Scientific Validation of Yoga for Mental Health Conditions, PTSD, and Addictions

As researchers continue to study the benefits of yoga for mood disorders and serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, who is the this emerging evidence inviting to Yoga? Yes, people who suffer from these conditions.  Therefore, it’s vital that yoga professionals be trained to welcome what may arise in an ordinary yoga class or private session. Most studies that look at other health conditions like cardiovascular health, diabetes, respiratory issues, cancer and MS also include instruments that measure mood, and quality of life, including general stress and insomnia. These secondary measurements are also encouraging medical professionals to refer patients to yoga or to begin to integrate aspects of yoga appropriate for a clinical setting into their own treatment plans. This means that health professionals, too, are introducing practices culled from the yoga tradition into mental health and physical treatment, so it is important that they understand the specific practices appropriate in clinical settings, the benefits and the contraindications. In this article, I am defining yoga to include breathing practices, chanting and meditation, each of which has a growing body of research to support its efficacy in mental health treatment.

There are yoga classes for special conditions that address the needs of physically challenged children and adults, but when individuals attend a class at the local studio or health club, teachers don’t usually know that someone is suffering from a serious mental illness and they may not be prepared to handle what arises, including the emotional flooding that sometimes accompanies the releases we feel on the mat or more serious episodes of mania.  Many people with mood disorders prefer not to self-identify in a regular class.  Now that yoga is so popular and is listed in the United States as among the top ten most sought Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatment, both yoga and mental health professionals need to assess how yoga is being introduced, where it is utilized, to understand the effects of various practices on these conditions, and the importance of establishing and sustaining the safe container.  This includes learning practices and rituals that clear the mind’s clutter in order to connect the participant to her own intention for the session and establish a connection to her heart, her own inner resources, to the provider and to whatever sense of spirit she/he may have.  Sustaining the safe container means allowing the client to lead, meeting her mood, physical ability and belief system, without trying to fix or impose the provider’s agenda for healing. It also means providing tools for self-regulation, self-empowerment and Self-led clarity, and then getting out of the way.  It means giving the client full permission to adapt, adjust and accommodate and to stop the process or practice at any time.  This requires reading the client’s breath, facial expression and asking for feedback throughout the session.  It also means that the provider cues to direct, not global sensation, so that the client maintains a steady sense of presence and a growing sense of self-awareness with compassion. All such practices and processes are taught in the LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training and Retreat.

The scientific validation of yoga for mental health conditions, PTSD, and addictions means more people who carry serious mental health diagnoses are seeking out and being referred to yoga classes, yoga ashrams and yoga centers.

This makes it essential that yoga and mental health professionals further their education in programs like the LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training and that they learn to collaborate with each other. It also means that mental health consumers would benefit from seeking out professionals trained in the therapeutic aspects of yoga for mental health, and perhaps themselves enrolling in workshops and trainings specific to yoga and mental health. Whether you are a provider or a participant in the mental health system, a yoga practitioner or teacher, you may wish to consider theLifeForce Yoga Practitioner Training and Retreat that includes a certification track for yoga and health professionals.

Our next training full training is in Tucson in January, led by LifeForce Yoga Founder, Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga Skills for Therapists and Yoga for Depression, yoga educator Rose Kress, ERYT-500, LFYP-2, LFYE, Mentor, LifeForce Yoga Education Director, trauma specialist Randy Todd, LCSW, MSW, LFYP-2, and guest Ayurvedic Specialist and Yoga Therapist, Maria Mendola, MA, RN, ERYT-500.

Other options for training include a full training at Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia and online and regional modules in Encinitas, California, Melbourne, Australia, Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas and at Kripalu Center in Western, Massachusetts.

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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What People Say

“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
“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.
“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
“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
“Words do not do justice to all that I learned. This workshop changed my life!” — Jen Nolan, Teacher, Cortland, NY
“I gained tools for working with my own depression and with my clients’ depressions.” — Robert Sgona, LCSW, RYT, psychotherapist, Yoga teacher, Camden, ME.
“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.
“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.
“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 gained perspective of who I am in the world and this will change my life significantly.” — Mary Ford, artist, Southport, CT
“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 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 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 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
“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 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
“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
“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 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
“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 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.
“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
“I have gained a softer heart, more receptive mind, and tools to enrich both personal and professional aspects of my life.” – Regina Trailweaver, LICSW, clinical social worker, Hancock, VT.
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
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