Updated: Sep 23, 2022
The following is completely made up but includes concepts, ideas, and feelings that many people have and experience when engaging with yoga therapy. This story is meant to show, rather than tell what yoga therapy is and can be. Nothing in this story is meant to directly refer to any individual, and if something sounds familiar or feels resonant, you can be assured it’s because many others have said or felt something similar, and you share a common thread of human experience and expression.
It was 2:24 AM. June’s eyes were heavy but alert, the soft, rippled skin around her eyes had given up hours ago but her gaze was penetrating. In the google search bar were the words “I think I have anxiety.” Her heart was beating fast, and her knee was bouncing vigorously on the bed, but the rest of her body was aching for sleep while she explored the internet for answers. Her body was whispering to her, “what if you just lay back, just a little… just prop yourself up on that pillow there and see how it feels.” Her mind was sounding the alarm, “something is wrong, something bad is going to happen, I need to figure this out and get some answers otherwise I’m never going to be safe.”
I think I have anxiety.
It was a long time before she stumbled on the words “yoga therapy.” Pages of links to therapists, articles on managing stress, and advertisements for resources all sounded the same. When she came across “yoga therapy,” her first reaction was to roll her eyes, her second reaction was, “at least this is something different,” and her final response was to shut the laptop in defeat, rest back on her pillow, and open Tiktok on her phone. Tiktok knew what she needed, puppies and gardening tips. At 4:10 AM her eyes drifted shut before her weary mind could notice and stop them. Sleep at last.
June’s good friend Marcy was a therapist. June wanted to talk to her friend about her anxiety, but their personal relationship prevented them from having the necessary boundaries for Marcy to take her on as a client. Over coffee (which she knew she shouldn’t be drinking) she vented to Marcy about her lack of sleep and her lack of success in her late-night internet exploits. Marcy reminded her of the many, well-qualified people she knew whom June could talk with but June “didn’t feel like talking about this anymore.” She wanted to feel differently if even for a few minutes, she wanted some relief and she wanted to give her head a break. “My brain needs a vacation from me.” When June casually dropped into the conversation that she had stumbled on “yoga therapy,” Marcy nodded in recognition. “I don’t know much about it, to be honest. I’ve read about it, but I’ve never tried it. Somatic or embodied therapy is gaining popularity and recognition these days. You might want to investigate it.”
Later that day June wondered if she should bother emailing a local yoga therapist. “What even is yoga therapy? I can’t stand yoga classes or yoga clothes. I don’t feel up to talking to a therapist. Why am I doing this?” Yet, minutes later she had sent the email. She knew she needed something, she wanted it to be something different. She knew she wanted to feel something. She liked the photo of the yoga therapist on her website. She seemed… not like one of those “yoga people.” She seemed safe.
June didn’t immediately regret sending the email, but she certainly did after she got the response. She looked at the bold type of the unread message in her inbox for precisely eight days (and eight very sleep-deprived nights) before she finally opened and read it. She was surprised at how short and non-threatening it was.
Dear June, Thank you so much for reaching out to learn more about yoga therapy. People come to yoga therapy for all different reasons. Some people come with trauma, some come because they need help during a big life transition, others are looking to enhance their lives, and many don’t know exactly what they need, but they know they need something!
Before I take on any new clients, I like to chat with them for a few minutes to get a sense of what brings them to me and to answer any questions they may have. It’s common to have a lot of questions as yoga therapy is still not widely known or practiced.
When you’re ready, you can let me know when you would like to schedule a 15-minute zoom chat (or phone call if you prefer), or you schedule it with this link.
I look forward to getting to know you! Kindly,
Meg, Your friendly, local Yoga Therapist
Not too many trigger words in there. June squirms a little at the word “trauma,” but she was getting used to that in the cultural lexicon. She really appreciated the phrase, “when you’re ready.” The last thing she needs is to feel pressured. But she knew she did “need something,” so she clicked the link and scheduled the 15-minute chat. She honestly couldn’t believe she was doing it. She reminded herself that she could always cancel or reschedule, which was followed by a not-unfamiliar pang of shame and guilt. Canceling and rescheduling is something she does often to cope with her anxiety. She would try not to reschedule. She would play it by ear. She was starting to feel unsafe. June hesitantly added the meeting to her online calendar and then looked for somewhere else to put her attention. Bob The Cat would do, and after some petting and purring, she was feeling at ease.
Three days later June was heating up some ginger tea, sitting in her favorite chair, contemplating clicking the link to join her zoom meeting with Meg the Yoga Therapist. She had a blanket and a pillow on her lap. She had a cat and a dog handy just in case. OK. It’s just a conversation. She’s not obligated to actually schedule a session. Why not hear what the person has to say?
