Yoga Therapy?

Primal living, of course, is ultimately about overall wellness. Sure, we focus a lot on nutrition and exercise (important points, after all), but these topics are only part of the picture. Wellness, as it’s often defined, embodies healthful living in several dimensions of self-care and actualization. Our sense of emotional well-being, for example, figures strongly into our quality of life, and it’s about more than just personal happiness. Stress and unmanaged mental health concerns can take a true physical toll. In chronic cases, poor mental health/stress can become a downward, damaging spiral. We’re talking immune dysfunction, high blood pressure, systemic inflammation…. Stress response can even contribute to heart disease and cancer in extreme cases.

And just as our society seems to be sorely lacking in the physical health department, our mental health is in dire straits as well. Coincidence? Experts blame the prevalence of mental health concerns on a variety of modern perils. Contributing factors can be as varied as poor nutrition, environmental toxins, disconnect from nature, and the breakdown of intimate social networks. They all seem to have their kernel of sense. The mind-body connection (tying together all those wellness dimensions) is an undeniable, powerful relationship.

A recent Time magazine article highlighted a new offshoot of the traditional psychological treatment psychotherapy that appears to tap this connection. It’s called yoga-therapy, the incorporation of yoga poses and meditative breathing into the therapy sessions. The practices are believed to both release emotional blockages and empower clients in their emotional exploration and communication. For clients with depression, practitioners offer guidance for “energizing breaths,” while “balancing breaths” are modeled for those with anxiety. The approach can apparently have particular significance for clients with posttraumatic stress disorder. The physical “grounding” of certain poses (e.g. warrior or chair pose) may help center them in the present moment and place as they recount past traumatic experiences. A recent study of schizophrenia patients who received yoga therapy showed a “decrease in negative symptoms and increase in quality of life.” Dr. Elizabeth Visceglia, psychiatrist, yoga-therapy practitioner, conducted the study and credits yoga’s impact on the endocrine and parasympathetic systems for the treatment’s apparent success.

The therapy approach is gaining ground at an impressive rate. The International Association of Yoga Therapists “more than tripled its membership” since 2003 and currently has 2500 members. Therapists interested in learning the approach for their practice can now receive specialized training at over 50 yoga schools.

Our impressions? For one, we’re always intrigued by therapies that offer authentic and effective support for overall well-being. (And if it can be part of a practice that supplements – if not supplants, when appropriate – the pharmaceutical treatments so often offered as a first line approach then all the better, we say.) It makes physiological sense: inducing the relaxation response, helping trigger or soften hormonal release. But maybe there’s a deeper significance in this kind of therapy – a broader point applicable beyond the psychotherapist’s clientele.

As a society these days, we seem to either live in denial of our bodies (letting them go to pot) or live to conquer them (exercising into oblivion). We struggle to attain (or intuit) a “right,” natural relationship with food, with fitness, with aging, with our physical selves as a whole. On many front we’re disengaged from what’s natural, what’s hardwired into our evolutionary selves. Though Grok, as we’ve noted, certainly had his share of conflicts, he wasn’t strung out on chronic stress the way we moderns can be.

Think about it. We’re chained to desks, work stations, cars/buses/trains for much of every day. Our workouts provide needed activity, but oftentimes if we’re not mindful about it, they can become one more responsibility we check off in our day. We get through it rather than delve into it, making it what it could be – how it can feed the soul as well as work the body. Taking the time to recenter in the physical, in meditative movement of some variety, perhaps has the power to realign, release us from the emotional, social and technological baggage of our everyday modern existence. There’s a certain simplicity, even liberation, to living purely in our bodies – not in conflict with or in spite of them. In that selected span of time each day or week, it’s a therapy unto itself. Losing ourselves in a physical activity (or pose) can be freeing, grounding as we merge wholly with the moment and motion.

For us, the yoga therapy development ultimately underscores that essential cohesion of the mind and body (as representative of all the spheres of wellness). It’s no coincidence, we think, that the most creative and integrative therapies – as well as the healthiest everyday lifestyles don’t deny or diminish either the physical or emotional but give each their due. As the Time article notes, yoga means balance. Balancing the physical and emotional, bridging the two can bring us back down to earth for a time and offer a momentary emotional reset button. The release can lift the burden for a time, allow calm to seep in – or perhaps rise from inaccessible, primal depths. In both cases, it can help us reconnect with and open to what is most basic, most essential about ourselves.

Your thoughts on the power of yoga therapy or other mind-body treatments? Thanks for reading.

