Benefits On and Off the Mat

Originally published in YogaTherapyToday

by Felicity Boyer

Download a PDF of this article here.

Our Yoga students often experience emotions on the mat that may be confusing or even embarrassing to them. I was drawn to learn more about how to help my students move safely through emotions that can surface on the mat and to help them manage their moods because of my own experience in a Yoga class. About the sixth week of my first Yoga course with a wonderful instructor, I had an unexpected emotional release. The tears silently streaming down my face seemed connected to finding something I didn’t even know was lost. I felt like I was coming back to my body — reintegrating somehow — in an overwhelming feeling of coming home. I approached my instructor afterward, hoping for insight into why the practice would bring me to tears. Her response was that crying sometimes accompanies Yoga practice and that I should see a therapist.

The answer felt incomplete, and so I browsed the studio’s bookshelf, where I found Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub. This book allowed me to tie many loose ends together about depression and inspired me to continue my own healing journey in a new direction, first to become a Yoga teacher and later to complete advanced training in LifeForce Yoga (LFY), developed by Amy Weintraub. The LifeForce Yoga Practitioner (LFYP) Training completely transformed my personal practice into something that nurtures my heart and soul as well as my body, and it fuels my passion to support other people on their own healing journeys.

Trained in the Anusara™-inspired style of Hatha Yoga, I had a strong appreciation for proper alignment and student safety, as well as the benefits of continuously refining a pose to deepen one’s experience. Hatha Yoga led me into self-awareness as I learned to still my mind and focus on the sensations in a pose. It opened the door to my own inner journey. I went to LFYP Training out of curiosity and interest. Could other aspects of Yoga really help me and others I cared about manage our emotions, including depression and anxiety?

What I encountered in LFYP training is a style of Yoga very much from the heart.

Within a remarkably compassionate container, the training provided numerous opportunities to connect deeply with myself and experience layers of release. Beginning on the very first night after dinner, the focus was on creating a safe container for doing the deep work contained in the training. Amy Weintraub introduced two archetypal icons that form the foundation of the training program: Shiva, representing self-awareness and staying present to what arises; and to balance Shiva, Kuan Yin, known as the bodhisattva of compassion, who would serve to remind us of self-acceptance and observation without judgment throughout the training. Our ensuing discussion focused on not only creating our own safe container for our training group but also on the importance of doing this for every one of our clients, classes, or groups.

Based on my experiences throughout the rest of my week in this training, the LFY practice and training focuses on two essential healing processes: the art of releasing obstructions, toxins, and trauma in our lives to create more space for health and wholeness, and the art of replenishing ourselves and filling that space with healing, lifeaffirming energy, and a sense of Oneness with the Divine in each of us.

The fundamental nondual belief that Atman and Brahman are one, that there is no separation between the individual self and the Divine Self, is foundational to LifeForce Yoga. It is life’s traumas, losses, everyday difficulties, and disappointments that create the illusion that we are separate and alone, which can be the source of our depression. LFY combines cleansing and energy-building practices (tapas) with the development of a calm mind through self-study (svadhyaya) and the willingness to surrender (ishvarapranidhana). This therapeutic Yoga practice is based on Patanjali’s formula for union in action (Kriya Yoga), and is designed specifically to enable people to build emotional resilience. The training emphasizes that we are intimately and eternally connected to our Divine Self, no matter how distant we may feel, and offers daily opportunities to reinforce this concept through personal experience.

Along with the foundation of asana, LFYP Training integrates extensive instruction about and use of pranayama (controlled breathing) and kriya (cleansing breathing), sankalpa (intention), bhavana (cultivation of visual imagery), sound to activate or calm the energy centers in the body, mantra and chanting, Yoga nidra for deep relaxation, and meditation. The training includes poses and asana flows, starting with a two-hour sunrise practice of asana, chanting, and meditation every morning. Each day, we worked with successively deeper levels and combinations of the Yogic tools and techniques designed to manage the mood.

On a day focused on learning energizing breathwork, we experienced seated kapalabhati, or skull-shining breath, in the morning as a method to raise and cleanse the energy of a depressed, lethargic person; in the afternoon we went deeper into that technique to experience kapalabhati during a pose, such as reverse plank or utkatasana (air chair). It might be followed by other energizing techniques such as pulling prana or uddiyana bandha combined with agni sara (pumping the belly). The appropriate application of each technique by Yoga teachers or mental health professionals, including use with specific client backgrounds and contraindications, was discussed at length.

