“Yoga must not be practiced to control the body: It is the opposite, it must bring freedom to the body, all the freedom it needs.” -- Vanda Scaravelli
Are you curious about yoga and mental health but don’t know where to start? Have you tried public yoga classes but feel intimidated by the pace? Do you believe that finding regulation in your body will be helpful to your counseling goals, and are you curious how yoga therapy can help?
How Yoga Therapy Can Support Your Counseling
Yoga, like counseling, uses opposing forces to create balance. Counselors often speak about the desire to provide both support and challenge to their clients; yoga teachers emphasize both ease and effort during yoga poses. This duality encourages a safe space to gain awareness and to try out new sensations, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Counseling promotes discovering who we really are while providing avenues for change. Yogis stress awareness in poses, breath, and meditation to find our “true selves” and to notice the ingrained patterns that are often holding us back.
Many of my clients have expressed interest in yoga therapy or already have their own practice. Others were concerned that it would be spandex-clad, sweaty, power yoga, and that their bodies were not “right for yoga.” Still others, who were anxious or tended toward ruminating thoughts, voiced frustration at the idea of lying still and being told to “just relax.”
I believe in yoga as a path of exploration in life and am excited to offer this ancient practice as part of the healing available to my clients. I believe that yoga therapy is designed to fit all bodies—there is no one physical mold or mental disposition. Yoga encompasses physical postures, breath, meditation, and philosophy, and gifts those who practice it with better mental and physical well-being. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I am able to add to available treatment tools with yoga. I find that incorporating yoga allows my clients to access and connect mind–body–spirit, encourages them to create their own resources, and supports (and sometimes leads) their healing journey.
How To Incorporate Yoga Therapy And Counseling
You may wonder how we can incorporate yoga into your plan. First, deciding when and how to incorporate yoga will be your choice and something we discuss. I have offered yoga in a variety of ways to my clients, including:
Teaching breathing techniques
Sharing yoga philosophy that applies to current emotional and mental well-being
Practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques in session
Starting talk therapy sessions with a centering practice of either breath, meditation, or asana
Giving yoga nidra (a specific guided meditation) recordings to use at home
Scheduling individual yoga sessions in which we go through a practice designed for you that you can use at home
Scheduling an individual yoga therapy session in which I facilitate a practice and then we explore sensations, feelings, and thoughts in relation to your therapy goals
Facilitating workshops on topics such as yoga for depression or anxiety, or yoga and self-care
I have practiced yoga for over 12 years, and I sought teacher training at a Hatha program designed for healthcare professionals. This specific training provided me with the foundations for teaching yoga as well as how to use yoga with a variety of conditions (such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and insomnia), create practices that accommodate various physical health concerns (such as heart disease, cancer, or back pain) and adapt yoga to the physical and energetic needs of the client. This unique training background allows me to further support my clients by helping them connect with their bodies in a safe and supportive environment.
Here are some examples from my work with clients (note: identities have been edited or are composites of clients in order to protect confidentiality):
Maria is a woman in her mid-forties. She came to see me for talk therapy following the end of a relationship. We started to work on issues related to trauma and abuse from her teenage years that had led to feeling agitated and always “on.” She described constantly needing background noise to block out her negative and anxious thoughts, so she kept TV or music on all day. During our work, we started with breathing exercises to help Maria connect with staying in her body. She started with breathing for 30 seconds and moved up to 5 minutes. Sometimes she found that focusing on her breath was relaxing, but other times she noticed an increase in anxiety or sadness. Before having a daily practice of observing the breath, she would have switched to distracting herself when she had strong emotions. She noted that her breathing practice helped her to become more aware of and tolerate her fluctuations in mood. This new awareness also benefited the work we were doing in talk therapy, in that it allowed her to explore her reactions without having to move away from them.
Luke is a male in his early 30s. He had been to counseling for anxiety and panic before and was having a reoccurrence of symptoms. We focused some sessions on a variety of meditation and breath techniques that Luke could use in his “toolbox” at home when he was feeling anxious. Because his anxiety interfered with his sleep, we developed practices that he could use in the evening to help him unwind his anxious energy and move toward sleep. One of the practices was yoga nidra, and he took a recording of this guided meditation to use before bed. He decided also to participate in an asana session with me, and we developed a practice designed to lower his anxious energy. We also discussed the types of classes he could look for at his favorite yoga studio, as he had tended toward intense flow classes in the evening that may have increased his energy before bed. Luke found that having tools to incorporate on his own helped him to moderate his anxiety when it started to come on, and his ability to fall asleep improved.
I started working with Ellie after she completed graduate school and was in a first job that she had trained for… but did not like. Ellie had a long history of depression and some physical health concerns. She was interested in yoga but did not have a positive experience with going to public classes. She also reported difficulty with staying present in session with me. We started meeting in the yoga studio on most weeks. We would start with a brief asana practice and then move into talk therapy. Sometimes, we would explore what she had noticed internally during the practice. At other sessions, we would move to working on her current life stressors, career exploration, and skills to deal with her depression. Ellie began practicing on her own, and she has recently decided to enroll in a yoga teacher training program to deepen her own practice. She has reported that doing yoga before sessions helped to increase her self-awareness and make her feel more balanced before approaching talk therapy.
You may be interested in yoga to help with your mental health goals, but you may still have some questions…
Yoga looks hard--I don’t know if I am flexible or strong enough and wonder if I won’t be good at it.
Unfortunately, our culture pushes images of perfection and comparisons in all areas of movement--including yoga! My intention is to help each client find their yoga--their own pace, range of movement, and practices designed to support their emotional, mental, and physical needs. Like the quote at the top of this page, I believe that yoga therapy is here to provide freedom in self-study and contentment--not another way to judge ourselves. I approach my work with curiosity and I enjoy working with beginning yogis. My goal is to provide you with the ability to notice your own experiences, build tolerance for challenging feelings, and come to a place of centeredness that you can take to your life off of the mat.
In addition, I practice a more gentle form of Hatha yoga and encourage modifications to make the practice work for each practitioner. We can meet individually, or you can attend small workshops of 3 to 8 participants. This environment puts the focus on learning and support as opposed to accomplishing a goal or competing with others.
I am already in therapy or I am looking to start therapy. I feel busy and am worried about the additional time and cost of adding yoga.
Any process of change is an investment in yourself, your life, and your relationships. By adding yoga or starting yoga and therapy with me, you will gain skills, experiences and awareness that support your healing. You also get the benefit of making changes at all levels of the self: from the body and physical sensations to your thoughts and emotions to your higher consciousness. Adding yoga can enhance the work and time you are already putting into therapy, as it did for Maria, Luke, and Ellie.
The practice of yoga therapy is based on a balance of effort and ease--we don’t want to overload you. We can discuss how incorporating yoga might work best for you and your life. For instance, we might spend part of our therapy sessions on yogic tools, or you might decide to start with coming to a workshop once a month.
I already have a therapist and don’t want to switch. Do I have to come to you for yoga and therapy?
Your connection to your therapist is very important and has been supporting you in your work so far--I have no intention of interfering with that! While I see many clients for both yoga therapy and talk therapy, I also receive referrals from other providers (psychiatrists, psychotherapists, etc.) for short-term yoga sessions or to attend my workshops. With your permission, I can speak with your provider to collaborate on your treatment.
I look forward to working with you to incorporate yoga therapy in your journey. Contact me today about individual therapy with yoga or to sign up for my next workshop or series. You can read more about yoga offerings and teachings here.