This is an interview with the founder of Stress Management And Prevention Center, Jaime Carlo-Casellas.
Tell us about yourself.
After finishing a bachelor’s degree medical technology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia and a master’s in microbiology, at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, I joined the Navy in 1968 as a Medical Service Corps Officer in Charge of the microbiology and immunohematology laboratories at the Naval Hospital, Oakland, California and subsequently as the Officer in Charge of Scientific Operations on board the USS Granville Hall, homeport, Honolulu, Hawaii on a classified biological warfare mission during the Vietnam conflict.
Upon returning to civilian life, four years later, I earned my Ph.D. in Experimental Immunopathology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and in part at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I spent a number of years doing research on the immunopathology of immune-complex renal disease at Northeastern University and Harvard Medical School. Eventually, I ended up as Director of the Immunohematology Research Laboratories in the Department of Pathology at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine in Worcester, Massachusetts.
At that time, I was going through the process of a divorce, had recently been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, and was fraught with nightmares and flashbacks of the horrors of dealing with mutilated bodies in the morgue and the sight of amputees learning how to walk with prosthetic legs in the courtyard in front of my office at the Naval Hospital. In essence, I found myself struggling to survive against mortality with days of remission and days of exacerbation in a world suffused with a mélange of physical and emotional misperceptions.
By pure serendipity, I met Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. who had established the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.
One afternoon, while in the medical school library, I saw Jon Saki Santorelli, Ed.D., with a group of medical students and patients sitting on cushions with their hands folded on their laps and their eyes closed in the rare book room.
Later that day, I ran into Jon and asked him what he was doing. He said they were practicing mindfulness meditation, which evidence was beginning to show that it allowed patients to cope with pain that was resistant to other therapeutic interventions, such as the use of narcotics. Of course, in my mind I thought that what they were doing was bogus.
Nonetheless, after our brief conversation, Jon convinced me to enroll in his next eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.
Within weeks into the program, something Jon said in class kept resonating within me, “The best time to be happy is now, the best place to be happy is here, and as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong.”
As anemic as it may sound, after hours of silence spent within my inner chambers of presence, I recognized that my stressful life as a research scientist had to end. So, to make a long story short, I went to the office of the chairman of the Pathology Department and turned in my letter of resignation, ending my career as a research scientist.
And, since the day I walked away from the medical school, most of my life has been dedicated to being happy, making others happy, alleviating the suffering of those who suffer, and recognizing that anything else I do in life is for naught.
I took a few days off to take stock of my skills, and within a few months, given my aptitude and passion for writing in English and Spanish, as well as my knowledge of basic science, I launched CC Scientific, Ltd., a Medico-Legal Translation Services, that eventually grew to an eleven-employee organization serving the biomedical, legal, and financial services industries since the early 1980s.
In the meantime, my infatuation with mindfulness led me to train as a Mindfulness Meditation Instructor, a Certified Life Coach, a Registered Yoga Instructor, a Certified Trauma Healing Yoga Teacher, and eventually establish the Stress Management & Prevention Center, LLC, in 1999.
As an author, most of my work appears in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. As a poet, the verses and poetry I write appear in my book, Chaos & Bliss ~ A Journey to Happiness. These poems and verses emanate from the anguish I have personally experienced and the agony I see in the clients coping with their physical and emotional suffering who come to my Center seeking relief.
At the moment, I am also working on the book Mindfulness for the Common Man, which is being buttressed by the efforts of the staff of Untethered Media. The book is scheduled for publication in December 2018.
The upcoming second edition of Chaos & Bliss, expected to be published in December of 2018, is intended to have the reader recognize our consanguinity with each other, where we recognize that, the distance between “Us” and “Them” begins to dissolve and we can begin to resonate with each other by sharing our underlying mutual innermost wisdom. It is then, and only then, that we can start living as citizens enjoying the principles of isopolity, or isopolīteía, established by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 b.c.), where we can share common rights and have the liberty to express ourselves freely without fearing the chaos that endangers our blink-of-an-eye existence on this planet.
How did stress management come into your life?
As explained above, I immersed myself into the practice of mindfulness (vipassana) meditation when I met Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the early 1980s and took the course on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
What is the most important thing about your present practice?
The most important thing about my present practice is that it allows you to savor the vividness and exquisiteness available to you in the present moment. The half-full glass of water is neither half empty nor half full ~ it is completely full.
