I discovered yoga while still working in corporate America and it truly became my anchor in the storm of doing more with less. I found the practices soothing to my nerves while uplifting to my mind, allowing me to remain present in the chaos and go with the flow as the direction of my goals and objectives changed practically on a daily basis. I found the changes in my body and mind were so profound that I decided I just had to bring this ‘medicine’ to others that might be suffering from the same pressures. So I took a basic 200-hour in-depth yoga study and teacher certification training to become a yoga teacher. At the time, I didn’t know how impactful this training would be when I later decided to pursue a mid-life transformational career change to become a psychotherapist!
What I have found from personal experience is that these same yoga practices work to avoid vicarious trauma and prevent burnout, which is so prevalent in mental health professionals. Burnout is not a sign that we are a bad therapist and, in fact, it is probably an indicator that we are a good therapist because we are empathic towards others and have compassion for their suffering. However, if we don’t practice what we preach to our clients about self-care, we may move from being a compassionate witness to the suffering of others to experiencing vicarious trauma or burnout.
Not only does having these yogic practices available in my self-care took kit help me clear my body and mind in between sessions and at the end of the day, I am able to offer many of these practices to my clients to assist them on their healing journeys. And it is good to learn that the research is lending credibility to the effectiveness of yoga as an adjunctive clinical intervention for many of the mental health challenges experienced by our clients, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
So, based upon my personal experience, and now having the research begin to validate my personal experience, I encourage all mental health professionals explore how they might integrate yoga into their practices, not only to enhance their own lives, but to enhance the therapeutic relationship and the lives of their clients. I think it is important to highlight that pursuing certification as a yoga teacher does not mean you have to teach yoga classes as many might expect. In fact, as a yoga teacher trainer myself, it has been my experience that the majority of students taking the training do so to deepen their own personal practice versus having the intention to teach yoga.
I also think it is important to highlight that not all yoga – and in-depth yoga study and teacher certification trainings – are the same. Just as it is critical that there is a “good fit” between our clients and ourselves as reflected in the therapeutic relationship, it is critical that there is a “good fit” between yoga students and yoga teachers. Therefore, when venturing into the yoga world, I encourage everyone to shop around. Most yoga studios and schools will offer introductory specials where you can take unlimited yoga classes for a limited period of time so you can experience multiple teachers relatively quickly in order to determine if there is a fit, before making any further financial, physical, and emotional commitment. And if you find a fit, I suggest approaching the teacher and asking where they took their training.
So, if you have been considering adding yoga to your took kit and have wondered what options are out there, click on the button below to read an article addressing the empirical research on yoga and offering practical suggestions for mental health professionals interested in using yoga.