There is a new movement integrating Yoga movement and philosophy with Western Psychotherapy. There is a strong community of yoga practitioners, yoga instructors and psychotherapists who are offering unique expertise in this innovative integration. It seems like a harmonious marriage of yoga’s somatic and mindfulness practices with Western Psychotherapy’s wholeness through relational and psychological exploration. But how do we integrate these two fields? There are some fabulous pioneers: Gary Kraftsow, David Emerson and Bessel Van der Kolk to name a few, but a lot of us are still skillfully experimenting.
The practical benefits of a few minutes of yogic movement and breath work can calm heart rate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calming the fight or flight stress response. This can be beneficial for anyone, but for those experiencing debilitating reliving of trauma, depression/anxiety or addiction, these practices can be crucial in managing destructive cycles. It is important, however, for those who are using these profound yogic tools to have an ongoing relationship with a therapist who can guide and support the emotional and physical responses to yoga. Yoga can bring up powerful emotions and memories, so it is crucial for those working with yoga to have the support of a trained therapist to manage what arises from practice.
For more please visit my Yoga and Healing Trauma post.
The field of Yoga Therapy has long been established, but this tends to look more like physical therapy with therapeutic yoga poses geared towards repairing and preventing injury. Yoga Psychotherapy on the other hand, offers the physical and mental benefits of yoga practice with the psychological inquiry and the emotional support of Psychotherapy.
Yogic practices give practical techniques for the purification of the body and mind. According to Patanjali (The expounder of The Yoga Sutras, the classical synthesis of ancient yoga practices which influence modern yoga) yogic methods address the root cause of disease by purifying the body and mind. This enables purity of action and consciousness. As a result there is integration and wholeness of mind, body and spirit. This is seen as the greatest remedy for any ailment.
What does Yoga Psychotherapy look like?
Yoga Psychotherapy sessions often start with centring, intention setting and breath work — energizing breath work for clients experiencing depression or low energy and balancing breaths for those with anxiety or stress. Clients then practice yoga poses geared to their specific needs. People with severe posttraumatic stress disorder, for example, are prone to losing their sense of being in their bodies when they experience a reliving of their trauma. So holding simple grounding positions, like a warrior or chair pose, before transitioning into talk therapy can be very effective to keep body awareness. Emotional memories are stored in our bodies and it is through our bodies that we release stuck emotions and trauma. A group yoga class, is not structured to enable appropriate processing of this.
Ideally a client would want to work with someone who is able to work with both their physical and emotional experiences, giving tools and resources to manage challenges outside of therapy. This can be a key to lasting change. It is important to establish an ongoing and trusting relationship with a therapist, but lasting change lies in what a client does outside of therapy to fortify their goals in their every day lives. An ongoing yoga practice can reduce anxiety, promote sleep and relaxation, bring calm and connection in relationships and reduce the need for destructive behaviours. Effective practice can be as short as 10 minutes a day, 1-5 times a day.
A practice geared to the individual’s needs is cultivated in the Yoga Psychotherapy session. This gives the client one-on-one time with their therapist, something not possible in group classes. This can give the client effective tools to manage their stress, emotional turbulence and re-living of trauma. There are many yoga instructors offering one-on-one sessions, but few have the training and ability to sit with the psychological and emotional content that often arises from yoga practice. Thus, arises a need for Psychotherapists to be trained in yoga and Yoga Instructors to be trained in Psychotherapy.
The Liberation Institute in San Francisco is offering Yoga Psychotherapy sessions and small group classes that integrate yoga and Psychotherapy. This sliding scale counselling centre offers holistic talk therapy for anyone who needs it, regardless of economic resources.
Liberation Institute offers donation based Yoga Psychotherapy workshops at The Integral Yoga Center. The next workshop is offered on Oct. 3rd, 2013 and will focus on cultivating emotional resiliency through the practice of yoga. This workshop explores how specific yogic techniques and teachings derived from yoga philosophy can practically assist us in fostering emotional resiliency, or an ability to return to emotional equilibrium. Asana practice (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and a discussion on the attributes of emotional resiliency will be explored.
The Future of Psychology
April 18-20, 2014
San Francisco, CA
The California Institute of Integral Studies