One recognizes that practice of mindfulness is cumulative. That is, the more you practice, the more you become aware of what is happening as the present moment evolves from moment to moment. You recognize that as long as you grasp to the self, you stay bound to the world of suffering, as Asubhandu, a fifth-century Indian sage once said. You learn to recognize when the brain (the dorsolateral prefrontal area) is in the default mode (the “day-dreaming” mind) and you quickly bring the mind back to being aware of what is happening in the now. You can practice loving kindness ~ a corroboration of the maxim that the more we think about the wellbeing of others, the less we focus on ourselves. These practices train us to be as mindful in our daily lives as during our formal meditation practices.
Do you practice these techniques today for the same reasons as when you started?
Absolutely, I practice mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. Formally at night before I retire and in the morning upon waking up. I do a 10-minute sympathetic breathing meditation or a loving-kindness meditation.
I also teach mindfulness yoga six times a week, and during the day, as I stated above, I notice when my mind has shifted into the default mode.
What is Mindfulness Yoga and how does it differ from other yoga practices?
The Mindfulness Yoga I teach at our Center concentrates on always reminding the student to be aware of what is being felt (the sensations) as the posture is performed or as the body moves during the yoga practice. This probably differs from other forms of yoga in that rarely, if ever, is posture alignment at the forefront of my yoga classes.
Instead, I continually remind the students to notice what their bodies are feeling, and to practice within their own limits, paying attention to the signal sent by the body. If the body signals them to stop or pull back during a posture, they are to do so.
The four fundamentals of mindfulness I remind the student of during our practice are:
The breath ~ the sensations of the breath entering and exiting the nostrils, the sounds in the back of the throat, the inflation and deflation of the abdomen or chest with the inhale and exhale, and perhaps the movement of the head, shoulders, and pelvis associated with the breathing.
The body ~ the sensations in the body (interoception). That would be 1) the somatic sensation (sensations in the skin, muscles, hands, feet, etc.), 2) the visceral sensations (sensations evoked by the activation of nociceptors (pain receptors) of the thoracic, pelvic, or abdominal viscera (organs) or other visceral structures that are highly sensitive to distension (stretch), and 3) the kinesthetic sensations (sensations of the movements experienced going into or coming out of a yoga posture. This means proprioception alone or the brain’s integration of proprioceptive and vestibular inputs.
The mind ~ an awareness of the thoughts that come and go in the mind. I personally try to notice if a thought triggers a chain of thoughts where one thought leads to another and another, etc. When that happens, I gently but firmly bring my mind back and focus on the elements available to me in the now, the sounds around me, sensations in the body, etc. To others, it means, letting go of conscious thought, suppresses this heightened inner sense, or self-hypnosis. What is important is that we acknowledge, without judgement, what is going on in the present moment with a sense of meta-awareness, like a “parade of events” that marches before us in the present moment.
Impermanence ~ an awareness of the fact that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, evanescent, and inconstant. All physical and mental events come into being and eventually dissolve. In that sense, I remind the students to approach each posture with a sense of newness, remembering that the posture had a beginning, an existence, and a departure, and that the posture will never, ever be repeated again.
What is Trauma-Management Yoga and how does it differ from other yoga practices?
Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TSY) also known as Trauma-Healing Yoga was innovated by David Emerson at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute. This form of yoga has been shown to help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), as well as chronically traumatized individuals. This includes military veterans, those surviving natural disasters (tornados and hurricanes), as well as survivors of chronic abuse, and sexually abused individuals.
Bessel A. van der Kolk et al. have shown that TSY significantly reduces the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients with chronic, traditional treatment-resistant PTSD.
TSY has its foundations in trauma theory, attachment theory, neuroscience, Hatha Yoga, and breathing practices, with an emphasis on the recognition of somatic, visceral, and kinesthetic sensations.
Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s findings and the yoga techniques prescribed by Emerson, Dr. Carlo-Casellas, who trained and got certified in Trauma-Healing Yoga and started at his Stress Management & Prevention Center. LLC. (SMPC).
