Western views of yoga would tell us that it is a great exercise for strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility; however, yoga is a practice that has been used for over 5,000 years and in the more traditional sense has little to do with the appearance of our bodies. A more traditional view of yoga is focused of self-knowledge, wisdom, and enlightenment.
Do those three things sounds familiar? It’s what we strive for in talk therapy. Therapists help guide clients through self-knowledge and self-realization with the intent of self-actualization. In this way, I believe that traditional views of yoga are better suited for the therapeutic practice.
Therapeutic yoga focuses on developing knowledge of the emotional and physical experience and how they are connected. With an understanding of this connection, we can learn to withstand moments in life that are distressing, because we have learned how changing our physical experience can change our mindful one. With practice, we become intuitive about what messages our bodies are sending us about our needs in the current moment. And with guidance, we learn how to change our present moment to make it better.
In practice, this is vastly different a yoga class you might have experienced where the focus may feel like improvement of the body, reaching past your limits of comfort, or “deepening” poses and your practice. By contrast, a therapeutic yoga teacher will offer you the opportunity to learn more about yourself and how your body and mind interact to create an emotional or mental health experience. Put simply: We care more about strengthening your wisdom than your abs.
Trauma-focused or trauma-informed yoga is a subcategory in therapeutic yoga which I practice. It means that I help people who have experienced a past trauma learn to understand and manage their symptoms, while becoming more comfortable in their physical experience and expanding their tolerance for moments which cause distress (like panic attacks, anxiety, and hypervigilance to name a few). This form of yoga takes great care to provide a safe and comfortable atmosphere, offering choice, autonomy, and opportunities for empowerment.
Whether you are coming in for trauma or a different issue, I create a yoga sequence that is specific to you and your needs. Our sessions begin and end with a check-in so that I can tune in with your experience and provide therapeutic support. Another benefit of practicing yoga with a mental health therapist is that you have someone there to support you if memories or difficult emotions surface. You have someone to help you make sense of what is coming up and make sure that difficult experiences are managed.
Yoga sessions can be a great compliment to your traditional talk therapy. It can help you move through symptoms that are presenting themselves physically, and perhaps best of all for trauma clients, it can make your body a safe place to live in once again.
If you think you might be interested or have more questions, contact me!
Emily Wagner, trauma expert, yoga therapist, and mental health counselor provides education for anyone looking to improve their mental health.