Yoga therapy beyond the poses in mental health settings
By Asya Haikin
Mental health professionals increasingly appreciate the benefits yoga can bring to clients, and yoga and meditation are becoming more popular as an adjunct to mental health treatment. The American Psychological Association states that psychologists, encouraged by growing research that supports the use of yoga in mental health, are incorporating the practice into their work with clients. Group yoga classes are being offered as part of the treatment in outpatient and residential mental health settings.
For the past year, I have been leading therapeutic groups for teenagers receiving intensive behavioral therapy in small-scale residential treatment centers. The clients have daily movement-focused yoga classes, but my session provides something different: deep relaxation and an accessible form of meditation and self-reflection. I combine yoga nidra with sound bath to guide participants into a meditative state through an experience of conscious relaxation.
My favorite yogic tools
Yoga nidra is a guided deep relaxation during which our consciousness hovers just on the verge of sleep. And in sound bathing, we’re submerged in the sounds of Himalayan singing bowls while resting in a relaxed position. Yoga nidra provides the setting for the practice. Clients are guided through intention-setting, body and breath awareness, and observation of emotions and thoughts. The sound bath then helps them to maintain a state of mindful awareness and relaxation. Each session includes a discussion portion, during which clients are encouraged to reflect on the practice to help them deepen their understanding of how it affects them.
Often coming in feeling anxious, participants say they feel calmer and more peaceful as a result of the session. One participant reported that at the start of the practice she was overwhelmed by her thoughts. During the meditations, she noticed that she was still aware of her thoughts—but at the same time, she was able to maintain her focus on the sound. Holding both the sound and her thoughts in her awareness enabled her to create some distance from her thoughts, and she felt relaxed and more centered as a result. In my experience, through repeated exposure to yoga nidra and sound bathing, participants are able to have better experience with meditation and mindfulness practices outside the session.
Sound bath gives participants direct access to a meditative state during which stress and anxiety are lowered and healing, growth, and resilience are enhanced. One observational study found significant well-being benefits from listening to the sounds of Tibetan singing bowls. These effects included reduced physical pain, tension, anxiety, and depression.
The yoga therapy tools of nidra and sound bathing offer an accessible way to approach meditation and mindfulness. Whether in a residential mental health treatment setting or your own living room, over time these simple—and often enjoyable—practices promise a more peaceful mind for many. Try sound bathing for yourself with a 7-minute practice featuring singing bowls!
Asya Haikin, MA, C-IAYT, practices yoga therapy in Northern Virginia (and anywhere over Zoom). She helps people with pain and anxiety connect to their bodies in a meaningful way.