Natural Healing Of Trauma And Chronic Pain With Yoga with guest Beth Shaw

On this episode of the St. Louis Pain Expert Podcast, Dr. Dave Candy talks with Beth Shaw, CEO of YogaFit Worldwide, author of 4 books, and host of the Make America Healthy radio show. They discuss yoga and other natural healing methods for trauma, depression, and chronic pain.

Table of Contents

Episode Transcript

"Natural Healing Of Trauma And Chronic Pain With Yoga with guest Beth Shaw"

Dr. Dave Candy: Welcome Beth and thank you so much for joining us today!

Beth Shaw: Dr. Candy, thank you for having me.

Your Most Recent Book Is Called "Healing Trauma With Yoga and Mind-Body Techniques"

The mind and the body are are highly related. I treat a lot of people with chronic pain and I see that trauma is highly involved in chronic pain, so I'd love to discuss that with you.

But can you just first fill people in a little bit more as to your background and how you got into the world of yoga and Trauma?

Yes, I have been studying health and wellness pretty much since my teenage years but I taught myself how to do guided meditation and imagery when I was six years old because I suffered from horrible migraine headaches.

I grew up in a family that let's just say they weren't that investing in what was going on with me, so I taught myself how to do guided imagery I cured myself of the migraine headaches. They were very detrimental to me at the time I would get white lights in front of my eyes. They would usually end with some type of nausea and vomiting, so to be able to self-cure was pretty amazing.

I've been studying nutrition and psychology since high school I've been working out at the gym since age 15.

I started my company, YogaFit, in the mid-late 90s to teach people how to teach yoga and other mind-body disciplines and also how to appreciate yoga in a very safe way.

And for people listening who don't know,  YogaFit really brought yoga into the the mainstream here in America so thank you so much for your your work with doing that. 

So how does one discover meditation such a young age of six years old?

You know I can only credit it to spiritual intervention to be honest with you. I would just start to visualize myself either on the beach or in a forest in a calm, serene setting and it really seemed to help.

I have really no explanation for it other than spiritual intervention

Well however you discovered it I'm very happy that you did.

Trauma and Depression

So the the topics of trauma and depression and pain they're kind of different aspects of the same thing. Can you discuss how trauma and depression are related they seem to go hand in hand?

Yes, people who score high on the Adverse Childhood Experiences test which my book opens with tend to have more depression.

The Adverese Childhood Experiences test is a nine point test and it asks things like you know did you come from a family where someone was incarcerated.

Did you come from a family where someone was an alcoholic or drug addict was there a death in the family did you experience any physical sexual or emotional trauma as a child and a soon as people take the test and score themselves then they can really see what type of trauma they're dealing with.

It's scientifically proven that people who have had more childhood trauma experience higher levels of depression, suicide, more failed relationships, unemployment.... there's a whole host.

Obviously addiction is huge for any of us who have had childhood trauma.

Trauma Lives In Our Tissues

The issues live in our tissues we really have it locked in our bodies.

At YogaFit we have a program called YogaFit Warriors where we use specific yoga poses to rid the body of trauma poses that affect the vagus nerve.

That has been very helpful to thousands of people and just seeing the work that we've done at YogaFit made me want to write Healing Trauma With Yoga because as someone who has suffered from depression pretty much my adult whole adult life and really bad PMS.

Healing Trauma With Yoga by Beth Shaw

Daily Work To Heal Depression

It's daily work, much like one would adhere to an exercise or diet program.

It's daily work to just keep yourself in a state of feeling good naturally without additional outside substances. I use working out a lot to manage my mood. I use meditation and a whole variety of different topics.

There's a chapter in the book called Living Your Best Life where I give 22 different things that I personally do just to be able to manage my mood because I've been on and off of antidepressant medications since my 20s. It's sometimes worse than others.

I've been my own mental health practitioner since the pandemic. Sometimes better than others but for anyone listening who has struggled with depression or anxiety, they know that it is just very much daily practice and just keeping yourself feeling good that day.

We'll get into probably in a little bit here those some of those daily practices and HOW people can incorporate those into their lives.

Childhood Trauma and Chronic Pain

I know you mentioned adverse trauma childhood experiences, and those actually they find those in a lot of people with chronic pain as well. As you mentioned the issues live in the tissue so that's very understandable as to why trauma and chronic pain go hand in hand.

