga?
Renae: Pretty early, to be honest. I guess growing up rurally, I wasn't in any locations to participate in sports or any after school physical, curricular activities. Apart from just bush walking with my family, I'd never really done any fitness. I had a lot of back problems as a teenager with scoliosis. My favorite activities were artistic activities which meant I sat, usually bent over tiny detailed things and objects for very long periods of time. [laughs] I think by the time I was getting close to the end of high school, my body was really already very unhappy. I started to follow a friend who was going to Iyengar yoga. We tried it in year 12 going together. [laughs] The only thing was the classes were at 5:30 in the morning. I'm not sure what other people remember of their teenage years. But I could not get up in the morning. It was like hell to get up at that time of day. [laughs] I don't think I lasted much longer than a month or so. But after I finished year 12, I started to just read books. I spent six months living on a yacht after I finished year 12. It's a very confined space. I needed to do something to move. I just started to try and do yoga on the deck of the boat whenever I could. [laughs] That was really my first exploration of it was just through feeling that it might help me in starting to play with it.
Jo: That sounds like it was a very self-directed journey of exploration. Have you come across any really key teachers?
Renae: Oh, absolutely. I guess that was my very first interest in it. Then a few years later, I was in art school. I was even more sedentary than I was in my high school years because now, I was doing 10, 15 hour days slaving over etchings. [laughs] I was a printmaker, so a lot of bent over work. I was always complaining about my back. Then one day, my drawing teacher was like, “Why don't you just come to yoga with me?” [laughter] I went along to yoga with her. It started another re-burst of interest in it. Before long, I came across a wonderful teacher who had the yoga arts academy in Melbourne. His name is Duncan Ewing. He trained under the lineage of Shandor Remete and had a very traditional background in yoga therapeutics, which in those days was just traditional yoga but what has now become known as yoga therapy. But it was really personalized yoga designed for each individual. I trained with him for several years in individualised tuition. Eventually, he convinced me to become his apprentice. [laughs] I embarked on a three-year training program with him.
Jo: I also discovered yoga while I was studying printmaking and visual art.
Renae: That’s amazing.
Jo: I know right.
Renae: The toll it takes on your body, not only from the laborious process. But you're around an enormous amount of chemicals. [laughs]
Jo: And a lot of lessons about patience and non attachment to outcome because you just never know how that prints is actually going to come out to you peel the paper off at the end. [laughs] I think all the printmakers I've met are really patient and open to surprises. [laughter]
Renae: Yeah, I mean I always felt that there's a big crossover between the yogic arts and the creative arts. It is the basic fundamental route of attention and mindfulness that is the basis of both of those practices. Also, the fact that they both integrate your entire sensory being.
Jo: Absolutely. I definitely found yoga really helped me get into the right state of mind to be creative. I think it goes the other way as well. I think if you're creative as a teacher, you can just be more responsive to the needs of the people in your class and more adaptable to what's working for them. Rather than having a rigid script that you stick to, you can go with the flow, change your mind, and adapt the practice. Is that something you've noticed as well?
Renae: Absolutely. I think as I became a full-time teacher, then had a day job as a creative arts therapist, I have certainly been through big periods where I had no creative art practice of my own. [laughs] My creativity was actually in what I did with people. I guess I was fortunate enough to have a really strong foundation in my training with Duncan Ewing. The way that he taught us was in forms in the same way that martial arts is learnt. As a way to then embark on creativity with sequencing and the effect you're looking to achieve with a certain individual or even within a group, I guess I could play from the structure that I'd learnt to be creative, like knowing how to mix colors well. Once you understand what colors to mix, you can make a beautiful painting. But it takes time to have that foundation. Then the creativity can come. But certainly, I think the most creative outlet I've had over several years has been my teaching time because it's an alchemy. You never know what you're going to get. [laughs] I walk through your door, you don't know particularly how you're going to be on that day. You're adapting constantly to energy levels of your own, as well as those that you're working with. There's a lot of versatility required. But creativity is key for keeping your own interest, as well as your inspiration to be able to continue to give and to be able to inspire others I think.
