As a psychology major in the late 1990s, Betsy Rippentrop learned firsthand about the mind-body connection.
It happened during her senior year at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minn. Rippentrop spent a month in Miami, Fla., working in a cancer center as part of her college experience. Patients who came in for treatment also saw a mental health professional and were taught how to meditate.
“It was a pretty cutting-edge program at the time,” says Rippentrop, 42, who has a private psychology practice at Heartland Yoga, her Iowa City yoga studio.
In college, Rippentrop started as a pre-med major, but her love of psychology and the experience at the cancer center changed her career path.
“The idea that I could work with both the body and the mind concurrently was really exciting for me,” she says.
Rippentrop returned to college and started a meditation group. She also decided to go to graduate school. Once there, though, her desire to integrate the mind and body took a backseat to her studies. Extremely stressed, Rippentrop agreed to take a yoga class with a fellow student.
“It was an immediate fall-in-love experience,” she says. “I felt like my body was meant to do this.”
Rippentrop committed to taking a weekly yoga class for the rest of her time in graduate school, and even continued into her first job. But a year or two into private practice, Rippentrop says she felt “disappointed.”
“I felt like I didn’t have enough tools — like I was just working with the mind.”
When her yoga instructor offered yoga teacher training, Rippentrop signed up.
“I thought, I’m going to take it because yoga’s been so powerful for me. I wanted to learn more and deepen my practice.”
Rippentrop also figured she would incorporate some of the philosophies and ideas into her psychology practice rather than teach yoga classes. But shortly after the training, she opened Heartland Yoga in downtown Iowa City.
That was almost nine years ago.
“It’s totally transformed how I work,” says Rippentrop, who teaches three to four yoga classes per week while also seeing clients for mind/body-based psychotherapy. Additionally, she offers training and workshops on yoga for the mind, anxiety and stress.
"I love it all. It’s amazing work,” she says.
Rippentrop, author of "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Chakras," is working on another book and is gaining national attention as “Dr. Yoga Momma.”
She believes yoga is “hands-down one of the best scientific and philosophical methodologies for healing.”
Some of her psychotherapy clients become yoga students — and vice versa. “We have to bring equal weight to both the body and the mind — and, essentially, they’re one in the same. They’re not two separate entities,” she says.
She’s frustrated by a culture and a medical system that continue to treat them separately and then offer up a diagnosis and treatment, often in pill form.
Rippentrop has been on the receiving end of that mentality. Three years ago, she began having recurring strep throat infections. Her gut microbiome took a hit from the antibiotics she was taking, and she began getting more and more fatigued.
“It was just a total downward spiral — and really scary,” she says.
Her doctor told her that her blood tests indicated she was on her way to having a major autoimmune disorder, such as Lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome.
“When she first gave me that diagnosis, I was relieved. I thought, ‘Oh, this is all my body. There has to be a treatment for this,’ instead of really stepping back and looking at all of the things that led up to me coming into this state.”
For years, Rippentrop had been overworking. The mother of three young children, she was trying to be “Superwoman.” Despite all that she knew about the mind-body connection, “I wasn’t really listening to myself.” She wasn’t taking the time for self-care. She says she was stuck in a pattern of perfectionism and trying to keep everyone around her happy at the expense of herself.
She calls her “universal smack-down” one of her greatest teachers. Healing took a full year. Rippentrop took care of her physical body by “overhauling” her diet to address food sensitivities she had ignored, taking supplements and working with a trainer. She addressed her mental and emotional life, too, recommitting to daily mediation and all-around self-care.
“The thing that came out of this the most for me was to start putting myself first and take care of myself in a really deep way. Because of that, I now have more energy to do my work and be a healer in the world.”
She’s more aware of when her body is giving her signals to slow down, pull back, or stop what she’s doing to do yoga or rest.
“Our culture is set up really well for us to numb out and not deal with our stuff,” she says. “I was numbing out through busyness. That was my drug of choice — let me pile on another thing, which will bring me another accolade, which will make me feel better about myself.”
From drugs to alcohol, overeating to helicopter parenting, “there are a thousand ways for us to not look at and deal with our stuff,” she says. “And yet I believe we won’t actually feel the freedom and the contentment we’re looking for until we’re willing to sit with ourselves and look at our stuff. If you’re willing to look at it, it will set you free. And it’s never as freaking scary as you think it’s going to be.”