Morning and afternoon didactic sessions included a variety of topics such as Yogic strategies for mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder and seasonal affective disorder, the value of nada (sound) Yoga and mantra, nondual interventions, current neurobiological research on various techniques, use of sound with asana, and Yoga nidra and iRest.™ These sessions were interspersed with presentations on the application of each technique, followed by discussions and practice sessions on each of the tools. Evening sessions tend to vary from training to training and are more experiential, often including workshops on such topics as bhavana, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, kirtan chanting, Laughter Yoga, and Yoga dance.

One of my favorite tools that I worked with during the training is the LFY Chakra Clearing, an 8–10 minute process that combines bhastrika (bellows breath), brahmari (bee breath), and a chakra clearing that incorporates sound and hastamudra-s (hand gestures) to help balance the chakra-s. Bhastrika is a kriya that leaves me feeling energized and cleansed both physically and mentally. I feel lighter and more open and focused after this breath. Brahmari is a calming breath that brings me into greater balance and facilitates pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses; it helps to break the cycle of obsessive thinking or negative loop thinking, leaving me in a state of great peace. The use of hasta mudra-s allows me to withdraw my senses of sight and sound, and the bee breath creates wonderful vibrations that resonate throughout my entire body.

When I finish the LFY Chakra Clearing process, I find myself sensing into a vast inner space where I feel more spacious and aware, connected, and present. It is a portal into meditation where I can connect with my true Self that is not defined by mood or roles, the part of me that is more than my body, mind, or emotions, the part of me that feels a sense of true Oneness with the Divine.

LFYP Training combines many aspects of Yoga to address the well-being of the whole person. In this way, the practice and the training both address blockages in all of the five koshas—the physical body (annamayakosha), the energy body (pranamayakosha), the psychoemotional body (manomayakosha), the wisdom body (vijnanamayakosha), and the bliss body (anandamayakosha). The practice of LifeForce Yoga is intended to clear samskaras (obstructions) at all levels of our existence and promote whole mind-body wellness without focusing on a person’s particular story. The LFY Chakra Clearing process described above affects several kosha-s. I believe that this whole-person approach leaves no aspect of my being untouched and contributes to the powerful impact this training and practice has had in helping me remove blockages and bring balance into my life.

The LFY Staff consists of Amy Weintraub, several experienced LFY Level 2 Practitioners, and expert faculty brought in throughout the practitioner training to discuss related topics or present specialized techniques. During the 2009 training in Tucson that I attended, Yoga therapist and teacher Maria Mendola, RN, MA, ERYT-500, discussed the Ayurvedic approach to the emotions. In this session, trainees learned about the dosha-s and how knowledge of the Ayurvedic system can be helpful in balancing the emotions related to each dosha. Similarly, as a method of encouraging future practitioners to respect and facilitate the client’s own inner-body wisdom in order to release stored tension, J.J. Lee, a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner and trainer, presented an evening workshop that included a sample session. Students were able to observe the practitioner’s compassionate presence with the client and witness a client-directed session.

The staff’s presence, healing energy, and the tender language surrounding the entire training all served to create a space filled with opportunities to explore the self, but without any pressure to perform. Staff gave presentations on various topics, offered feedback, and provided support to allow attendees to dive deeper into the experiences of cleansing, releasing, and connecting with the Divine Self. Unconditional permission was given to each of us to listen to ourselves while going deeper into a pose, breathing technique, or exercise, witnessing ourselves and the sensations that arose from each new technique. Frequent times of silence and meditation were included to allow us to process and assimilate our experiences quietly and thoughtfully, giving us opportunities to sense into our bodies, to feel the location of the energy in the body, and to experience the spacious silence inside ourselves. In this way, trainees could evaluate the impact of the tools and techniques on themselves, consider their possible application for students and clients, and discuss their reactions and ideas for future use of the tools.

As a former business executive, I also appreciated the structured approach of the LFYP Training Program. Goals are clearly articulated, communication is reliable, materials are well-organized and presented, and a schedule is established and followed. This attention to detail allowed me to maximize the training experience.

LFYP Level 1 Training prepares future practitioners to work with groups and individuals and to teach students and clients in the Yogic strategies we learned there. Since both Yoga teachers and mental health practitioners attend the training, special attention is paid to differentiating between techniques like asana practices and kriya breathing that may be safely led by a Yoga teacher and those that may be led by a psychotherapist. A more limited selection of practices with modifications appropriate for a clinical setting are introduced for psychotherapists, who are encouraged to incorporate simple Yogic strategies to help their clients focus, relax, and achieve greater access to their feelings. Psychotherapists learn simple pranayama, mantra-s, mudra-s and the effective use of bhavana and sankalpa that they can teach their clients to self-regulate emotion and manage their moods.

