What does yoga have to do with counselling?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Gabriel Lodge, MBACP
21st September, 2011
On the face of it, absolutely nothing. However, I believe that it is not as simple as that.
I believe in what I call a holistic approach to health. This means that the health of the individual depends on the whole person, mind, body and spirit (or whatever you care to call that element). At times when things are difficult and we feel out of kilter with ourselves and the world, we may feel the effects in many ways. We may be physically unwell. That might mean having a cold, or flu, or shingles or cancer. These are physical things, but they affect our wellbeing in subtle ways.
On the other hand, our sense of loss of wellbeing may be less physical than that. It may be a matter of feeling low in energy, menopausal, impotent, or symptoms of depression for example.
Finally, our sense of wellbeing may be knocked out of balance when we experience stress in the workplace, with our relationships at home or at a time of bereavement perhaps.
So, how can we re-establish the balance? In all of these cases, there are different strategies that can help to put things back on track, and there is no magic formula as to which will be appropriate for someone at any particular time. It is a matter of what suits the individual. When suffering an illness, drug treatment can often be appropriate. Not always, though, and some people believe that holistic treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology, chiropractic are more effective and indeed preferable to many. At times of stress, relationship breakdown, bereavement, loss of self-esteem or personal identity, counselling can be very helpful. My own take on it is that all these things have their place, but that there are things that we can do for ourselves that will back up these treatments. That is where yoga comes in.
Yoga means “balance”, so it is not surprising to know that many of the yoga disciplines are concerned with performing postures which help align the body so that there is a sense of harmony within our body and mind. Meditation also is a major part of this way of living for many practitioners and participants. Holistic approach – all these things are connected.
I am reminded of a recent experience I had in yoga. I was feeling emotionally completely raw through having suffered the death of our beloved family dog the day before, but I went along to the class as a way of allowing myself my space to be with that. I mentioned my sadness to my teacher, and followed the class until the relaxation at the end, when I found I could no longer contain my tears. The yoga had somehow unlocked my sadness, and I gave in to my vulnerability. My yoga teacher noticed this; she came over and covered me with a blanket, in an act of kindness and understanding that really cemented our connection. I am still grateful to her for that act of compassion. She really got it for me that day. It brings tears to my eyes as I write this now.
To get back to practicalities: a weekly yoga class, which realistically is what most people with an interest in yoga will follow, allows us to have a calm space in which to pay attention to our body, to breathe quietly within the postures and to listen to our inner selves. This is impossible to do in the world outside, for there are too many distractions and most of us do not realistically have the discipline to do this in any other setting. A yoga class is my gift to myself each week. It is uplifting, calming and relaxing. It is a space in which to allow myself to be.
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