Finding Contentment With Yoga Therapy

In yoga circles we often hear people talking about acquiring “bliss states”. Bliss is found more easily when we can hold both pleasant and unpleasant feelings simultaneously. The science of yoga provides us with many tools to do this. Yoga Therapists are well equipped to help clients achieve a more peaceful experience by teaching them how to increase their capacity for opposing thoughts and feelings through practice. 

Listen in on this candid moment during a Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy Program session, 
as Brandt shares his thoughts about helping clients find contentment using yoga techniques.

A Yoga Therapist’s Role in Processing Trauma

Traumatic experiences live in many aspects of our system. Yoga Therapists often find themselves working with people who have experienced trauma and are influenced by it’s effects. Yoga techniques have the ability to transform our relationship to the past but they also have the ability to stir up reactions to mind and body held traumatic patterns.

Listen in as Brandt shares wisdom on the role of the Yoga Therapist in processing trauma.

Yoga Therapy For Plantar Fasciitis

When working with yoga therapy clients, knowing what NOT to do is just as important as taking the right treatment approach. In this segment, Brandt shares advice about working with plantar fasciitis, and stresses how to avoid aggravating this common and painful issue.

There’s a couple things you want to look at with plantar fasciitis. One would be, you know the condition itself is like a shortened fascial state like on the foot but usually it includes the calf and up the hamstrings. So at some point you’re gonna have to stretch that. So it’s not difficult to figure out how to do that if you’re a yoga teacher, but what’s not as obvious maybe is if you look behind someone if they’re supinating or pronating that would need to be corrected too. So you’d have to look at, or my advice would be to look at them standing from behind and see if you can get those Achilles tendons to line up straight, if they’re not, you lift their toes and have them form arches and possibly you figure out how to get their feet back into neutral so that would be one thing. And then when they’re not symptomatic or really warmed up, you’d want to very gently lengthen the fascia on their feet, and their calves, and possibly their hamstrings.

But here’s the thing. What I see a lot of people do it, and I’ve even seen PTs do this, you can’t just take somebody who has plantar fasciitis, which is basically the tearing of the fascia away from the heel. And then start stretching the heck out of it because we’re just gonna make it worse because I think it’s gonna tear more. So the trick to it is, along with the sort of structural piece is to teach the person how to get very warm before they do any stretching. And then do some fairly long holds. And at first, I would target the calf area and see if you can get the calf to lengthen without feeling it in the bottom of the foot and then see if you get the hamstrings to lengthen without feeling it at the bottom of the foot. And then the final thing I do would be to do a more sort of extreme stretch where you would lift the foot off the ground, balls of the feet off the ground at some point, but that’s after they’re better. So the mistake I see people making is kind of going for these big stretches, you know, and you see this a lot in athletes so they’re very game to do things usually. So, you know, you get someone in to your practice then athlete and they’re like, yeah, I’ll just stretch it out, tell me how to stretch. But you’re likely gonna do a lot more damage, so, what I’ve seen is people have plantar fasciitis and get it made much worse by the stretches.

So the key is where the person feels it. So you really want to be targeting, usually it’s not the fascia on the foot that shortens actually, could be but usually the real problem is up the posterior chain fascially, so really going to be sort of long, gentle stretches in the calf and the hamstring. I’ve worked with that condition hundreds of times, it’s very common and that usually works. And as you give the person what to do, you know, make sure they’re warm. So actually the first thing in the morning probably isn’t your moment, so make sure they’re already warmed up and then you can go further by actually having them heat the area. And I know a lot of times if you have inflammation people think ice because it cools it, but really what you want is all the tissues to be warm and open before you do any kind of manual stuff with them.

Yoga Therapy For Trauma

When someone seeks out a Yoga Therapist because they are suffering from trauma,  the role of the Yoga Therapist to facilitate this transformation with the self takes skill and knowledge. In this segment, Brandt explains the difference between and best practices for working with trauma in a group class versus a private session.

You know, working with people that have suffered trauma, it’s a very different experience to work one-on-one than in a class. So there are certain things that are the same, like how you might use invitational language, how you give people lots of options and don’t require them to do things necessarily. And then there’s a similarity in the physicality where you create a safe space, where you as the teacher are not coming at them, standing over them, etc.

