Most people understand that yoga is a personal practice. Now, there’s proof that it makes for good couples therapy.
Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, the primary school that integrates yoga for emotions and psychological wellbeing in America, has designed a yoga therapy program for couples.
At a symposium for yoga therapists in Austin, he talked about how yoga for partners can enhance relationships. Lee has created a specific format and sequences for the couples in his yoga therapy programs. Not unlike marriage counseling, Lee meets with the partners individually, and together. He facilitates discussion on differences, acceptance, awareness, and choice to identify areas for improvement.
After the initial exploration and intention setting, he leads the twosomes in partner postures that require more than a physical presence. The physical yoga component becomes a springboard for dialogue and integration.
Using a Rogerian psychology confine, he integrates movement with expression. Just as yoga is about inner and external balance, so is couples therapy about a healthy balance.
“Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is a holistic healing art,” said Lee. “It invites presence and awareness, rather than prescribe treatments. Using age-old yogic approaches to embodied self-presence and awareness, we are able to know ourselves more fully. Out of this knowledge, we are more easily moved to embrace the opportunity for change, growth, and enhanced well-being in body, feelings, thought, and spirit.”
Bev Johnson, a student of Lee’s, was initially intimidated by the idea of taking yoga therapy to couples. “I am now not only comfortable with it but very motivated to offer it to my clients as I see first hand, the power it has in enhancing their relationships.”
Julie Carmen confirms the value of yoga for couples. A practicing marriage and family therapist, Carmen is also a yoga therapist and the associate director of mental health at Loyola Marymount University’s Yoga Therapy Rx program. She points out that yoga therapy is not a diagnostic tool, but a way to paint a more holistic picture.
“Energy between couples is fascinating to watch. By introducing the simplest of partner yoga poses along with basic breath work, a trained therapist can observe more in the body language than is revealed during multiple talk therapy sessions. One can see leader/follower positioning and even subtle sadistic/masochistic collusion between mates in their body language. In less problematic bonds there is often one partner who has more body awareness and their mate might be more comfortable contemplating, observing, criticizing, and even resisting the yogic intervention.”
“If the ultimate goal is for the couple to experience being fully present in the ‘now,’ then breath-centered yoga is relevant in a psychotherapeutic setting,” adds Carmen. “This could be appropriate in cases of agoraphobia, for instance. Practicing certain breath-centered yoga can elongate the time during which a person suffering from agoraphobia succeeds in not worrying about pending catastrophe if they venture outside the home.”
Problems naturally arise when couples react and respond differently from each other. When a yoga therapist can explain different doshic personalities to clients, it can help the partners better understand, and embrace, one another’s differences. In Ayurvedic terms, prakruti is the constitution you receive upon conception. External elements, including seasons, age, work, and life relationships can push the natural constitution out of whack, and for optimum physical and emotional wellness, you need to slide back on the see-saw to the innate balance of your personal dosha.
Finally, yoga therapist Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., acknowledges that compassion must begin with each of us. “We are all wounded,” she says. “The best way to heal others is to heal ourselves. Life has the bitterness of finality and loss, but the sweetness of babies, love, and guacamole.”