Yoga & Therapy: Breaking the Mind vs. Body Fallacy

I’m 45 minutes into conducting a counseling session, and I’m starting to sweat. Every time I have tried to reach into my rather stoic client’s feelings, I am instantly shut out by the all powerful, “I don’t know”. As cliché of a therapist slogan as it may sound, “How does/did that make you feel?” is a very important launching board for beginning to deal with both the thoughts and actions of an individual. Yet this man, at every opportunity, slapped me with, “I don’t know”. As survivor of abuse, feeling was something this man had stopped doing a long, long time ago; a normal defensive mechanism that many adopt when are faced with trauma too awful and too unjust to make any sense of.  Running out of ways to probe for a more elaborate response, I turned off the mini-Freud running through my mind, and tapped into the voices of Indira, Chris, and the PYC crew. If he wasn’t able to access the mind, maybe we could tap into something more concrete: the body. After closing the eyes, we began to move into a simply body awareness exercise, and finally, a small revelation: “I feel tense”.  While not necessarily a clinical breakthrough, this kernel of awareness was all we needed to begin forging a bridge between the physical and the emotional. The next 15 minutes flew by, as we began to use the body’s sensations to unpack emotions that had been too confusing and difficult to talk about directly.

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Working in mental health, it seem the tendency is to focus on the on the emotional experience. We go to the doctor when our body is not feeling well, and we go to a counselor when our mind is unwell.  Yoga, however, acknowledges that this dichotomy of mind-body so often expressed in the Western world, is a fallacy. In my clinical work with refugees, who have been survivors of unspeakable tortures, I have seen first-hand how the body can hold trauma, whether it is expressed by physical scars, or manifested in persistent headaches, or a tightness in the shoulder. Through this work, and my experience at PYC, I’ve come to believe that the mind and body are not really two separate entities, but 2 sides of the same coin. And while I’ll refrain from commenting on healthcare and western medicine, I will advocate for the belief that we can never be wholly, fully “well”, unless we begin to experience and honor the innate connection of our physical and emotional bodies. So while I can’t necessarily lead sun salutations during my next counseling session, yoga will be there with me, helping my clients find wellness, and helping me survive all sixty minutes!

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