Livia Adia Budrys is a licensed clinical social worker, yogi, and yoga therapist. Her clientele are psychotherapists, clinics, and hospitals looking to bring yoga into mental health settings. But first some background.
In 1997, before she ever practiced yoga, Livia learned the maha mrutyunjaya mantra from a colleague at Healing Earth Resources, a new-age retail store in Lincoln Park where she worked. (Owner Dawn Silver had hired Livia based on her astrological chart.) Two years later, “vibrating with this mantra,” Livia landed at the Himalayan Institute ashram in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, “through a series of miraculous events—complete grace,” says Livia. She had just come from Colorado where she had been “reading the akashic records and practicing Reiki®.” At the time she felt ungrounded and suffered from chronic pain, migraines, and anxiety. The Himalayan Institute felt immediately like home to her, and her new spiritual family welcomed her.
Livia says, “I was attracted to the Himalayan Institute because the founder, Swami Rama, was dedicated to this belief that no one else can light your lamp. Only you can light your lamp. Here I was told I already had what I needed inside me. It was eye-opening and empowering for me.”
During her two years at the Institute, 1999–2001, Livia engaged in svadhyaya (self-study), meditation, and mantra practice. Her goal was to “become embodied in mind, body, and spirit,” which, she says, “is necessary to do your work in this world and stay on the path.” She became initiated into the Himalayan tradition by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, the spiritual director of the Institute.
In 2001, it was time for Livia to return to Chicago, put her practice to the test, and begin teaching. She was a volunteer yoga teacher at the Evanston branch of the Himalayan Institute for two years and coordinated its teacher training program. She also taught at gyms, health centers, and wellness centers, and developed a 200-hour teacher training for the National Personal Training Institute. By the time she was 25, she had earned enough money to put herself through DePaul University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Livia Budrys leads a training through Live Oak at Bloom Yoga Studio for psychotherapists who want to bring yoga into their practice. Above: a pranayama (deep breathing technique) with movement).
Over time, Livia became more and more interested in how yoga might be applied to people with medical conditions. She had gone back to the Himalayan Institute several times to complete the 200-hour, 500-hour, and yoga therapy training programs. Back in Chicago, she opened Liv-Yoga in the Bucktown neighborhood, a yoga therapy practice for private clients who had chronic medical health issues. When they began bringing in their mental health issues, Livia realized she needed more training and went back to school, earning a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Chicago.
In 2009, Livia began integrating all her skill sets. She has been teaching physicians about the benefits of yoga, training therapists on how to bring yoga into their therapy, and consulting with institutions such as hospitals and mental health treatment centers about how to provide these services. She consults and lectures at universities, hospitals, conferences, and mental health associations on integrating yoga-informed psychotherapy into complementary, or alternative, medicine and utilizing it in the treatment of eating disorders, addictions, and trauma and to help people cope with stress and prevent burnout.
Currently Livia works at Eating Recovery Center of Chicago and Insight Behavioral Health Centers (insightbhc.com), where she is the clinical director of the Evanston satellite and the director of Trauma Services. Livia is also a trainer and consultant at Live Oak (liveoakchicago.com), a psychotherapy center that utilizes yoga along with alternative therapies. She created the Yoga-Informed Psychotherapy Training for therapists, which 1) provides a foundational knowledge of yoga philosophy and the benefits of yoga practice, 2) explores ways to integrate this knowledge in the treatment of mental health concerns, and 3) trains psychotherapists on when to refer clients to a yoga therapist.
In a clinical environment Livia often integrates yoga into group psychotherapy, bringing together yoga asana, meditation,pranayama (breathing techniques), and a processing component (a time to share with the group the experiences that have been observed). Livia describes one particular profound moment where a young woman who for years had cut herself expressed love for the arms she had harmed, holding them lovingly next to her body as she shared her experience with her group. Says Livia, “Compassion isn’t something that can be instructed, it has to be experienced.”
