The Nature of Yoga Therapy™
Physical and mental wellbeing are closely intertwined, yet our society tends to tease these apart and view them as unrelated. Age-old wisdom has told us that eating well, having a sound body, and getting sufficient sleep, are all physical 'prescriptions' for happiness. By the same token, our state of mind directly impacts our perception of pain and how we interpret pain, our ability to self-motivate (such as heading out the door on a beautiful day), and willingness to engage in living at all levels.
All of us have experienced that when we are mentally happy, physical discomfort is bearable, but when we are mentally unhappy, then physical discomfort cannot give us happiness. Mental happiness can subdue physical pain, so there is no point in neglecting taking care of your mind. __Dalai Lama
We are increasingly disconnected from nature, both as individuals and as a society. According to surveys, Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors, with average screen time and total media consumption being almost eleven hours per day among adults... and rising. This fact alone points to a separation from the natural world outside our door, and to a growing lack of connection and awareness to our state of mind and body.
Yoga Therapy + Nature + Walking
Yoga Therapy is a simple equation for those who would like to move a little more and are hesitant due to chronic pain, injury, or anxiety, as well as those who wish to regain or retain a means of self-care and perhaps gradually change a sedentary lifestyle. Walking—because just about everyone can, to some degree. Yoga—because it offers a gentle, life-long means of self-care. Nature—because sunlight, trees, and natural beauty are good for the body, mind, and spirit.
Yoga is, by definition and tradition, a mind-body practice. Practicing therapeutic yoga in a mindful setting such as one-on-one with a yoga therapist can enable a conscious releasing of pattern-thinking and anxious, repetitive thoughts; help one become aware of compensation patterns and physical habits which contribute to chronic pain; provide a form of engaged, proactive self-care.
The mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of being in nature and walking in nature have been written about since time immemorial, from philosophers to medical practitioners, in every tradition, in every part of the world. No small surprise that science should now, in modern times, be 'discovering' nature's myriad physical and mental health benefits. We would suggest that being in nature, however small the amount of time, is second nature—and a necessity for our overall wellbeing.
Therapy sessions are supported by a C-IAYT yoga therapist specializing in neurological conditions, chronic pain management, rehabilitation and cancer recovery. Sessions are scheduled at the client's residence if a natural, reasonably quiet setting is available locally. Alternatives can be discussed, such as paved / accessible sections of Bloomington's in-town walking trails.
As with all yoga therapy, each person is considered as a whole: open discussion and ongoing adjustments are needed to establish a long-term program which will be accessible and sustainable, and may be integrated with Mentoring and Lifestyle Therapy as well as Comprehensive Therapy Programs.
Wellbeing Comes Naturally
How each individual experiences nature may vary, from physical and active, to contemplative and introspective: a child scampering through a stream and delighting in the sunlight caught on the water's surface; an adult pausing on the way home from work to smell the summer air at dusk, redolent with the smell of rich earth and flowers; someone who is frail or near end of life, sitting quietly on a bench, basking in a sense of utter calm as the sun warms them through the branches of a sheltering tree.
Current circumstances have propelled many people to spend inordinate amounts of time online—or, they are compelled, in the sense that teleworking obligations or telehealth are the new norm. As a result, a problem is now coming to the forefront in the mental health community: a growing addiction to online time, as well as online burnout, characterized by exhaustion, agitation, irritability, increased aggression, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. It should be no surprise that spending the preponderance of our time with an inanimate, insensate object which takes all our energy, time and concentration, would have a deleterious, deadening effect. This, in contrast to the simple and enriching joy of hearing a bird sing on the windowsill, watching a butterfly probe for nectar on a plant suffused with blooms, listening to the sound of rain as it patters against the ground or leaves overhead. These things are real and tangible, supporting and enriching our senses, mind and spirit. In effect, they are naturally uplifting and grounding.
Trees are not just for tree huggers. Most people—over half globally, and approximately four in five Americans—live in urban areas. City-dwellers have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. Studies show that walking in natural settings with trees positively affects regions of the brain associated with depression; similarly, people living in urban areas with the greatest density of trees have the lowest rates of antidepressant prescriptions.
The importance of sleep can hardly be understated, yet it is taken away from us on a daily basis either by our behaviors and habits, or our circumstances. Many of our clients have expressed the need for more sleep, and qualitative sleep, citing that yoga has helped with anxiety and stress (chief causes of sleeplessness), as well as providing them with a non-pharmacologic means to relax and fall asleep. Moderate walking in a natural setting has been shown to improve sleep patterns, ability to fall asleep, and quality of sleep.
Pain has both physical and mental components. Chronic pain can lead to anxiety and depression, and the reverse is true. Recovery from cancer is not only a physical process, and in fact is often more about rebuilding a connection between the body and mind and learning to cope with pain, both during and after treatment. An acute physical injury may heal, but phantom pain from an amputation, or the life-altering effects of PTSD, may linger for years—or a lifetime. Gentle yoga therapy for chronic pain and anxiety, as well as discussion during calm, introspective walks in nature may be helpful alternative therapies for those who are in pain.