Timberline Knolls has helped thousands of women facing eating disorders, addiction, and mood disorders. As a nationally recognized treatment center, we strive to provide innovative care.
What Is Yoga Therapy?
Yoga, a practice which combines stretching and other exercises with deep breathing and meditation, has existed for centuries. Only in recent decades has it made its way into mainstream America. According to a survey by Yoga Journal, today more than 15 million adults in the U.S. practice yoga.
Yoga therapy is an adaptation of a generic yoga practice to confront a specific condition. Its origins go back to the early 1900s when medical professionals in India grew interested in science and modern medicine. By the ‘20s, they had instituted a practice by which they were bringing students in, assessing their physical ailments and emotional issues, then creating specific sequences for each individual to promote healing.
Increasingly, yoga is used by behavioral health professionals throughout the country as an adjunct to talk therapy.
Yoga Therapy at Timberline Knolls
At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, we utilize three different yoga approaches, offered in three separate groups. These include:
Therapeutic yoga group
This is very much a theme approach; by this we mean that each group will have a specific focus. If at check-in, the majority of participants appear depressed, the selected sequence of poses will strive to reduce that depression. Throughout the experience, the facilitator will ask questions such as “When do you feel the impulse to drop your arms, instead of holding them up?” or “What kind of judgment or emotions are coming to mind for you as you endeavor to maintain this particular pose?” Criticisms, judgments of self and others, impulses, passive vs. aggressive energy are all relevant and explored during the session. In other words, therapeutic yoga, unlike other approaches, concentrates greatly on all of these mental and emotional ideas.
In yoga, vinyasa means breath-linked movement. This therapy focuses less on the mental and emotional components and more on the physical body. Therefore, it is more rigorous, intended to elevate heart rate and strengthen the body. It is more active, with poses held for a shorter period of time. This one-hour class might engage in 15 to 30 poses.
This approach is designed to be very calm and relaxed. Poses are held for two or three minutes, not to increase strength, but to provide a dedicated time of meditation. Often props such as blocks or bolsters are used, thus allowing a more passive form of stretching. The idea is to teach women and girls how to relax. Most of our residents live in the sympathetic nervous system, meaning they exist in the fight or flight mode with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol running through their bodies. Restorative yoga strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system, which encourages life in a more natural, relaxed state.
We focus on the following skills and exercises in each of these classes:
Posture – This refers to the various poses offered in any given yoga class.
Breathing exercise – This refers to the alterations made in breathing such as adding counts to each breath, or adding certain qualities to the inhales and exhales.
Meditation – This is the calming of the mind by sitting quietly with eyes closed or open and focused on a certain point in the room. Essentially, this is designed to be an emptying-out process.
Mindfulness – This involves being present, in the moment. Residents often use breathing as their anchor; if their minds drift away, they gently return their thoughts to the act of breathing.
Why Use Yoga Therapy?
Yoga therapy is a profoundly important tool for women and girls with addictions, disorders and particularly those who have experienced trauma. Often, it is extremely difficult for residents to verbalize traumatic experiences. Yoga allows the body to talk. As a woman moves in and out of postures, her body is processing emotions that may have been long held inside. These tensions impact the way she stands, the way she moves through the world. Adopting new positions and postures on a yoga mat allows the body to open up and release many of these pent-up emotions. If they are rooted in grief or sorrow, it is not unusual for a resident to weep unexpectedly as these feelings melt away.
A women-only program is the ideal environment for yoga to be learned and practiced. Assuming awkward positions could make a female feel sexually exposed or vulnerable if male participants were present. Instead, our yoga room is a safe place, free from judgment or fear.
At Timberline Knolls, we use yoga to provide an integrated approach to mental, emotional and physical health. These are skills residents take with them as they leave treatment.
Types of Disorders Treated with Yoga Therapy
Yoga therapy is an appropriate therapeutic intervention for the many disorders and addictions we treat at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.
Anorexia Nervosa/Bulimia Nervosa
Those with eating disorders, namely anorexia and bulimia, become highly skilled at ignoring/denying their body’s natural cues, especially regarding hunger. Yoga forces women and girls to grow more attuned to their body and begin to “listen” to these important messages. It literally changes the way they perceive their bodies. Preoccupation with food and body is often reduced, and redirected to poses and sensations. Once a resident sees how magnificently her body works, she often has no desire to continue damaging it through starvation or purging. Yoga has the power to turn abuse into appreciation.
Trauma/Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)
If a resident struggles with PTSD or trauma, she often holds fear and tensions in her body. Yoga helps to loosen and elongate muscles while deepening the inhalations and exhalations. It essentially gives residents permission to relax in a safe environment.
Those overcoming chemical addiction discover that yoga can truly provide a “natural high,” the feeling of euphoria they previously associated with drugs or alcohol. It also provides a sense of structure in their lives, previously missing.
Due to the variety of themes that may be selected, an individual with a mood disorder can definitely benefit from yoga. Depending on the state of mind – depressed or anxious – the poses will either tap into sources of greater energy or strive to calm and sooth.
Benefits of Yoga Therapy
Yoga is an ideal adjunct to talk therapy simply because residents do not have to speak. They don’t focus on the past or future; they don’t dwell on the addiction or disorder. The yoga room provides an oasis where they can move freely, enjoy and respect their bodies and live in the moment. In addition, it’s beneficial to the resident’s entire treatment team. The yoga specialist keeps clinical group notes on all participants. This includes moods, behaviors, what was verbalized at check-in, etc.
Yoga is a discipline that women and girls take with them when they discharge from Timberline Knolls. At any point in a day, a former resident can roll out a yoga mat and return to the oasis experience.
Q. I am not limber at all. Do I have to be really flexible to do yoga?
A. No. All of our groups are considered beginner level; therefore, anyone, even those who have never done yoga before, will feel comfortable.
Q. I tried this one time at a yoga studio and it was really intense. Will this yoga class be like that?
A. No. Studios can be highly competitive. Conversely, our studio is soft, gentle and calm. No one is trying to show off or out-do another person.
Q. Do I have to wear specific clothes?
A. There is no dress code. Everyone wears casual, comfortable clothes that allow them to relax and move freely.