— Therapeutic yoga approaches the emotions from the doorway of the body —
Amy Weintraubm, 2012
Defining yoga is not an easy task. The Western image of yoga is often that of an alternative workout, reserved to people with flexible bodies, mostly women, who contort in unlikely postures making weird sounds in unison. In reality, yoga is something else. One of its main meanings is "Union", also intended as “union of all dualities”: between body and mind, between mind and spirit, between individual and world around.
Yoga, which originated in India five thousand years ago as a philosophy and discipline of life, has adapted over the centuries to the many cultural contexts in which it was transplanted. The same is happening now in the West, where yoga has been slowly modified, to the point of being transformed into something completely different.
The western world is discovering in yoga an effective refuge from the frenzy of its time, but it is selecting from it only those aspects that seem to most collude with its own frenetic rhythm. For this reason, yoga today is often mistaken only with its physical components, postures known as "asana", which were later incorporated into yoga for the purpose of strengthening the body and facilitating meditation.
In reality, the practice of yoga can entirely disregard athletic ability. Breathing consciously during a walk, or meditating for a few minutes while listening to the silence of one's emotions means doing yoga. Intended like this, yoga is obviously accessible to people of any age and physical form. A large body of research confirms the many benefits that practicing yoga brings to the body as well as to the mind. Several studies show that yoga correlates to a reduction in levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, muscle tension, digestion, blood pressure, and even diabetes.
Yoga and psychology
Psychology and yoga are complementary disciplines that share similar goals, which they reach via different approaches. Where psychology uses words to access emotions through consciousness, yoga approaches emotions via the body and the breath.
Over the course of its 150 years of history, Western psychology has gradually accepted the value of Eastern thought for the achievement of psychophysical well-being. Although Karl Jung already in 1932 talked about the similarities between psychoanalysis and Kundalini yoga, for its first century of life, Western psychology largely neglected the body. Since the 1990s, however, third-wave cognitive theories such as DBT and ACT have shifted the focus of the psychological discourse towards accepting symptoms as an important component in achieving effective management of emotions and behaviors.
The integration of yogic principles and psychological techniques has finally taken hold in recent years, in the face of the numerous studies that prove the effectiveness of this approach in the treatment of numerous disorders including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, and psychosis.
At OltreConfini we propose an integrated approach, where body and mind are both involved in the awareness process. On the one hand, the psychological method allows for greater awareness over personal, family, and cultural history. On the other hand, yoga offers tools to manage emotions by honoring the needs of the body along with those of the mind, hence strengthening the person as a whole.