Mindfulness In Yoga Therapy

by | Dec 1, 2021 | Meditation & Mindfulness

One of the most important things a Yoga Therapist can do is to apply mindfulness during the yoga therapy session and afterward. Yoga Therapists utilize mindfulness throughout all 5 kosha bodies or sheaths that exist within all of us. These sheaths go from gross to subtle, with the grossest body being outermost and the most subtle being the deepest part of the Self. The outermost sheath is called the annamaya kosha consists of the physical body. It is also known as the food body. A yoga therapist (YT) will apply mindfulness while observing a client’s physical body with a postural assessment and visual assessment. Here, a Yoga Therapist may note if shoulders are rounded forward or if the feet have high arches or bunions. Specific poses may help open the shoulders and find more connection through the entire foot. 

The physical assessment may show a dosha tendency. An exact dosha assessment is only completed with an Ayurvedic practitioner. However, a Yoga Therapist can get a general understanding of the client’s dosha by observing the client mindfully. Dosha means in what constitution the physical body appears to be in at the moment. The client may present Vata, Pitta, or Kapha dosha tendencies, shown in the body type, nail and hair condition, as well as the look of a client’s eyes, and food preferences.  If for example the client expresses having dry skin, and visually appears to have dry skin, the Yoga Therapist may suggest a self-care routine applying oil to skin. Here, the client would mindfully massage a specific oil into the skin, nourishing the Annamaya Kosha, or physical body. A client’s temperament is also an indicator of their dosha. In any case, the Yoga Therapist utilizes assessment tools to observe the physical body of a client while mindfully thinking of the Annamaya Kosha. 

Next, a Yoga Therapist mindfully assesses a client’s breath pattern with a breath assessment. The practitioner focuses here on the next sheath, the pranamaya kosha, or breath body, also known as the energetic body. Breath in yoga therapy and health care can indicate wellness or illness. The Yoga Therapist observes if the breath is short or full, chest centered, or equal in length, among many other indications. Clients may be asked to breathe mindfully into the abdomen or lengthen the exhale if anxiety is present. Mindful breathing nourishes the Pranamaya Kosha and the cells within the Annamaya Kosha. A Yoga Therapist can help someone with COPD or lung-related impact minimize symptoms of their illness. A practitioner can also use the breath to calm the mind, which is where the Pranamaya Kosha connects to the 3rd kosha, the mind-body, or Manamaya kosha. Specific breath practices or pranayama, can calm or energize the mental state of a client. For that, the client and Yoga Therapist will practice mindful breathing on and off the mat.

The mind-body, or Manomaya Kosha, oftentimes is a large reason for clients to seek yoga therapy. Whether you believe physical health influences mental health, the connection between the two is undeniable. In Ayurveda, the belief is that all disease begins in the mind. Think of someone with a diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Symptoms of PTSD may include insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, or high blood pressure. As you can see, symptoms can be visible or more physical than others, which may be more subtle, and thus more difficult to diagnose and treat. A Yoga Therapist can help the client reduce mental chatter, racing thoughts and negative belief systems by applying yogic tools mindfully. Such clients may benefit from practicing loving-kindness meditation, journaling, compassionate self-forgiveness, or applying the yamas and niyamas to their lives. The practitioner may ask the client to observe ahimsa, or non-violence, better explained as non-harming. To nourish this sheath, the Yoga Therapist may also ask the client to mindfully practice svadhyaya, or self study. All of these are excellent yogic tools to  help a client understand their mental body and it’s connection to the breath and physical body. 

The fourth kosha, one’s intuition and wisdom, or Vijnanamaya Kosha, is where we learn to discern. Once a Yoga Therapist asks a client to mindfully nourish their mind body, they will most likely move into the next sheath, their wisdom. After journaling, practicing compassionate self forgiveness, and svadhyaya, the client will be able to differentiate between perception and truth. This is where one’s wisdom comes in and vijnanamaya kosha is actively engaged and nourished. A Yoga Therapist will continue to apply mindful yogic tools within the session to bring the client back to understanding this difference of perception and truth. 

Finally, a YT will assist in guiding the client to nourish their innermost kosha, their Bliss Body, or Anandamaya Kosha. This most subtle form of energetic sheath lies deep within us. Some call it the divine Self or the connection to a higher power within us. Part of this kosha may be nourished by developing faith, devotion, practicing selfless service, volunteering, so we can see this loving connection between all living things that resides within this kosha body. The road to this kosha body may be filled with bumps but a Yoga Therapist can skillfully utilize yogic tools, such as mindfulness and self-care practices to empower the client to feel more whole. 

To better understand how a Yoga Therapist uses mindfulness in their sessions, let’s think of an example client. This client has anxiety, oftentimes headaches, a short temper, and dry skin. A Yoga Therapist will begin by assessing the Anamaya Kosha, noticing dry skin and perhaps suggest massaging oil for a self-care practice. Yoga poses may include grounding asana to reduce anxiety. For the pranamaya kosha the Yoga Therapist may suggest sitali breath to cool the hot temper and headache. The mannomaya kosha may be addressed by noticing negative feelings arise, then pausing and practicing a mindfulness exercise. The 4th kosha, or wisdom, will begin to differentiate between perception and truth. Journaling and practicing compassionate self-forgiveness could be offered to the client, reducing anxiety. The Yoga Therapist may suggest volunteering or joining a support group to nourish the client’s most subtle energy body, the anandamaya kosha. Feeling the connection to others experiencing similar life challenges may benefit the client to rediscover their faith in themselves and the world. 

Because the kosha system encompasses so much, a Yoga Therapist cannot help a client with one session. It’s important to understand that the client’s wellness begins within themselves and that it may take 3 or more sessions to feel its effects. Every client is unique and different in their lifestyle, belief system, health and wellness idea. A seasoned Yoga Therapist can equip a client with yogic tools, learned over time and through repetition, to reduce symptoms of discomfort, and increase well-being. These tools must be taught, practiced, and applied mindfully to achieve the greatest understanding and healing of all 5 energy bodies.

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