Jo: Absolutely. I think you definitely, as a student, feel the classes when that energy is flowing and the teacher is inspired. [laughs] Then you sometimes feel those ones as well where maybe the inspiration was not burning so bright that day. Another thing I'd like to ask you about is how did you discover aerial yoga?
Renae: It was a wonderful moment of many things I love coming together. After my yoga journey, I got very interested in circus arts and particularly in aerials and aerial silks. I have a sister who lives in New York City. I had been visiting her and was just looking for yoga and seeing what was in New York. I came across this thing called aerial yoga and I was like, “Oh my God, that's everything I love.” [laughter] I was super interested. But I was unfortunately visiting during Christmas to New Year when everything was shut up shop. I couldn't get to a class and I was like, “Ah.” I forgot about it. Then a couple of years later, a friend of mine had been in New York and discovered it himself, and had such a great response with an issue he'd had with sciatica and ongoing low back pain that I was just immediately intrigued. It wasn't long before I was in New York and training in the system, then involved in bringing it to Australia. So a very lucky journey that I was at the right place, right time. [laughs]
Jo: What was it like introducing the concept of aerial yoga to Australia?
Renae: Fortunately, I think people down under get wind when they're a little behind the latest in creativity or in the healing arts. [laughter] As soon as they get hold of it, it takes off. Fortunately, we didn't really have to do much promotion because there was already quite a lot of media exposure. As soon as I think people were aware that it was available now in Australia, it just really ran on its own accord. Probably the biggest challenge for me personally was most of my students were floor-based yogis. Not necessarily with a love of the aerial arts like I was, I had to convince them that this was something that could be a benefit to them as opposed to something that was beyond them. It was, for some people, a sense that it was too far from traditional applications to be relative. For others, they immediately took up the practice. Many of them gave up their practice, unfortunately, because I think the perfect balance is actually doing both. [laughter] But what they may have done is found other gravity activities and used the aerial system for maybe, their yogic experience. Yeah, it was a really wild ride, the first few years bringing it here. Getting to introduce it to different communities as an instructor trainer around Australia and New Zealand was just an amazing opportunity to meet incredible people and see the interest growing was fantastic.
Jo: I guess the flip side of all of that media excitement, what I often see when I see aerial yoga online or on TV is the more circusy type moves, and to be honest, the more circusy type physiques. So often, it's just tiny super bendy people doing something that looks out of the reach of many of your average yogis. Even though a lot of those moves are actually a lot more accessible than how they look, are there any common misconceptions that you also encounter?
Renae: Oh, absolutely. I think visually, when someone might see an image of someone doing an incredible suspended backbend, they just think of circus which is rightly so to relate it to that. But the reality of the system is a hammock as opposed to for example, an aerial tissue is it's providing support. It's providing access into mobility that's not compressive. So people's capacity with the support of gravity and an apparatus like the hammock is much greater than what they can achieve without it, if they were to be doing just a floor movement. I think it takes time for people to understand what the system is providing in terms of making those postures accessible. The initial resistance can be there. But from my experience, the aerial system when applied appropriately is actually a pre yoga. I've always thought of it as a preparation for the work that's done on the floor which is always fully loaded, compressive on joints, and requires already quite an advanced amount of stability, strength, and mobility to be able to achieve. The re-education for people is for them to be able to understand that a supportive device like a hammock that's not rigged 100 feet from the air like a circus performer or some crazy stunt, it's done hip height to the ground where you're constantly distributing weight between floor and a supportive apparatus, and actually making it more accessible for you than when you're trying to do something without support and fully loaded.
Jo: Yeah, I really have quite a few older people who come to my studio. I've just found it so helpful if I want to work on balance and stability. Often, I do it with pilates type balance and stability footwork where they might be standing on something that wobbles or putting weight on one leg, holding the hammock versus holding a chair or a wall, it's so helpful because it can support them. They can hold on if they feel like they're losing their balance or they can use a very light touch. The hammock is there if they need it. But they're building their own strength and stability in a way that feels really safe for them. I think it's so handy for applications like that. Then there's all this proprioceptive feedback that the fabric gives us that we wouldn't necessarily get from a wall. They might notice that if they're standing on one leg, they only need that light touch of the fabric. But then when they swap to the other side, they feel how much more they need to hold it. Then that's already really great information for us both to work with.
