Deanna Roberts, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT" />

Yoga + Therapy: What’s all the hype about?

You don’t have to go far to have an encounter with yoga. It’s pretty common to hear someone, somewhere talking about it, or even better, doing it. It could be your coworker sharing how they want to get out of work early enough to catch the train and attend their preferred, favorite yoga class. It might be the pop-up advertisement you saw the last time you were scrolling on social media, reminding you to breathe or maybe even promising that if you do, you may look as calm or as peaceful as that young, fit individual in the included picture. Or perhaps you’ve noticed the synchronized salutations happening through those glass windows at the studio down the street.

This September is National Yoga Awareness Month, a great time to learn more about this movement practice and its therapeutic benefits, its integration into therapy, and, if you are personally interested in it, where to get started.

So what’s all the hype about? Is yoga really for everyone? Or is it just for the young and fit like some of our culture seems to indicate? Does it really help the body and the mind? And could it really benefit you?

Whether you are a well-experienced yogi, someone who has only dabbled in a few community classes, or you are far from interested in this topic, I invite you to read more. Yoga is a mind-body practice that while not for everyone, has benefits for many.

I’ve held my own preconceptions and uncertainties about yoga over the years, and I also developed a high interest in it too. I’ve explored it off and on over the years and have come to love and enjoy it. As a clinical therapist who values the incorporation of the mind and body into counseling and who is trained as a yoga teacher, I love helping people understand how the mind and body are interconnected and how movement practices like yoga can help expand and strengthen this connection.

Please note as you continue reading this blog, that though I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Yoga-Informed Therapist, and a Registered Yoga Teacher, I am not a medical doctor. Yoga is a physical practice, and again, it may not be for everyone. As with any other physical or exercise practice, it is important to consult with your medical doctor first. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The provided resources within it are not meant to be comprehensive and it is not an endorsement of these sites or organizations. You are invited to read, learn, and consider how yoga, a mind-body practice, might support an integrative, holistic approach to mental health.

Why Yoga?

Yoga is a mind-body practice that has been around for a very long time. Yoga history, in fact, is so old that a quick Google search might have you reading different facts and time-frames about when it started. Today, one of the reasons yoga has gained popularity, is its integration of both physical and mental health benefits. Not only does it help a person stretch and strengthen their body, but it can incorporate a practice of mindfulness that helps individuals stay aware of their bodies, how they are feeling in the present-moment, and how certain postures, movements, and shifts in breathing may impact how they feel.

Counseling often shares some of these same intentions, helping individuals understand the relationship between their external and internal selves. This is why for some people, movement practices, like yoga, can help them connect with themselves, regulate inner states, and help with personal grounding and self-settling. Mind-body practices, like yoga, seem to be growing in popularity in how they are incorporated into the counseling room. (By the way, if you are interested in reading and learning more about the mind-body connection, check out my earlier blog: Breathe, Move, Be: Learning about the Mind-Body Connection.)

Learning to physically control and relax muscles and make adjustments to breath can directly help individuals who struggle with things like panic, anxiety, or stress management. (See Yoga for Anxiety and Anxiety and Yoga- Yoga Alliance Video). Certain yoga movements, postures, and breath exercises can also be stimulating and encourage shifts toward more energized, heightened bodily states to help with mental health issues such as low motivation or tiredness/exhaustion that might accompany depression. (See Yoga and Depression and Depression and Yoga- Yoga Alliance Video.)

It is important to acknowledge that like any other type of mental health care, there is no one-size-fits-all. While yoga might provide an inroad to body awareness, self-knowledge, self-regulation skills, or even increase mental/emotional stability for some, it might not be the right fit for everyone. Different approaches to mental health care are necessary because we are all wired differently. Also, there can be a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about yoga. And let’s face it, those cheesy pop-up ads about the one yoga posture that will literally change your life, do not help!

It can be easy to assume that one posture, one class, or one popular, new approach to your health is going to be the perfect, quick fix. Instead, like any other resource to improve our mental health, the use of a mind-body practice, like yoga, can take time. Like rewiring new pathways in our brain or relearning new habits and ways of being, change takes effort, energy, and practice. You might feel awkward and uncomfortable the first time you take some deep breaths, flow through some movements, or hold a certain posture. After a couple of classes, however, you might start to notice more ease and opportunity for mindfulness. Then, after even longer, you might start finding ways of applying what you are learning on your mat, to off of it, in your everyday life.

Where do I start with yoga?

There are a lot of varying resources and types of yoga available for someone who has never tried it before, is a beginner, or has only previously done yoga for exercise. If you are interested in exploring yoga for yourself and your mental health, let’s discuss a few ideas for how to get started.

