Many people find “regular” yoga classes to be mentally or emotionally therapeutic in some way, and for good reason. Exercise is known to elevate mood, focus, and energy, and yoga’s focus on breath work offers the meditative relief of moving out of incessant thought. In addition, many teachers weave into their classes some of the rich yoga philosophy which offers ideas on how to live mindfully and meaningfully.
So how is yoga therapy different? In my case, it means I bring all of the benefits of my years of clinical work as a licensed mental health counselor. I remain dedicated to neurobiological study, focused on specific treatment goals, and hold myself to the ethical and confidentiality standards of psychotherapy. As a yoga therapist, however, I add a more comprehensive scope, touching on many aspects of the self: physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and philosophical, and communal. While I teach tools from western psychology (particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy and family systems theory), I also teach yoga philosophy as appropriate, sharing tools and models which highlight and support more contemporary models. Lastly, built on the foundational belief that we are each unique expressions of a larger divinity, yoga therapy differs from the western habit of focusing mainly on the labels of disease symptoms and diagnoses.
Yoga therapy sessions combine talk therapy with yoga philosophy, movements, and poses. Typically, sessions involve some talk and some movement, although I determine the ratio in partnership with each student, depending on treatment goals and given day. Our movement can range from gentle breathing exercises to a full vigorous asana practice.
The practice of yoga helps us to develop better body awareness, so that we understand the connections among the physical-emotional-mental-spiritual. Increased body awareness also allows us to become more aware of thoughts and emotions at earlier, more subtle stages, allowing us to intervene sooner. And yoga’s movements and poses, philosophies and breathing techniques offer endless tools for dealing with our suffering. Lastly, integrating movement into therapy provides experiential and multi-sensory learning (versus keeping us only in our heads)–we learn better and can shift more deeply this way.
I find yoga therapy to be a great primary or adjunct therapy, and I often work in partnership with more traditional psychotherapists, psychiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and general practitioners.