Renae: I think Jo, you've been working with this system for some time, as well as having education in other modalities that are in their essence, rehabilitative like pilates and restorative yoga. I guess this development of the aerial yoga therapeutics course that I've been working on as a postgraduate program for movement instructors, for aerial instructors, and for people of health backgrounds who are interested in working multimodally with the mind and body is to really hone in on those therapeutic attributes of the apparatus as a sensory integrative tool. For me, that is certainly where the value is. There's a lot of joy and beauty in many of the advanced movements. But there's so much to be achieved with the most simple application of sensory input. Building trust in one's environment and in their body again, particularly after they may have had physical challenge or injury. Being able to support them in the process with a tool that's so versatile is really where I see such value in the aerial system itself.
Jo: It's so great. It's like the most versatile prop ever.
Renae: Yeah. I do remember very strongly my first class with Christopher Harrison who's the creator of the AntiGravity hammock, I walked out and just immediately said, “This belongs in the hospitals.” This should be integrated into a place where people could really benefit. Particularly people who are immobilized in ways and needing to have other sensory experience again or relearn movement again. I've really seen that from my very first experience with it. Over the years of delivering AntiGravity education programs, I see more and more people wanting to understand really the therapeutic value and go beyond fitness, and know how I can use this to really enhance someone's physical healing or support someone's mental health recovery. It's a very exciting realm to explore.
Rane: Yeah, absolutely. I know my first experience of one of your classes was when we're very fortunate for you to deliver us a private session. I got so much out of that practice. It was really slow. I guess there were movements and postures that you could consider maybe, beginners’ level, but it was done in such a beautiful way. I found it really strong for one thing and just a real emphasis on intra sets of awareness. It’s just really beautiful and just really showed me the potentials that were there in the practice.
Renae: Often, when I'm working therapeutically, the progressions are incredibly incremental and certainly not even requiring full inversion because there's so much that you can work with in simply just finding first sensations of support, then gradually challenging those areas of stability, then giving somebody more and more sense of control and empowerment which only seems to enhance their recovery because it continually reaffirms their possibility to have resilience and to move beyond challenge. They continually prove that to themselves. It's such a wonderful reinforcing experience. Going slowly is key in the fitness industry with aerial fitness. Probably, my biggest sadness is that many people are actually turned away from this as something they might bring into their life because their first experiences have a real adverse physiological or just overwhelming mentally experience. [laughs] That's where it's just too much, too fast for an individual. We have to remember that many people coming to public classes may not have much experience with their body awareness. Many people, more and more, are growing up in environments where they're not even exposed to a playground, particularly in different countries around the world. We have adults who have grown up without building normal kinesthetic pathways that maybe, some other children who have been in more free natural environments were able to. To reflect again on my childhood, I remember growing up in a rainforest, we had vines. [laughter] We used to swing off in land. We just had terrain that was able to be explored. Not all children grow up with those possibilities. Some are growing up in an apartment block, just around concrete and screens. They have very little physicality for some people. To take them straight into such an experience of movement can be triggering. I guess why I really would love to bring people's consciousness to the therapeutic value is to invite people to focus more and more on that and to be able to more sensitively bring the aerial system to public groups if they're working in fitness, in a way that can avoid adverse responses to the system, simply by being more conscious of what's happening on the level of physiology for somebody. With that increase of circuitry movement with gravity, it can be a real shock for someone who's not expecting that sensation. Also, just the mental and emotional challenge of doing something that could be very new. Those are things that when approached appropriately, can have great therapeutic value. When unraveled too rapidly, could actually cause injury or could cause an emotional re-triggering of traumatic somatic memories. There's lots of sensitivity there that you can use a tool like this with. The aerial yoga therapeutics course will help people to understand what they're actually working with.
