Today we’d like to introduce you to Jen-Mitsuke Peters.
Jen-Mitsuke, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
If my future self had come to tell me that I would morph into a wild yogic trauma therapist, I would never have believed her. I grew up near Washington, DC climbing trees, reading, learning languages and playing the violin. In high school I prepared for a career as a literature professor and musician, but when I got to college, everything changed. Away from my family for the first time in Manhattan, sick with mono and facing some of the harsh and nasty realities of the world at large, academic banter seemed to ring hollow.
I was scared to death of science and math, but little did I know I was about to turn into a Neuroscience major. Indeed, I developed such a passion for understanding the mind and was so inspired to relieve suffering through my research that I graduated from Columbia a year early. After a year-long internship at the National Institutes of Health, I headed off to grad school at Princeton and earned an MA studying neuroplasticity way before it became a household concept.
I was fascinated by the idea that our experiences, not just during development but throughout life, could have such a huge impact on the structure and function of the brain, our hormones and behavior. Unfortunately, however, I had not anticipated the horrors of animal research or the cut-throat competitiveness of my new field. I became convinced that the holes in stressed animals’ brains that I gazed at under the microscope all day were quite similar to what was happening in my own head. Another wave of disillusionment swept in, but then one day in 2003 my dear friend insisted that I join him for a yoga class…
I have to admit I thought yoga was for sissies, and definitely not for scientists. I finally decided to try it because I was told it would be good exercise. My first class was full Ashtanga Primary Series, which is definitely a workout! But something else happened that day. I came down from my head full of paranoia and dread and back into my body where at that moment life was rich and even ecstatic. Although I had always avoided singing like the plague, when the teacher chanted, “Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu,” (May all beings be happy!) I set aside my usual pessimism and self-consciousness and let myself join in, realizing that this was my true wish for all.
I ended up moving to Germany in the hopes of finishing my PhD in a more humane setting at the Max Planck Institutes, but upon getting there I began training to teach yoga. To me, yoga is a potent accelerator of human neuroplasticity and every practice is a new experiment. There are so many negative influences in our environment today, but there are also so many ways to reveal our limitless potential. For the next 7 years I was based in Munich and studied and taught classes, kirtans and retreats all across Europe and Asia.
I came back to the states in 2011 to deepen my practice with my main yoga teacher, Richard Freeman. I had so many fantasies about developing the “perfect hard-core practice,” but instead I immediately came down with a debilitating chronic illness. I felt very alone, at times terrified that I did not have very much time left on this planet. Despite feeling awful, I did manage to study with and assist Richard for over 2100 hours. In many ways, it really was hard-core (LOL), and I now understand that my perfectionism throughout life has contributed as much as anything to my suffering.
I decided to go to counseling school at Naropa to accompany others going through difficult times, and also to inform my yoga teaching. I had become convinced that a lack of psychological awareness in spiritual circles was wreaking havoc on me and many people I knew. After graduating with an MA in Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling and launching a teacher training in the yoga method I have been developing for several years (TIAVY—Trauma Informed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga), my quest was far from over.
Experiences with shamanism over the past seven years have awakened an interest in the archetypal, in intuition, metaphor, creativity, the Unconscious, personal connection to Spirit, and the importance of healthy attachment, devotion and ceremony in healing and thriving. I am now embarking on a three year course of shamanic initiations with my teacher Jennifer Hinton. I am also a second year student in a PhD program at Pacifica. The title of the degree, Depth Psychology: Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices, sums up what I do, though describing it more concretely is always a little tricky.
While my path has wandered and shows no signs of narrowing anytime soon, I see how each phase contributes to the kind of work I do now. I teach a variety of courses and trainings that bring together ancient and modern practices and wisdom. I love doing sessions with individuals, who come to me with an interest in yoga, meditation, neuroplasticity, healing, coaching, counseling, shamanism, or maybe just with an unspecified knowing that there could be more to life and that we find its richness in conscious relationship with other seekers.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Well… #MeToo. I, like at least a third of the population (conservative estimate), have been sexually abused. My perpetrator was a deeply disturbed yoga teacher whom I greatly admired and trusted at the time. I felt thoroughly devastated by that relationship, and lived with disabling confusion and self-doubt afterwards. It was not until 14 years later that I finally saw his behavior for what it truly was, rape, along with months of emotional and spiritual abuse. Even though I had been in therapy for years, graduated from counseling school, and even written my thesis on trauma, my own trauma had not surfaced in a recognizable way. A friend shared her personal story with me the week before I woke up, but I was still unaware that I had been through a very similar experience. Her vulnerability planted the seed in the form of a twinge in my gut and throat, and my body and mind connected suddenly while I was driving home from teaching one day to show me the difficult narrative that I have worked hard to rewrite with my team of skillful healers.
I know for sure that we transform the world by being honest about our pain when we feel safe enough to share it. The thing about trauma is that by definition we deny it, not on purpose, but by design. The brain sequesters parts of the traumatic experience to shield us from what we are not able to deal with consciously at the time. Unfortunately, the packaging leaks and our mental, physical and spiritual health is impacted. In my case, I developed CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome) in reaction to mold, as well as a number of other more well-known PTSD symptoms. Although CIRS is considered partially genetic, I believe I would never have become so ill had it not been for the abuse. My muscles and joints throbbed, I had headaches, kidney problems and sinus infections, digestive and metabolic disorders, I was dizzy and off-balance, I slept about 16 hours per day for years yet still felt exhausted, and the brain fog was so bad that I couldn’t manage to cook a simple meal or remember why I had walked into a certain room.
