The exciting intersection of yoga therapy and psychology, and the mounting research that suggests including yoga in a therapeutic setting could have wide-ranging benefits for clients, is an area of great interest for us at The Minded Institute.  

Our upcoming course, Yoga Therapy Skills for Psychologists and Therapists, is a four-day CPD where Dr. Samantha Bottrill (senior clinical psychologist and yoga therapist) and Heather Mason (founder of The Minded Institute, one of the world’s premier yoga therapy training organisations) teach basic yoga practices that can easily be incorporated into therapeutic work, and explore the relationship between yoga and psychology.

The benefits of yoga to health and wellbeing are of increasing interest to psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors and practitioners of talking therapy as they expand their continuum of care.

Practitioners are increasingly moving towards a person-centred approach to the therapeutic relationship. With this, they are growing in confidence integrating techniques from multiple complementary therapies to their practice, and tailoring therapy to the unique needs and nature of their individual clients.

One such complementary therapy is yoga. The practical and safe teaching of yoga skills within the therapeutic setting (such as breath work and planned movement) can lead to improvement in many psychological and physiological symptoms.[1]

The Minded Institute, a world leader in yoga therapy skills training, offers a ground-breaking course in the integration of yogic skills into therapeutic practice. This includes the teaching of evidence-based breathing techniques, gentle movement to reduce physical tension present in mental health issues, relaxation-based exercises, and an overview of the physiological importance of body-based approaches like yoga.

Although the body of evidence supporting the therapeutic implementation of yoga techniques in clinical practice is still growing, more and more literature is emerging focusing on the associated symptomatic and general wellbeing benefits. Yoga techniques have been shown to be beneficial in a range of mental health conditions; such as depressive disorders[2], anxiety disorders[3], PTSD[4], eating disorders[5], and psychosis [6].

Whilst scientific literature struggles to agree on the exact neurological underpinnings of many mental health problems, there is strong evidence that poor mental health is associated with decreased activity in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) and lower executive function. Concurrently, effective therapeutic interventions are associated with increased activity in the Prefrontal Cortex and increases in PFC volume.

It is proposed that down-regulation of executive function can be countered through bottom-up processes – such as planned movement and controlled breathing involved in yoga – which promote neuroplasticity and improve executive function.[7]

The study of yoga asana practice has revealed evidence that the mindful activity involved with the planning of new movements in yoga activates the shared pathway between the Cerebellum and Prefrontal Cortex. This activation is associated with increased connectivity in the shared pathway between the two; which may improve the ability to selectively inhibit or evoke particular patterns of thought in therapeutic clients.[8]

Some evidence also suggests yogic exercise may increase release of the neurotransmitter Oxytocin, which is associated with improved interpersonal function; which in turn may increase the efficacy of therapeutic intervention.[9]

Study of the impact of yogic breathing and physical posture have strongly linked yoga with beneficial activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. The holding of yogic posture is believed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system via the vagus nerve, the primary nerve structure connecting the parasympathetic and central nervous systems.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system increases the release of Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA), the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. Lower levels of GABA are associated with poor mental wellbeing, anxiety, depression, PTSD and chronic pain; regular increases in GABA activity are shown to significantly improve wellbeing, and symptoms of associated mental health problems.[10]

The use of evidence-based yogic techniques as an adjunct to therapy can have a really positive effect on the success of therapeutic intervention, as well as the wellbeing and symptoms of clients.

The Minded Institute is very keen to educate practitioners in the safe use of yogic techniques through this course and is open to bookings for its next Yoga Therapy for Psychologists and Therapists event. This will run from the 22nd to 25th November 2018 in London. Register now to avoid disappointment!

[1] Kamradt, J.M. (2017). Integrating yoga into psychotherapy: the ethics of moving from the mind to the mat. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 27,27-30.

[2] Balasubramaniam, M., Telles,S. & Doraiswamy,P.M. (2012). Yoga on our minds: a systematic reviewof yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 3, 117.

[3] Hoffmann, S.G., Andreoli,G., Carpenter, J.K. & Curtiss, J. (2016). Effect of Hatha yoga on anxiety: a meta-analysis. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine, 6(3), 116-124.

[4] Telles, S., Singh, N. & Balkrishna, A. (2012). Managing mental health disorders resulting from trauma through yoga: a review. Depression Research and Treatment, 2012, 1-9.

[5] Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Yoga and eating disorders: is there a place for yoga in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours? Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice, 2(2), 136-145.

[6] Li, J., Shen, J.,Wu, G., Tan, Y., Sun, Y., Keller, E., Jiang, Y. & Wu, J. (2018). Mindful exercise versus non-mindful exercise for schizophrenia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 32, 17-24.

[7] Diamond, A. (2000). Close interrelation of motor development and cognitive development and of the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex. Child Development, 71(1), 35-42

[8] Klanker, M., Mattijs, F. & Denys, D. (2013). Dopaminergic control of cognitive flexibility in humans and animals. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7, 201.

[9] Jayram, N., Varambally, S., Behere, R.V., et al. (2013). Effect of yoga on plasma oxytocin and facial emotion recognition deficits in patients of schizophrenia. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(S3) 409-413.

[10] Streeter, C.C., Whitfield, T.H., Owen, L., et al. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(11), 1145-1152.

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