Q I notice that you incorporate eastern philosophy and practices in your column and counseling approach. Can you please comment on how yoga postures may aid in improving psychological health? Or is talking about problems always the best way?

A There is no “always the best way.” The various approaches and interventions can work in tandem, if we learn how to integrate them for ourselves. Hatha yoga is an integral part of psychospiritual well-being. It involves breathing, concentration, and postures that affect us on many levels. “Downward dog,” for example, stretches the entire back of the body, including arms and feet. Thus, it releases a lot of tension and helps with posture. This then supports relaxation and stability of the body and mind. Poses that bring blood to the brain stimulate the mind, refreshing us. Thus, we are more awake and can focus without becoming drowsy or lethargic. Doing yoga in the morning helps us avoid the need for caffeine to jolt us awake. Sun salutations gently and naturally bring vitality and wakefulness to our muscles, lungs, brain, and mind. This vitality lasts for many hours. Using yoga in the afternoon or evening releases the tiredness and fatigue that is so common for people working full-time office jobs. Various postures that require deep breathing and concentration remove the dullness accumulated through hours of staring at the computer, or working long hours without breaks. When you practice yoga, sleep becomes easier and more peaceful.

Many people find that regular yoga practice also aids in uplifting the mood. This makes sense on multiple levels, since yoga was developed to improve the practitioner’s consciousness. Science has also shown that physical activity consistently enhances emotional well-being. I often encourage couples in conflict to practice something physical together, like walking, swimming, sports, or yoga. They learn to have recreation together while there is a relaxing field between them; they have time to chat a bit and help each other if needed. Practicing yoga before working on problems renders a person more resourceful, optimistic, and resilient. These qualities support creative solutions to challenging impasses and overwhelming feelings. Yoga has the potential to be a solid base for all our endeavors.

Hatha yoga is not a counseling practice. It was never meant to solve certain relationship issues, anxiety, depression, attention-deficit, or schizophrenia. There are various other types of yogas that more directly address the mind and emotions. These include jnana yoga, taught by Ramana Maharshi and others and raja yoga taught by Paramahansa Yogananda. The Art of Living courses designed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar can be helpful. Various bhakti and other practices taught by Ammachi are beneficial for others.

Psychotherapy helps define the issues and supports effective communication that aids in psychological growth. To further understand the relationship between yoga, psychotherapy sand spirituality, I recommend two books: Integral Psychology: Psychotherapy, Yoga and Opening the Heart, by Brant Cortright and Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope. These books offer guidance on the benefits, challenges, and skills in integrating these various approaches into our daily lives.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

 

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