The Vagus Nerve and Chronic Pain

You mentioned  the vagus nerve earlier. For people who don't have a medical background can you explain a little bit what the vagus nerve is and how that affects your body?

Correct me if I'm wrong but, it it runs pretty much from your brain stem all the way down to the base of the spine and through your hip flexors. Some of the poses that we do involve the releasing the psoas which has some indication of contraction many times around the vagus nerve. We use poses that will put us into rest-and-digestum (parasympathetic nervous system) instead of fight-or-flight our (sympathetic nervous system).

That's correct, the vagus nerve does come off the brain stem. It controls all your visceral functions your digestion. 

And people who have chronic low back pain especially often have a lot of time trouble with their hip flexors, so it's interesting that you've mentioned hip flexor stretches as one fo the stretches that affects the vagus nerve.

So going on a little bit more into the yoga aspect of things us, how did you start incorporating yoga in your life to improve your health?

Well I used to do yoga poses as a child and I didn't really know what they were. I would do some after my workouts.  Again I've been working out since age15. My first teacher was 93 years old and she would teach from a desk.

She had gone to Rishikesh, India in the late 1960s when she had a cancer diagnosis. She implemented ayurvedic medicine she implemented yoga meditation, and she cured herself of the cancer with the help of those outside influences.

She came back to the U.S. and started writing books on yoga and instructing.  Renee Taylor she was my first instructor. I feel very blessed that that was kind of my first formal yoga experience.

During times that I've gone through particularly rough periods, my yoga practice and meditation have become crucial to me in order to keep my mental equilibrium.

Yoga For PTSD

How does yoga affect people's mental equilibrium or help with depression or post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD)?

First of all it, connects us to our bodies on a very deep way so that we are able to really get a sense of what's good for our bodies and what's not.

Yoga also gives us the opportunity to witness our thoughts so that perhaps we don't get too attached to the sixty thousand thoughts we have a day.

Yoga For Health

From a physical stand point it helps lower blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, balances insulin. It's is the only thing that makes our brain release GABA naturally. (Editor's note: GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down over-active nerves, such as with anxiety.)

Most yoga practices will put us into the parasympathetic nervous system, and you're working your body your mind and your spirit simultaneously.

At YogaFit, our Essence is breathing, feeling, listening to your body.

Letting go of judgment, expectation, competition, and being present in the moment. I think that presence of moment is also a gift that many people are not able to give themselves.  To truly be present in the moment brings joy.

Depression vs Anxiety

Depression often comes from focusing on your past, and anxiety comes from focusing into the future so if we can stay present in the moment it truly becomes a gift of presence.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” - Dalai Lama XIV

Living in the present is a gift that we've lost in this day in age.  Everything is so fast-paced, and we're always focusing on what's next, especially this time of year around the holidays. New Year's is coming up, and people are starting to focus on resolutions.

How can people improve their health in the New Year?

I think it's important to take a very accurate assessment of where you're at.

In my experience there are always things we can improve on. I'm constantly refining the foods that go into my body. I work on avoiding news channels and things that are going to make me more depressed. I believe in exercising every single day.

Exercise can take the form of a very long walk with your dog. It can take the form of going to the gym and doing strength training, cardio, yoga, Pilates, or dance class.

Our society has set us up so unfortunately  that we're  glued to our our desk unless we are we have a good fortune to have any kind of physical labor job. We're just we're not supposed to be sitting so so long.

I think movement is key. Hydration is key. Clean water is key.

I've been very successful in continuing to remove any processed foods from my diet. I'm gluten free, but I've recently just even stopped eating gluten-free bread and things that are processed. Reading the labels and just being the ever present guardian to your physical and mental health.

It sounds like a lot of work but if if you are empowered to make healthy choices or healthier choices you will see that those efforts do add up over the course of time.

Yoga and Epigenetics

Genetics are one thing, but according to Bruce Lipton's theory of epigenetics (and validated by other scientists) even if something is in our DNA we can outwit it with healthy lifestyle. Given the fact that 80 of all adult disease is self-created, I believe that we need to educate ourselves to exercise free choice, but good choice.


For people who aren't familiar with that term epigenetics, essentially we're given genes in in our DNA from our parents, and we have no control over that.

But a lot of new science is showing that we can actually control through our lifestyle habits and the way that we live our daily life which of those genes are expressed and which of those genes aren't expressed.

