The Intersection of Yoga and Psychotherapy

The Intersection of Yoga and Psychotherapy

| BestCounselingDegrees.net Staff

The Intersection of Yoga and Psychotherapy

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Mental health can profoundly impact physical well-being. Because of mind-body connection, our bodies physically respond to depression, stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

That same connection allows us to use our bodies to help ease the symptoms of mental illness. Psychotherapists often utilize yoga to supplement therapy, fostering the mind-body connection to explore a body-centered approach to addressing trauma and mental illness.

This guide explores the intersection of yoga and psychotherapy. We cover how yoga can contribute to better mental health and answer some common questions about this practice.

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What Is Yoga Therapy?

The West adapted eastern yoga practices to create the styles of yoga most U.S. instructors teach today. Still, western yoga focuses on the interconnection of mind, body, and spirit. These yoga styles typically align with Hatha yoga practices, using various breathing techniques and physical poses and postures to create harmony between the mind, body, and spirit.

To supplement traditional psychotherapy, yoga therapy offers a noninvasive, non-medicinal, holistic method for treatment and management.

Yoga therapy integrates these breathing techniques, postures, poses, and guided meditation processes into psychotherapy to supplement traditional therapeutic practices. Yoga therapy uses yoga’s physical practice to manage mental illness symptoms and issues and to foster a mind-body balance.

To supplement traditional psychotherapy, yoga therapy offers a noninvasive, non-medicinal, holistic method for treatment and management. Yoga therapy considers the whole person, including the physical body, the mind, and each person’s connections to others around them.

How Yoga Complements Psychotherapy Theory

Psychotherapy, more often referred to as counseling, uses non-medicinal methods to help patients deal with psychological issues. Some psychotherapists also advocate for the combined use of medicine and mental health counseling.

Psychotherapy includes a variety of approaches, including behavioral, cognitive, interpersonal, and family therapy. Typically, psychotherapy involves conversations between trained therapists and patients, where therapists guide patients through their emotional and thinking processes to foster better coping mechanisms and control negative symptoms.

Yoga therapy aligns with the holistic, or integrative, approach to psychotherapy. This theory considers and treats the patient as a whole person, addressing both mind and body. Holistic therapy emphasizes a higher awareness, encouraging patients to ground themselves in the present moment. Yoga also emphasizes grounding methods and allows patients to become more aware of how their bodies carry tension and stress.

Yoga Therapy Psychotherapy
Diagnosis Chronic pain; Arthritis; Insomnia; Headache; Hypertension Generalized Anxiety; Depression; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Stress; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Substance Abuse and Addiction; Eating Disorders
Treatment Mindfulness; Breathing techniques; Physical postures and poses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Talk Therapy; Holistic Therapy
Meditation; Guided breathing; Grounding techniques

Learn about academic paths toward psychotherapy:

Candidates for Yoga Psychotherapy

Yoga psychotherapy incorporates tools from both practices to help patients manage all kinds of physical and mental ailments.

In the United States, more than 40 million adults deal with anxiety disorders. Similarly, major depressive disorder is the leading cause for disability in adults. More than half of patients diagnosed with depression also suffer from anxiety disorders. Both yoga and psychotherapy can help treat and manage mood disorders and mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

Research demonstrates that yoga psychotherapy is effective in treating patients struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related issues. Children with autism have also benefited from yoga therapy.

A study published in Social Work Today noted the effectiveness of yoga therapy in treating substance abuse and addiction issues. The study cited increased gamma-aminobutyric acid levels produced during yoga practice. People who struggle with substance abuse and addiction often show lower levels of this neurotransmitter.

Yoga psychotherapy benefits patients managing all kinds of mental and physical illness, offering a non-medicinal, holistic treatment option.

Yoga Health Put Into Practice

Yoga therapy uses specific exercises that contribute to positive outcomes in patients. Yoga therapists may use different exercises for each patient, depending on the patient’s specific diagnoses and what works best to manage them. The sections below explore a few of those treatments and the results and improvements they may yield.

