Yoga for Psychological and Emotional Problems
Before you can change a pattern, however, you first need to see it clearly. People often aren't fully aware of recurrent thoughts that may be undermining their health and well-being, or they may not be aware of how pervasive they are. Therefore, part of the yogic remedy is to encourage your students to consciously tune in to their inner dialogue. A good place to begin such svadhyaya is during asana practice: Are your students judging themselves as they attempt a pose? Is fear limiting them from attempting practices, such as Handstand, that their bodies are ready for? Are they telling themselves that they'll never be any good at yoga? Students who have such thoughts during their practice are likely to have similar ones at other times, and these thoughts may be limiting their lives. The habit of self-study you help them cultivate on their yoga mats can spread to a broader awareness of mental habits—allowing them, for example, to bring greater precision to the work they do with a psychotherapist.
While it is not always possible for people with psychological problems to meditate, meditation is, ultimately, probably the most powerful yogic tool for studying the mind, and in the long run it often proves to be the most useful tool for dealing with psychological problems. But trying to get people who are seriously depressed or panicking to sit and meditate can be next to impossible, and potentially even counterproductive. The more sattvic they become from other practices, however, the more likely they will be to eventually tackle a sitting practice successfully, and reap its many benefits.
Dr. Timothy McCall is a board-certified internist, Yoga Journal's Medical Editor, and the author of the forthcoming book Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing (Bantam Dell, summer 2007). He can be found on the Web at www.DrMcCall.com.
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