Further Reading:

Yoga Good for Beating Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Laughter Yoga

Meditation Contemplation

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34 thoughts on “Yoga Therapy?”

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  1. I’ll admit I’m a yoga girl. I’ve tried the CrossFit thing, and while it is extreme and leaves me with a “win” feeling, yoga leaves me with a “peace” feeling. For me the two are mutually exclusive. Anyone disagree?

  2. I could never imagine myself getting into yoga until I discovered Circular Strength Training’s Prasara Flow Yoga. It took the mysticism out of it for me and helped me understand that it was nothing more than tapping into my flow through the integration of breathing, movement and structure. These are three physical and tangible reference points which help you balance both the physical and the emotional. After all, every emotion starts with a physical reaction…

    Great post.


    PS More about Prasara Yoga

  3. I’m very glad you wrote this article.

    Yoga is such a multi-dimensional discipline. It can relieve stress, be a good source of exercise, train us to be mindful, and so much more.

    Words are a useful tool, but certainly not the end all of the healing process. I think yoga can be a powerful tool in promoting a healthy, balanced and purposeful life.

  4. Jen, I understand what you mean, but I don’t agree. I do P90X, which includes an intense yoga session, and it I come away with a sense of elation, something between “peace” and “win.”

  5. Yoga’s okay, I’ll do it a couple of times a year. Weight lifting, now that leaves me feeling great in a really tired but relaxed kinda way!

  6. I have been practicing yoga for about 6 months and the benefit for me have been huge. I now feel a sense of calm I haven’t felt in years. My posture has improved, and so many other gains for me have been significant.

    To Address Jen: I see exactly what you are saying. I actually just started crossfit about 2 weeks ago. Although I am not fully immersed in crossfit yet, (as I’ve just begun the program)I feel that both benefit me in different ways. I have been an athlete my whole life and formally competed on a national level. Crossfit fulfills my need to push myself. Yoga has helped me with my balance, concentration, and body awareness that I wish I had when I was competing. I would consider both forms stress relievers.

    I think with the state our nation is in health-wise, yoga could probably help so many people that otherwise would be medicated.

  7. I definitely see the benefits of yoga — mind and body — when I do it. It’s hard to incorporate yoga into an already packed schedule (that includes other regular workouts). Of course, perhaps having to “fit in” sessions like these is part of the problem!

    Jen: I don’t think they are mutually exclusive, but it definitely depends on your beginning mindset. I can feel a peace/win feeling after something like a brisk walk. I guess where you set your “win” bar makes a difference.

  8. I do yoga about once a week, sometimes twice depending on how I’m feeling about my other workouts. I am almost always sore the next day (I do pretty intense yoga workouts), but afterwards I am calm. I couple that with my strength training/sprinting/cardio workouts on the other days for a nice balance. Like Mark said.. its about the balance.

  9. My biggest problem with yoga is generally by the time i finish my 9-10 hr day sitting at a desk non-stop i need to get up and DO something. While yoga has me breathing and such, i need to expel more energy most of the time, i need to strain my muscles a bit, i need to sweat. i clear my mind more sprinting and running and lifting.. thats my catharsis.

  10. Yoga, weights and using the legs in tennis and biking are my standards. Yoga put me in touch with the imbalances my other pursuits have created. I am lucky to have access to a wonderful teacher. The class is addicting. A couple of weeks ago, I overheard one lifter outside the room where we do yoga say to another guy. “Oh, that’s yoga. That’s for women.” I had to chuckle as I still push some pretty big poundages but have a problem with several of the postures-not just range of motion which I sorely need to keep working on-but balanced strength in muscles that I have long ignored. On Tuesday evening, I go from yoga to competitive tennis and the session usually has me very ready for the court.

  11. I’ve been practicing yoga for 15 years. I’ve done hatha, hot yoga, warm yoga, anusara, kripalu, kundalini…right now I do a 2 hr vinyasa/ restorative class on Sunday evenings. It is the perfect conclusion to my week (I do my sprints & weights on alternating days, 3 x a week each). Yoga seems to help both workouts while promoting a more inward-facing mindset. I would not trade it for anything, and highly recommend it to anyone who has not tried it. It’s just a matter of finding the style that most appeals to you, and there are many to chose from.
    Also helpful is MELT, a relatively new mind-body practice that the MDA community might like. It involves using small rubber balls and foam rollers to hydrate the connective tissues. MELT was created by a massage therapist. You can find out more info about it here:
    I use the foam rollers before & after my workouts-I always feel better for it. I’m sure anyone who tries it will like it, too (just like yoga!)

