Yoga for Stress Management Program as a Complementary Alternative Counseling Resource in a University Counseling Center

Article excerpt

A Yoga for Stress Management Program (YSMP) that served as a complementary alternative therapy resource was successfully implemented at a midsize, predominantly undergraduate university. It was offered in addition to traditional treatments for student mental health. Counselors, Residence Life staff, and faculty found that the program was useful for their students/clients, who reported many benefits from participation. Participants in this YSMP included students and faculty/staff. Logistics of setting up a YSMP are outlined.

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The innovative practice program of focus is a Yoga for Stress Management Program (YSMP), first implemented in the fall of 2001. The program has been used since then as a complementary alternative therapy designed to help students cope with stress (Long, Huntley & Ernst, 2001; Rubin & Feeney, 1986). This program was developed and has been used with the intention of providing preventive, psychotherapeutic, and developmental assistance to students (Keeling, 2005). In this article, I introduce the concept of a YSMP, consider therapeutic uses of yoga, and describe the basic logistics of creating and implementing such a program.

Overview and Rationale for the YSMP

University counseling centers are serving a more psychologically diverse student population who present with more severe issues than ever before. Furthermore, students are less likely to persist academically in the face of distraction and difficulty, and most of those who leave college report difficulty with chronic health problems, sleep, anxiety, and depression. Often, counseling center financial, physical, and personnel resources do not increase in proportion to increased student needs for services (Kitzrow, 2003; Levine & Cureton, 1998a, 1998b; Sharkin, 1997, 2004; Wilson, Mason, & Ewing, 1997). The use of primary prevention and health promotion groups can be an efficient, creative, and diversity-enhancing way of meeting students' stress-management needs. These groups can help students become more aware of their own mental and physical health and provide many teachable moments, thereby improving their capacity to self-assess and manage their health (Keeling, 2005).

The YSMP is designed as a skill-based group therapy technique. It is designed to help promote normal developmental growth potential by increasing self-awareness and self-acceptance and by teaching stress-management skills. These yoga-based skills can help to prevent student stress from leading to developmental delays or declining mental and physical symptoms. For centuries, East Indian cultures have incorporated yoga into their psychological mind-body therapies and often use yoga with the assumption that it is helpful to those with mental, emotional, and physical problems (Ram, 2005; Sinha, 1984). The many physical and mental benefits of general yoga practice in helping clients have been reported anecdotally and are empirically supported (Jensen & Kenny, 2004; Malathi, Damodaran, Shah, Patil, & Maratha, 2000; Mishra & Sinha, 2001; Naveen, Nagrathna, Nagendra, & Telles, 1997; Nespor, 1993; West, Otte, Geher, Johnson, & Mohr, 2004). The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has suggested that mild exercise or yoga may have a positive effect on various aspects of mental and physical health (NIMH, 2005). In my YSMP counseling center group, I integrated physical yoga exercises (asana) and breath work (pranayama) with Eastern psychology, mindfulness, meditation, and traditional stress-management principles. The mission of the program is to provide stress-management and relaxation skills, which assist participants in improving their ability to relax at will, to focus their attention, to reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms, and to enhance their overall wellness. Because stress can be crippling to natural abilities, students in the YSMP are encouraged to realize that stress is the body's natural internal communication, which cannot and should not be disregarded or eliminated entirely. …