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Out On The Limb Interview: Stress, PTSD and Turning Obstacles Into Opportunity

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IMG_5526Listen to Out On The Limb interview with Lauralyn Kearney

Dr. Nicola Bird: I’m thrilled to have you because your expertise are so important. Stress is a major problem for most people, and it’s always a hot topic. How do we deal with it? How do we manage it? And I know you’ve done some amazing work, establishing the first restorative yoga therapy program for the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, and I really applaud you for that because that work is so needed and wow, just wow. And that’s really why I wanted to speak with you because what you’re doing is tremendous. So let’s start with the most basic. How do we deal with stress?

Lauralyn Kearney: Well the first thing is, it may seem simple, but it’s to recognize stress. Stress has become such a norm for us that we’re in traffic and we’re screaming at the driver, and we’re yelling at the TV and the newspaper and we don’t realize our cortisol levels – there’s an actual physiological response every time our mind triggers, “hey, we’re in survival mode.” That can even be a line at Starbucks stressing you out, traffic, work, or kids. There are a host of stressors today. The quicker the world is moving, the more important it is that we actually acknowledge stress, get to know our bodies, and learn how to use techniques to get out of that stress response that can lead to inflammation and really bad health problems down the road. So that’s something I help people understand. When they’re feeling symptoms of anxiety and stress, sometimes it’s gotten to that point that they think they’re losing their mind, and they don’t realize that is just the stress hormones wreaking havoc. And they’re not dying, thank God.

Dr. Nicola Bird: I love what you’re saying because it’s so true. In my work [psychotherapy], I see that all of the time. When we become so numbed out, and accustomed to a certain thing, it just becomes so normalized that we don’t even realize that this is what the problem is. We get accustomed to being a certain way and then it builds, and builds and builds to a point where it becomes problematic whether it’s our mental health, well-being, physical health. So I think that point is really important. You have to identify it, as simple as that is, it’s a key important part to be plugged in and connected to ourselves, so thank you for that. I am particularly fascinated with your working with wounded soldiers. I’d love to hear more about that because I think that’s powerful work that you’re doing, and it’s heroic work. Tell me more about that.

Lauralyn Kearney: I want to give just a short background of it, hoping it will inspire people. How I first got into it was: I was living in L.A. and teaching there, very content with my life, and all of a sudden there was an electrical fire that happened a week before Christmas, and I was left homeless. The Red Cross hooked me up in a hotel for a while but then I had to decide, oh my gosh, what am I going to do now? I was experiencing PTSD without realizing it. I completely shut down. I was trying to teach yoga with PTSD and realized, what is happening to me? I can’t connect to my students.

So what happened was my best friend was in the Army, down at Fort Bragg, and she said, hey why don’t you just come stay with me and rest for a while. Recharge, you know? So I go down there and as I’m living with her, and I’m meeting her soldier friends, I see how incredibly stressed out they are, the incredible pressure they have. I grew up with a Vietnam veteran. I understood veterans growing up with one. I had that from a child’s perspective growing up with a dad who served in the Army. But this is completely different, being younger and actually having my peers in the present moment experiencing this.

I rested for a while and then I realized, I’ve got PTSD and I have to heal this. So I started training in Yoga for PTSD and then I realized, I’m here for a purpose. God did not have me kicked out of my home to just torture me. I’m actually here to help serve these amazing people who do so much for us that we’re not even aware of, the real enormity of the stress and pressure they have. So I decided to knock on doors, and start a program to actually help them therapeutically. There had been regular yoga classes, but there wasn’t anything to actually help these soldiers have tools to understand the mind/body connection, and start to heal injuries, PTSD, even dealing with the daily stressors of military life.

I was completely humbled when I first started it. No one showed up at first. It’s a very male-dominated culture and they’re like, yoga? That’s for girls. There were many times I was sitting there, watching the clock, saying God, is this ever going to happen? Does anyone want this, want to heal? And then doctors at the Army hospital found out that I was sitting there, and they started sending me their patients that they didn’t know what else to do with. And that’s how it started. The soldiers realized that yoga, the way I was presenting it to them, was not about downdog and athletic exercise, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a way to think, it’s a way to eat, it’s a way to treat your body, it’s a different perspective of how to look at hardships in your life. I gave them this lesson about how to recognize stress and what to do about it when it comes on, and it just became this amazingly inspiring thing. The soldiers really changed my life, and I’m so grateful for the experience.

Dr. Nicola Bird: Lauralyn, let me tell you how moved I am by that story, and I’m sure the listeners are, too. There are so many things there that are just amazing. First, I know that PTSD is such a chronic condition for soldiers and military, and that it’s a huge issue that is really not dealt with, that is kind of ignored and swept under the table, especially in a male-dominated environment. I’ve read statistics that more military die from suicide as a result of PTSD than out in the field. Your work is very needed, very powerful, and bless you for the fact that you persevered and kept going, providing so much to an area so needed, for the ones who are serving us, and keeping us safe. Their lives are for our well-being. So bless you for that, it’s very moving and I certainly feel very touched. We need more of you.