Exercises

  • Breathing: Yoga employs various breathing methods, each aimed at calming the nervous system. Alternate nostril breathing, humming breaths, and active yogic breathing all help relax muscles, reduce anxiety and stress, and calm blood pressure. Yoga therapists may incorporate these breathing techniques alongside physical postures and poser, or on their own.
  • Postures: Yoga therapists may employ low-impact yoga poses to aid in relaxation and trauma-sensitive healing for patients. Some common trauma-sensitive poses include child’s pose (the body bent forward over the knees, arms outstretched), chair pose (standing with knees slightly bent, arms stretched overhead), and constructive rest (lying down, knees bent and feet flat, one hand over the heart and one hand over the belly).
  • Meditation: Meditation aims to quiet the brain and relieve stress by focusing the mind on breathing and sensory feelings. In yoga therapy, the therapist may guide the patient in meditation, guiding their breaths and thoughts to focus on mental and physical awareness of the present moment.

Results

Yoga practice can alter neurochemistry and other bodily systems to relieve symptoms of various mental health conditions. Through practicing breathing techniques, postures, and meditation, patients can manage their symptoms in cooperation with psychotherapy. Although results vary among patients and practices, possible improvements may include:

  • Improved Depression Symptoms: Yoga has shown to increase serotonin levels and decrease a specific enzyme that breaks down stress neurotransmitters.
  • Relaxation: Yoga helps to lower outside stimulation and give the nervous system a much-needed restorative break. This can lead to better sleep and help manage negative symptoms like insomnia.
  • Overall Well-Being: Consistent yoga practitioners often report an increase in their general well-being, both physically and mentally.

Other Types of Integrative Psychotherapy

Yoga therapy serves as just one of many complementary and alternative medicines. Integrative psychotherapy essentially uses multiple therapeutic approaches, like psychotherapy and yoga. This multi-level approach serves the holistic purpose of addressing the patient as a whole person, considering their mind, body, and spirit in their treatments.

Psychotherapists can explore other holistic and integrative options to use with or instead of yoga. They may also suggest different combinations of approaches to find the right fit for each patient. Some other options include:

  • Mindfulness Practice
  • Hypnosis
  • Guided Imagery
  • Art
  • Dance
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Chiropractic or Osteopathic Medicine
  • Acupuncture

What Is Holistic Counseling?

Legal and Ethical Considerations

While seeking yoga psychotherapy, keep in mind that most psychotherapists are “talk therapists” and rarely turn to physiological treatments. Psychotherapists may collaborate with yoga therapists in yoga psychotherapy.

Yoga often involves physical touch from the therapist, and therapists are ethically responsible to obtain informed consent from the patient before working with a third party. Therapists who do not offer these specific types of treatments and practices may connect patients with the appropriate resources.

Yoga Therapy Certification


Earning yoga therapy certification can help practicing psychotherapists use new methods for providing holistic treatments for their patients. Some practicing therapists may find that talk therapy and medication do not suffice for their patients. Yoga therapy certification would offer therapists a new pathway for symptom management and healing.


The International Association of Yoga Therapists provides accreditation for yoga therapy training programs. The association also provides a list of accredited programs for prospective therapists.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the advantages of integrative psychotherapy?

    Integrative therapy incorporates multiple therapeutic methods to provide a holistic, or whole-person, approach to treatment. This holistic approach treats all levels of patient well-being, including physical, mental, and spiritual.

  • Is yoga an alternative psychotherapy?

    Yoga is a supplemental therapeutic method, typically used with traditional psychotherapy to treat all kinds of mental and emotional issues. Yoga not provided or led by a trained yoga therapist is not considered a form of mental health therapy.

  • What is the difference between yoga and yoga therapy?

    Yoga therapy, unlike traditional yoga practice, caters to patients’ individual needs. Yoga therapy’s goal is to empower patients to improve their mental health and well-being.

  • Which types of psychotherapy does yoga complement?

    Yoga therapy may complement all kinds of psychotherapy. It often supplements talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. However, yoga therapy can be helpful for patients pursuing all types of psychotherapy.

  • What yoga training do I need to earn certification in yoga therapy?

    The International Association of Yoga Therapists provides a list of accredited yoga therapy programs. These programs provide the training necessary to earn a certification in and offer yoga therapy.



Feature Image: electravk / E+ / Getty Images

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