TSY bears much in common with the contemplative practices, such as mindfulness meditation, where the focus is on the cultivation of perception of any sensation, including thoughts, emotions, sounds, visualizations, as well as somatic and kinesthetic sensations. In TSY, however, we limit ourselves exclusively to interoception ~ the perception of somatic, visceral, and kinesthetic sensation only, not emotions or the interpretation of emotions such as mood, anger, sense of well-being, anxiety, or being sexually aroused. In TSY, the body, not the mind, is the center of attention.
This is so because per Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, in his seminal work, The Body Keeps the Score, has shown that traumatized patients suffer from depersonalization ~ the outward manifestation of the biological freeze reaction, the characteristic blank stares and absent mind. These patients, instead of struggling to escape, they dissociate from their negative emotions and their bodies and lose their ability to perceive somatic and kinesthetic sensations. This sort of immobilization, generated in the reptilian brain, characterizes most chronically traumatized persons. Once sensation is regained in the numbed areas of the body, the patient quickly begins to recover from the trauma.
For the teacher of TSY, the most important thing to do is use interoceptive words. That is, wording that invites the client to notice a somatic, visceral, or kinesthetic sensation. For example, the patient is invited to “if you like, you may tilt your head downward, and as you so you may notice a sensation in the back of your neck or if you like, notice what you feel as you lift your head back up.”
Those who have availed themselves of the Trauma-healing Yoga Dr. Carlo-Casellas teaches report that the yoga classes are very different from other yoga classes they have attended ~ the cues are different. But what makes the classes special are Jaime’s soothing voice, gentle manner, his knowledge of the neurophysiology of how yoga modulates the structure and function of the brain, and the freedom he allows for the modification of the postures to fit the students’ needs, allowing him/her to experience the full effects of the practice to a maximum. Of the cases Jaime has treated, including an automobile accident survivor, a wartime veteran, and a woman who was sexually abused as a child, all started recovering from their traumatic condition as soon as they started gaining sensation in the numbed areas of their bodies.
What are a few of your favorite teachings of these types of yoga and why?
From an egotistical vantage point, my favorite satisfaction emanates from those classes where a student walks out of the studio and says something such as, “you know, because of your classes and what I have learned from you, you’re going to save my marriage.”
It takes me back to that time in the early 1980s when Jon Kabat-Zinn made me realize my reason for living. We are born to be happy, to make others happy, and to alleviate the suffering of others. Anything else we do during our brief sojourn on this planet is for naught.
Nacimos para ser felices, brindarle felicidad a todo otro ser viviente y aliviar el sufrimiento del que sufre. Todo los demás que hagamos durante nuestra breve peregrinación en este planeta es malgasto de la vida.
It also takes me to the poem Wounded Ego in my book Chaos & Bliss ~ A Journey to Happiness.
When the ego feels maimed or exploited,
nurture it, acknowledging your goodness and virtues.
When the ego feels maimed or exploited,
nurture it as an infant that needs
cuddling and consoling,
acknowledging your goodness and virtues,
knowing that at any given moment
the soul is neither absolutely sane nor insane.
Look for and exalt
the treasures within you,
comprehending that external validation
can be manipulative, capricious, or vain.
when the ego is exalted,
whence comes the exaltation?
From the need to quench an untamable thirst
for adulation… or
from a soul suffused with the euphoria
of having touched a sprout
and seeing it bloom?
As a stress management counselor, what advice would you give to a beginning practitioner?
– Provide your clients with the most, up-to-date scientific evidence (the neurobiology) available for the benefits of mindfulness
– Refrain from introducing archetypal images of the contemplative traditions, such as the mantras, tantras, yantras, chants, vestments, etc.
– Create a sense of belonging and inclusion (have your participants embrace people from different racial and ethnic groups, sexual orientation, and professional backgrounds)
– Adapt the right teaching mix by blending experiential, scientific, and conceptual teaching styles
– Storytelling (use illustrative anecdotes for the participants to understand the value of mindfulness)
– Provide time for Q & A, comments, and reflection
– Embody sustainable programs and practices such as the Search Inside Yourself Program of Google and life coaching)
And what would you say to those who are more experienced?
Never stop learning. Take courses online. Attend conferences. Consult with other teachers.
What are the main differences between a led class (group setting) and a self-practice (at home) form of mindfulness yoga from the participants’ point of view? What are the advantages of each method?
What are some advantages and disadvantages of a group setting
A group setting offers the opportunity to perceive the energy of others, especially if the groups is eclectic and multicultural. Moreover, in a group setting you have a qualified instructor to help you with the alignment of the postures and remind you of the fundamentals of mindfulness.
