I have been trying to figure out the best way to articulate the HOW and WHY the combination of psychology and yoga are so important. In the traditional psychology world we see more uses and applications for yoga with individuals struggling with eating disorders, extreme mental states, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and various types of abuse. This speaks to the transformative power of yoga asana practice and pranayma not only for those who practice, but for those who are in the practitioners various circles.
Honestly though, little credit is often given to the inherently healing power of yoga itself within the psychotherapeutic context. We often see yoga combined WITH something or FOR something. We see many ads and studies using YOGA FOR.....(enter population of choice). The yoga is always noted as being successful in treatment, but the credit is given by-in-large to yoga as part of the intervention, not the entire intervention.
Even in my graduate school program in Somatic Psychology there was a refusal to acknowledge that yoga was its own form of body-based therapy. I wrote a masters thesis (now a published article) on how yoga may be its own modality of Somatic Psychology if you overtly tie it to psychotherapeutic principles and the developmental movement patterns inlaid within asanas.
When you practice asana something happens. It is a mysterious alchemical process that transforms us. The beauty is that anyone who practices yoga would probably feel some mental result other than their arms becoming more buff. Likewise, the practitioner that goes after practice for the sake of more mental stability will get some secondary gain other than lower anxiety. They will gain those buff arms. So either way you enter the practice, you get primary and secondary gains.
Now let me flip this around on you a bit, and I'll share a personal story to kick the flip.
It wasn't so long ago that I lived a double life. I was teaching yoga full-time and touting all the messages that often come along with that. I was preaching health, vitality, and well being. I taught about gentleness and kindness. I taught about seeing the good and making everything we do a work of art.
Inside though I was a wreck. I was far from treating my body with the respect I taught others to do with their own bodies. I did not see the good inside myself. I did not feel like an artist or if I did I felt like a very troubled one--maybe like Van Gogh. I had dirty little secrets.
Even after years of being 'in recovery' from anorexia and bulimia, I found myself turning towards those behaviors repeatedly in times of stress. At this time I was actively bulimic and I felt like a complete sham and total fraud. I always felt that if someone found out they would never want to be my student, they would think I was crock of shit. So I hid in secrecy and shame the very behavior that had brought me to the mat in the first place years before.
The other dirty little secret I held was that I was not kind to my relations. I was emotionally reactive to the point of destroying some very important relationships in my life. On the mat I was an angel but at home I was full of out of control. I could go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. Frankly I am surprised that the cops weren't called when the neighbors heard the yelling. It was a terrible time--time in my life I was most abusive to those I loved.
I tried to manage this incongruence by doing more yoga. I practiced close to 3 hours a day, locking people out of my life, not returning calls or emails, and believing that if I practiced long and hard enough Lord Ganesha would spontaneously remove all the obstacles in my life and I would be kissed by Krishna's love and never again find my head in the toilet or screaming like a banshee.
Well, the tactic worked. It worked so long as I didn't leave my mat. If I stayed on my sticky mat all was well. But the second I left the edges of my rubber universe the rest of my self--all of myself--would re-emerge. I would get frustrated with myself and be self-hateful, only then returning back to the recluses of the mat for refuge. And so the cycle repeated for years until I started my graduate program in psychotherapy.
I always knew I would gain skills in counseling others, but I never anticipated gaining the strength and courage to counsel myself and find an integrated SELF inside. In tandem with my program I saw the same therapist the entire four years. This relationship has proven to be the most reparative healing relationship I have ever had other than my husband whose presence in my life falls directly in conjunction with my therapists presence. So. Not. A. Coincidence.
So all of this is to say that there is a place where the sidewalk ends in the capacity for yoga practice to change us. As much as yoga practice transforms, it also elicits and illuminates. Yoga elicits old material that must be looked at and worked on. It illuminates the places inside ourselves where the pieces do not fit. Yoga shows us where we are off our center.
My question is: WHO, WHAT and WHERE do you gain the tools to get from the place yoga elicits and illuminates to the felt sense of integration and the observable difference in your life due to that congruency of inner and outer experience?
I have talked to many people who report similar experiences. They tell me "yoga has stopped working their inner process the way it used to." They say "yoga has brought me so far and now what?" I hear "yoga practice is getting great at yoga asana but what about all the other emotional stuff?" I am told "yoga practice is better and cheaper than going to therapy." My favorite one is: "I don't need a shrink i have yoga".
This space--the end of the yoga sidewalk if you will-- is the place I like to live in and work from. This 'no persons land' is chaotic, messy, and sometimes scary. (Which makes it the perfect breeding ground for me to work creatively and effectively-why thats so-i'll tell you another time).
This space is why I created Applied Psychology For Yogis.
I want to teach yoga teachers about psychology in a way that honors the traditions and crazy wisdom invested asana practice affords. Yoga is indeed inherently therapeutic. But despite that, we need skills to manage the precipices to which yoga pushes us. I want to teach skills to manage the place where the side walk ends. My deep wish is for people to be in their embodiment process for the long haul.
What is sustainable over a lifetime might involve other things besides just asana.
Let's be willing to go to a therapist, or seek supervision or mentorship around aspects of our yoga related process. Let's be willing to educate ourselves in such a way that our yoga classes can be about yoga and its magic--honoring its inherently therapeutic nature. In so doing we become willing to meet the place where the sidewalk ends, step off our mats and into the depths of our process with skill and grace.