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There is also a growing subset of yoga classed as ‘yoga therapy’ that uses trained yoga teachers to assess mental conditions and their related complications. This is a condition-sensitive form of yoga that works alongside a number of medical and psychiatric treatments for a range of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, trauma, ADHD, depression and other severe mental illness.
Enter ‘yoga and mental health into PubMed, the online medical database, and you are likely to get around 200 related academic articles on the effectiveness of yoga in psychotherapy. Apply the same search to Google Scholar and that brings up an additional 60 similar articles.
It was the Austrian born psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who is generally thought of as being the first person to acknowledge how working with the body can help release trauma and suppressed emotions. His groundbreaking work in the 1940 s and 50’s helped lay the foundations for many of today’s now established forms of body-oriented psychotherapies.
The theory behind most of these types of therapies is that our unprocessed traumas are not so much stored in the speaking parts of the brain, but rather they are stored in the unconscious processes that reach deep within the body.
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We know through developments in biology and neuroscience that the body and the mind are talking to each other all the time in what is referred to as a feedback loop. Chemical hormones that travel through the brain also travel throughout the body, carrying signals to what are known as receptor cells. The release of these chemicals primarily acts to keep all our various bodily systems functioning optimally -this is known as homeostasis. But when these chemicals are related to certain kinds of thought they also have the ability to create our emotions and feelings. Watching someone blush is watching this miracle of nature at work.
It’s as if our bodies are eavesdropping on every thought we have, and when these thoughts are associated with fear and survival the body responds by using the chemicals to store memory of the situation within certain cells. But as a way of trying to cope with situations we find threatening or painful we will often reject and bury our own feelings, which in turn prevent this biological process from running its correct and natural course. The paradox of all this is that our stored experiences help us to learn, but at the same time they also have the ability to limit us.
When these types of feelings are unable to run their natural cycle they end up leaving deep emotional scars within what is often referred to as the emotional or pain body. And rather than diminishing over time they end up creating new patterns of thinking that intrude and influence us in our lives far more than we realise.
These unexpressed emotions can end up distorting our lives in such a way that they prevent us from experiencing lasting happiness and peace. In many cases the struggle to cope with these emotions buried in our deep subconscious processes can lead to various forms of depression as well as self-destructive behaviours and addictions.