What Does Yoga Have to Do with Therapy?
You might have heard by now that yoga, an ancient system of self-healing mostly known for the physical practice of asana, can be beneficial for your mental health. I learned this first-hand when I took my first yoga class over two decades ago. I remember grocery shopping after my first class, and as I picked out my produce, I felt light and calm, more than I had ever felt after any meditation or movement I had done in the past. I asked myself, “is this what living without anxiety feels like?”
Two years after I took my first class, I taught my first class at the local YMCA. The change in my physical and mental health was a tool I had learned from my teachers and my practice that I felt that I could offer other people. At the same time, I started my graduate training that would later allow me to work as a licensed mental health counselor.
I honestly do not know what it is like to be a therapist without a yoga practice to support me. If I had to make an educated guess, I would say that it has helped me stay calm, be in the present moment, and respect that I need to pay attention to my body, which is easy to neglect when I sit and listen to people day in and day out. This in turn has helped me recover from or possibly prevent burnout.
Initially I kept my yoga classes separate from my clients. But over time I felt like the benefits were too hard to miss. I was also feeling emboldened by the mindfulness therapy practices that where showing efficacy, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention. I thought, if this is being proven by research to be effective then yoga research cannot be far behind.
The research was initially more robust with mindfulness. A study I found about nicotine cessation and yoga was that the practices of pranayama were effective in reducing cravings and relapse. The study was quick to note that this particularly worked with participants that had an interest in mindfulness.
I did formal research on yoga during my doctoral dissertation. Professors warned me that yoga in the title would follow me everywhere I go. When my first academic appointment introduced me with my dissertation topic, I heard an audible gasp from a faculty member. Then another professor introduced himself as having written his own dissertation on mindfulness.
As I gained confidence sharing both my yoga and counseling skills, I learned that there were a lot of misconceptions about how this worked. Clients would ask if they could bring their yoga mat to session and just practice yoga with me. In a consult with other counseling professionals, some expressed disappointment that we were not just practicing yoga. Indeed, there must be a class that someone wants to teach just for counseling professionals, but I wanted to help them apply it to their clients.
What my research showed me was that a counselor having a yoga practice yourself will both help with your ability to self-regulate as well as offer some coping skills in the form of yoga and yoga therapy for mental health. And while it is not of benefit to every client, I will often explore this as a possibility to support therapy if there is an interest and willingness to try yoga.
Sometimes I ask clients to practice a yoga movement or breathwork with me. I also share practices that support mental health from my training as a yoga therapist. I try to apply this on a case-by-case basis, and only if the client finds it of value to their treatment.
I created an online course and manual to make it easy for clients and counseling professionals to incorporate yoga into their own self-care or therapy practice. The practices are both trauma informed and I help participants make the connections between yoga and specific conditions such as anxiety and depression.
If you would like to join me for my next class that begins Thursday March 3rd at 5:30 PM please register at https://www.janysmurphyrising.com/event-details/yoga-for-mental-health
If you have questions, or are interested in my counseling practice or seeking consultation from me please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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