by Karen Kramer, MYOF Blogger
Betsy Rippentrop is insightful, heart-centered and deeply empathetic, not just because of her advanced degree in psychology. She's "been there' as a human being. Her background and experience as a clinician, yoga practitioner and a human consumed by the ordinary hectic pace of an average American life has informed her work in a unique way. Connecting the dots through her own healing led her to heal others by connecting mind and body.
Doctor Yoga Momma, Betsy Rippentrop has it all: A thriving private therapy practice, a yoga studio, and a family that includes three young kids. She had spent the decade of her twenties studying the mind leading to the Ph.D in Psychology, and the decade of her thirties studying Anusara Yoga with well-known teachers, leading to her instructor's certification and the opening of her own studio.
Chaos and overdrive were the norm for many years. Eventually, she says, her heavy schedule and perfectionist tendencies caught up to her. Suddenly, the therapist and yogi found herself front and center in a dark night of the soul episode with chronic strep throat, debilitating fatigue, depression, and autoimmune problems. Betsy was hit by what she termed her “Universal Smackdown.”
“The deep irony in all this, is that my life’s work and focus is the mind-body connection. I teach, write, lecture, and passionately espouse the importance of listening to your body, honoring your inner voice, paying attention! It took this “smackdown” to show me how ingrained in our culture (and in me!) it is to approach our suffering from a disjointed and narrow perspective. My lesson: If I can disconnect with all of my training and understanding of the mind-body, it can happen to anyone.”
She embarked on the road to healing using both psychological and physiological approaches by consulting with physicians, restorative yoga, completely changing her diet to gluten and dairy-free, and eventual healing. This experience shaped the approach she uses in her current practice, looking at the whole mind-body connection, using yoga as well as psychological tools with her clients.
“What I went through cemented in my mind that we will never fully heal if we only focus on the mind, or if our primary focus is just the body. We must bring equal and respectful attention to both because they are, of course, deeply connected.”
Betsy’s insights and approach to therapy and yoga have made her a well-loved presenter at many workshops including several at the Dubuque Yoga & Oneness Festival. This year she will present “The Oneness of the Mind & Body: Connecting to your Guidance System” on Sunday morning, April 30th.
Recently I caught up with Betsy to talk about her (still busy) yoga and private practice with her new perspective of the Mind-Body connection.
What are we doing that creates a disconnect from the mind-body?
Good question. The split in the mind body connection is so ingrained in our culture it’s a challenge to live a more integrated and embodied life. It takes practice and work. If you’re passively going along in life -eating the standard American diet, consuming the media and not really engaging in any kind of a mindful practice - I think it’s easy to be split between your body and your mind. And, of course, our medical system - which I am all for in many ways - splits the body into parts with specialists who know one part of the body. It’s rare to have any medical staff question about mental, emotional, and spiritual things that might be happening. And yet, based on my experience as a health practitioner, and a yogi, and a spiritual seeker, it’s all integrated and it all affects each of those things.
If you are struggling emotionally it’s going to impact your body, and if you’re dealing with existential questions or an existential crisis it’s going to impact your mental and emotional and physical health. I think our culture is set up so that it doesn’t really support that the body and the mind are one. We need to work on integration versus continuing to live in a disconnected manner. Eastern traditions, eastern medicine, ayurveda for example, have never split the mind and body. They are treated as integrated and overlapping. Many would say mind and body are one and the same – the body is the mind and the mind is the body. Unfortunately, in the western world it’s not so. It takes specific practice and dedication to working on the connection of the mind and body to overcome what is an unconscious belief in ourselves and a conscious belief in our culture.
Your story is a very poignant example of how nobody is immune to this disconnection. You are a very well educated professional and yogi and yet you experienced a “smackdown”. What can we look for as clues before we reach this point?
I was driven, focused, busy, overscheduled, three kids, two businesses and I was living under the false pretense that if I just work harder and put in more time it’ll all work out. Give it extra “umph” and it’ll all be ok, I thought. What I wasn’t doing is listening to my body. So here I am a yogi, routinely practicing yoga. But if I look back at that time, I was teaching yoga but I wasn’t really practicing my own yoga. I was busy planning classes and figuring out sequences so I could teach a really great class but I wasn’t so committed as I am now to my own personal practice of yoga and meditation. I wasn’t taking care of myself. Self-care took the back seat with me. I didn’t have time and I assumed “I’ll be fine!” I was not listening to my body. It took a loud scream from my body.
Today, three years post “smackdown” I am totally dedicated to my own self-care. I practice meditation every day, my diet is completely different and re-vamped with no gluten or dairy which works for me, I get regular acupuncture. However, the old ways pop up! I find myself over-scheduled and busy. I need to say “no” more. It’s a constant dance. I do have a new-found commitment to taking care of Betsy first which is something I’ve never had.
Do you have specific suggestions to help all of us deepen our mind-body connection?
