After attending IAYT’s Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR) last week in Austin, Texas, I am in awe of the impressive amount of research and health programs dedicated to helping people through yoga. The conference illustrated the positive impact yoga has on healing physical and mental conditions. Throughout the inspiring and insightful presentations, there was a common theme that stood out from the rest: yoga therapy teaches clients how to heal themselves. When healing comes from within, we take care of our ourselves by making meaning of our experiences, trusting our inner wisdom, and integrating yogic practices more into our lives.
A few presenters at SYTAR brought up this notion of “meaning making.” Meaning making is the process of making sense of an experience. When we truly understand our experience, it is like a light switch that goes off where we finally “get it.”
In her speech, “The Soul of Yoga Therapy,” Janice Gates shared how she overcame depression through connection with her own suffering. Eventually, she was able to acknowledge and accept her suffering. Gates came to realize “the challenges we face are sources of our deepest wisdom.” It’s true: we learn the most about ourselves when faced with the lows of life.
Understanding our suffering in the context of personal history is one skill that doesn’t come easy to many of us. Consequently, we have to nurture ourselves to facilitate this inner wisdom and intimate form of self-discovery. How does one become more open to facing their troubles head on?
Explore the new
Novelty brings clarity and comfort from negativity, and, as Todd Kashdan writes in his book, Curious?, “we can become more open to new experiences, more comfortable dealing with tension and anxiety, and more intelligent, wiser, and resilient.” Taking this advice, find one thing a day you can do that is outside your comfort zone, like learning a foreign language or reading a book on an unfamiliar topic.
A daily writing practice helps stimulate self-knowledge. There are many ways to write in a journal. You may choose to describe your daily experiences and thoughts, or you may feel inclined to write stories or insights drawn from your experiences.
Flexing our creative muscles gets us out of the tunnel vision and suffering that pulls us down with it. Otherwise, we begin to think our distorted thoughts are true, and as time goes on, these preconceived ways of looking at the world become cemented in our perspective. What are you waiting for? Get outdoors, garden, or spend time with positive people in your life. Prioritize your involvement in meaningful activities.
During Susi Amendola’s presentation, “Reversing Heart Disease: Yoga Meets Health Care,” she gave a detailed description of how Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program integrates yoga to help its participants make healthy lifestyle changes. This hospital program is a great example of healing through empowerment: listening to ourselves more deeply and using our inner wisdom for growth.
This notion, that the goal of yoga therapy is to empower our clients to help themselves, was echoed in several other sessions at SYTAR. When we look at healing from this perspective, it is motivating to know you are in charge of your life. You can learn ways to take care of yourself and not become reliant on the external world. Here are suggestions to strengthen your inner wisdom.
Take time for yourself
Set aside as little as a few minutes a day for alone time. Unplug and find a quiet place to just “be.” Use this time to sit with your thoughts and make friends with them. Whatever comes to mind, meet it with an open and accepting attitude. If you already have a meditation practice, make sure you also spend some time each day for self-reflection, like going for a walk.
Learn to highlight the times when you stick to your yoga practice and make healthy decisions. These celebrations, tiny and large, breed resiliency, and empowerment comes from acknowledging your perseverance and efforts. Track your celebrations in a gratitude journal and review them to remind you of your progress. You may be surprised after you look back over a month’s worth of notes!
Use your imagination to support your personal growth. Instead of worrying and focusing on what is not going well, use imagery to lift your mood and keep you focused on your intentions. You can tap into imagery through a guided meditation CD, words of affirmation, or a visual aid, like a vision board.
Yoga is more than stretching: it’s a way of life. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of yoga’s most important texts, defines yoga as the mastery of activities of the mind. Through yogic practices, such as meditation, healthy attitudes, and ethical behaviors, we can achieve this state of contentment. When you take what you learn during your yoga practices and integrate it with real life experiences, you learn how to to self soothe and heal yourself, and ultimately live in alignment with your highest form of self.
At SYTAR, Michael Lee , founder of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy program, discussed yoga therapy for couples. During one of Lee’s recorded counseling sessions, a couple talked about what happened during the yoga exercises and connected this insight to their relationship. This integration of yoga is helpful in learning to live a more peaceful, insightful life. Add these practices to your routine.
Cultivate daily practice
Some say it takes 7 days to form a habit, and 21 days for it to become your way of life. Start with a simple yogic practice you enjoy doing, and set aside time each day for this activity. If you are unfamiliar with yoga, begin by taking a yoga class in your neighborhood or seeing a yoga therapist. YogaGlow offers online yoga classes that you can take in the comfort of your home.
Do something creative
While intellectual activities are a part of life, make time to discover what you are passionate about. Create something, like drawing or writing. If you need guidance or assistance in finding your creative niche, look into community education courses.
Join a community group
It may be helpful to join a community group, or local sangha, that can support your commitment to yoga. Spending time with like-minded people provides encouragement and a safe place to explore your practice. Seek out dharma centers or meditation halls near you and search their calendar for community events.
In summary, yoga therapy teaches us ways to heal ourselves. Learning to make sense of our troubles, to trust our inner guide, and to integrate yoga more into our life can show us what we need to be happy and whole. We all have the answers within ourselves, just waiting for us to tap into them.