6 Steps For Finding the Right Yoga Practice

You don’t have to be passed out on your yoga mat for a healthy practice.

Posted Aug 29, 2012

Therapy is a process. Effective therapy is an active process. Rarely do the 45-50 minutes spent in a therapist’s office amount to an automatic resolution of concerns and miraculous solution to all problems. If this were the case, with the magical swish of a wand we could cure all and any ailments that walked through our doors.

In previous articles, I’ve discussed the foundations for solid mental health (for article see here), as well as ways that technological tools can help keep us accountable (see article here). There are also many ancient Eastern practices that may provide a host of benefits. Namely, I’m talking about yoga.

According to information compiled by Trisha Lamb and the International Association of Yoga Therapists, the health benefits of yoga include psychological, physiological, and biochemical effects. Psychological benefits include: a decrease in anxiety and depression; mood improvement; increase in social adjustment, self-acceptance and self-actualization; decreased hostility; and an increase in subjective well-being (happiness). Cognitive effects include improvement in attention, memory, and concentration. Physiological effects also abound and include: improved sleep; decrease in pain; improved cardiovascular efficiency; energy level increase; and weight loss.

While yoga classes and studios have become much more mainstream in the last couple of decades, the popularity of the practice has also in some ways altered its origins. Many former aerobics and pilates instructors now teach yoga without any formal training in the practice. Others fuse yoga with intense core workouts and boast “power” yoga classes that will make you break a sweat. And for those who really enjoying getting drenched and/or sweltering conditions, they will practice bikram or “hot” yoga in rooms with temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and around 40% humidity. Granted, for many this can be exactly what they are looking for in a yoga practice. But for yoga to be therapeutic or otherwise beneficial, such intensity is hardly needed.

The range of yoga styles and its esoteric lexicon (chakras, asanas, pranayma, etc.) has had the unfortunate effect of scaring away many from a practice that could markedly improve their overall health and quality of life. The Mayo Clinic provides a list of guidelines to consider when selecting a yoga class. Certainly if health concerns are present, consulting with a physician would be necessary prior to beginning a practice. Below, I list a few elements to consider for establishing a practice that can enhance overall well-being as well as therapy process.

1) Be kind

2) Start slow

3) Pick a small class

Having been in larger classes crammed with students, I’ve often found several themes: 1) instructors don’t always have the time (or space) to walk around and adjust each student individually; 2) instructors may not offer pose modifications that can make the pose more or less challenging depending upon the student’s level. For example, many poses can be made less strenuous by enlisting a wall as a stable agent to help with balance. I’ve often found that in larger courses many students have some experience with yoga, and so the challenge level is bumped up many more notches than a beginner would appreciate.

4) Props are fun!

5) Play the field, or rather the studio

6) Think of yoga as play

Therapeutically, I have seen the benefits reaped by my clients who practice yoga while in therapy. For some, life circumstances have made it so that their former practice has dropped to the wayside, and for others it is a new experience entirely. I have known some yoga instructors to ask students to set aside an intention for each practice. Others have read spiritual or inspiring passages and quotes prior to the final resting posture. At times I have thought these instructors are providing to students much of what we therapists hope to give to our clients—peace, awareness, self-compassion, contentment, and balance.

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