  12. Thanks for sharing this article!

    I’ve been practicing yoga for the past five years and wouldn’t change it for anything. The health benefits are enormous, but nothing compares to the peace of mind and relaxation I get after each session… A total mind-body-spirit workout that energizes the whole being!

  13. I recently started yoga (about 4 months ago)
    I enjoy it.
    So far my enjoyment comes from laughing at myself. 😉
    For almost 42, I’m physically a lot fitter and stronger then guys in their 20’s. But getting into poses is tough for me, so I laugh at myself and laughing at your self is a very healthy thing.
    Yoga for sure can be a part of a good healing modality.


  14. I am a “brand-newbie” to all this: 1st I changed my diet about 6 wks ago. Stumbled upon this sight shortly thereafter whilst on a recipe hunt. Inspired to add some sort of workouts to my routine, so I starting going to pilates classes. Last week I went to my 1st yoga class. I wanted to improve/increase my flexibility & improve my relaxation (much needed!). By the end of that class I was wondering how to get home – I was too relaxed to move! Plus I got some much-needed stretching done for my sore muscles. I am fortunate to have this all available 1/2 block from where I live…

    I also tried my first set of sprints the other day.

    I agree with Holly – all about balance. & I agree with Marc – I am my own endless source of comedic entertainment. & for anyone else who might get a glimpse of me trying a reverse plank/leg-lift on a balance ball…

  15. Congratulations on your recent changes, Peggy, and welcome to Mark’s Daily Apple. Enjoy all that we have to offer and stay in touch. I love hearing from readers so come back often!

  16. I have actually been thinking about involving my 6 yr old son with adhd in some yoga exercises…the kid doesn’t understand the word “relax” or “slow” so I think if we spend just 5 minutes a day doing one or two stretches it could help….his counselors have no clue if it will or not, but said it surely can’t hurt him!

  17. I would love to get into something like this as for quite some time now I have been keeping fit by working out with kettle bells and going for walks on the alternate days. Yoga does seem to be the next step as the mind needs release too.

    I have been talking to a friend who is about to teach Wu Tao which is a Dance Exercise program based on oriental medicine.

    Wu Tao or The Dancing Way, is a dance-based therapy that balances and harmonises the flow of Qi (life-force energy in the body). It has its foundations in Oriental Medicine, and is a system of healing, with a wholistic philosophy and practice, that restores balance to the person on all levels.

    I will be starting this in June so will let you know how it goes. I am very excited as I love dance and to combine this with my health program sounds awesome.

  18. I was a bit skeptical of Yoga until I was deployed one time and they had a really hot Yoga teacher.

    Jokes aside, for a rest day, Yoga is a great thing for 30 minutes.

    Sonya, sounds like a good mixture!

  19. I can’t speak to “yoga-therapy”, but I have watched the impact yoga has had on my wife. She went from having migraines 1-2 times each month to having only one this year (so far). And that one was mild by her standards.

    The thing about yoga though is that it takes dedication, just like any other physical endeavor. You can’t expect to jump in and after three sessions will experience a life-changing epiphany.

    And by the way — skip the “hot yoga” craze. That’s all it is in my opinion.

  20. I don’t do yoga, but I love pilates. I always feel energized and relaxed at the same time after a session.

    I’m new to your site and this way of eating. Your blog has been extremely helpful!

  21. I’ve always been biased against yoga because of all the new age associations it has. I don’t know whether it aligns your chakras or cleanses your aura, but the times I’ve tried yoga it has triggered these big endorphin highs in me, which are always welcome.

  22. I personally really enjoy yoga, but it wasn’t until my job got more stressful that I really got into it 😉 It forced me to tune out stresses and decompress. I find that the key is, as you mentioned, not to just “get through it”, but to get into it. You don’t have to do all the humming and go through a life change, but if you really focus on the “now” of yoga, it can be a mentally and physically refreshing (dare I say) exercise.

  23. Thanks for your information about yoga therapy. Yoga is really a helpful exercise to begin with. This will help you unleashed the stress inside you.

  24. Anyone that has done Ashtanga, in particular, the Primary Series or attempted it, will know that it is a challenge. I have redefined my core and my upper body to a point that is unrecognizable, when I had been a gym goer and doing weights could never give me the same definition. Ashtanga is about as primal as it gets. David Williams, the man that brought Ashtanga to North America calls it caveman exercises, how we learned what our bodies could do and what we could do with them. I do intervals on a bike, and a bit of crossfit, they all work well together, the yoga and breathe work in particular help with bringing breathing back after an effort.