June had a hard time thinking of questions to ask. She wanted to ask questions because she wanted to have answers. Meg offered plenty of information upfront. She explained that yoga therapy is not like a yoga class. June doesn’t need to know yoga, like yoga, or have any interest in yoga because yoga therapy is therapy, it’s based on yogic principles that the way to the mind is through the body. The goal of the session will be to try to quiet the busy cognitive mind (if possible) so that other sources of information and experience can be discerned. Meg described what the process looks like: engaging in a few minutes of slightly vigorous movement to warm up the body and refocus the mind, then trying some shapes in the body as a tool for self-inquiry, moving down onto a mat for a more supportive opening and deepening, and then a few minutes of meditation followed by a chat. June didn’t think it seemed too scary and she couldn’t imagine how that could take a whole hour. She wasn’t sure if it was Meg’s warm smile and grounded energy, her thoughtful explanations and seeming to know that June needs a lot of information to feel safe, or her enthusiasm and confidence that June would “do just great and really enjoy the session,” but she signed up!
The way to the mind is through the body.
Shortly after their call, June received a confirmation email with a link to an intake form. She had seen forms like this before. She was not a fan. As she’s filling it out, she sees things on the form that she’s not ready to look at, let alone share with another person. Meg told her just to fill out the form to the best of her ability and comfort level. June took this first opportunity to advocate for her need for privacy and she left a certain section of the form blank. It’s her story and she’ll tell it if she wants to. She felt she had permission to protect herself and suddenly felt good about her first session.
A few days later June was taking off her shoes outside of Meg’s office and checking to make sure her cell phone was silent. Per Meg’s suggestion, she had on comfy clothes, not yoga clothes; her favorite sweatpants for throwing on as soon as she gets home from work, and a super soft, thin sweatshirt. Meg gestured toward her couch and June sat down and looked around. Thin and padded mats on the ground, yoga supplies (she guessed – not thrilled and feeling a little misled), pretty artwork on the walls, and plenty of plants inside and trees outside. Not too bad overall. She pulled a fluffy pillow onto her lap. Meg pulled up a chair.
They talked. Meg reminded June about the process and the goal. She explained that it’s up to June how she holds her body, and how she engages with physical and emotional edges. She encouraged June to listen to her body and her needs and take care of herself. She let her know that if she thinks physical touch might be helpful, she’ll offer it and June can always revoke her permission and even physically move Meg’s hand. They chatted a bit about June’s intake form. Meg didn’t pry and just accepted what June offered without agenda or judgment. June felt better about how she filled out the form and better about sitting in that room. They talked a little more about how June’s day had started, then Meg offered to hear anything else that June felt like sharing before she started moving. June opened her mouth to speak, and instead just took a breath. She crinkled her forehead, pulled the pillow up higher on her lap, and looked out the window. She watched as maple leaves, attached gingerly to their branches, danced lightly on the wind, not a care in the world. “I think I have anxiety. I get afraid for myself all the time.”
Meg nodded slowly and offered, “thank you for sharing that with me. How does that feel to say out loud?” June sat with that for a bit.
“It makes me feel anxious.”
“Yeah, I can understand that. What do you feel in your body?”
“My chest feels tight, my neck feels tight. I feel like making myself small and honestly, I’d like to stop talking about this.” “OK. Your chest and neck are feeling tight, and you want to make yourself small. We can certainly stop talking about this. Why don’t you just let yourself be small for now? What would it look like to make yourself small? Can you take a few breaths there?”
June curled up on the couch really tight and took a few breaths.
“Just feel your body and feel your breath.”
June concentrated on her breath and as she did, she started to loosen her grip. One breath and then the next breath, her body softened and began to unfurl.
“Just breathe. There’s nothing you need to do right now or change about your experience. You can just sit here and breathe.”
June’s brow furrowed as she worried to herself, “what if I start thinking about things that frighten me?”
As if on cue Meg offered, “If your mind starts to get busy you can just say to yourself in your mind, ‘I’m breathing in,’ as you breathe in, and ‘I’m breathing out,’ as you breathe out.”
June repeated the phrases in her mind, “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.” One more breath and then another. She noticed herself lengthening and growing taller and more comfortable against the back of the couch, the pillow resting lightly on her lap, one leg draped loosely over the other. A few more breaths and she smiled delicately. “Oh, I think I get this yoga therapy.”
The Session will be published at a later date. In the meantime, if you’d like to experience a session, or you have questions about this story, please reach out!