College of Mind-Body Medicine Faculty Member Pursues Optimal Performance: Heather Dermyer, Ph.D.
Imagine working full-time as a Clinical Psychologist, teaching Ethics for Saybrook University’s College of Mind-Body Medicine, and working at the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) with Olympic hopeful athletes on the Speed-skating, Weightlifting, Women’s Freestyle Wrestling, and Men’s Greco Roman Wrestling Teams. Heather Dermyer rarely has a day off, yet she enjoys every minute of her busy and productive life.
In addition to living a dynamic professional life, Heather is also dedicated to her own self-care. At age 17 Heather suffered severe physical injuries from an accident that left her unable to walk. After four and one half years of specialists, procedures, and physical therapy, the medical community told her there was nothing else that they could do for her pain.
Heather took control of her pain management crisis and started to research alternative methods of healing. Through her own experimentation, she developed a training routine that includes aspects of yoga, muscle stretching, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and visualization. She now dedicates four hours per day to her self-care; two hours of muscle stretching, utilizing the program that she developed, and two hours of cross-training.
After personally experiencing the benefits of her program, Heather developed in interest in studying Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). She conducted an extensive literature review covering yoga-based interventions for GAD, which revealed very little research on this type of intervention. Therefore, Heather conducted a randomized-controlled-trial study for her Ph.D. dissertation at Saybrook, using the training program she had developed. This study was the first randomized controlled study of a yoga-based intervention for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Dermyer, 2008).
In addition to using her program with Olympic hopeful and collegiate athletes, Heather commutes to Wisconsin once per week to work with the Green Bay Packers. The Packers created space within their Strength and Conditioning Program to hire Heather. Her sessions are offered on a voluntary basis for the athletes, on their day off. Heather works directly with the team members, placing an emphasis on restoration and relaxation, in addition to focus and recovery. The athletes benefit physically from practicing the yoga postures and stretches, and mentally, as a result of practicing mindfulness techniques and visualization. Heather offers several sessions for athletes to choose from that vary in intensity. Heather is pleased by the gains the athletes have made, most notably in their flexibility and in their ability to stay centered, qualities that are important for professional athletes. (The photo here shows Heather doing partner yoga on the shores of Lake Superior.)
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