So that comes down to what you were talking about before is is daily habits, and I know you mentioned you have 22 of them.

That may be a little overwhelming for someone who's just starting out but what are a couple of the top habits that you would recommend someone start if they were going to start into a better lifestyle?

Well, definitely incorporating yoga or some type of a flexibility regime as part of your daily practice. We all could benefit from stretching our low backs, our hips, our hamstrings, etc.

Beth Shaw's Books On Yoga

I've written four books they all have the title yoga in them somewhere.

There's a lot of quick things that one can do to really alleviate back pain. A flexibility regime can help because as we get older, we get more brittle.

There's the same an Asian saying that: "We should be like bamboo: strong and flexible."

So I I'm challenging myself to get stronger as I get older.

I go to the gym and I lift heavy weights at least three or four times a week.

I use red-light therapy to improve mitochondria production, and it just puts me in a better mood.

I practice inversions because they're also very good for mood.

Yoga For Depression vs Yoga For Anxiety

I've written many articles on yoga for depression vs yoga for anxiety, and it is two different practices.

When depressed we are stagnant, and when we're anxious, we need to calm down.

So for those people who are suffering from depression they should embark on a very active yoga practice.

And for people who have anxiety, they may lean more towards restorative yoga and things that are more calming.

Definitely meditation is free and it's something that everyone can do I have several meditations iTunes but you know you can go on YouTube and get any kind of meditation.  I play chanting and sound healing in my house every day.

On those days that I wake up that I'm not feeling 100%, I will make sure to move my body for at least an hour.

I also believe in taking a lot of supplements and staying hydrated.

Wonderful. Those are great habits.

Now you mentioned the yoga for depression being different from yoga for anxiety.

Can you expand on that a little bit more?

Yeah. Again often times depression feels heavy. It's stagnant.

When we're depressed a lot of times we would be lethargic. We don't want to move. Everything feels like tremendous effort.

I know this because I have personally experienced this a lot. And I will also add for your listeners that the importance of regular blood work is key.

Especially if you're over 40 years old, because your hormones can change in a minute.

This past summer I was severely depressed I actually had some suicidal ideation.

I was going through some business challenges and a breakup.

But then I went you know to my functional medicine doctor I had my blood work done again and apparently my testosterone levels were super low.

So I think we need to make sure that we understand our baseline and then layer in things like the exercise and the yoga and the movement and the meditation.

Well thank you for being a little bit vulnerable there with your own experiences. That just goes to show that even people as successful as Beth still undergo struggles. Everyone goes through that and there's a lot of stories like that in your book.

Can you share a couple other stories and how people have used yoga to overcome some trauma that they're going through?

There's a great story in Healing Trauma With Yoga about a gentleman who was part of the Canadian Air Force.

He was in the Canadian military and they were sent out to Nova Scotia to deal with a major plane crash. Because of the Carnage that he saw, he got into a state where he started drinking and became an alcoholic. Through the practice of yoga and mind-body tools he was able to stay in recovery and get his life back together.

And that's really one of my favorite stories. I I find it especially touching when men share their stories because I know that it's a little bit more challenging for men to open up like that.

Trauma Heals, But It Doesn't Go Away

In the book, 13 people, myself included, share our trauma stories and how we use yoga, meditation, sound healing, and exercise to - I don't want to say "heal" - because I think that perhaps if we have trauma we never 100% heal from it.

But my goal is just for people to be able to mitigate their daily symptoms and feel better that day. So if we wake up every day and we make some positive affirmations like "Today is going to be a good day. Today I'm going to feel good." - and then we do everything to support that feeling good, and make sure we're not doing things to be a detriment to feeling good - then we've had a good day.

And those those good days add up. Those good moments add up.

Being in a state of joy: singing, dancing, being with your friends, being with your family, enjoying your pets, etc.

Finding joy in the small moments of life is one thing that has become very important and incredibly healing on my continued journey.

You mentioned it that you're never really "heal" when you've undergone some sort of trauma.

And I would say be that physical or mental, you always kind of carry those "scars" with you so to speak.

If you are injured in a fire and have a burn, that scar never really goes away, although you get past it.

So what are some tools that people can use to help when those trigger events start to show up?

I well at first I think that recognizing when you've been triggered is really important.

