Yoga for Therapists
Hey hey readers! Welcome! I'm so glad you are here. In this month's blog post, I will go over how a consistent yoga practice can help navigate life as a therapist. In addition to teaching and practicing yoga, I am also a speech-language pathologist (aka SLP, speech therapist). I began practicing yoga about 8 years ago as a way to deal with work-related stress, and now my yoga practice is part of my daily routine, just as much as breathing or eating is. And while this post is geared toward therapists, truly anyone in any kind of job can benefit from yoga.
Being an SLP, or a therapist of any kind for that matter, sure can be tough. As therapists, we are charged with helping another human with something they are struggling in, and the responsibility of that can weigh heavily on a therapist's heart. For me personally, my job is to help individuals speak, eat, and think, all of which are incredibly vital and essential functions of being a human. And often, the pressure to help my patients achieve these functions can be very demanding. The responsibility of being THE PERSON who is supposed to get a child, or adult, to speak, or swallow, or think, can be very heavy. Please don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and could never do anything other than be an SLP. My speech career is by the far the most important thing on the planet to me. But, just because I love it, doesn't mean it is always easy or pretty because it sure isn't. Some days I cry the entire commute home from work and other times I spend the entire evening and night thinking about a patient or their family, rather than being present with my own family. I bring work home with me a lot, even if it is just to think about a patient and what might be best for him or her.
I began my personal yoga practice as a way to navigate the big emotions of being a therapist. Parents and families put their faith in me, and they entrust their loved one's therapy needs with me. I take that very seriously. I simply cannot ever settle for being less than my best because there is a real human being sitting in front of me who deserves to receive the absolute best I can offer. It is that black and white for me. But this pressure to always be the best can sometimes be emotionally exhausting. That is one of the reasons I started practicing yoga - I wanted to learn tools and strategies to deal with this immense pressure to always perform at the very top of my game. And I am so incredibly grateful every day for finding yoga. My yoga practice offered me so much more than just tools for dealing with work stress. Yoga made me feel healthier physically, mentally, and emotionally. It taught me how to observe what was happening in my own mind, body, and heart, and how to respond authentically and kindly. Yoga made it easier for me to move around my work place and get on/off the floor when playing with children.
If you are a therapist of any kind (OT, PT, speech, counselor, ABA, etc.), please consider beginning a yoga practice. Yoga can truly help you to be best YOU that you can be, which trickles down to your patients and their families. Each person's yoga practice is unique to him or her. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to practice yoga, as long as you are honoring what is true for you when you are on your mat. There is a style of yoga for everyBODY, so if you think you are too busy, distractible, inflexible, immobile, weak, etc..., you are incorrect. No matter the style of yoga being practiced, yoga benefits our physical, emotional, and mental bodies. Read below to find out more about why you should definitely consider adopting a regular yoga practice.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is super helpful for improving strength, mobility, flexibility, and stability in the muscular system. Therapists often put their bodies into funky positions during the day, whether that be sitting in child-sized chairs or on the floor, documenting while standing at a patient's bedside while holding your laptop, or carrying large bags or materials in/out of your clinic or facility. When our physical bodies are put into these positions over and over again, it can lead to postural issues, muscle imbalances, and often, pain or discomfort in the body. Because yoga is such a holistic, whole-body, balancing practice, it really helps to correct a lot of these soft-tissue imbalances that we accrue as therapists.
I used to experience a lot of neck pain, tightness, and stiffness, and ever since I started doing yoga, I rarely feel that discomfort anymore. Plus, getting on and off the floor quickly is super important in my job when I am treating children, especially if I have a "runner" (you know, the child that elopes away from the therapy area without warning). Yoga has also made it easier for me to help patients with transfers and transitions, which can be very physically demanding depending on the size of the patient. I also keep a yoga mat, yoga blocks, and stability balls in my therapy room at work, so I can hop on my yoga mat as needed, or I can have one of my patients use the mat if we are doing yoga in our session. The physical benefits of yoga are truly innumerable. Your yoga practice can help your physical body stay healthy, well, and strong, which makes it a lot easier to be the therapist you trained so hard to become.