Once again, we have this incredible story how you turned an obstacle into an opportunity, not just an opportunity, but a life mission. It becomes a way to live your truth, and live your best life possible and contribute to society and be amazing in this world. And I think what you’ve done out of a painful, life altering destruction, out of that destruction, you created amazing opportunity and amazing beauty in this world. Bless you for that. Ah, so much here. Tell us more about how you’re working. You talked about working holistically, and intuitively, and with yoga. I’m a huge yoga person, I do yoga nearly everyday. It’s my life. Tell us more about your work you’re exploring.

Lauralyn Kearney: I’ve had this intuitive gift since I was a kid, and I was using it without realizing it. People would say, how did you know that about me? When I went through my own healing journey, I had a disease that was another major obstacle, and near death experience – I’ve had a lot of dramatic experiences – but every dramatic experience I’ve had has been an opportunity for me to change something in my life that wasn’t working and to have even more to give back. And I really feel that’s why we struggle, and we suffer, it’s because there’s such a beautiful power that we have to transform that into something good, blessings for ourselves and others. So the way I work when people come to me is I tune into them. I don’t work as a traditional life coach, it’s more in that yoga philosophy, trying to see what’s beneath the surface of what they’re telling me. If someone comes to me and says, I have these chronic headaches and I just can’t figure it out, and medications aren’t working, what do you think it is? I’ll tune in and the information will come to me either in thought, or a vision of the actual physical body, organs, and I’ll look and say, can it be toxins built up in the body? What are the stressors? I’ve found that when we have an ache or pain, or a stress in our life, it’s not just one thing that’s contributing to it. There are several factors. And that’s why we need to look at it holistically – emotionally, spiritually, physically – what’s going on and then we can really create healing. That’s the way I work. There’s no judgement. I’m compassionate. I don’t believe in judging people and pushing them because I’ve experienced high levels of stress, and I’m a realist. I think you can work gently and it can still be powerful, because it’s all about intention and taking baby steps to creating the life you want: happiness, health, peace. We all want the same things.

LimbDr. Nicola Bird: I’d like to explore this issue of post traumatic stress disorder. A lot of people have it and don’t know they have it. Working with the military, people may think, oh that’s over there. But actually it’s people who have been traumatized, abused, many of them are suffering from PTSD and just not knowing it, and not even understanding what it is. Just tell us a little bit more about this for the listeners, and for people to be more educated. Everybody, you know at least one person who is struggling with this, and you could be, too.

Lauralyn Kearney: It may manifest a little bit differently from person to person but there are some common symptoms such as nightmares.

  • Often in your nightmares you’re reliving the situation, being brought back to the trauma.
  • Dissociation, you feel like you’re outside your body, like you’ve lost connection with your own place in the world.
  • You lose sense of present moment. All of a sudden you’re going back in time and something is triggering you, whether a smell or a sound, can instantly make you a time traveler going back to the scene of the trauma. And then you lose sense of the now, what’s happening now, that you’re safe.
  • The safety is the strongest one. Traumas that trigger PTSD change our brain chemistry. All of a sudden our belief of the world is that it’s not safe, and bad things can happen. And if this bad thing can happen, that I couldn’t control and didn’t see coming, why can’t another bad thing happen? And that is such a damaging belief, but it completely makes sense for when you go through that. The logical mind is trying to figure out, how can I protect myself again?

The problem is the only remedy for that is to be brave, and to have faith. And to try to understand how that trauma has served you in some way, which is so hard to do in the initial stages when you’re suffering. But for me, that’s been part of the process. With PTSD, in my experience healing from it, it took a lot of different things.

It’s categorized as an anxiety disorder, so your heart’s racing, your nervous system is very raw and agitated. You might feel shaky a lot. You might be driving and feel checked out of your body, and forget where you’re going. I just want everyone who is going through this to know that is normal, they’re okay. This is part of the experience, feeling like everything in your world that was safe, good and grounded has been ripped apart and now you’re trying to figure out how to exist in this world that is such a frightening place, and a painful place.

We approach it holistically, starting with the body, with restorative yoga in particular. Restorative yoga is great for nourishing the nervous system, feeling safe to be in your body again. That’s such a huge thing with PTSD, feeling safe to be present again. And the thoughts, focusing on the now, keep reminding yourself where you are. I used to do this when I was driving and would get disoriented. I’d say, my hands are on the wheel. I’m passing that store. This is where I’m going. This is when I was at Fort Bragg, I”d say I’m driving to Fort Bragg today. I’m on the road, my feet are touching the – and just that mindfulness sounds so simple but it really did help me be in the present. It’s all about taking control over the mind again, which brings us back to yoga.

Dr. Nicola Bird: Wow. Lauralyn Kearney, you have just been amazing. We all need more Lauralyns in this world, and we’re blessed that we have you offering all of your incredible work. The great news is that you can work with Lauralyn anywhere you are. Her website, She’s also on Facebook, find her at Yoga for Heroes, on Twitter @CoachLauralyn. She has her wellness albums on iTunes. There’s lots of ways you can connect with Lauralyn, we need her, and she works with everyone, everywhere.

Listen to Out On The Limb interview with Lauralyn Kearney


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