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As a psychologist as well as an avid yoga practitioner, I eagerly awaited the publication of this book. Being a therapist working in a college counseling center, I was already incorporating some yogic strategies into my practice, including providing clients with breathing (pranayama) instruction and offering suggestions for very simple yoga postures (asanas) to address symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and insomnia. However, I was hoping that author Amy Weintraub's Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management would both expand my repertoire of techniques as well as increase my proficiency with presenting these methods to my clients.
Weintraub teaches her own brand of yoga called LifeForce Yoga, which she describes as "hatha yoga plain and simple" (Page 1). She maintains that yoga can facilitate therapy in many ways which do not involve the yoga mat at all, particularly creating the therapeutic bond, increasing a sense of safety within the client's body, working to still and focus the client's mind, and finally, releasing tension stored in the body-mind. Weintraub cites several recent, research-based studies in which yoga was found to have various health benefits, such a reduction in cortisol, a stress hormone, and an improvement in mood/GABA levels for those suffering from chronic conditions (including diabetes, low back pain, cancer, and heart disease).
Prior to discussing specific techniques, Weintraub spends time briefly reviewing a few basic yogic principles, specifically as they pertain to the healing relationship. She also talks about a therapist's preliminary preparations prior to initiating yoga into therapy. First, she suggests establishing one's own practice, at the very least to become more confident in teaching these tools to one's clients. Second, she offers a few suggestions for how to introduce yoga to clients. Chief of these is the idea of establishing a "safe container," thus providing clients with a ritual for centering at the start of each session. I found this section a bit disappointing, as I was hoping that Weintraub would talk more about clients who are resistant--for example, those who fear trying anything "new age," those who maintain that "breathing doesn't work for me," etc.
With respect to the skills themselves, Weintraub starts with the breath, or pranayama. She explains the role that the breath can have on mood and how this can be of benefit to clients--and to therapists themselves as well. Weintraub also emphasizes the importance of matching the breathing strategy with the client's presentation. Therefore, she details both calming breathing practices for anxiety and more energizing practices for depression. Some of the techniques incorporate sounds, mudras (hand gestures), or larger movements. Weintraub delves more deeply into the use of both sounds and gestures in separate chapters on use of mantra, particularly as associated with the chakras, and mudras--used for both calming and energizing, and optionally combined with mantra as well.
In the remaining chapters, Weintraub reviews skills that are somewhat less unique to yoga. The first of these is the combined use of imagery and affirmation, known in yoga as bhavana and sankalpa. This section includes two different guided scripts with therapists can use with clients, either in an individual or group setting. The closing chapters cover yoga nidra and self-exploration, respectively. Yoga nidra is a deeply restful, meditative state. As Weintraub explains, it differs from other forms of meditation in that it is guided, generally practiced lying down, and invites conscious awareness of opposite states. Weintraub introduces a yoga nidra protocol known as iRest, developed by psychologist Richard Miller, and she offers a similar script based on her own studies with Miller. The last skills-based chapter addresses svadhyaya, or self-inquiry. Here Weintraub talks about how importance increased self-awareness is to the healing process. She reviews the role of yoga and offers simple instructions for facilitating this process of self-inquiry.
Weintraub concludes the book with additional resources. First, she provides a short summary of assorted yoga styles in order to assist therapists with offering referrals to clients. She also mentions a variety of supporting materials, including her own CDs and DVDs, Breathe to Beat the Blues (CD) and Life Force Yoga to Beat the Blues (DVDs; Levels 1 & 2). Finally, she includes information on trainings, suggested readings, and a glossary of terms.
In Yoga Skills for Therapists, Weintraub has effectively provided tools which counselors can incorporate into the practice of psychotherapy. It is important to note, however, that her use of "yoga" here reflects the traditional eight-limb path of yoga described by Patanjali's in his Yoga Sutras. In other words, the techniques which Weintraub offers do not center solely around the most well-known limb, asana (physical practice); rather, they incorporate several of the other limbs, including pranayama, dhyana (meditation), and svadhyaya (one of the five niyamas, the second limb). In fact, Weintraub specifically notes that teaching therapeutic use of postures would be beyond the scope of this work. I found this somewhat disappointing, as I would have liked to have seen some basic poses incorporated along with the other strategies. Still, Yoga Skills for Therapists provides plenty of useful information; I am confident I will use these skills with my own clients, and I would not hesitate to recommend this book.
© 2012 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.