"The human breath actually contains awareness, actually is awareness, and when we visualize bringing our breath into different different parts of our body, in fact what we’re doing is were bringing our awareness in. We normally think of awareness being in the head or in the heart, but every part of our body from a neurobiological perspective has awareness." -Reginald Ray

 

How do we bring a deeper awareness of our mind and emotions into a physical yoga practice? How do the body and breath practices of the yoga tradition support the work of psychotherapy?

 

yoga in the park

As a teenager, I struggled with emotional turbulence as many do. Though I went to therapy, talking about things did not help. When I began to practice yoga in high school gym class, I found a sense of inner strength and resilience that I needed to navigate the challenges I faced. I became a yoga teacher in 2003 and have loved teaching everyone from toddlers to elders over the years and guiding blossoming yoga teachers in yoga teacher trainings. I began to teach yoga to at-risk and incarcerated youth in 2005, and this work was part of my inspiration for entering graduate school and becoming a psychotherapist. 

In 2010, I began to train with Bessel Van der Kolk, a world renowned neuroscientist, in using yoga as a modality for healing trauma. Bessel’s research has revolutionized our understanding of how to use somatic practices, including yoga, by studying the effect on the brain and nervous system. For more information on Bessel’s work, check out The Trauma Center website. Inspired by my studies with Bessel and David Emerson, who leads the yoga program at the Trauma Center, I began to offer simple yoga and breathing practices to my therapy clients. Through the benefits of these practices, clients can feel more grounded and present to the process of psychotherapy. 

In 2012, I began to work with Mariana Caplan on the Yoga and Psyche Project, researching how to join ancient wisdom and modern science in applying yogic philosophy and practices to psychology. I learned the Yoga and Psyche approach, which joins the trauma therapy of Somatic Experiencing with gentle yoga asana practice.

Working with a therapist who is also a yoga teacher can offer a supportive and safe way for clients to learn simple tools for managing psychological symptoms in a highly individualized way that is not possible in a community yoga class. For experienced yoga practitioners and students, working with me can provide a places to process and digest the emotions that arise in their yoga practice and to integrate the openings that happen on the mat into their lives and relationships. My experience and research has shown that simultaneously working with the body and breath in yoga practice and the thoughts and emotions in "talk therapy" can be more effective than either modality on its own. My experience has been that this approach can support clients who are recovering from trauma by teaching simple and effective body and breath practices that they can use to decrease symptoms anytime, even if they never enter a yoga studio

In addition to therapy sessions, I am also available to teach workshops and lead groups on yoga and psychotherapy, teach therapists how to bring simple and gentle yoga practices into their clinical work, and to consult with yoga teachers around working with traumatized populations. 

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Some Research on Yoga and Psychotherapy