By encouraging practitioners to engage with the body and practice mindfulness, yoga is often championed as beneficial for physical and mental health. But can yoga be effectively combined with therapy?
Yoga skills for therapists are simple poses that can potentially help a client to relax before a session. Learn more about adding yoga to your practice with this guide.
Can You Use Yoga In Therapy?
Yoga combines physical movement with mindfulness, and this ancient practice has roots tracing back over 5,000 years. Yoga, as we know it today, is a more recent invention, with multiple schools emphasizing a different aspect of the practice.
Along with other forms of mindfulness, yoga is celebrated for encouraging self-care, although the practice is still slightly controversial among healthcare professionals.
However, the calming properties of yoga can have their benefits in the therapist’s office. By encouraging your clients to engage in simple yoga exercises, you can help them achieve the relaxed and trusting headspace that benefits honest discussion.
As you are a behavioral health therapist, and not a trained yoga therapist, the yoga you use in sessions should be kept simple. Don’t try and get anyone to engage in crane pose! The movements should be achievable for a variety of clients, and unlikely to lead to injury.
Who Can Benefit From Incorporating Yoga Into Therapy?
Yoga therapy can be most beneficial for clients who are struggling to open up. By working through a few yoga poses with the client, you can help them to relax, and begin to nurture a bond. Yoga can also benefit clients who feel anxiety and self-doubt.
Incorporating yoga into therapy can also benefit you, the therapist! Therapist burnout can cause you to lose enthusiasm and energy. While yoga can’t combat burnout, incorporating yoga poses into your routine can help you find much-needed space to relax.
Yoga Skills For Therapists To Use
Below, we’ve covered a few basic yoga poses, and how to incorporate them into a session.
Explain Why You’re Using Yoga Before You Start
Don’t just jump right into yoga poses. Instead, discuss with the client why you’re doing it, and why you think it will benefit them. Use your judgment to decide if yoga is the right choice, or if the client isn’t responding.
Before you start, ask the client about any pre-existing medical conditions that might prevent them from engaging in the exercise.
Join In With The Poses
It can be highly beneficial to join the client as you work through the yoga poses. First, this will help you provide a proper demonstration of how the pose works.
Second, it will make the client feel more relaxed. A client will often feel vulnerable during a therapy session, and asking them to perform a set of poses as you watch will not lessen that feeling. Joining in as you work through the skills can help foster a bond.
There’s one more reason to work through the poses: you’ll feel the benefit too. As you help your client relax with yoga poses, you’ll be able to focus your mind. This is particularly useful if you’ve been running from session to session!
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a breathing exercise designed to help you find comfort and calm. Slow and even breathing can help regulate emotions, and as the client needs to pay attention to what they’re doing, they can’t get lost in spiraling thought patterns.
To practice alternate nostril breathing, begin by sitting comfortably. Place your index and middle finger on the center of your forehead, with the thumb and ring finger resting on either side of your nostrils.
Inhale through the right nostril, while holding the left nostril closed with your finger. Uncover your left nostril, and close the right nostril. Exhale through the left nostril, and repeat the process.
Chair Cat-Cow Stretch
The cat-cow pose is often done on the hands and knees, but in the therapist’s office, you can modify this stretch to be completed on a chair.
Begin by sitting upright on a chair. The feet should be kept flat on the floor, and the spine held long. Rest your hands on your knees or thighs.
Inhale while arching your spine and rolling your shoulders down as your shoulder blades are brought back. This is cow position. On the exhale, drop your chin to your chest while rounding your spine. Both the head and the shoulder should move forward.
This is cat position. As you inhale and exhale, move between the two positions. The cat-cow stretch draws the focus to both the breath and the body, encouraging an openness in the client.
Chair Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Sit sideways on the chair, with the body facing left. The feet should be flat on the floor, and the spine held straight. Hold this position for a deep inhale. On the exhale, twist the torso to the left, and grasp the back of the chair with your hands.
Hold the exhale for 5, before returning to the seated position.
Repeat this movement for several cycles, before shifting position to face right. Repeat the same movement, only in reverse.
The chair spinal twist links breathing with movement. As the position compresses the spine, the client will have to think about how they breathe, rather than rushing through the motions.
Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Sit facing forward, with the feet against the floor and the spine held straight. Inhale, maintaining this upright position. On the exhale, bend forward at the waist. The torso should move over the legs, the arms should reach towards the ground, and the head should hang heavy.
On the inhale, move back to an upright sit, and lift the arms above the head. Repeat this movement for several cycles.
This relaxing pose helps the client to engage with their body. As the torso and legs come into contact, the pose can help the client to feel grounded.
Yoga forces a person to slow down and connect with their body, which means it can be a valuable addition to your therapy sessions. By learning a few basic poses and incorporating them into your time with a client, you can help patients relax and find the headspace they need for effective therapy.