Rane: Hello, Rane here, just popping in to talk about our Patreon page. Now, if you don't know what Patreon is, it's just a way that you can help support the podcast for as little as $1 a month. Higher tiers get access to extra special content. I've just uploaded a whole lot of content that we recorded for our adjustment series that didn't quite make it into the actual episodes. There are literally hours of listening to this, so check it out. We also use these funds to transcribe our favorite episodes, so they're accessible to the hearing impaired. You can read them on our website at podcast.flowartists.com. We just added the transcription from our conversation with Tristan Rose. It's a really good conversation. Go and have a read. We would love your support. Just go to patreon.com/flowartistspodcast. Now, if you'd like to support us in other ways, we would love a review on Apple Podcast or even a like or a share on social media. You can search The Flow Artists Podcast on Facebook or look for Garden of Yoga or Ranelovesyoga on Instagram. Alright, that's more than enough from me. Let's get back to our conversation with Renae.
Jo: I know that you're going to be partnering with a couple of different practitioners with different disciplines to get that extra layer of detail and expertise in some of the different aspects of the therapeutic process. Do you want to talk through some of the stuff that you will be covering in the course, especially in regards to trauma?
Renae: The course is designed as a postgraduate program. People will be coming like a margin for many different disciplines. The way that I see the aerial yoga therapeutics in application is as a multi-modal application. Where I see it the most valuable is when it's incorporated actually with other therapeutic modalities. It can both enhance one's ability to be learning new movement skills across different realms or it can support recovery if they're doing quite a lot of intensive rehabilitation training or if they're doing a lot of other just intensive physical training. On the other spectrum, can also support emotional well-being with providing one the ability to do their own self-regulation and their own restoration practices. The delivery for this course gives, first of all, just an entry level basis because people are coming potentially from many different diverse backgrounds. The foundation course is there to provide everyone with the grounding theoretical knowledge that really supports using a system, like the aerial hammock in a therapeutic context. Focusing mostly on developing awareness of the neurobiology of both pain and trauma, and their inter-relationship, as well as looking at, more closely, the real therapeutic attributes that the hammock provides and how that can be used in different contexts depending on the needs of the population that you're working with, also looking at the value of creativity and what creativity really involves in terms of integration of movement, thought, sensation, and emotion, and how to incorporate those aspects of oneself in more of a holistic approach to healing. That's really just a two-day course to give people those theoretical perspectives on the apparatus. Then people have the opportunity to then enroll into the full course. That will be delivered both online. Then with an intensive 10-day experiential that's really designed to hone in on facilitation skills, as well as giving that real opportunity for embodiment of the practice. The theory really gives the grounding for the experiential. During the online component, they'll be able to explore the anatomy and physiology of applied work in the hammock, as well as looking at case study, programming, and how to categorize, and consider carefully your progressions. A lot to do with really getting an understanding more deeply on what and how you're delivering the curriculum that's available in the aerial hammock.
Jo: Yeah. Because I know that from talking to you about this previously, you have worked both in mental health and physical health fields, and experience that sometimes, there can be a real disconnect between those two areas and have created this training for both of those professional groups. So you have to provide the missing skills for both? [laughter]
Renae: Yeah. I feel like I found myself in quite a unique position because having a mental health background and having skills in the yoga sciences, as well as some of the rehabilitation exercises just gave me the opportunity to be working often in different fields of both mental health and rehab. I could certainly see where the integration of knowledge from both psychology and physical rehab could be interwoven with benefit to both fields. In many mental health settings, practitioners become very aware that there's an underlying somatic route to a psychological framework. Much of what we understand of trauma is that it begins really from a body orientation, then starts the process of cognitive expression, but begins first with a real somatic felt sense and a somatic response from our brain, and a whole cascade of processes. When you're only working with mental health through, for example, cognitive behavioural approaches or just talk therapies, you're very limited in being able to resolve a huge component of that disruption for an individual. On the opposite scale in rehabilitation, working with somebody through their physical challenges has a mental counterpart. In fact, I think many people's recovery can be inhibited if they are in a real hypersensitive stage or a hyper-vigilant state. They will simply not be able to use their cognitive function to their potential in terms of learning and relearning new movements or new behaviour that could change their physical experience. There's really a crossover for both. Certainly, I've been fortunate enough to have the experience of working in mental health settings, specifically in trauma recovery with both children and adults. I've also had 20 years of working with people and their bodies through yoga and more recently, through our rehabilitative pilates. In both those fields, I see there's integrated knowledge that can be beneficial when you can see through a lens of both a mental health framework, for example, trauma recovery, as well as looking through that same lens of physical rehabilitation and what stages are appropriate for that