Ease and Grace
The more I practice, the more I realize yoga is quite possible the best therapy there is. Why? Because yoga works at both the subtle and the gross level, allowing the body and mind to soften. Additionally, yoga quiets the daily chatter of the mind.
While practicing yoga, the brain receives positive feedback along with the rush of endorphins and GABA. This leaves you feeling grounded and soothed from the inside out. GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for calming the system. Low levels are linked to anxiety and mood disorders.
The positive feedback loop begins when we enter into a pose. After a few seconds, the mind complains about the pain and the tension, gets bored and wants to do something else. This is normal and where the breath comes in. In order to quiet the mind and train the brain we draw on the breath, inhaling deeply and exhaling fully.
The sympathetic nervous system flares up in response to the stress of holding a pose, sending messages to the brain that puts us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. By breathing steadily, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system or ‘rest and digest’ response. The more we practice, the stronger the feedback between the two responses becomes.
This ability to regulate during stress is highly transferable life skill. When faced with stressors, our neural memory now knows how to regulate it. We become calmer and able to handle life’s ups and downs with greater ease. This is why yoga is used for treating anxiety and depression in war veterans and PTSD sufferers.
Yoga is not about the asana. Nor is about how good it does or doesn’t look. It’s not even about flexibility. It is brain training, pure and simple.
As we retrain the brain, we bypass the ego as we drop deep into the essence of who we really are. Shoulds and expectations fall by the wayside. This inner wisdom is at the center of each of us. It’s voice so damn clear that once you hear it, it’s impossible to ignore.
Yoga is therapy of the soul. It instills confidence, compassion, and clarity by helping us connect with the brilliant being we are. It also has the power to deliver the grace of spiritual wisdom. In fact, the Sanskrit definition is to yoke or unite. The idea being that we are all part of something larger than ourselves.
Holistic and Experiential
Traditional psychotherapy has a rich, charted history of deep thought and healing success and I’ve used it with great effect. And for severe mental health problems – it’s a must. Yoga-informed, mindfulness-based psychotherapy, such as Mindful Embodied Therapy, is a holistic approach that seeks to join mind, body and soul.
Each of us has our own healing path to tread and in that sense different modalities will work for different people. Additionally, we need different approaches for different times in our lives. What I love in the study of mind-body relations is that these various tools and techniques can find intimate, revelatory ways of talking to one another and offer us a picture of ourselves, in our full, beautifully-flawed humanness.