    Fascinated by Prasara, going to check it out, thanks for the link.

  25. Wow, I pulled this article up to read it because I do yoga, but the article image is one that our business has been using as our primary marketing image for the last year, on our website, and in our postcard mailings. Heh.

    Nice coincidence, and it really is a soothing image. 🙂

  26. At age 49 and the Sales Manager for a wellness center, I decided to practice what I preach and vary my workouts. I always did high intensity step, strength training and cardio but added Hatha yoga about six months ago.

    I now feel much more centered, more balanced and my back pain from scoliosis has virtually disappeared. Now I can just breathe or smell lavendar when I’m stressed and get immediate relief (like Pavlov’s dog.) It has added an entirely new dimension to my wellness routine.

    Be fit, be well!

  27. If I was more disciplined and had more time (!) I’d certainly consider Yoga in one form or another.

    In the days when I did loads of acid (many many years ago) I developed my own hack version, basically sitting in a relaxed pose, concentrating on breathing, and then suddenly holding a breath. For a fraction of a second those inner voices shut the hell up, and with repetition the silent nonverbal awareness periods become longer. Connective tissue issues which I now realise were from the diabetes made it hard to get into genuine yoga poses, I suppose I should try it again and see if I can succeed without ricking anything

  28. Great article! I’ve practised Yoga for the last year now and find it very helpful for everyday anxiety. As well as I use a tool called EFT and find it complements Yoga very nicely.

  29. That picture, I’d love to get it as a high resolution version for my desktop. I would greatly appriciate a link of some sorts of where I can find it. Thanks for a great blog!

  30. In principle, I’m interested in people developing their mind-body awareness capabilities. Somatic sensitivity and the ability to actually “feel” what is happening in the body and nervous system are cornerstone aspects of so much of physical culture (dance, martial arts, yoga, et. al).

    Problem with yoga is that it’s just too new to know what it’s doing yet. Give it another 50 years to work out the kinks and evolve and I think you’ll have a great movement system.

    For the back story on this, an academic named Mark Singleton just put a book with in-depth textual and field research that proves conclusively that modern hatha yoga is re-packaged 19th century European calisthenics with some kushti (Indian wrestling) warm-ups thrown in:

    Here are a few relevant reviews:

    “Singleton’s radical, meticulously documented, sensitive analysis makes perfectly clear that what has come to be regarded as a veritable icon of Indic Civilization — postural yoga — is, in fact, unambiguously the hybrid product of colonial and post-colonial globalization.” –Prof. Joseph S. Alter, University of Pittsburgh. Author of Yoga in Modern India: The Body Between Science and Philosophy

    “Mark Singleton has written a sweeping and nuanced account of the origins and development of modern postural yoga in early twentieth-century India and the West, arguing convincingly that yoga as we know it today does not flow directly from the Yoga Sutras or India’s medieval hatha yoga traditions, but rather emerged out of a confluence of practices, movements and ideologies, ranging from contortionist acts in carnival sideshows, British Army calisthenics and women’s stretching exercises to social Darwinism, eugenics, and the Indian nationalist movement. The richly illustrated story he tells is an especially welcome contribution to the history of yoga, demonstrating the ways in which an ancient tradition was reinvented against the backdrop of India’s colonial experience.” –Prof. David Gordon White, University of California, Santa Barbara. Author of The Alchemical Body, Siddha Traditions in Medieval India

  31. Iyengar Yoga is the juice and the fiber! I have humbly studied many styles of yoga and love them all but the benefits of slowing down and aligning the body are divine…

    like fine chocolate and fine wine and fine whatever your fancy…dive into your being and explore!

  32. I came to primal eating naturally, not through research or referral, but by learning to listen to my body. From there I researched and discovered primal.
    In the same way, I do exercise that I enjoy. I wake up in the morning, and I listen to my body. Most days I just want a long walk. Some days I am craving a sweaty, strength building yoga sesh. Other days, soothing and healing yoga. I love barre workouts, I teach a pilates/ strength training class, and occasionally I just want to dance. I look and feel great and I am aligned with what I need.
    To me that is primal exercise.

  33. Yoga Is hard but very beneficial for us i do yoga everyday and like to teach yoga someone 🙂