By Shelley Goldman, MS, BSN, RN, CCM, LICDC-CS, MAC, C-IAYT

Yoga therapy is an emerging mind-body therapy that scientifically and therapeutically applies the ancient tools and wisdom of yoga. Its goal is to ease suffering and promote healing. Yoga therapy can be implemented for a myriad of symptoms including mental health symptoms. Currently, we are facing a mental health crisis.  Emergency room visits for mental health have increased. Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts are up. The pandemic seems to march on indefinitely. Many have the added strain of racial strife, economic uncertainty and other losses compounding their burden. These additional hardships have created a tailspin for many with pre-existing mental health problems. Even those that were coping initially, are finding their reserves are depleted and that they are reaching their maximum ability to cope. Things that worked short-term are losing effectiveness as long-term strategies. It is now more important than ever to establish practices that increase our resilience. Yoga therapy can help cultivate these types of practices that nourish and build resilience.

As a pediatric mental-health case manager and certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT), I am continuously astounded at the capacity of this powerful therapy to change lives.  In the mental health world, yoga therapy can target stress, emotional symptoms, and problem behaviors. It’s a practical, effective, and cost-effective modality that has no known side effects and can be an adjunct or supportive treatment to other therapies and medications. Yoga therapy can help the body and brain to interpret and respond in different ways to sensations or stressors. My patients report that yoga practices help them feel less stressed, depressed, and anxious. They often share stories about how they were able to utilize breathing techniques that they’ve learned to calm themselves and how this contributed to success in different areas of their lives.

Yoga Therapy can promote resilience from both neurocognitive or “top-down” practices and neurophysiological or “bottom-up” practices. Yoga works from the top-down through the brain and mind with practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and yogic concepts. Bottom-up regulation is created by using yogic tools such as breathwork, grounding practices and yoga postures. Through these practices, we can help patients process and transform emotions on both a physical and emotional level. Put simply, the mind can assist the body and the body can assist the mind to calm and regulate emotional and physical distress. If someone can come to a place of relaxation in the mind and body, they are in an optimal place where healing can begin.

My favorite tool is therapeutic breathing, or as we call it in yoga, pranayama. In yoga, we say that the breath is the bridge between the mind and body. Therapeutic breathing is the easiest and most immediate way to access the nervous system. It is also convenient and free. Several mental health disorders include symptoms of anxiety, agitation, or emotional dysregulation where the nervous system is unbalanced or overstimulated. Many yogic breathing techniques can calm the nervous system as well as build a vagal tone. Breathing into the belly or extending the exhale are a few ways that breath can easily activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Here are some of my favorite breathing techniques for you to try.  Do you have a favorite?

  • Yogic 3 part breath (Dirga breath) This helps you breathe into the belly and to draw a long full breath
  • Ocean Breath /Victorious breath (Ujjayi) This breath helps slow your breathing and to extend the exhale.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) This is a great breath for people that are anxious. It gives your mind a lot to focus on which takes it away from the anxiety. It is a calming and balancing breath.

Fortunately, our brains have the ability to change. The pathways to positive emotions can be strengthened. Teaching kids that the peace they experience after a yoga practice is a feeling that they created themselves, empowers them. Giving them new tools that are effective and easy to use, builds confidence. From confidence, we build hope that there is a way out of emotional pain, and from hope, we can build resilience and help our children to be happier and healthier.

Learn more about yoga therapy or find a certified yoga therapist here:

YogaTherapy.Health | A site of the International Association of Yoga Therapists

Do you utilize yoga with your patients?

Shelley Goldman is a RN Care Manager at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. She also holds a MS in Yoga Therapy and is a certified yoga therapist.  She is known for her innovative care and often incorporates yogic tools to improve wellness in the pediatric mental health population she serves.