How ritual can contribute to healing

By Molly Goforth

The spiritual aspect of yoga therapy is unique among complementary therapies, and I have found in working with clients that it is important to its effectiveness. The novelist Andre Aciman said, “Rituals are how we step into our private field of dreams, a small Elysium all our own.” Offering people a way to intentionally create this kind of space and feeling, a small oasis of peace in their daily lives, is therapeutic for many conditions. Yoga therapy has multiple tools for creating therapeutic rituals. I like to keep the following guidelines in mind when helping a client add ritual to their lives:

      • Keep it simple.
      • Make it pleasurable.
      • Add it to something they are already doing.

Turning habits into rituals

The idea of adding a new obligation to an already-busy life can be off-putting. Making a pleasurable ritual out of an existing habit is an easy way to allow for this shift. Indeed, turning a habit into a ritual is as simple as adding mindfulness of sensation and deliberate sequence.

For example, one client and I focused on creating a ritual out of a simple chore. Washing the dishes became a ritual when she began to pay attention to the temperature of the water on her skin, the scent of the dish soap, and the weight of the dish in her hands, along with the sequence of select, scrub, rinse, and place in the rack. I also encouraged her to find a genuine moment of gratitude in the task. Her immediate answer was to be grateful for hot water from the tap, as that was a luxury she had once lived without.

To increase the likelihood of repetition, I encourage clients to add pleasurable elements. Another client, whose talk therapist had recommended yoga therapy as a path to greater body acceptance, found peace and pleasure through the deliberate ritualization of her nightly shower. We added the steps of dimming the lights, lighting a candle with the intention of caring for her body in gratitude for its service that day, and following a set sequence of actions with mindful sensory awareness. In this way, the client turned a routine task into an intentional act of self compassion and love, adding an embodied awareness to her therapeutic journey.

Meaning can be healing

The linking together of a simple, physical act (like washing the dishes or taking a shower) with specific intention invites one to slow down, think about things, and perhaps find meaning in the activity. When gratitude, compassion, and love are part of the intentions, meaning can often become purposeful. This is a kind of spirituality and can be not only healing but important to the healing process generally. Yoga therapy uniquely supports the spiritual aspect of healing. In my practice, I have witnessed clients heal, grow, and find more meaning, purpose, and joy from the addition of simple, mindful rituals in their lives.

Molly Goforth, RYT-500,C-IAYT, specializes in the application of yoga as a complementary therapy for anxiety and depression and is a reiki master. She also teaches voice, speech, and communication.