LFYP Level 2 Training continues with more in-depth training in the Yogic strategies for balancing mood and more practice teaching of all the strategies. The training emphasizes working one-on-one with clients and how to structure and lead workshops. Both Level 1 and Level 2 training culminate in a practice teaching session followed by a standardized self-mentoring report. Each Yogic strategy is practiced with a training partner in a nonevaluative way first, followed by the actual practice teaching that includes a 50-minute session for each trainee. The practice-teaching sessions take place in a large training room and are continuously monitored by staff. Following the practice-teaching session, each trainee is required to complete a session-planning sheet outlining the client’s symptoms and the rationale for selecting certain tools and techniques, along with a standardized selfevaluation form. An online evaluation by Amy is provided to the trainees the week after training is completed.

In order to participate in the LFYP Level 1 Training, attendees must be 200-hour Yoga Alliance registered Yoga teachers or mental health professionals with an ongoing Yoga practice. Candidates who do not meet these criteria but who work as healing professionals will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Other requirements include reading Yoga for Depression and the LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Level 1 Training for Depression and Anxiety Manual. The Level 1 training consists of 40–50 contact hours, depending on location.

Students who wish to enroll in the advanced training must have completed Level 1 Training. Requirements include reading the Level 2 Training Manual, viewing the LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues Level 1 and 2 DVDs, and listening to the LifeForce Yoga CDs for Yoga Nidra, Bhavana, and Breathe to Beat the Blues. We were also required to complete additional hours of self-study and selfmentoring, as well as demonstrate our experience incorporating LifeForce Yoga within classes, private sessions, and/or workshops. Students must select an approved LifeForce Yoga mentor and complete three one-hour mentoring sessions with their mentors before receiving their certificate of completion. I felt this was one of the most beneficial aspects of the program, as it gave me a chance to work one-on-one with someone adept in applying the LFY tools and techniques in real-life settings. As part of this process, students complete and submit three standardized Self-Mentoring Reports to their mentor, which forms the foundation for the mentoring sessions. Level 2 training consists of 56 contact hours.

The LFY tools and techniques helped me to clear the space within and invited me to connect deeply with my true Self (atman). I left feeling cleansed, refreshed, and revitalized. Although I have done a lot of previous experiential work, the subtle power of this practice opened a portal to a vast consciousness inside myself that I had only experienced in rare moments of my life. It moved me to not only commit to hold onto this delicious sense of connectedness but also to find ways to share this opportunity with others still suffering from the energy-draining experience of living with depression. I left there ready to dive even deeper into my own practice of LifeForce Yoga.

I now teach LifeForce Yoga classes and see private clients who are interested in learning how to apply Yogic practices to help calm their anxiety and/or enhance their sense of well-being and personal empowerment. At each opportunity, I offer my students and clients tools and techniques to take home with them to build more emotional resilience in their daily lives. The “take home value” of this therapeutic practice is significant; it encourages independent self-regulation of moods.

LifeForce Yoga helps me take my Yoga practice off my mat and integrate it more deeply into my daily life, enabling me to live life on life’s terms with more dignity, grace, and compassion — and without depression. Sharing these tools with others who are still suffering inspires me to continue in this loving work so that they may explore ways to improve their quality of life.

Felicity Boyer, MBA, RYT-200, is a Life- Force Yoga® Practitioner Level 2 at the East Meets West Center in Vienna, VA and at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. In her private Yoga therapy practice, she offers tools to help build and maintain emotional resilience. She can be reached at

About the Author

Amy Weintraub

Amy Weintraub E-RYT 500, MFA, YACEP, C-IAYT, founded the LifeForce Yoga® Healing Institute, which trains yoga and health professionals internationally, and is the author of Yoga for Depression and Yoga Skills for Therapists. The LifeForce Yoga protocol is used by health care providers worldwide. She is involved in ongoing research on the effects of yoga on mood.