But the difference I think, and where sometimes people are confused is in private sessions, this is similar but different in that, where in both cases try to encourage people that was certain kinds of experiences. And the primary one is interceptive or sensory experiences, where you’re feeling things in your body and you’ve heard probably a lot of times trauma lives in the body or in the tissues. And that’s true in that, in order to allow trauma to move and be resolved, the body has to be felt. If the body’s cut off, not always, but it can be more difficult. So, often it’s a good idea to whatever level a person can feel their body and that could be as sort of big a body experience like big asanas, and as small as feeling the breath move in and out. But being in the body can be extremely useful.

But when you’re working with somebody who really is interested in a curative solution in terms of working through their trauma and, hopefully they’re supported by a psychotherapist of some sort, or social worker, or psychotherapist, or a psychiatrist. But, you know, some sort of mental health professional as well. But in private session, there’s more of a place to allow them to explore how they feel about their trauma, or the reactions to it, or things that trigger them for themselves in a safe environment. So usually that’s not going to happen with 20 people around you. But if you can create a container where that’s possible and you can resist the urge to sort of process with them. And use yoga practices to allow them to have experiences and then maybe talk it out for themselves. So in our retreats we do a lot of active listening techniques so that we can get used to this experience of listening without judging, of not implying anything with our physical bodies, or the things that we say.

So in that way it’s different and I think the other way it’s different is that you’re working through the koshas, and in private sessions you may have a better take on where that trauma lives. I mean it’s quite likely envisioned of maya kosha because that’s where our unconscious patterning is stored but it could certainly be in other places as well. And to really help people specifically with practices for that so you’re not just generalizing like a trauma-sensitive practice that doesn’t trigger them. You’re more looking in a private session at a practice that allows them to work with their bigger stuff in a way that is actually safe for them or that they can do. And that’s all about relationship, so the questions around that we’re sort of like, well what do I do? Do I simply just teach them yoga and not trigger them? Do I talk to them about their stuff? Do I work with things? And then so the answer is, you slowly work into that those kosha techniques that we learn in the course with their consent and permission.

Once you’ve established a relationship with them that’s solid, and once you have their consent and, you know, consent in this case can be tricky, I think, because sometimes it’s hard to consent to what you don’t know is going to happen, right? So consent is when someone can say, I understand that this technique might bring up this stuff. But to be honest with you, I’m really interested in doing this work because I feel like that’s going to be beneficial to me. And then so you give them techniques that might help them let’s say, deepen their access to their vision of maya kosha which could allow some stuff to move and you would do that while explaining to them that you are a support system but they also might need other supports.

Yoga Therapy and Medication

There is a lot of talk about how yoga therapy can help with a wide range of mental health conditions. There also seems to be some dissonance between how yoga and medication intersect. In this segmentBrandt answers one of his students questions about how to work with a client on medication, specifically, what a Yoga Therapist’s scope of practice might look like in this scenario. Here, we share a candid moment taken from a live session with students. We are working to spread the word about yoga therapy including the subtle details one must be aware of to be effective. Knowing what you don’t know is key. 


“It’s definitely not in our scope to comment on medication. You know, you can have personal beliefs about that, but you really have to know the history of someone. So, someone who’s had lifelong depression, you know you’d have to be really sure… well, first of all, you really shouldn’t comment at all as a Yoga therapist. You should say, “Actually you don’t know a lot about medication.” You know, “What I do know is that Yoga therapy can help alleviate the symptoms. And then if you feel like those symptoms are alleviated enough to try pausing your medication, you should talk to your doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist whoever you’re seeing about that.”

That’s for the official line. And then on another note, I would say, there is mounting evidence that medication for mild and possibly moderate depression isn’t that effective. And the reason I bring that up is because mild and moderate depression is not in the suicidal realm.

So, you know, if you had some science based around that and wanted to share studies or points of view from the Yoga Therapy tradition, that would be fine. But I wouldn’t become the ally against medication. I would stay in the zone, not just because of a liability perspective; more in terms of you really want your client to be achieving their personal goals. And so even though someone might say, “my personal goal is to get off medication,” it’s not the only goal. Because…and if you are skilled and talking to them, you would also find out that their other role would to not be depressed. So those things have to balance each other out.

So more important to ally yourself with the pursuit of overall health and happiness. Whatever that means. So that’s my general answer – that I have definitely helped people achieve their goals of getting off medication especially depression – it’s kind of a commonly, in my opinion, overused realm in terms of medication. However, some people you know it’s the perfect thing. And you know without it, it’s not going well. So just keep your mind there.”