What Is Yoga-Informed Psychotherapy

by | Dec 31, 2017 | mental health, therapy, yoga | 0 comments

Yoga-informed psychotherapy; A Healing Merger

Perhaps you’ve been in therapy.  Or at least seen it on TV.  Maybe you’ve been to a yoga class and recall being cued to breathe in a warrior pose.  But yoga-informed psychotherapy?!  If your mind is having a hard time envisioning what this mash-up entails, here’s a little insight…

The What:

Yoga-informed therapies work from the perspective that the mind and body function most effectively when guided to do so in tandem.   Yoga is so much more than a trendy class at the gym or a reason to buy Lululemon tights.  Yoga is a sophisticated and systematic science for working with physical, emotional, and psychological health.

Working with the mind and body has been scientifically proven to be highly effective in the mental health context to help clients balance emotions, focus the mind, control breathing, eliminate psychological blocks, and create a sense of purpose and peace for life.  In fact, you might be surprised to know that many of the popular mental health methodologies today draw their wisdom from the two-thousand-year-old teachings of yoga.

The Why:

Yoga helps to relieve symptoms that talk therapy alone can’t ease.  Stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, body image disorders, physical or mental pain, in general, are experienced by and in the body.  The body holds these experiences as much, if not more than the mind.  Feelings, sensations, intuition, even memories, are experienced in the body, not the mind.  If therapy only engages the mind in thought and words, a huge area of experience is left untouched.

The How:

You can’t talk yourself out of panic.  Anyone who has experienced panic and been told, “Don’t worry” knows the ineffectiveness of such advice.  Rationality rarely helps to calm or take on other points of view.  Yoga-informed brings the body on board during therapy – use as a resource.  Yoga considers the body’s layers – physical, breath, energy, reflective brain and discerning brain.

So with someone who is experiencing pain in the physical realm, perhaps in the shoulders or back, some yoga poses to stretch and relieve tension might be utilized.  Perhaps someone is very disconnected from their body due to body image issues.

We might get into some poses to feel the strength within the body or appreciate the functions of certain body parts.  For those who are experiencing shallow breath associated with anxiety, perhaps a breathing exercise would be explored to calm arousal systems.

For those with low energy due to depression, perhaps some poses and breath work for behavior activation would be practiced.  We could observe the quality of connection to the present and practice ways to 1-pointed concentration.

With trauma, yoga-informed helps the client to be here vs. repeating the tape.  Our brains are wired to replay scenes over and over, but there’s not much value in replaying traumatic memories cognitively or verbally.  Yoga helps to quiet the alarm systems and agitation in the brain, body, and become more focused and attentive to now.

Yoga also offers philosophy.  So perhaps a client is struggling with self-injury.  Borrowing from the Yama, or principle, of nonviolence, I may assist a client to engage in a restorative pose.  The client might be encouraged to receive support and practice being peaceful in the pose.  Thereafter, time could be spent processing this experience and delving further into ways to foster a more peaceful relationship with their Self.

Yoga feels good even to beginners.  But even more, benefits become available when yoga science is applied therapeutically.  Breath-work and meditation, combined with treatment skills, empowers clients and successfully addresses problems of over-prescribing, lack of therapeutic progress in the verbal realm, and minimization of the spiritual component.  It has been evidence-informed with either mild or acute anxiety, toxic stress, depression and substance use.  None of the activities require any previous experience or particular flexibility.


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