When I am working with clients experiencing anxiety or depression, and they are looking for practical ways of easing any related physiological symptoms, I might invite them to look into a nearby studio or online class. Specifically, classes labeled  “Beginner,” “Level 1,” or “Intro to…” are helpful places to start. It should always be okay to tell a yoga instructor you are new to their class and to ask them for help or support. In many cases, these types of classes will start with basic yoga principles and movements. The instructor should be willing to provide ample verbal explanations and demonstrations of the movements and postures, including modifications if necessary. If a beginner or introduction class does not offer this, it’s okay to look for another one that does.

Sometimes, in the counseling space, an individual might share with me about their issues with sleep/rest or similarly, their struggle with an ability to slow down their mind and body into a more quiet, relaxed state. This is not an uncommon experience in our world today, especially with busy lifestyles and the vast array of distractions surrounding us. In this type of situation, a “Restorative” yoga class might be worth trying. Here, the class moves at a slower pace, postures are supported with props, such as blocks, cushions, and blankets. The goal is to actively practice relaxation in a supported, guided environment. It can be a good fit for individuals looking to slow down and increase their ability to rest, relax and stay mindful, different from more active yoga practices..

Many yoga studios are specifically focused on strengthening and stretching the body, honing in on the physical benefits of this movement practice, rather than the wide spectrum of additional mental health benefits. If you give a class a try, and you find it is not up your ally, know that it is perfectly okay to set boundaries, say “No, Thank you,” and then try a different one. Also, while practicing in any class, caring for yourself and your body should be first and foremost. This means paying attention to how postures and movements cause you to feel and avoiding anything that is painful or harmful. One of the first and foundational principles of yoga is what is called “Ahimsa,” which means “non-harm” or “absence of injury,” so this concept is actually a built-in, central part of practicing yoga. Unfortunately, some types of yoga environments may not facilitate this important, guiding principle. Keep this “non-harm” mindset close as you explore any of the above first steps. Trust your own instincts and intuition about what is right for you.

The Integration of Yoga and Therapy

The incorporation of mind-body practices in counseling is expanding and developing. It makes a lot of practical sense to facilitate connections between our internal thoughts, emotions, and mood, and the ways we physically move, care for our bodies, and engage with the external world. However, because these are ever-growing fields of integrated practice, it can be confusing to navigate what is what in counseling treatment and how to obtain quality, credentialed care.

There are presently a lot of resources that make mention of “yoga therapy,” and this seems to be a general, generic, umbrella term for the use of yoga techniques and principles in a therapeutic context. If you are looking specifically for mental health and/or counseling care, be cautious of “yoga therapy” that is not offered by a licensed mental health professional, such as a counselor, social worker, or psychologist. It is always okay to ask anyone who is offering any form of “therapy,” what their credentials are and what mental health training they have received.

Yoga-Informed Psychotherapy is another way that the use of yoga concepts and techniques to support individuals in counseling settings is described. This type of yoga-informed training, specifies how to use yoga in a psychotherapeutic setting for assessment and goal-setting, integrating it with other counseling modalities and approaches.

Yoga training, based specifically on yoga practice (such as postures/alignment, physiology/anatomy, and beyond) is its own regulated field. Credentials such as RYT-200 or RYT-500 and others specify an individual’s training as a yoga teacher. More about yoga teacher designations can be found here. Depending on the type of experience and training you are looking for with regards to yoga, you can ask any yoga instructor or counselor about their training level. Not every yoga-informed counselor may have yoga teacher training. And not every yoga teacher doing therapeutic work may have credentialing in a mental health or counseling field. It may prove important, pending your specific interests and needs, to research and ask questions before you get started in any yoga or yoga and therapy setting.

There may be even more verbiage that additionally describes the integration of yoga and counseling for an individual’s well-being. Again, if you are seeking the specific use of yoga within counseling, make sure that you are working with someone who is licensed and trained to specifically work with mental health issues. Then you might also ask about their training for the use of yoga itself, either in counseling settings or as its own practice. While the integration of both of these fields is valuable and helpful to many, it’s important to remember that yoga and counseling are, in fact, two separate fields, with different training. It may prove important to understand the entirety of the source and type of care you are receiving in order to adequately meet your presenting needs.

Starting Yoga as a Mind-Body Practice

Just like any other movement practice, yoga might not be the right fit for everyone. One yoga class or video may also be entirely different from another, pending the instructor, their teaching style or values, their purpose for the class itself, and other possible factors.

If you are interested in yoga or simply starting a mind-body practice, a good place to start may be a basic or beginner yoga class or trying some simple yoga breath exercises or postures. Be careful and gentle with yourself as you do, and as stated above, ensure that you have considered and discussed any necessary medical/physical concerns with your doctor first.

Here are some possible resources for starting yoga as a mind-body practice:

More Yoga Resources for Mental Health

There are a variety of available resources for exploring the benefits and integration of yoga and mental health. Research is continuing to be done in this field, with interesting and exciting results.

See below for more information about the use of yoga for mental health:


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