Yoga and The Mind/Body Connection

Posted by on Feb 1, 2012 in Able New York

Over the past 3 decades, yoga has swept the nation with a health care reform of its own. Yoga has become a multibillion dollar industry, encompassing the weight loss industry, clothing industy, mats and accessories and complete yoga retreats at international luxury destinations.

So how does a fitness trend so ingrained in popular culture and commerce have anything to do with social work?

Organizations like Yoga Research and Education Center, and the International Association of Yoga Therapists have contributed considerable evidence showing benefits to people with physical disabilties, mood disorders, and severe and persistent mental illness.

Unfortinately, these groups often have limited or no access to the mainstream practice of yoga. Benefits are not limited to the physical body. New York City psychiatrist Dr. Richard Brown writes that body and mind awareness through yoga can be an effective gateway to better track negative thoughts and help to understand emotional patterns.

Using yoga as a complement to traditional psychotherapy can be especially beneficial for people adjusting to physical disabilities and chronic illness.

At the Initiative for Women with Disabilities (IWD), wmen are reaping the benefits of a mind/body approach throughout the Elly and Steve Hammerman Health and Wellness Center. Individual and group counseling sessions introduce mindfulness techniques, breath and body awareness. The center offers a full yoga program as well as other clinical and wellness services.

Because of the perception of yoga as a vigorous physical exercise, social workers whose clients could benefit from mindful awareness training often rule it out.

In “Yoga For Depression” by Amy Weintraub, Ms. Weintraub writes, “It is easy to practice yoga as though it were exercise, moving from posture to posture, with little awareness of the sensations in your body or your feeling state. This is uncounscious yoga, and you run the risk of energetically reinforcing old patterns and habits of mind.”

Mary, diagnosed with autoimmune disease several years ago, came to see the IWD social worker with complaints of fatigue, pain, and sadness over the loss of her her highly energetic lifestyle.

They explored idfferent scenarious she found stressful, and examined each scenario by noticing how she felt in her body.

They practiced seated forward bends, resting the front of her head on a supportive surface, which can have a calming effect and, and they included a breath awareness practice.

Mary reports the combination of talking about her adjustment to her illness and tuning into her body has been effective in helping her cope iwth symptoms and stress relief.

The steady rise in the use of yoga in medical centers and non-profit organizations signifies heightened awareness among the health care community of the benefots of yoga. Fidning a social worker who can introduce appropriate postures and breath practices can add a powerful component to the healing process.