By Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC
The Practice of Therapy
You are already engaged, or are thinking about engaging, in a practice called therapy. I am impressed and touched by your willingness to do this most difficult thing – to look within yourself in a conscious attempt to face and to release pain. I never asked you and would never ask you to do it. It is too difficult. I am grateful, though, for your courage, transparency, patience, honesty, and humor. Sitting with you enables me to engage in one of my own practices, that of the clinical therapist. Being your therapist is not simply my profession. It is my purpose and, of course, my challenge. You interest and exhaust me, make me laugh, try my patience, and push buttons I didn’t know I had. You are my truest teachers, and I have great reverence for you and for your practice.
I have another practice that is, in many regards, similar to being in therapy. It is the practice of yoga. If my therapy practice starts in my heart and mind and radiates outward to affect my body, my yoga practice begins in my body and progresses inward to calm, cleanse, and heal my thoughts, emotions, and spirit.
Bhakti is devotion. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the type of yoga that I practice, is a Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is yoga done in reverence of a being, principle, or ideal. Just as I revere your therapy practice, my reverence encompasses other entities as well. Yesterday I dedicated my daily practice to all my teachers, those that I know personally and those whose words came to me from afar or reached out to me from the pages of a book. Anyone who has ever taught me anything is my teacher. My teachers are a great part of who I am, and they are sacred to me.
Pain and Fun and Hard Work
I imagine that my yoga practice is something like your therapy practice. It can seem hard, intense, joyful, irritating, interesting, funny, disappointing, enlightening, tiring, intriguing, energizing, and beautiful. The many things that it is keep me from labeling it or judging it, so success and failure are beside the point. There is only process, and I find that healing. I release attachment to all but the practice, and I practice… well… to the extent that I am able on any given day, all things considered. I try to be consciously present during my hour on the mat, and that, in itself, is a gift. A yoga class is a vacation in timelessness.
What is Balance?
I used to think that balance was, physically, the ability to stand on one leg without falling over or, emotionally, to stay on an even keel no matter what is going on in my life.
Now I am not so sure. Perhaps balance is simply being able to accept that, today, I cannot stand on one leg (or two legs) and to think it really doesn’t matter all that much. It is as it is.
This might be akin to my Clients’ miraculous ability to suffer depression, unstable moods, alternate realities, anger, OCD, stress, and the considerable side effects of psychiatric medications and still go on living their lives and still come to session and still talk openly about being who they are.
A Change in Nature, The Nature of Change
If you have already come to session with me, you probably have said aloud, to me and to yourself, what you want to change. We may have outlined the history of your discomfort, the way it is affecting you today, and what triggers it. It may have been painful. You may have cried. Maybe I felt like crying, too. By now, we may already be working on the modifications in thought and behavior that you need to practice in order for healing to occur. So, the journey has begun. All we have to do now is practice. With practice, feeling better is possible.
Similarly, in yoga, I have to practice – to practice linking breath and movement, to practice distributing my weight, to practice working out the postures and stretches, to practice being present and focused, to practice being patient with my body, to practice increasing my proprioception. During my life, I have had a lot of physical pain. With yoga practice, I feel better much of the time.
Last week, two of my yoga teachers made an essential point. They made it separately, and they made it in different ways; but it was the same point. The point was that it is only when we work to the point of discomfort (not pain or injury but discomfort) that we encounter our “stuff” – the things we don’t want to talk about, the feelings we hide from ourselves (the feelings we “depress”), our deepest truths, our quavering awareness of our human fragility, the pain or fear we need to release. This discomfort can – if we allow it – serve as the basis for positive change. It is where we reach the next level. It is where we stretch past our limits.
A Dedicated Space
My yoga mat, like the therapy room, is a space that is dedicated to the practice of health.
My physical health is strengthened by the flow of movement and by the yoga poses, or asanas, which were developed thousands of years ago to support, strengthen, and heal body and spirit. I am so much more relaxed after yoga practice.
My cognitive health is also improved as I let go of the random, restless thoughts that pervade and discolor the therapist’s mindset… appointments, phone calls, to-do lists, events and occasions, and worrisome concerns. I consciously release these as I step onto the saffron-colored rectangle of my “free zone”.
My emotions become quiet. I feel the prickly, impatient energies of stress subside, drain away into nothingness as I come into full contact with my breath and movement.
With breath, Spirit reemerges from unconsciousness and takes predominance, reminding me that the only time that exists is this moment, now, in my practice.
Come to the Mat
I frequently ask you to think about having your own Yoga practice. There is a form of Yoga for everyone, whether you are athletic or not. Pay no attention to advertisements featuring a “yoga body”. They are only trying to sell clothing and equipment. Do you want to practice yoga? Do you have a body? Then you have a yoga body; and that’s all that I am going to say about that.
Do some research on branches of yoga and studios in your area. If you are in or near our clinic, I have a list of yoga studios that my Clients recommend. If you do not want a hard, physical practice, Restorative Yoga, or Yin Yoga can be immensely helpful to people seeking an adjunct to their therapy sessions. It is quiet, relaxing, and meditative. It can be especially soothing to those in early therapy, a most difficult time.
Care for the Body-Mind in yoga as you do the Mind-Body in psychotherapy. Practice both to find balance, peace, presence, joy, stillness, and perhaps new parts of yourself. Come to the mat.