The Mind-Body Link

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 31, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Mind-Body Link


Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

Psychologist Lori Allen, who also is a certified yoga instructor, first saw the promise in blending the two when she substitute-taught a yoga class at a local treatment center for people with eating disorders.

"I was hired just to do the yoga part, but I noticed while teaching that it would be the perfect time to talk about the issues these patients were facing with their disorders," Allen said. "I thought to myself that I really wanted to combine the yoga with therapy. It felt like a perfect, soft way to explore hard issues."

So she did. For the past 18 months, in addition to her regular psychology practice, Allen has been offering "Yoga Mind Psychotherapy," weekly small-group classes for people with issues relating to body image, eating or anxiety. She offers eight-week sessions, during which clients learn eight breathing techniques, eight different meditations and a series of yoga poses, or asanas, customized to suit the needs and abilities of each person in the class. Allen also helps her students see how the yoga practice can help them deal with the challenges they face, not only during class time but in their daily lives.

"Having the group approach is important for a lot of people, because it helps them realize that they are not alone, not the only ones dealing with the problems they face," Allen said. "When they are interacting with others who have the same issues they do, sometimes progress can occur faster, because they can take what they discover in the group back to their regular therapist."

For example, at the beginning of a new "yoga mind" class, Allen asks her clients "to do whatever they feel that their body needs them to do," whether actively stretching or simply lying flat on the floor. "At first, everyone is looking around at everyone else, to see what they're doing and comparing themselves with the others," she said. "By about the fourth week, they're not even thinking about the other people; they're doing what they want to do. It's so satisfying to see them develop that personal skill and confidence."

Unlike many yoga classes, where the instructor leads students fairly quickly from one pose to the next, Allen's students rest in "shava asana," or corpse pose, between each exercise.

"The way we learn naturally is to do something and then rest and absorb what we have accomplished," she said. "Most people don't notice change, but when they slow down and experience it, they not only feel better, but they realize how far they have come."

This is especially true for people with eating disorders, anxiety and depression, which Allen hopes to add to her yoga mind psychotherapy repertoire.

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