Recently I had the wonderful experience of being able to combine two of my passions: psychology and yoga.
I was really thankful to have the opportunity to blend my training as a yoga teacher with what I know as psychologist in the form of a 4 week yoga-emotion workshop. When I first started as a psychologist, I actually kept my experience as a yoga teacher under wraps; I wanted to be taken seriously as a scientist and I was worried my yoga background would appear “New Age-y”. I’m so thankful that this is no longer the case, as combining psychology and yoga was a rewarding experience for both my clients and myself.
Being successful, somewhat private New Yorkers, clients of my practice often acknowledge that even though they “open up” during individual therapy with me, they struggle to become vulnerable with their peers
The workshop seemed to be a very positive experience for the clients, and I also learned a lot from the experience. One of the most rewarding parts of the workshop for me as a clinician was to see clients opening up and letting their guard down. Being successful, somewhat private New Yorkers, clients of my practice often acknowledge that even though they “open up” during individual therapy with me, they struggle to become vulnerable with their peers-– which is partly why they end up so stressed in the first place. I know as a psychologist that sharing vulnerabilities can be a healing experience, allowing people to address the root of what they are struggling with. The workshop offered a safe space for clients to share their vulnerabilities and to see other successful people acknowledging vulnerabilities too. Watching them get support and give support to each other was very moving for me.
I also really enjoyed the chance to demystify meditation. The workshop allowed me to bridge the more esoteric studies with what we know about meditation in practical terms from clinical psychology. This gives clients something to hold onto and connect with. And I was able to increase the chances clients would find something to connect with by providing a wide variety of meditation tools and activities. Not every technique needs to work for every client; it’s valuable to figure out which ones work better than others. Providing a sampler of techniques gave people the chance to learn how to use meditation practically, and to figure out what works for them.
Physicality came into play in an interesting way throughout the workshop. In psychology, we use talk-therapy techniques that improve anxiety, mood, or connection with the self. In yoga, we use physical techniques that often produce calm, connection with the self, or have other desired effects on mood. The workshop was an opportunity for the group to explore the body-mind connection in an experiential as well as discussion-based format. I structured the session so that we learned physical cues to relax muscles and then reconvened as a group to use talk therapy techniques to discuss the emotions that arose when physically relaxing, and how it feels to be in a tense versus relaxed position. By gaining this awareness of the connection between our bodies and our minds, we can learn to intentionally change our physical position in order to change our emotions. Providing psychoeducation about changing one’s body in order to change one’s mind (bottom up vs. top down) was interesting and valuable to clients.
Some people don’t realize they are stressed out, or that social situations tend to make them anxious, and it’s impossible to deal with if we don’t recognize it.
Throughout the workshop, a lot of participants expressed concern about social anxiety. In order to address this, we learned to recognize emotions and their physical correlates in ourselves, as well as how to read the emotions and physical correlates in others (by practicing in pairs). We considered this Mindful awareness of emotions as an opportunity to practice social skills and self-care. Mindfulness is an important step to use to become aware of our emotions or the emotions of others; with that awareness we can “plug -in” the correct technique to use based on our emotional state. Some people don’t realize they are stressed out, or that social situations tend to make them anxious, and it’s impossible to deal with if we don’t recognize it. This workshop built up Mindful awareness skills, along with a toolbox of skills that we can access and use when mindfulness brings to our attention that we are in need of a technique. Client’s learned how to notice when they are experiencing social anxiety, as well as how to cope with it once it is recognized.
Lastly, something that I emphasized often during the workshop was practice. I used the common analogy of “learning to build a teepee in a thunderstorm” to explain why it is important to get comfortable with these skills everyday, even when we’re feeling calm. We want to practice these techniques before we need them, so that we know what to do when the time comes. Meditation is called a practice because it takes a lot of time to build up the skill. The fact that it was a 4-week workshop gave us time to build the habit and get support from one another in making it a daily routine. Additionally, it was helpful to teach the participants the difference between self discipline and self flagellation- mindfulness involves curiosity, creative problem-solving, and acceptance about our slip-ups, rather than being so harsh with ourselves about shortcomings that we become too distressed to make improvements. I encouraged clients to practice meditation every day, but to also be patient with themselves when they missed a day or two. This helps to keep the practice of meditation associated with positive emotions instead of guilt and frustration.
Each aspect of the workshop allowed me to combine my training as a yoga teacher with my expertise as a clinical psychologist in a way that was not only rewarding for me, but also benefited the participants. I know firsthand how beneficial both yoga and clinical psychology are for people struggling with anxiety and other issues, so it was honor to be able to share that with others. It was so exciting to watch them learn and grow, and I found that I learned a lot from them as well.
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Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, dating coach, and the founder of Carmichael Psychology in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety reduction, and her new e-course lets her clients master CBT techniques for anxiety on their own schedule. She has appeared live on FOX and ABC and has been quoted by New York Magazine and Everyday Health, among others.
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