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“My patients can now have the same effects as many medications without having to actually take medication!” — Deborah Lubetkin, PSY.D, LFYP, West Caldwell, NJ
“I have been reminded that I am not on this path alone, that others are sharing the journey that sometimes seems so difficult. I have also been reminded of the importance of daily practice and I will do that. The whole program has been an incredible experience for me. Thank you!” — Lorraine Plauth, retired teacher, Voorheesville, NY
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“Yoga Skills for Therapists is the ideal resource for those who want to bring yoga practices into psychotherapy or healthcare. Weintraub, a leader in the field of yoga therapy, offers evidence-based, easy-to-introduce strategies for managing anxiety, improving mood, and relieving suffering. Helpful clinical insights and case examples emphasize safety, trust, and skillful adaptation to the individual, making it easy to apply the wisdom of yoga effectively in the therapeutic context.” — Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author, Yoga for Pain Relief, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Yoga Therapy
“I came hoping to learn to move past some of the obstacles blocking my creativity. Over the course of this weekend, I feel I’ve gained a certain measure of faith in myself and in my ability to change. I also had some realizations that I believe will be very helpful to me. I feel encouraged. Both the content and presentation of this program were so well-thought out that I can’t think of any way to improve it.” — Andrea Gollin, writer & editor, Miami, FL
I absolutely love this stuff! I have been using it with my clients and I am just finding it to be so incredibly helpful. There seriously something for everything. Although I am not as skilled as I hope to be someday, even at my level of training I’m finding that I am beginning to figure out what to do. It just blows my mind! - Christine Brudnicki, MS, LPC
“A client who returned said, "When I came before, you helped me understand and get where I wanted to go. Now you show me yoga practices I use to help myself understand and get where I want to go.” — Sherry Rubin, LCSW, BCD, LFYP, Downingtown, PA
“This program changed my life in a significant way. It helped me connect with the spirit which is something you can’t get from psychotherapy and medication.” – G. W., artist, Pittsburgh, PA
“I have gained an incredible opening and clearing of old obstructions. I hope to return to my life and fill this opening with things I love to do and that give me joy!” — Lisa Shine, administrative assistant, Ballston Lake, NY
“I gained tools for working with my own depression and with my clients’ depressions.” — Robert Sgona, LCSW, RYT, psychotherapist, Yoga teacher, Camden, ME.
“I have found the pranayama (breathing practices) especially easy to introduce in a clinical setting. Some people have benefited quickly in unexpected and transformative ways.” — Liz Brenner, LICSW, LFYP, Watertown, MA
“I feel profoundly transformed, both physically and emotionally. The connection between mind, body and spirit was clearly evident to me, but revealed to me through this workshop as an integrally vital link to overall health.” — Nadine Richardson, program manager at rehab agency, Monroe, CT
“I began a fantasy during the meditation exercise... almost as if I’d been there. It’s now an on-going work of fiction.” — Serian Strauss, Tanzania
“I learned lots of ways to reduce the anxiety and depression of my patients and myself.” – Aviva Sinvany-Nubel, PhD, APN, CNSC, RN, psychotherapist, Bridgewater, N.J.
“My personal practice will change, as well as my yoga classes. I have a better understanding of yoga!” — Andrea Gattuso, RYT, Yoga Teacher, Hackettstown, N.J.
“This workshop helped me rededicate my energies and begin to work through some of the blocks I’ve felt creatively.” — Steve Mark, college professor, New Haven, CT
“This workshop has changed so much — my self-image and my life. My own heart’s desire is 100% clear. I gained tools to help myself and others to live life fully.” — Marcia Siegel, Yoga teacher, therapist, Carlsbad, CA.
“Giving my clients a strategy and permission to quiet their minds and rebalance the sympathetic nervous system has been very beneficial to them and in our work together.” — Sue Dilsworth, PhD, RYT 200, LFYP, Allendale, MI
“I have found the LFYP training to be incredibly useful in giving people specific tools to use in maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, and further opening their intuitive abilities.” — Nancy Windheart, RYT-200, LFYP, Reiki Master, Animal communication teacher, Prescott, AZ
“Words do not do justice to all that I learned. This workshop changed my life!” — Jen Nolan, Teacher, Cortland, NY
“I utilize the LFY techniques in both a class room setting and one-on-one environment. The skills have infused my teachings with compassion, mindfulness, and awareness.” — Kat Larsen, CYT, LFYP
“I integrate strategies like mantra tones and pranayama, but above all I invite myself and those I teach to cultivate svadhyaya, to practice self-observation without judgment.” — Barbara Sherman, RYT 200, LFYP, Tucson, AZ
“I gained perspective of who I am in the world and this will change my life significantly.” — Mary Ford, artist, Southport, CT
“My life is already changed! I will use the tools I learned in my own practice and in my work. I feel safe and seen.” — Susan Andrea Weiner, MA, teacher/expressive arts facilitator, El Cerrito, CA.
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