Whenever I return to my personal yoga practice after some time away from my mat, I am always struck by the difference a few days of yoga makes in my sense of well-being, emotional balance, and overall health; I’ve been practicing for over eleven years and I am still in awe of the positive effect yoga has on my life. When teaching yoga therapeutically, I am also consistently moved by the increased relaxation, self-awareness, and self-expression I have observed in students with a regular practice. Witnessing the healing capacity of yoga in both others and myself is the reason I continue to practice and to teach and also why I view yoga as a wonderful complement to psychotherapy.
Although yoga has become very popularized in the West (one can scarcely walk a few blocks in New York City without seeing a yoga studio), I am still often asked what yoga is really about and why it is so beneficial. Developed five-thousand years ago in the areas we now know as India and Pakistan, yoga is a system of poses and breathing techniques which can strengthen and tone our muscles, detoxify our organs, improve circulation, regulate our hormones, help calm our nervous systems and ultimately balance our thoughts and emotions. By mindfully combining breathing and movement, yoga activates physiological systems in our bodies that help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, and promote relaxation, self-awareness, and a greater sense of ease in life.
It is precisely these physiological and psychological benefits that make yoga an extremely useful tool for increasing our ability to tolerate difficult emotions and life circumstances. Through postures and breathwork, yoga allows us to be more present with our physical sensations and our emotions, bringing a sense of expansiveness and acceptance to whatever may arise in the moment. In the context of harm reduction and substance use issues, this increased capacity to be present with visceral feelings allows for greater awareness regarding addictive behaviors, and the practice itself may even become an alternative choice to consider when an urge to use arises. Consistent practice may also alleviate feelings of isolation, anxiety, or depression, which contribute to unhealthy or impulsive substance use.
While yoga can help balance overwhelming sensations and emotions, it can also help us access and release emotions that are stored in the body but have been separated from our conscious thought processes. Whether the result of traumatic experiences or just from chronic patterns of holding tension or stress in the body, most of us, at least to some extent, can become avoidant or cut-off from certain feelings or emotional memories. Through stretching and the release of muscle tension, yoga brings greater understanding to behavioral patterns by allowing us to access these deeply held, often-unresolved feelings. Consequently, a regular yoga practice combined with psychotherapy can open the way for greater healing and self-knowledge.
I am honored to be introducing a Yoga for Emotional Wellness group at The Center for Optimal Living. My hope is that the group will be a space for members to explore how movement, meditation, and breathing techniques can help regulate emotions, reduce stress, and improve their overall sense of well-being. The group will begin in late July and is open clients at the Center as well as the public.
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