However, an individual in the group can be toxic, difficult and draining ~ pushing you and the students in the class to the limits. Toxic people can be manipulative, wanting the class to be led their way. They tend to be judgmental and criticize you for what you’ve done or not done. They tend to make you prove yourself to them and are not caring or supportive of what is important to you. Beware of the narcissistic toxic individual. Weigh the pros (if there are any) and the cons. Make a decision to limit your time with this person or end the relationship ~ and don’t look back.
So, what do you do with that toxic person in the class? These are a few things to consider:
– Accept that it might be a process.
– Talk to them in private, not in front of the other students.
– Remember that it may be impossible to negotiate with a narcissist or a toxic person
– Don’t argue ~ just restate your boundaries.
– Consider creating a distance instead of separation.
– If the person has paid for classes in advance, return the money. (I found that the message was strong and clear when I did this.)
– Block them on social media and delete them from your emailing lists.
Don’t feel like you owe the person a huge explanation, just a simple note or an email should suffice.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of At-Home Practice
As stated above, the advantage of the group session is the shared energy and presence of a qualified instructor to help you with the alignment of the postures and remind you of the fundamentals of mindfulness.
Here are some of the advantages of the at-home practice.
– You won’t have to fight the stress of getting to your yoga class on time.
– It’s free.
– The at-home practice releases you from the confines of a set schedule.
– You can design your own area in your home making it as comfortable as you want.
– You can practice at your own pace.
– Practicing at home helps you build discipline.
– By practicing on your own, you will develop more mindfulness about who you are, and your relationship with yourself will change.
What can participants expect when coming to the Stress Management & Prevention Center?
Our mission is to help those whose life is hampered by unwarranted stress and inspire them to sketch out the blueprint for achieving the life they deserve.
The Center is a quiet, serene space, suffused with gentle music, soft lighting, and the sound of murmuring fountains where you can come meditate, quiet the mind and enjoy the vividness and exquisiteness available to you in the present moment. We offer Mindfulness Meditation, Life Coaching, Coed Mindfulness Yoga, Tantric Yoga for Men, Yoga for the Athletic Man and Massage Therapy, as well as private sessions.
The Center is for anyone wanting to purge their minds from the ravages of unwarranted, pernicious stress. That includes clients suffering from stress-related physical and psychological disorders such as:
– Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (C-PTSD).
– Traditional, treatment-resistant forms of trauma, including sexual abuse, spousal abuse, warfare, automobile accidents, natural disasters, witnessing a shocking event, among others
– Other mental and physiological conditions, such as bipolar disorders, fibromyalgia ADHD, coronary heart disease, and clinical depression…
– Personal loses, such as loss of a loved one or financial downfalls
– Addictive behavior
We also have a highly qualified staff.
Jaime Carlo-Casellas, Ph.D.
Jaime is a Certified Yoga Instructor, Life Coach, a Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and has trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, and is Certified in Trauma Healing Yoga for the management of PTSD and C-PTSD. In addition to that, Jaime keeps abreast of the latest research on the neurobiology of mindfulness.
He facilitates the Mindfulness Coed Yoga classes, Tantric Yoga for Men classes and Trauma-management interventions for psychological and physiological disorder. He is available for private yoga, life coaching, and meditation sessions.
Thomas Grexa Phillips, Certified Fitness Trainer
Thomas is the Founding Director of Integrative Health and Wellness, LLC.
He is a nationally Certified Fitness Trainer, a California Certified Bodyworker, a long-time yoga teacher, and a California Certified Somatic Sex Educator. His practice incorporates the union of body, mind, and spirit.
He teaches Yoga for Athletic Men, the purpose of which is to help the athlete enhance his sport-active life! The 90-minute class features strength, conditioning, balance, and mindfulness poses.
Thomas is available for private yoga sessions, personal fitness training, and massage work.
David A. Cutler, Certified Massage Therapist
David is experienced in numerous physical and energy techniques, including myofascial release, deep tissue acupressure, polarity Marma points, and cranial-sacral massage.
Whether the goal is to relax and replenish or therapeutic in nature, his focus is to understand the client’s wants and needs and then determine how to proceed.
No two clients are alike so neither should the massages.