“Yoga is like my therapy.”
If you practice long enough, you’re likely to hear someone say this about yoga. Maybe you’ve even said this yourself after a particularly relaxing class. And there is definitely some truth to the idea that the effects of yoga can mimic the benefits of therapy: A sense of clarity, calm, and of releasing and opening up, both emotionally and physically.
For those of us who are curious on how to deepen this sense of release, and create space for difficult emotions, mindfulness therapy can be a great tool. Mindfulness therapy is set up in a similar way to most psychotherapy: A client and a therapist share a private, confidential space, and discuss the client’s pertinent issues. So, what makes it different than most types of therapy? Let’s explore how mindfulness therapy can offer a safe, compassionate, and present-centered space to those struggling with both big and small emotional issues.
Learn to tune into your body. Much like yoga, mindfulness therapy works closely with present-moment awareness in the physical body. The therapist helps the client tune into messages the body is sending them (e.g. a tight throat or heavy chest), and then guides them into being fully present with sensations or emotions that arise. This almost always leads to the difficult emotion dissipating and creating more familiarity and comfort with emotions we usually run from.
Cultivate present-moment awareness. In order to quiet the mind enough to hear what message our internal self may be sending us, we need to be fully present with what is arising. This involves using tools like tuning into our five senses, or deep breathing to facilitate being in the present moment. The therapist works with the client to develop a practice of returning to the present, and “un-hooking” themselves from anxious or depressive thoughts that may be keeping them living in the past or future.
How to be with (and not run from) hard emotions. Through the techniques discussed previously, the therapist helps the client sit with their toughest emotions. There may be a few (or many!) tears shed, but that’s okay! We are retraining our brains to learn that difficult emotions, like pain or suffering, are uncomfortable, but are also very normal. We learn through mindfulness therapy that these emotions will dissipate the more we turn towards them, rather than constantly running or ignoring them. When we learn to face our scariest parts is when we begin to finally find healing around suffering.
You already have the tools to help your anxiety. Mindfulness therapy teaches us that we already have a lot of what we need to help ourselves in moments of high stress. Our breath is the most important and powerful tool we own to help manage anxiety. Using specific breath work, or pranayama, we can learn how to calm our heart rate, lower blood pressure, and pacify the mind. Other therapeutic techniques, like body scans or guided imagery, can also be effective ways of soothing serious anxiety or stress-related symptoms.
Get on the path to being your most genuine self. One of the biggest and most rewarding outcomes of mindfulness therapy is figuring out who you ideally would like to be, and thus creating a life that is more aligned with your genuine persona. The therapist works closely with the client to figure out what characteristics are important to them (e.g. honesty, compassion, confidence) and jointly they create a roadmap on how to arrive there. Figuring out detrimental thought patterns, curtailing reactionary behaviors, and how to be more self-compassionate during the process, are all ways mindfulness therapy can help you achieve a life that is truer to your authentic self and deepest purpose.
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