Start to pay mindful and conscious attention to your body. For me that comes in both my meditation practice which I do daily as well as my yoga practice. But having a pure relationship with your body is one of the best ways to stay connected to your truth, because the body cannot lie. Our psyche and our ego are great at manipulating us. The mind can be viewed as a “politician” that is trying to convince you of things that are not necessarily true. But the body cannot lie. The body is unable to tell you anything but the truth. When I was really sick my body was exhausted and trying to give me the message that I needed to slow down. My mind was saying “don’t listen to that”. But my body was telling me the truth. All of us need to start to listen to our body because it will always tell us our truth.
Fatigue, insomnia, some of these un-diagnosable things that we are afflicted with, this is your body giving you the signal that something is off, that there is an imbalance in your life. But for us to get tuned in to our body we must spend time with it, to really listen to it, to know it’s cycles, to know when it’s feeling well and when it’s not feeling well. Spending time with our body is like any other relationship: if you’re not having quality time with that relationship it’s not going to be a great relationship. Yoga helps us do that, beautifully. When you spend time in yoga you scan the body, move your leg this direction, feel the knee in that pose, become aware of the spine – that’s all really clear, conscious connection to the body, and that makes a difference for people.
The more we start to trust our body, the more we start to trust our lives. The more we trust our lives the more we feel in our body, the more we start to feel in our life, we come alive. In the yoga tradition everything starts in the body. Even though yoga can be thought of as a practice for the mind, it actually starts in the body first. Spend time in your body and you spend time clearing and purifying the body which your yoga practice does so well, and then maybe add in some ayurvedic techniques and look at your diet and your lifestyle, your mind is going to blossom and change and view the world differently because of the care and connection and the time you’ve devoted to taking care of the body.
What is your personal practice?
I meditate first thing in the morning. I follow a specific diet for my body type. I do oil massage daily which comes out of the ayurvedic practice. Oil grounds me and is stabilizing for my constitution. I do some kind of yoga practice even if it’s only ten minutes most days. I practice the niyama of higher self-study. I’m very committed to trying to be more conscious as a human being, and so to be conscious it takes looking at yourself, studying the self, working on the self. I do this with journaling, my own dream work, talking to friends and colleagues and therapists. That’s a really important part of my path because I do believe if you’re going to be a teacher and you’re going to share teaching from the yoga tradition, the more clear and open a channel you are, the better you’re going to teach.
You’ve given us a lot of great insight regarding the mind-body connection. What are your thoughts on the related concept of ONENESS now that we have included it as part of our festival name?
The first I heard of the change of name to include the concept of “oneness” it was post-election and my first thought was, “Brilliant! There is so much fear going on in our country and this is the time to come together and connect as human beings and see that I am you and you are me, and the way I treat you is how I treat myself. Brilliant and timely.
It speaks to all the great spiritual traditions that we are all one, and that there is a connectivity among all human beings. I also believe that as a culture the reason yoga is becoming more and more popular is because we are more disconnected from each other and from ourselves and from community. All these smart phones that we can’t live without are in a strange way -even though they are supposed to connect us more - actually disconnecting us more. Picture a dinner table with everyone on their phones and no one is talking to each other. Yoga is about unity it’s about connection it’s about coming together with our body and our mind. On an unconscious level, everyone knows that we need to connect more and yoga has a way of so beautifully doing that. When we have a great yoga class we do feel more love for our partner and friends and you don’t get upset about the person who just cut you off in traffic. Everything changes after you do yoga. The world needs more unity and connection.
Your workshop addresses “Oneness” and “Connection.”
My intention behind the workshop is that I want people to understand that they have the best truth-telling device and guidance system in their bodies. Practice being in the body, listening to the body, respecting the body. Body Image is such a challenge. Saying “we need to love our body” can feel like a big stretch. But saying “respect the body” is something we all can do. I want to empower people to know that they have such an amazing system of guidance if they can stop and listen to their body and then learn to decode the messages which can be a challenge. The body often speaks to us in sensation, symbols, and images. My goal is to empower people to know what they have in terms of their body giving them a bunch of information about their life.
You co-wrote a wonderfully informative book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Chakras. Are there any other projects in the works?
I am currently writing a book right now on embodiment. If we can be in our body and work with our body, we can heal the mind. It’s coming from my experience as a health practitioner for almost 20 years. Even though my field of psychology has so many great techniques and tools, there are limits. Depression and anxiety is increasing and I think we need some “out of the box” ways to treat that. We need to help with ways to experience less emotional trauma. I think it’s about getting into the body and honoring the body and listening and feeling and taking care of the body and then the mind stuff starts to fall into place better.
Look for Betsy’s book next year. We are grateful for the festival sponsorship of Betsy’s studio, Heartland Yoga, in Iowa City. If you would like to know more about our other sponsors, or if you are interested in becoming a sponsor click HERE.
Find out more about Betsy's practice and studio at www.dryogamomma.com. To register for her workshop, click HERE. For the full festival schedule, click HERE. To read Betsy's full bio click HERE.
See you at the Dubuque Yoga & Oneness Festival April 28-30!
Karen Kramer is a yoga instructor and festival blogger.