One of the benefits of yoga in psychotherapy is that it helps the client develop a sense of embodiment, often absent in clients with eating disorders, mood disorders, or suicidal tendencies, who feel disconnected from themselves. In addition, the therapists must practice embodiment themselves, says Livia, so they can be present for the client. “You have to be with your body before you can raise your state of consciousness. Studies are showing that talk therapy and verbal process-orientated therapies work even better when the client is embodied and in the present moment. In some cases, like with trauma survivors, movement or yoga is an essential tool in preventing re-traumatization, which can sometime occur with talk therapy alone.”
Another goal of Livia’s training is to get psychotherapists to see clients as already having the potential to heal themselves. She says, “Many of the therapists were trained in the medical model—you are the expert—when we know from yoga that the students are the experts. It’s an empowering practice. As teachers, practitioners, and clinicians, we need to respect that our students or our clients are empowered with infinite wisdom and healing potential. We may simply be guides, assistants, and witnesses to this profound journey.”
Livia says, “I get a lot of calls from people who want to integrate this work [into their practices]. That’s mostly what I am doing, helping people connect with training and resources. It’s exciting. We can really improve the field of mental health with something that’s been around a long time.”
All Things Livia
Birthplace: Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood
Astrological sun sign: Triple Scorpio. This alignment has given me a great access to death, which for me has manifested as an endless transformative power and fearlessness.
Favorite pose: Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend), the ultimate teacher of self-surrender
Favorite Snack: Baked curry kale chips
Favorite Book: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama
Currently reading: Restoring Sanctuary: A New Operating System for Trauma-Informed Systems of Care by Sandra Bloom
Spare time activity: 1) Cycling. I’m in love with cycling; the mindful repetition is a great active meditation. I ride my bike to work. I’m biking 200 miles (with my husband) from Vietnam to Cambodia in March for a charity group called Climate Ride. Sustainability and green transportation are something we can all participate in daily. Once we realize we are interconnected, we can’t help but want to take care of our environment. 2) Martial arts. Right now I’m into Krav Gaga. It’s ugly, but living in a big city, I know how to get out of a sticky situation. 3) Weight training. I’ve learned a ton about yoga when I train. Anything can be a vehicle for self-knowledge and transformation. My mentor, Reggie Long, has shown me how to get out of my head and trust myself—all that from weight training. 4) Nature. If I could do anything for fun, it would be hiking. I love to get lost in nature and let my instincts guide me. It’s my church and I always find my way. I just got back from Mount St. Helens. That’s a wild place. Wildflowers bursting through old ash fields and a new glacier lay next to steam vents teeming with life. Nothing stops nature.
Words I live by: “You have to light your own lamp. No one will give you salvation” and “Live in the world but not of the world.”—Swami Rama
My advice/motto: “Downward dog is not for depression.” We can’t take a medical model approach in the application of yoga for integrative health and expect to experience the full effects of yoga. Downward dog might help with depression, but it depends on the individual and their relationship to the yoga practice itself. That will teach us a lot about what to do next.
Long-term vision: 1) Large group community healing through conscious co-regulation, resonance, and attunement with peace. 2) Assisting the next generation of leaders in the advancement of the integration of yoga and psychotherapy. 3) Helping psychotherapists find their Self in their work; the secret to preventing burnout is connecting with your authentic embodied self.
What people don’t know about me: I am the daughter of refugee parents who are incredible survivalists.
Livia Adia Budrys recently completed a three-year coursework in Somatic Experiencing, a form of trauma resolution developed by Peter Levine that emphasizes the physiological aspects of trauma. She has studied yoga with Srivatsa Ramaswami, Rod Stryker, Gary Kraskow, and Andrey Lappa and has gone on several of Thich Nhat Hanh’s silent meditation retreats. She can be reached through her website, liviabudrys.com.
Sharon Steffensen is the editor and publisher of Yoga Chicago magazine. She has been teaching yoga since 1975.