4 Iconic Yoga Positions and Their Therapeutic Benefits

A woman does yoga stretches in a fieldWhen people think about yoga, they typically think about group classes and physical exercise. Yoga therapy is more than this. Yoga therapy is a healing tool that can be used to help people find physical wellness, but its benefits extend to promoting emotional wholeness as well.

Yoga therapy, like other kinds of therapy, starts by creating a safe environment. The therapist learns the student’s unique needs. As part of this process, the therapist and student assess and discuss the student’s medical and emotional history and goals. Although it is possible to learn a great deal on one’s own and there are many great resources on the web, it is important to have a highly skilled and trained teacher or guide who can help you find your path and keep you safe. The relationship between teacher and student is paramount.

The therapist—the teacher—uses active listening to understand and interpret the student’s communications. Together, they work carefully and creatively to advance the student’s goals. The student develops an observing ego (or “witness consciousness”), which is one step toward making the unconscious conscious, deepening internal investigation and understanding in a safe and protected space. A strong internal witness helps people grow.

In word therapies, people generally sit or lie down on a couch or a chair. Because some people find it easier to talk while moving, they may “walk and talk,” in a park or elsewhere. In yoga therapy, people also sit, lie down, and move. Typical yoga classes don’t encourage discussion, which would disrupt the class, but yoga therapy encourages listening, talking, and questioning to explore the inner self and its needs.

Asanas, or yoga positions, elicit powerful reactions. Four iconic yoga positions are child pose, mountain pose, tree pose, and shavasana. These four poses can be seen as symbolic of the life cycle. Child pose has to do with early life. Mountain pose relates to independence, standing on your own two feet. Tree pose symbolizes life’s balancing act. Shavasana, also called corpse pose, denotes the end of life. Let’s look at the feelings each of these poses might elicit:

  • Depending on your experiences early in life, child’s pose—facing the floor in the fetal position—may inspire happiness, sorrow, or rage. One person may love child’s pose and find nourishment, protection, and rest. Another person may hate it because he or she was abused as a child.
  • Mountain pose reflects self-confidence—or the lack thereof. Picture yourself standing straight and tall, hands at your side, smiling and strong, in front of a group. Some people might cringe at the thought. Others might quietly enjoy the experience. Still others might show off.
  • Tree pose shows the adult responding to life’s challenges, swaying, finding and losing equilibrium. Try balancing on one foot and you’ll see it’s not always easy to keep your focus and balance. Can you let go and sway in the breeze? Are you afraid of falling? Are you able to lose your balance and then start again without much trouble?
  • Shavasana—lying on your back, eyes closed, arms and legs spread about 45 degrees—represents the end of life. People sometimes cry during shavasana because they are close to the unconscious, reaching toward their essence, and many emotional issues may come up. They may also have “aha!” experiences and find the answers they were seeking.

Asanas are only one element of the practices used in yoga therapy. Others include centering, meditation, breath work, attitude adjustment, gratitude practice, diet, and developing emotional intelligence and compassion.

A yoga therapist working to strengthen a person’s emotional wholeness might use each of these poses and practices (and many more). No matter the tools used, the therapist and student work together to develop suitable yoga sequences and make lifestyle adjustments that may lead the student to an “easeful, peaceful, and useful” existence.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tika

    Tika

    November 26th, 2015 at 6:20 AM

    I have always wanted to try yoga but I am a little overweight so I think that I spend too much time thinking about what other people would think about me doing it instead of focusing on the real health benefits that would come out of it.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    November 26th, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    Hi Tika,
    Thanks for writing– you’re absolutely right, weight is not the issue, nor is worrying about what other people have to say. Focus on what’s good for you.
    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Lynn

  • Leslie

    Leslie

    November 26th, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Yoga is never much on my radar mainly because I always think that to get a good workout I have to go cardio and go big.
    I guess I have been neglecting the benefits that yoga alone can have too

  • riley

    riley

    November 27th, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    I need more self confidence, and I know that so it sounds like the tree pose is for me. I am not trying to boil things down to being overly simplistic but I think that the more that we can focus on what we want to be and do the right things that we need to get there, then we can be everything that we have ever dreamed of.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    November 27th, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Hi Leslie and riley,
    Yoga is good both physically and emotionally; it regulates your body, mind and your emotions too. It helps you develop your abilities to focus too, riley. Good luck and good times to you both.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Toni

    Toni

    November 28th, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Maybe I will be trying some of these on my own. Been to a couple of yoga classes before but I guess I just get too caught up in watching what others can do that I can’t seem to master that it throws me off kilter a bit.

  • Sienna

    Sienna

    November 28th, 2015 at 1:11 PM

    Even when I am not looking for exercise per se but just a way to stretch and relax I have always found doing yoga to be a very rewarding experience for me. I know that for some people they feel like they lose their patience with the poses and the holding but for me it is like a release, a way to find myself through the darkness that I could be feeling at the time.

  • jo

    jo

    November 29th, 2015 at 7:24 AM

    I recently had shoulder surgery and my therapist has highly recommended that I try yoga after I regain a little more mobility and give the should a little more time to heal. She says that she thinks that it would be a good way for me to regain use and strength in that arm.

  • Samantha

    Samantha

    November 30th, 2015 at 7:16 AM

    yoga therapist?
    cool

  • Mason

    Mason

    December 5th, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    It seems that more and more people today are into yoga, my wife even does it and she just raves about how much better going to a class and being involved makes her feel. Listen, I am all for anything that makes you feel that vibrant and that good.

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