Emotional Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is fantastic for managing stress and tough emotions. Breathwork is central to a yoga practice, and deep, conscious diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to keep the nervous system calm and regulated (click here to read more about belly breathing and click here to read more about yoga for the autonomic nervous system). As therapists, we tend to spend our days with an up-regulated nervous system, especially if we deal with challenging or aggressive patients. That heightened nervous system energy can be very harmful to us if left unchecked for too long. Yoga helps our nervous system to down-regulate, so that we can feel calm, and our bodies can perform their maintenance functions, like digestion and tissue repair. A calmer nervous system means a calmer mind, body, and spirit.
Yoga also helps with improving our emotional awareness, of ourselves and others. Yoga teaches us that it is okay to feel whatever emotions we might be experiencing, such as regret, doubt, exhaustion, insecurity, or confusion. Instead of trying to ignore our emotions, yoga encourages us to acknowledge and honor the emotions that are present within us, without judging or reacting to them. As therapists, we spend so much time feeling emotions for other people, that we often forget to stop and think about how we might feel. If we ignore our own emotions, our bodies will find another way to emote them, and this might be through illness or disease. Yoga gives the practitioner the tools to recognize with curious awareness, not self-judgment, the emotions we feel moment-to-moment. And when we recognize what we are feeling, we can respond in a way that better aligns with our core values.
One of the moral codes of yoga is "ahimsa," which translates to non-harming or non-violence. Essentially, ahimsa means that the yoga practitioner is kind to him/herself and to others. Yoga teaches us how to be kind to ourselves, whether that be through modifying our practice to best meet ourselves where we are at or honoring the emotions we are feeling in a given moment. Yoga teaches us to be empowered to be our own self-advocate, and that is really important as therapists because we often feel a lot of self-doubt (e.g. did I diagnose this patient correctly? Am I using the best intervention for this patient? Am I helping this patient at all? etc.). A consistent yoga practice can help quell those self-limiting beliefs and instead shift our thinking to a more self-positive mindset (e.g. I am doing the best I can for this patient).
Mental Benefits of Yoga
Because yoga includes so much mindfulness and meditation, it is excellent for improving the functioning of our mental body, or mind. Yoga can teach the practitioner how to slow down and notice what is happening in the mind from a curious, nonjudgmental position. Rather than getting swept up in our thoughts of inadequacy, failure, worry, doubt, or whatever else our job brings our way, yoga can help therapists to simply notice what kind of thoughts are running through the mind without getting attached to or caught up in them. This can be very helpful when treating a challenging patient or when assessing the efficacy of a treatment.
As therapists, we are required to collect data and document session activities as objectively and honestly as possible. Yoga is helpful for improving the ability to simply observe a patient and what is happening without expecting some type of outcome. For example, my yoga practice enhanced my ability to objectively analyze if certain interventions were working with a patient, so I could provide the best therapy possible to that patient. My yoga practice also helped me to honestly acknowledge the thoughts that go through my mind during the day (e.g. does this parent like me? am I helping this patient at all? etc.) without reacting or getting upset by the thoughts. I have learned to simply notice that the thought is there and that I have the choice to entertain the thought more or to just let it go.
My yoga practice also helped to strengthen my ability to focus and pay attention to the present moment, which is super important when treating patients. As a speech therapist, attending to nonverbal communication is very important, as many of my patients only communicate nonverbally. Thus, I need to be able to remain attentive to any and all communicative attempts, and yoga helped improve my ability to do so.
Being a therapist can be very tough, and some days are certainly way harder than other days. I have worked as a speech therapist for 8 years now, and I found that yoga was super helpful for dealing with the physical, emotional, and mental demands of my job. Yoga is a holistic practice that aims to unite the body, breath, mind, and spirit, and there is a style of yoga for every kind of person. If you are a therapist, I highly recommend you add a yoga practice into your weekly routine. Yoga can help to rebalance you physically, emotionally, and mentally, which can make it much easier to navigate the "ups" and "downs" of working in the field of therapy. Yoga really helped me to keep my physical body healthy and well, hone my observation skills, and treat myself kindly during and after the workday. If you are new to yoga, please read my blog post about what to expect at your first class (click here).
I eventually became a registered yoga, and children's yoga, teacher so that I could not only share the gift of yoga with others, but so I could also use yoga therapeutically in my speech sessions. I trained under Lauren Reese at MOVE+breathe (click here for more information), and she is actually leading another teacher training beginning at the end of August. I highly recommend this training (click here to read more about my journey with becoming a yoga teacher). Thanks so much for reading this!
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have questions about yoga for your body, please follow up with your physician, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga and/or personal training sessions with me, Jackie, email me at email@example.com for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my monthly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NASM-CNC