Why would a psychotherapist teach yoga?

Asana means a state of being in which a person can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable. This is how I describe aspects of our work in psychotherapy bringing the client back into (or discovering) their own capacity for stability and regaining lost equilibrium.

The mind and body are not separate entities. Hannah and Chris in South Yorkshire attest the thoughts of Swami Satyananda Saraswati who writes “The gross form of the mind is the body and the subtle form of the body is the mind. The practice of asana integrates and harmonises the two. Both the body and the mind harbour tensions or knots. Every mental knot has a corresponding physical, muscular knot and vice versa”

The discussion is furthered by his endorsement of regular and consistent practice of asana ensures the physical body is taken care of, promoting health even in an unhealthy body.

So, if my intention is to support clients in finding or rediscovering their physical and emotional vitality, bring consciousness and awareness to their mental mind chatter and the brain’s patterning from influences and imprinting from our earliest beginnings, why do I not teach yoga for a living ?

Why am I therapist? This is a question that may intrigue clients. For many it may be of insignificance in ‘getting the job done’! Some will speculate and remain silent. Some will ask outright , perhaps at the end of their professional relationship with me. In the USA, I am observing a new candid approach whereby highly influential thinkers, researchers and clinicians are being direct about how they recognised they needed psychological help and how they maintain their own self care. The one time accusation levied at the therapist as being a ‘wounded healer ‘ is now seen in context as a drive to help others because we know how it feels to need help. Importantly, my health as a person supersedes my commitment to professional continuing development. I ask myself again, why am I here in India, with all the relative disadvantages of disrupting my clients, expense in not working and in funding the sabbatical?

I’m learning yoga anew, again and again over these 50 days. Asanas are classified in groups named beginner, intermediate and advanced. Whilst the asanas in the advanced category do require people to have more extensive control over their muscles and nervous system, there is steadiness, concentration and co-ordination with the breath that is required in all asanas.

As a therapist offering what NICE calls talking therapies, I do use holistic massage and yoga. Even experienced and highly reputable, busy yoga teachers may never know they have someone in their class who is not enjoying being there, but they are trying hard to help themselves.

I want to hear people’s stories in which ever way and timing is right for them, uniquely. For some, the body leads the way. For another it may be complex and detailed history of events and places and most inevitably, people. In EMDR I have worked successfully with clients who have chosen not to tell me the actual reason for their coming until they have realised, through the process, their influence and autonomy. Then, they may elect to say with appropriate emotion and a sense of it now being a past event, what they have made sense of differently.

There are times when yoga can re-stimulate a memory for the participant that is unwanted and intrusive. It may be during a meditation practice or a relaxation time for Shavasana¬†when being still becomes a remembered dread and fear. Or perhaps it’s when shame washes over the yoga student as they¬†lose strength in an asana or tips out of a balance feeling exposed. It can be anxiety provoking being in a room of people who are breathing consciously and the sound or sensation of held , retentive breathing practise triggers a past emotion or sensation in the present.

The sensitive and thoughtful yoga practitioner is unlikely to know what to say or how to help the person who they do observe is in distress. It’s not the right place or time, but what is happening for the one person is carried home with them and is not being responded to. More likely, the distress is invisible and may be a dissociation that temporarily protects the person but leaves them feeling confused , angry or scared and isolated later.


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