Yoga and Therapy: A Love Match

Yoga and Therapy: A Love Match

Whole Person Healing

Due to unwanted side effects, there is growing interest in treating anxiety without medication. Alternative approaches that blend yoga and therapy are gaining worldwide acceptance for good reason. The benefits of a yoga for stress-reduction, clarity of mind, and overall life satisfaction are well-documented.

As a holistic practice, yoga is more than a philosophy. It’s a vibrant, embodied, living practice that increases self-awareness and deepens insight. Additionally it cultivates mindfulness, compassion, and equanimity. Plus it teaches coping skills and helps lower reactivity. For all these reasons and more, the marriage of yoga and therapy is a match made in heaven.

Another reason yoga works well in therapy, is language. Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate what we feel. Other times it’s challenging to let in what we hear. In this way, yoga gives the mind a rest and allows let the body “talk” and receive. For this reason, someone struggling with powerful reactions and memories benefits tremendously from yoga-inspired, embodied therapy.

Lower Tension and Stress

Yoga and psychotherapy really are a dynamic duo. Together they help to reduce physical and emotional tension. While it is the postures, or asanas, of yoga that are most utilized, all aspects of yoga are beneficial: meditation, visualization, breathwork, mindfulness, ethics, precepts and philosophy. Yoga is a blueprint for healthy living. To see it as a form of “exercise,” is to minimize the riches it offers.

Modern life is stressful and stress is the leading cause of many problems. The practice of yoga is an invitation to lean into tension, lower stress and find release. Relaxation, deep breathing, and the release of tension helps people feel better in their bodies and their minds. As the body releases tension, the mind becomes calmer, allowing innate natural healing tendencies to flourish.

Symbiotic Relationship

On their own each is a profound vehicle for change, yet neither yoga or therapy alone offers a complete approach to healing and transformation. Yoga, by itself, doesn’t heal relational wounds or change maladaptive patterns. Nor does it end addictions.

While Western psychology does address these problems, by itself it doesn’t offer the contentment and joy that yoga can. The combination of the two generates a comprehensive and holistic form of healing.

At the same time, one is not a substitute for the other. They are symbiotic. Meaning, they are mutually beneficial to one another. Together, they offer a map for a full spectrum of healing and thriving from the darkest and most unconscious places within us.

Awareness is the Road to Freedom

One of the goals of yoga is to foster neutral observation. In my field, we call this “dual consciousness.” Most people know it as mindfulness. Cultivating this quality is an essential aspect of mental health. It can be as simple as slowing down and being with whatever you are experiencing. Over time, the practice of present-moment awareness enables us to make better choices.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

– Viktor Frankl

Yoga offers maps of consciousness that adds depth to Western psychology. While not a religion, yoga provides a direct, personal experience with our highest potential. This reservoir of inner knowing is a renewable resource that is accessed through yoga. Over time, the body “knows” this. During the difficult work of therapy this resource can be tapped simply by settling into the associated posture.

Shared Vision of Health

Many therapeutic goals are identical to those of a dedicated yoga practice: better health, inner peace, balance, self-awareness, flexibility and resiliency.

Additionally, yoga provides lessons in nonattachment and acceptance. Everything can and will change, including your body and beliefs. Yoga helps to prepare us for the inevitability of change and teaches us how to ride the transitions with ease and grace. The blending of yoga with psychotherapy is a natural progression in holistic healing and an excellent way of treating anxiety without medication.

The “hard” science of psychotherapy benefits greatly from the “soft” inclusion of yoga. Psychology is all about the details. It addresses the contents of consciousness, whereas yoga focuses on the context of consciousness. In other words, yoga addresses our unity as human beings and the structures of consciousness that transcend the ego. While psychology embraces our differences and diversity. It also highlights the gifts of human suffering and sheds light on our shadow.

The Edge of Discomfort

Simply being alive brings with it mental, emotional, physical and often existential intensity. In his book The Trauma of Everyday Life, psychiatrist Mark Epstein says “To be free, to come to terms with our lives, we have to have a direct experience of ourselves as we really are, warts and all.” If that were ever in doubt, a year of living during a worldwide pandemic has brought this truth to light.

In order to live a free and easeful life, we must explore our edge. Our life force depends on it. To be alive is to experience it running with intensity and fluidity through our body. Anything that obstructs it is material for exploration. Yoga and psychotherapy are the dream team that makes this possible.

Lasting Change

For those committed to the deep work of growth and change, yoga helps the process by providing a gentle, compassionate and even joyful path to transformation. Whether you seek to alleviate shame, increase self-esteem, address anxiety, lower depression or improve relationships the work is significantly enhanced through the blend of yoga and psychotherapy.

Mindful Embodied Therapy seamlessly blends Eastern practices with Western psychology. Drawing from the best of both worlds, this way of working is softer and more connected to the emotional aspects of our embodied experience of self with the results of empowering and lasting change.

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