When I see client's for their initial session, I always ask about hobbies, recreation, passions and interests. These are important aspects of the self that contribute to your efforts towards Self-Actualization. Yet many times these elements are lost or forgotten as you forge your way along Life's pathway. Two of my own passions are photography and Yoga and they both have helped me to garner a sense of personal growth and accomplishment. This discussion will focus on the latter.
When I ask people if they have ever tried Yoga, I generally get the same responses:
These are just a few examples of statements that I have heard and to be fair, I also have several clients whom regularly participate in yoga either before or after I recommended that they give it a try.
Why do I strongly encourage participation in yoga? The answer is that in many ways yoga replicates some of the interventions we are utilizing in the individual therapy process. While yoga does involve some physical postures, the main tenant is to focus on and utilize your breathing to nourish your organs, calm your nervous system and allow for a yoking of the physical body and the mind. Basically if you can breathe, you can do yoga. Below, I have listed some of the parallels between yoga and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Positive affirmations are something that most of my clients are very uncomfortable with. This may be due to how they were raised, modesty, deep self hatred related to past trauma or to a varitey of other reasons. Some of my clients report going through their day, beating themselves up for every minor misstep or error. Think about it, how many times a day, do you make a statement like, "I am so dumb..." or "That is too difficult"? How are these statements helpful and why allow yourself to be your biggest bully. Would you say these things to your best friend or to a loved one. I hope not. Practicing positive affirmations such as, "I can do this", I got this", I feel strong" can create a sense of confidence which then can positively influence yourself and all of those who surround you.
Challenging Irrational Thoughts is a major component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Irrational thinking can lead to both depression and anxiety and can prevent you from achieving your goals or aspirations. In yoga, my favorite Yoga teacher Dharma Shakti shows you how your Irrational Thoughts are impacting you in the midst of your yoga practice. One of her favorite statements is, " I have never seen someones' arm fall off when they were holding a yoga pose". If you have ever been a client of mine, you have probably heard me repeat this statement as well as many other Dharmaisms. This is one example of how your mind tricks you into giving up or avoiding challenges. When you begin to realize this is happening and learn to shift your focus to a more positive thought, you may be amazed by what you achieve!
Holding Tension in our Bodies
Clients often come in for their first session and deny having any anxiety or tension. I can see as they sit across from me how they are clenching their fist, hunching in thier shoulders,chest areas or pursing their lips. I always say, give me a group of ten people and probably 7 out of the 10 are experiencing some form of anxiety. When you are anxious your body tends to clench or tighten up. Yoga helps you to recognize where you may be holding your tension and many of the postures allow you to open up these tense areas which allows for greater blood flow and relaxation. This concept of relaxation training is also a tenant of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
The three examples above show how yoga in many ways can parallel the process of therapy. While I still recommend people participate in therapy in order to work through their life issues, I strongly recommend yoga as an adjunct or important practice to build into your daily self care routine. Personally I have participated in Long Beach Donation based Yoga run by Dharma Shakti for the past 14 years. I like Dharma because she created this program as a means of bringing yoga to all of the community of Long Beach. What started as a small group of yogis practicing on the bluff has blossomed into an enormous turnout of people from all different walks of life, coming together as they roll out their mats on the bluff or in her studio. Dharma works to empower, strengthen and unify our local community and she has left a legacy that will never be forgotten. After reading this I hope you will take a moment to check out the websites listed below, grab a mat and begin your practice. Namaste!
Yogalution Movement & Ayurveda
Yogalution on the Bluff