Psychotherapy, Yoga and Bodywork

Therapy for the Mind, Heart, and Soul Living in a Body

by Alan Levin, M.A., LMFT

In the past few decades, more and more people have found benefit in therapeutic massage and deep bodywork. As a psychotherapist, I strongly support and encourage my clients to receive bodywork, and to consider it as more than simply an aid to relaxation. Bodywork can be a way to learn more about yourself, especially about the way you hold tension and emotional pain. It can also be a way of learning to release and let go, a major aspect of psychotherapeutic work.

As you receive bodywork, you find a place where relaxation becomes more than a release of tight muscles. You can enter into the body’s deep wisdom; the knowing that you need not carry stress or pain or worry, at least for a time. You can enter into the body’s memory of deep peace and greater freedom. Then, as you reengage your world of relationships and work, this experience of openness and expansiveness will be with you for some time.

However, the old patterns of body tension will most likely take hold again; shoulders tighten, back muscles stiffen, literally all the body tissue contracts. When we pay attention to this cycle, (the relief/release, and then the tightening/contraction), we realize that much of our body pain has its roots in our mind; our thoughts and emotions. It’s common to notice that when we are going through a difficult life passage – separation, loss or taking on of greater responsibilities – it may seem impossible to relax. Yet these times of stress, including the body’s tense reactions, are often opportunities to grow. This growth occurs as we become aware of the body armor that holds our defenses and that defines our self-image. We then have an opportunity to recognize that we can choose to soften, to open to a larger sense of who we are, to be more whole, more alive.

The therapy work that I do includes dialogue in which we look deeply at the challenges that are arising in your life. We seek to arrive at a place of honest self-reflection and heart sharing. However, I also work with experiential processes that go beyond “talk therapy”, bringing awareness to the fixed mental and emotional patterns that connect to your physical body. One might say that we move below the story of events to the more elemental patterns that cause us to repeat self-destructive behaviors even though “we know better”.

In addition to bodywork, yoga studios and training centers have been flowering in communities all over the country. While many people approach yoga for it’s benefits in relieving stress and strengthening and toning muscles, it is in fact, a spiritual practice developed to purify and integrate the body with the mind and spirit. Working with yogic meditation practices for the past 35 years, I have found that such exercises, especially those using the breath and attuning to inner life energies (sometimes called chi or ki), are profoundly useful in the work of psychotherapy. Emotions and thoughts related to memories that involve guilt, resentment or fear, can be experienced as trapped or stuck energy, and worked with directly in ways that release and free the flow. Likewise, these methods allow us to access the deep inner wisdom, creativity and healing energies that are within each of us.

My work as a psychotherapist has been deeply informed by my experiential explorations with body awareness and yoga-meditation. I have found that these approaches can be helpful both in times of crisis and times when life is going smoothly. In either case, we have the opportunity to journey deeply into the body/mind to the roots of old patterns, and the sources of our healing and regeneration.