I am not alone. Everybody alive today is dealing with trauma, though of course each of us experiences it differently, on a continuum from mild stress to extreme distress. We need to stop looking at trauma as personal misfortune alone and recognize that oppression, ancestral and collective trauma also affect us. While yogis talk about certain subtle energy channels being clogged with others overflowing, modern trauma therapists speak to nerves being over- or under-activated. Most symptoms people attribute to other causes trauma therapists attribute to trauma (sleep disorders, autoimmune disorders, depression, anxiety, etc.) Our bodies are telling a lot of trauma tales, but we are only starting to listen. Until we all start to actively work on our trauma loads, both on our own and with trusted others, darkness of all kinds will flourish.
Contrary to what most of us believe, healing is more complicated than just applying a certain remedy. Scientists and esoteric practitioners alike often wonder why a certain cure does or does not work on a given person at a given time. Our souls are seeking a certain form of nourishment, and we need ways to tune in to those deep needs and desires. In the end, I am grateful for my own suffering because it has made me an expert in so many different modalities of healing and transformation, and it is my mission to share those, with curiosity and humbleness, with those who come to me for guidance.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Jungle Physician Yoga & Wellness – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I do my best to meet yoga students and coaching/counseling clients where they are, and together we design the trajectory of our sessions. I draw on long-term practice and expertise gained from intensive study and my own struggles. I love helping people find what they are most passionate about and gathering the motivation and resources to go after it whole-heartedly.
The “jungle physician” appears in a Sanskrit invocation composed by the sage Shankaracharya that is chanted daily before yoga practice in my lineage. The verse pays homage to one’s external gurus, who awaken us to the rapture of our own true nature, free from the suffering caused by conditioning. The jungle physician is the radiant inner guru within each one of us.
Although yoga can be taught as a renunciate path to transcend this body and life, I chose Jungle Physician as the name of my company to emphasize how a healing concentration brings us back into sacred relationship with ourselves and others in ways we all need in these times of global upheaval and transition. I see a lot of people using yoga and other therapies as a long-term anesthetic or false sense of control, but these skills could also be revolutionized for embodied activism for radical innovation.
In this age of neoliberal gaslighting, we are led to look away from structural inequalities and those difficulties that are insurmountable by our individual efforts alone. We are sold self-improvement and wellness gimmicks right and left, and we are led to believe that taking responsibility for ourselves goes far beyond what is humanly possible for any of us. Without collective investment in each other, we are all fighting our own uphill battle.
Furthermore, most yoga instruction and psychotherapy models implement imbalanced and inherently patriarchal power relationships to supposedly lessen the destructive impact of “negative” emotions or weaknesses. This keeps us small, disempowered and disconnected from our own inner wisdom and the extraordinary value of nurturing relationships. Modern trauma research has shown that we heal in resonance with others and through the augmentation of our strengths. Above all, we thrive by internalizing trustworthy figures and purposefully amplifying truly pleasurable experiences.
In other words, the focus of many therapy sessions and yoga classes feels dangerously misplaced. We have gotten used to “trying harder” to “get better,” but paradoxically this approach never works without both accepting ourselves and being accepted by others just as we are and then investigating what really matters in life and acting on it in whatever ways are possible. We are all on unique paths and should be careful not to take the universal teachings of yoga or other traditions as our own without thoroughly examining their compatibility with us at every step.
Evolutionarily, our brains have been wired to focus on the negative. Our nervous systems are constantly striving to determine whether we’re ok and whether we are with a group that has our back. To be at our best, we need to work diligently to create both real and imaginary spaces where the answer to both questions is “Yes!” My sessions and trainings keep this intention at the forefront.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I have now opened a couple of additional slots for online individual yoga students and coaching/counseling clients and I would love to hear from you whether you live near or far. I am also gearing up to offer some amazing courses and trainings online!
This fall I am launching my month-long “Healthy Attachment is the new Non-Attachment” course, which looks at how the emphasis on non-attachment in many spiritual traditions such as yoga and Buddhism sometimes undermines our sense of attachment in the psychological sense, especially when we have trauma in our backgrounds. We need to feel grounded, protected and connected to this world and the particularities and challenges of our own lives in order to succeed with practices that focus on the universal and transcendent. We will study some of the science behind early and intimate relationships, see what our attachment styles are and how they are affected in an ongoing way, and work to generate feelings of safety and belonging in our bodies through healing exercises, shamanic journeying, meditations and creative practices such as doodling and poetry. While imagination, intuition and emotion have long been disrespected by our culture, neuroscientists are now showing without a doubt that these faculties are absolutely necessary to our motivation and optimal functioning.
Early in 2021 I will be launching my online 24-hour TIAVY (Trauma Informed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) training, suitable for yoga students looking to bring nervous system awareness and science into their practice.
I will also be doing a weekend TIAVY workshop for counselors and other healing professionals who would like to incorporate yoga into their repertoires. Stay tuned for details.
I am especially excited to bring my 200-hour TIAVY Teacher Training online early next year! This will be an intense and transformative experience over several months. I am confident that this training offers a level of depth both in the yoga and the science that is highly unique, practical and enriching. Hope to see you there.
- Online Individual Coaching/Counseling Sessions (Contact me, package deals available)
- Online Individual Yoga Sessions (Contact me, package deals available)
- Online Trainings in Yoga, Mindfulness, Neuroscience, Shamanism, Healing (See website)
- 2021 TIAVY (Trauma Informed Astanga Vinyasa Yoga) 200-hour Teacher Training (See website)
- Website: JunglePhysician.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: JenMitsuke_JunglePhysician
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/junglephysician
- Twitter: jangalikayamane
Arthur McKeown, Handan Karadag, Liana Romulo, Manu Theobald, Patrick Oancia, Regina Cannon, Sarah Gehrke