“As soon as we accept what we’ve been given, a door opens.”
Debbi Flittner, JD, MA Licensed Professional Counselor
Located in SW/Portland Garden Home Area
Yoga & Mind/Body Integration:
How Does it Work?
What is yoga? Is it a popular physical exercise? A type of meditation? A philosophy of life? Does it heal?
Yes to all the above . . . Yoga, a Sanskrit word with many meanings, is a way to “yoke” or join body with mind, to live in a holistic manner, with a sense of well-being. Today many people practicing yoga “asana” or movement imagine that as the whole of yoga, but it is only one branch of the wondrous, complex “healing tree” that is yoga.
Respected yoga scholar Georg Fuerstein says it well:
“Yoga’s highest purpose is to help practitioners in realizing true happiness, freedom, or enlightenment. However, yoga has a number of secondary goals, such as physical health, mental harmony, and emotional balance. In its most integrated form, Yoga seeks to unlock our full human potential.”
Yoga’s healing continuum extends an impressive distance. It is comprised of the following 8 “limbs” of the yoga tree:
- Ethical guidelines (yamas, niyamas) for living life with personal integrity for self and others, in recognition of our inherent interconnectedness.
- Asana movement, or the many types of physical postures. Pranayama, many types of breathing exercises that calm or raise energy. These work well with anxious or depressed states.
- Pratyahara, or a “turning inward” of the senses. Here we find ancient practices of visualization and relaxation.
- Dharana, concentration, the ability to focus on a single object.
- Dharana increases as you maintain and deepen your practice, both in that moment and across time. It is the precursor to Dhyana, or meditation.
- Dhyana, meditation, relaxed concentration. We actually teach concentration as meditation, but the deeper state (meditation) occurs in time as you practice concentration. There are many philosophies or schools of meditation within yoga. The Buddha was a yogi!
- Samadhi, blissful absorption; The end of the human evolutionary continuum; perhaps as the unified state taught by advaita vedanta.
We concern ourselves in our work together with tapping into and using pieces of all of the limbs. There are hundreds of books for study at all ranges of the continuum, and some useful ones can be found on my Resources page.
How We Can Use Yoga
“How is this useful in helping me sort through my life issues?” – you may ask. It is useful because we have many tools here at our fingertips to explore and combine with Western psychotherapeutic techniques, and some of these will be useful, even life-changing. We will find that starting with one method includes some of the others. For example, we might practice together a simple calming breath, adding visualization, to deepen effect and result.
“Asana” – mindful, very gentle yoga poses direct body movement. Awareness of our breath helps us flow naturally with the body. As we move, we find that the slower and more gently we move, the greater the awareness focused on our movements.
This in turn brings a deeper awareness of what parts of the body are moving, increasing proprioceptive skills, or the awareness of where are bodies are as they move through the space around them. As awareness increases with movement, attendant sensations and emotions come into view. We examine what arises with compassion, and respect for the sacredness of truth-telling.
I have used these techniques with my clients, and with groups focused on teaching participants both how the body responds to movement, how to use breathwork to help regulate moods, how to become accepting of strong or painful feelings in order to release them, decrease anxiety, and develop a more grounded centeredness that is useful in everyday life.
I have taught psychotherapeutic yoga groups to people who are recovering from trauma and depression, working through cancer, living with anxiety and social fears, and living with HIV/AIDS. I am familiar with Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.
The ground of my therapeutic work springs from compassion and ethical guidelines that create a space of safety and support that we share together. Our work proceeds from there. Your readiness to embrace change strongly informs the pace of our work. Working with movement modalities occurs as it is useful.
We always recognize that change does not necessarily feel good at first, or even feel “right”, as it takes some time and practice before a behavior becomes remembered in the tissues.