Yoga as mind-body-spirit therapy

I came across a blog post on Elephant Journal earlier today that has me feeling very excited. The post was called Why Psychotherapy Alone Doesn’t Really Work by Yogi Michael Boyle. In this post, he claims that because our emotions and memories reside in our limbic system, and our logic, reasoning, and understanding reside in our neocortex, the understanding of our issues that is produced in the neocortical part of our brain is not able to make a difference in the limbic part of our brain to make a lasting change because the two parts of the brain do not communicate well with each other. This is why psychotherapy alone has not always been able to make the kind of progress than many of us have hoped for.

He argues that because the traumas of life become embodied in us, the body needs to be part of the healing process—not just the mind. In fact, he claims that it must be a mind, body, and spirit approach and that the time-tested combination of yoga (as a full philosophical system, not just the physical postures) and ayurveda is the best way to promote healing.

Now, let me say upfront that I am not familiar with the author of this post, nor am I familiar with the book (or its authors) that he references in his post. So I am not going to posit that his claims are fully backed up and supported by evidence. I simply don’t know the literature well enough to comment on that either way. However, his post did bring together a number of different strands of things that have been running through my life in a way that sparked some new connections for me.

The whole idea that many of our memories and emotional traumas are stored in our bodies (physical and energetic) is one that I’ve run across in many different contexts over the last several months. Proponents of various tapping programs all claim that these are stored in our bodies as energy blocks that can be freed through tapping protocols along our energy meridians. Reiki also suggests that wounds are stored on an energetic level and that the healing energy of Reiki is able to heal these without us needing to analyze them. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, which I have tried, works on the idea that trauma is embodied and working with the body can give us a way to release those traumas. Shamanic healing work also claims that we carry these wounds around in our bodies and our energy fields and that healing can take place on that energetic level without us ever understanding the wound. I’ve actually experienced this kind of healing on an issue that years of psychotherapy never shifted, so I know that this part of his claim is not at all far-fetched.

As I’m moving through my yoga teacher training program, I am learning more and more about the depth of what is involved in yoga. The common perception of yoga as only a physical exercise program only touches the very tip of the iceberg of all that is involved. As I’m coming to appreciate these depths, I can also see how his suggestion of yoga would be a beautiful way to address embodied issues in a mind, body, spirit way since all are actively touched in a full yoga practice. In fact, there are schools of yoga that emphasize yoga therapy. One of my yoga teachers is a leader in using yoga as part of Alcoholics Anonymous with great success in helping people with addictions. Yoga is clearly much more than physical exercise.

So even without fully investigating his claims, they all make quite reasonable sense to me based on what I already know from other sources. Why then am I so excited about this article? There are two reasons.

The first thing that struck me is how well this ties together so many of my different interests. I’ve long been fascinated by the mind-body-spirit connection, and yoga really does offer a way to explore all of these dimensions together. When ayurvedic practices are combined with yoga (as they often are), it also brings in my interest in diet and herbs that I thought I had lost when the college at which I had been studying went under. This had been such an enormous blow to me last year, that this is the first time I’ve felt any interest in that area reviving at all. I also feel called to be a healer and have been struggling to figure out exactly what this means for me. I’ve been exploring coaching, but I hadn’t been able to figure out how to tie that into something that addresses a person holistically. I’ve been excited about the idea of teaching yoga in a one-on-one personalized way, but it seemed like it would be a hard thing to market. So this article helped me to envision what a personalized yoga coaching practice might look like in a way that I have never been able to do before, and that has me very excited.

The second thing that struck me as I thought about this was more immediate. I’ve commented several times recently about how much I’ve grown over the last month and how much has shifted for me. If I compare all the progress I’ve made in the last month to the amount of progress I made in the month before that (after leaving my job), the difference is huge! Yes, it could just be additional time away from the old job. It could be additional time to rest and be restored. But I find it very coincidental that I started yoga teacher training a month ago. It was at this same time that I re-started my dormant yoga practice and have deepened it enormously with my increased understanding of all that it entails. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I am convinced that it is my yoga practice over the last month that has made it possible for so much to shift with so much ease—things that I had processed and analyzed and thought about and talked about for ages with no success!

I know I’m not just making this up either. A friend of mine commented to me just a few days ago that she has noticed that in the last few weeks I seem to have a much more solid foundation under me that I have for a long time. I’ve looked back over my blog posts and journal writings for the last couple of months, and I can see a clear shift after I returned to my yoga practice—without me ever realizing until today that it was having any effect! Another friend just started a Kundalini Yoga practice about six or eight weeks ago and is raving about what a phenomenal difference it is making in her life. This is good stuff!

So I am left feeling hopeful, excited, and tremendously grateful. After all of my wandering, I feel like I may have finally found a home that fits me. A place that I can heal and from which I can offer healing to others. Life is good!

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.