I specialize in using a combination of yoga and mindful movement within my psychotherapy practice – sometimes I use these techniques as part of a session to further the work going on ‘there and then’, and often I’ll create a bespoke yoga practice for an individual that they’ll do in between sessions, to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the work we do together in session, or to process our session once it ends.
Some of my clients choose to work with me because they already have a yoga practice and want to use it to support them on their therapy journey, others have no idea why yoga would be useful to them in psychotherapy or have never tried yoga before in their life. The wonderful thing is, it doesn’t really matter which group you hang your hat with – yoga is beautifully democratic and works no matter who you are or what you are bringing to the table.
Here are five big reasons yoga is a kick-ass addition to psychotherapy:
1) Yoga can quickly alleviate symptoms of the two most common mental health challenges
From my experience with hundreds of client, specially selected yoga practices can provide an energy boost for people experiencing low mood or energy, or offer a calming, grounding effect for the more anxious, in as little as a few minutes. Stress, depression and anxiety are the leading presenting problems in medical or psychotherapy appointments and teaching a basic yoga practice could provide some symptom relief in many of these cases.
2) Yoga helps us think more clearly
We do our best intellectual processing and decision making when we are calm, and yoga helps us get there. Simply put, the most intelligent, analytical part of our brain gets switched off when we’re experiencing strong emotion. The nervous system shuts it down and starts to funnel decision making to the brain’s more primitive parts that trigger our survival responses of fight, flight and freeze. It often doesn’t matter if that strong emotion is fear or completely ‘positive’, say happiness and joy, the nervous system experiences a peak of feeling in the same way. Given therapy taps in to all sorts of intense emotional experiences our nervous system can often benefit from a helping hand in calming back down and bringing our ‘smart’ brains back on-line.
3) Yoga heals body, like talk therapy heals mind
Our life is experienced and stored in both our body and mind, talk therapy helps clear out negative thoughts and unhelpful patterns from our mind and yoga can be a way to do the same for our bodies. If a person has been depressed for years, you’ll often see it in their body posture perhaps manifested as slightly rounded shoulders, dropped chin or shallow, chest-based breathing. These postural expressions of depression – or any other mental health condition – can outlast the more mental aspects of the condition and they continue to send messages of depression throughout the body.
4) Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies
The ability to listen to our body is a lost skill for many of us. This unfortunately, contributes to a whole host of physical and mental health challenges, in which we don’t listen, and then eventually can’t listen, to things our bodies are trying to tell us. For example, our body naturally tells us when we’re hungry and when we’re full, but if we don’t listen to these cues for long enough, by under or overeating, they begin to disappear (remember that time you got so hungry you stopped feeling hungry?) and our bodies’ needs become lost to us. Or we may feel a bit ‘off’ at the end of a day, and rather than ‘listen in’ to that feeling and learn its specifics – asking ourselves am I feeling anger, sadness, loneliness? and what does that feeling need me to do to truly make it feel better? - we might immediately reach for our cure-all coping tool – chocolate, wine or binge watching TV, to numb out. Part of the practice of yoga is paying attention to very subtle movements and sensations, honing the skill we all need to be able to actually hear and make use of the intelligence our body is continually trying to share with us.
5) Yoga is ‘therapy in your pocket’
Yoga tools are easy to learn and implement, they don’t need any complicated accessories (except your amazing self, of course) and can be used anywhere, anytime. Going on vacation? Away for work? Moving house, state or country? Take your yoga practice with you and use it as needed. The work we do in the room together is important, but the efforts you make every day are even more so – regular yoga exercises and meditation experiences, designed for your unique situation and goals, can keep you moving forward between sessions.