Then if you have some type of a meditation or more spiritual practice where you can distance yourself from your thoughts or change your thoughts quickly.

We have a thought, and then we have a feeling, and then from that feeling we're either having an action or a reaction. So when negative or intrusive thoughts come around to try to quickly change them will help with the feeling and then the subsequent behavior.

In my experience that's been very helpful, and I think a certain level of detachment is also helpful.  Also recognizing that a lot of times we do have choice with our reactions.

I've done a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, and obviously again a meditation practice becomes helpful.

I always like to encourage people whether it's with weight loss or dealing with trauma to just try as many things as possible and find out what works for you because everybody is unique and we need to have a whole wheel of help with many many spokes to have an enjoyable life.

Having A Higher Purpose and Ikigai

I will add to that that having higher purpose is super important in fact.

I was just reading uh there's a Japanese program that focuses on how having higher purpose is is really what keeps us moving and going .

It's called Ikigai. (pronounced "Icky guy").  Finding meaning in your everyday life.

I actually just got back from Japan where I was working bringing YogaFit into three hospitals and a psychiatric hospital there.

I can tell you that the Japanese people by and large are very healthy. I only saw one overweight person in my entire trip to Japan. Their their food source is fortunately not polluted. They they eat small portions. They move around. They go to hot springs. It was a great trip.

I agree that having a higher purpose is important. When your problems seem like they're the center of the universe they can make them seem very large.

But when you have that higher purpose, it can help you put things in perspective and have them not quite seem to be so big. 

So can you tell me a little bit more about what people can find in Healing Trauma With Yoga?

We delve into sound healing. In fact we just had a really good show on sound healing on Make America Healthy.

The the correlation between listening to various sounds and mood is quite amazing.

We also get into diet because food is mood.  There are many foods that will make you not feel good, and many foods that actually help fight depression. They increase serotonin levels. So we we list all those foods we also have a lot of meditation techniques in the book.

Trauma and The Brain

The book gives a deep understanding of the brain and how being in a state of trauma makes our prefrontal cortex shrink and makes us operate more from our Reptilian Brain - the amygdala -  where we're always casing for potential dangers. That's the way our brain is oriented.

But to live in that space for people who've been traumatized is incredibly taxing on the body, on the mind, on the spirit, on the psyche, so just enabling people to kind of chill out naturally becomes very helpful.

I think that's important that you mention the brain because that old, rear part of the brain it is more concerned with survival and just making sure that you live from day to day versus the the frontal part it has more to do with our higher levels cognitive reasoning and enjoyment of life.

A lot of people who deal with pain and stress suffer from brain fog trouble, remembering things, and other issues like that, and so I think it's really good that you bring that up. 

Generational and Collective Trauma

One thing that we didn't touch on is generational trauma. Even for for a lot of people who perhaps have not experienced trauma in this lifetime, somewhere embedded in your DNA is the trauma that your grandmother might have experienced or your great-grandfather and these things should not be discounted because it's part of the totality of who we are.

And of course and we just came out with a new training at YogaFit on Collective Trauma because we're living in a time right now where we've all been traumatized.

Post-COVID Trauma

I'm traumatized by COVID. I'll be the first one to admit.

I was living in New York City and you know we were locked up for a long time.

I left it at some point but not soon enough.  Many times if I'm going into a place I'm like, "Oh my God, do I have my mask?"

Many people were traumatized, and we need to recognize it.

Mental health issues and suicide rates are are very high right now.

So we again, we need to be the ever-present guardian of our mental health as well as our physical health.

That's that's very true. These have been some trying times. 


Wrapping up, what are a few final messages that you'd want to leave listeners with today?

I'd like to leave the listeners with the message that your health is your most valuable asset, always.

So make sure you're giving yourself the gift of your health on a daily basis or whatever that looks like for you.

It's different for most people but again moving your body is a great gift.

Eating clean is a great gift.

Finding a cause that you can support to help others or animals also a great gift.

Remember that we really need to be in charge of our own physical and mental health because while there are professionals to help us we have to do the heavy lifting.

Absolutely. You're always your own best advocate. I think that's a great point.

Thank you again it has been a gift having you here on the show today, and thank you so much for sharing your insights.

Healing Trauma With Yoga

If you want to get Beth's book, Healing Trauma with Yoga, click here to buy a copy on Amazon.

Healing Trauma With Yoga by Beth Shaw

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