Q&A with Cassandra

imageDo you consider yourself a traditional therapist?
Not really. I do have a masters degree in psychology, but over the years, my experience has taught me the importance of looking at all aspects of my clients’ lives in order to help them achieve a greater sense of well-being. I believe joy is an option. To get there , I want my clients to look at how they see themselves, how they feel in their bodies, how they nurture themselves not only in terms of food and drink but also through their self-talk or internal messages or scripts. My interest is in helping my clients identify where they are, how they got there, and where they’d like to be in all realms of their lives. I guess you could say that I am “traditional” in the sense that I want what is best for my clients.

Describe your approach to nutrition.
Food is a pleasure and a passion. As long as I can remember, I felt this was way— nourishment and joy go hand in hand. Having grown up in the Hudson Valley with parents who were very conscious of good quality food, healthy eating was a given. For decades my father and his father were fruit farmers — growing apples, nectarines, cherries, peaches, pears. Plus my father always planted a vegetable garden and mother devoted much of her time preparing homemade meals from the bounty of what my dad grew or brought home from the farm….. we ate well and in season.

But the human condition, as we all know, is finite and, therefore, at some point in our lives we, or someone we love, will struggle with health issues. One thing we can actively decide is what to feed our bodies. Eating mindfully and with joy, listening to one’s body, figuring out what the body accepts and enjoys is key. That’s why I find the ancient Ayurvedic approach – based on the premise that not only are we the result of what we eat, but when, how, where, and why we eat – so appealing and use it as a framework to help my clients reconnect to their natural state of balance. I studied this approach with Dr. Naina Marballi, Ayurvedacharya, graduating from her Nutritional Counseling program in 2007 as a Certified Ayurvedic Nutritionist and Holistic Health Counselor, accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP).

Can you explain how yoga fits into the 3-fold, holistic approach to your work and how you became involved in the practice and teaching of yoga?
Yes. Yoga, by its very definition, is about unity– about connection. In the simplest sense, I like to think of yoga as connecting our inner and outer worlds— connecting what is inside of us with the external world; whether we define our outer world as our physical environment, our families, our work, our planet, the universe…. In other words, yoga is so much more than exercise or movement. It is a practice that helps us tune inwards, to explore and learn more about our selves, about our connections to one another and to the world, and where we reside in space. It is a practice that utilizes the body (and certainly benefits the physical body– making us stronger, more flexible and supple, etc) to get into the mind– to calm the mind, to free our minds, to change our minds…… Practicing over time, we are not using our bodies to get into the postures in any perfect or necessarily right way; instead, we can use the postures to get into our bodies and into our minds to free up tension, tightness, alleviate anxiety and work through physical and emotional pain and trauma. The more we engage in the practice of yoga, the more aware we become of our selves and our surroundings, the more we can make healthy, mindful choices in our diets, in our relationships– changing the things that no longer serve us well.

Through my own struggle with physical health many years ago, I discovered yoga and its healing benefits. I spent a few years with symptoms that would come and go; feeling flu-like, achy, forgetful, depressed and just not myself. After years in the Hudson Valley, I was living in New Mexico, where Lyme Disease was pretty much nonexistent. Finally, after searching for answers and looking to heal myself outside of the realm of conventional medicine, I was properly diagnosed with Lyme. I worked with homeopaths and nutritionists, but ultimately heeded my medical doctor’s advice and took the route of long-term antibiotic treatment for about a year and a half. Although I became healthier, I needed to deal with the ravages of the treatment and knew I needed to continue with my own process of self-healing. It was then that I decided to explore the world of yoga to work my way back to health and strength. I practiced and practiced and felt stronger and stronger….. I began to let go of so much of the stored pain, physical and emotional, and regained my sense of personal power and joy. The connection of my mind, body, and spirit was never more evident. Experiencing the life-changing effects of yoga is what encouraged me to take my teacher’s training courses at Kripalu and to move forward in my life to share the benefits of this practice with others.

Do you work primarily with individuals or couples in your practice?
I work with individuals and couples, primarily, and also have experience working with groups. However, as a master’s level psychologist, I was trained traditionally to work with individuals as well as in group settings.

My work experience in various treatment centers in the Northeast and Southwest, along with serving as part of a multidisciplinary team at an HIV/AIDS comprehensive care clinic in New Mexico has provided me with a variety of skills and perspectives to work not only one on one, but with couples as well as entire families. While living in the Southwest, I studied under Pia Mellody at the Meadows treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona where I received certification as a therapist specializing in the treatment of codependency and addiction. Ms. Mellody is a preeminent authority, lecturer and educator in the fields of addictions and codependency and has written several highly acclaimed books, including Facing Codependence, Facing Love.

Much of the work I do today is influenced by a family-systems theory approach; the goal of which is to gain insight into each member’s role in a group– be it a couple, a family, or an organization – as it relates to the healthy functionality of the whole. The work relies on identifying specific behavior patterns and how each member responds to anxiety or problems within the dynamic of the group. By doing this, each individual can begin to understand and transform his or her patterns to more adaptive, positive behaviors. This process is effective not only in family- and couples therapy but is also an integral part of my working with individuals and exploring personal issues and interpersonal challenges.