individual to regain their full functionality. What I found with the aerial hammock, it was this incredibly diverse tool that I could use in both mental health settings to allow someone to connect with their physical body which helped to anchor them in the present and gave us real opportunities to then explore more challenging aspects of the past. Even if they were non-verbalized, they had an opportunity to express through their physicality, what may be held in their body and in their biography. In the same sense, I was able to use the hammock in rehab settings to help an individual also develop mindful skills and have the opportunity to find a regulated and calm state of being, so that they were in a more available space mentally and physically to be learning and being re-educated in new movements. What I would notice often in my experience as a practitioner in those different fields was there would be a missing link often. For example, working in different rehabilitative settings, I'd often see clients arrive for exercise rehabilitation. They would already be stressed. They would already have a level of anxiety even coming to the clinic and being faced with having to really look closely at their experience of pain. By giving them the opportunity for a supportive experience, a gentle experience that allowed them to really connect mind and body through some of the aerial hammock work, they could be in a much better place to then go in and focus on what can be quite physically and mentally challenging with rehabilitation. It could also be used effectively at the end of their exercise sessions in terms of really making sure that any excessive tightening through, perhaps the repetitions of a certain control or strength and exercise they've done had been released. That they were in a place where again, their bodies were in a relaxed state. In different mental health settings I've worked in, I've found often a lot of recovery happens through just reconnecting someone to their body and rebuilding those essential aspects in someone of trust in themselves and in relationship, in their environment, and really reaffirming empowerment. I just have found that the aerial hammock can be such a diverse tool. It really is a valuable tool in the right clinical hands with someone who can use it at that specific moment that someone might need that form of support. Rather than it becoming a situation where a client might unravel or might go into overwhelm or may just increase, for example, if they're in pain, just increase their bracing and increase their pain experience, it's an opportunity to get them back to a place that it can then again be possible to create positive change. I really feel it's a multimodal tool and in a clinical setting, can offer real moments of integration, as well as regulation.
Jo: Yeah. It's pretty powerful. I've got to say I have quite a few people who come to our studio from healing professions. I have quite a few social workers and nurses. Someone actually found my studio by Googling “I want to be cocooned.” [laughter] Yeah, awesome.
Renae: Yeah. I guess personally for me, I understand that. I'm sure you might share that as well, being someone who works with others. But when you are in the healing profession or the feel-good profession, [laughs] you make others feel good, whether that's through supporting them in a mental health perspective or physical health. It has a toll on you. I think practitioners need to also learn their own access into self-care. That's another wonderful reason for people in the health professions to investigate the aerial therapeutics because it's something that they can use for themselves. One of the things that helped the creator of the hammock, Christopher Harrison discover really it had therapeutic value was when he started to use it with his acrobatic team who had to perform perhaps three or more sessions in a day. Just giving them the opportunity in between their performances to invert, to do supportive work in the hammock, and to really relax their systems completely helped with their recovery. I think for many people in the health industry, they're on high demand. They don't stop from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave their workplace. They're seeing client after client usually. If they could integrate into their day, five to ten minutes of aerial yoga therapeutics for their own body and mind, I feel it could enhance their well-being, as well as their capacity to care for those that they're really interested in looking after.
Jo: Yeah. It's definitely been my experience that they have found just that time to down regulate their own nervous systems and just to be able to let go, be held, and supported when often, their job is supporting and caring for others have been really beneficial. Those wonderful people who take care of other people all day.
Renae: Yeah. I think the other reason why it attracts so many people of those backgrounds is because they actually understand what the system is doing for them. As an educator for AntiGravity, I've been able to train many different practitioners from chiropractic, osteopathic backgrounds, occupational therapy backgrounds, physiotherapy backgrounds, people who are general practitioners. Many of them can see straight away what they could do with this for themselves or for their clients. It's much to do with their education in understanding what's happening on a mind-body level. Perhaps having the experience of that themselves just really highlights their own understanding of what they work with in their other professions. For example, several of the OTs I have trained were very familiar with using sensory integrative apparatuses, particularly for developmental disorders or information processing disorders in children. For them to have an insight into what they could do with a hammock is so natural from their background in the way that they look at therapeutic intervention. Certainly, I think people from many different disciplines already have an insight into why it could possibly be therapeutic. What I hope to offer people with the aerial yoga therapeutics course is just a framework of how to go about that. That's really by fusing the frameworks of trauma recovery and rehabilitation, and looking carefully at progressions and incremental changes in someone's experience of circulatory changes.
