Participating in counseling can itself be a yoga practice. Consider the yoga sutra, which claims:
“Through sustained focus and meditation on our patterns and habits, and conditioning, we gain knowledge and understanding of our past. (We learn) how we can change the patterns that are not serving us (and) to live more freely and fully.”
Part I: In counseling, we explore childhood, adolescence, and adult experiences to understand the patterns that developed and the conditioning from family, culture, and society that occurred. This might be thought of as the more Freudian or Jungian aspect of counseling.
Part II: We change the patterns and begin to live and express the freest and fullest expression of the self through psychotherapy techniques that have been developed by a multitude of wise therapists from Eric Ericson and Virginia Satir to the newest group of yoga based practitioners, including Bessel van der Kolk and Peter Levine. My favorite teacher, Daniel Hughes, also incorporates many of these yoga techniques into his version of attachment-focused therapy: playfulness, curiosity, maintaining emotional equilibrium, attunement, empathy, and acceptance.
Using techniques of self-inquiry, a healthy and loving detachment is developed. This leads to cultivation of witness consciousness. Through observation and acceptance of thoughts, behaviors and feelings, the self begins to experience compassion for his/her self and others. As awareness grows, habits that are new, nourishing, and healthy replace old, negative, self-defeating patterns.
Counseling and yoga share the same goal of differentiating between reality and illusion. Trauma, depression, and anxiety all keep the self trapped in the past, in the illusion that the world is not safe and the self is not whole. In illusion, the self frequently and repeatedly chooses unsafe people and situations that replicate past traumas. Only when the self moves from illusion to reality, by staying in the present and in the physical body, can safety and stabilization occur. Then the self can start to make safe choices and discern who can and cannot be trusted; thus, the SELF can be trusted to know who is safe.
These are all precepts of yoga and psychotherapy that can be practiced without ever unrolling a yoga mat or posing in an asana. However, for those who have not been able to heal from trauma through talk therapy, the physical practice of yoga can be a welcome relief from or lend strength and support to the talk therapy process.