Jo: So just as a question, I suppose it's quite different for everyone, but what would an aerial yoga therapeutic session look like?
Renae: Yeah. You’re absolutely right because it's therapeutic, it's individual. How you approach each session is going to be very much dependent on the individual's presentation. My framework that I find works the best from a physical rehabilitative framework is to always begin with stabilization. Once you've seen that there is enough control present, then start to gradually challenge that until you're in a place where you're working toward integrative movement again. In a very similar way, in supporting someone's mental health, the first step is to really ensure that there's a deep sense of safety and that you're starting to build skills of how to regulate, so that person can become much more in control of maintaining a place that feels safe for them. As a typical session, it might involve doing certain exercises that are based on stabilization or based on assessing someone's response and allowing them to be witness to their experience, and find their own level of decision making and choice of what they want to experience. Having that really established first, then going gradually into next stages of development is really where it becomes therapeutic. I find I integrate a lot of different aspects. I feel that's one of the reasons why the hammock is such a great tool as a postgraduate training because you can really work into it to support other areas of focus. When I've been working in supporting different psychological situations with people, I've found optimal moments that they can explore something that's potentially emotional through a physical medium. You can find a lot of flexibility with this tool in terms of what you're trying to achieve with your client. It's hard to say what a typical session would look like. But mostly, it's always about monitoring those levels of safety and stability for a person. The way that you do that is to be able to really observe carefully, having a good understanding of how to monitor and take into account people's changing physiology, whether that's due to their emotional state or due to the physical challenges that they might be invited to try if they're doing work in the hammock. Then offering a lot of co-regulation until that person is really established and being able to find their own methods that work well for them to be in a safe and a stable place.
Jo: I could imagine a lot of this practice grew out of your project that I know that you did for your Art Therapy masters thesis. Would you like to just give us a little bit of that background?
Renae: Yeah. My interest in integrating movement in creative therapies stem back from my own experience of working with that in my own body. What I found was that through the practice, a mindful movement practice that I could really reduce the low levels of tension, anxiety, and nervousness that were interrupting a lot of my capacity in creative endeavors, I felt there was such a value in using a somatic tool to help someone become more receptive to their creativity and more free-flowing with that experience as opposed to being, perhaps very overly analytical about something, it helped them come from a sensory based place and a place that was moment to moment in their sensory experience. What I wanted to explore in my masters was the therapeutic benefits of the combined practice of an aerial yoga therapeutic practice with creative arts therapies. In that research project, I was able to work with several young men who had arrived in Australia's unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan and have had incredible journeys in their refugee experience. They were all presenting the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. It was affecting their ability to learn and to integrate into a new cultural experience in Australia. What we found with the combination of a therapeutic intervention, that was eight weeks and was providing two sessions a week of a combined practice of the aerial therapeutics with creative arts therapy processing afterwards, there was really an increase of relaxed state. Many of those boys started sleeping for the first time in their lives. With sleep, came a whole lot of benefits. [laughs] They were able to focus at school. They were able to feel a greater sense of well-being. They were able to connect with play. I think for those children, the therapeutic quality of play is really important for a person who's experienced childhood trauma. It's often been what they have lost is their ability and their experience of this play. The sessions that we ran had both restorative sessions. But these were teenage boys, so they were also full of dynamic sessions that challenged them and gave them real thrills. We were able to process a lot of their experiences in the hammock with creative arts therapy directives that were exploring different concepts of safety, boundary, and connectedness concepts of well-being through a creative arts expression. Both these tools were fantastic for working non-verbally. I guess one of the reasons why working with creative arts and movement therapies has been so valuable to me is that for the last nearly 10 years, I've worked mostly with people who don't have English as a first language. My way of communicating and allowing them to communicate is through non-verbal media and movement. The combination of modalities is often really where you can hit on some fantastic therapeutic results. [laughs] What I found in interviewing the boys afterwards and inquiring as to whether they would have preferred to have perhaps just done the movement or just done the creativity, they all preferred the combination. It did really prove to me that the benefit of working multimodally and working with movement, and creative healing tools for mental health, I see it also equally valuable in working through physical health challenges.
Jo: It's so beautiful that it brings together all of the things that you love as well.
Renae: Yeah. I guess that's why I love them. [laughter] Because they have been meaningful in my own personal healing, many times in my life. But they've also been tools that I see I can help others with. That's why I value them. Because if I can help someone else with it, then I want to. [laughs] I guess I've spent much of my last 20 years really just gathering tools to help people through mental and physical challenges. The aerial hammock is still the best tool I've found. [laughter] It's the most integrative, the one I can incorporate the most scope of my knowledge from mental and physical health into, with the most ease. I would like to share that perspective with others through delivering a course like this, giving people the chance to use the tool to help the people they work with in many subtle ways throughout their life, in many different ways of influence.
Jo: So calling upon your creativity, and you've touched on this already, but I'd love to hear the big wide open scope of it all, what are your dreams for their future? Where do you see this all leading?
Renae: I guess probably where I always saw it which is integrated into our health system. I would love to see mental health settings with sensory rooms with the main centerpiece being the aerial hammock. I have already been able to see wonderful innovative physiotherapy clinics integrating it into their rehab apparatus, alongside their traditional pilates rehabilitative equipment, also, having the hammock. I can see it working so well in those arenas. Also, for the practitioners themselves, having their own therapeutic tool to help counteract the taxing nature of working with people, having something that they can do to really give back their own sense of health and well-being. I guess I really can see it has a place in those areas. I'd love to see it being used for what it can give people.
Rane: Beautiful. I guess we're nearing the end of our time together. We've got one more question. You might have touched on this already, but if you could distill everything that you've learned and everything that you teach down to one core essence, what do you think that one thing would be?
Renae: I guess integration. I have struggled personally with wanting to find specific answers and find that if I did this method, it's going to work. [laughter] But the reality with working with people is that they are multifaceted. In order to help someone, you need to also become multifaceted and work in a very integrative way. That might require working collaboratively with others and other skills. But the more you can have a scope, a multi-faceted approach to health, the better you will be at directing that individual to the care that they need and be able to support their process as their changing needs evolve. I guess I do value having a fusion approach to things. It doesn't take away having a specialization in any way in terms of application or knowledge. But I do sense that when we are only specialized, we only see the people we're working with through our specialised lenses. The more integrated we can be with our knowledge across mental and physical health, I think the more we're able to see someone for everything that they are and be able to work with them in their multi-dimensionality. I guess that's what I've learned over the years, is you can never heal something with just one approach. I feel like it takes many different aspects at different times.
Jo: Yeah. Thank you so much, Renae.
Rane: That was our conversation with Renae. I hope it changed your perspective on aerial yoga a little. I really do. It's something that Jo and I are both really passionate about. We both think that there's so much potential in the aerial hammock. If you're curious about Renae, what we talked about, her workshops at Garden of Yoga or anything really, feel free to reach out to us. We would love to hear from you. For our next conversation, we're speaking with Dr. Gail Parker. Gail Parker is a psychologist, a certified yoga therapist, and the author of the upcoming book Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma. Jo and I have had an opportunity to read this book. It's a wonderful read for people of all races on what race-based trauma actually is, how it differs from other types of trauma, and how yoga can help. Gail is absolutely wonderful. She's been on Oprah seven times which we asked her about. It's a great conversation. Look out for that in two weeks’ time. Our theme song is Baby Robots by Ghostsoul and is used with permission. Get his music from ghostsoul.bandcamp.com. Jo and I would like to honor the elders of these wisdom traditions of yoga and mindfulness from India and beyond. As well as honoring the traditional custodians of the land where this podcast is recorded, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Thank you so much for listening. Jo and I really appreciate you spending your precious time with us. Arohanui. Big, big love.