Getting Started Teaching Yoga in Clinical Practice, Solo episode with Chris McDonald

Feb 11, 2022

Why should you consider using yoga in therapy? Which parts of yoga can benefit and deepen your therapeutic practice? How can yoga empower your clients?


  • Benefits to using yoga in therapy
  • Getting started: take small steps
  • See what your clients already know
  • Keeping yoga trauma-informed

Benefits to using yoga in therapy

Yoga can be used as a bottom-up therapeutic practice for trauma-informed healing.

Clients who struggle with trauma are generally more successful in using bottom-up therapy practices first, such as breathwork, meditation, yoga. They have less success with top-down practice, such as CBT and traditional talk therapy.

[Clients with trauma, anxiety, and depression] have trouble even thinking straight because their [frontal cortex] goes offline if they get too emotional. Bottom-up approaches use more [therapeutic modalities] to get to the deeper parts of the brain so that you can get clients more regulated. (Chris McDonald)

You can use these bottom-up approaches to help the client regulate emotionally and physically before leading into CBT and talk therapy.

– Yoga can be used to achieve emotional regulation because it is present-moment focused.

It helps clients to center themselves on the “now” and be present within themselves and what is happening around them.

– Yoga can be taught as a coping skill. Therapists can teach basic yoga poses or breathing techniques to their clients for them to use at home or whenever they feel unsettled.

It empowers clients to have more control over their regulation and emotions.

Getting started: take small steps

Yoga training is a big commitment of time and money. Help yourself through this accreditation by taking it in small steps.

Consider taking classes in your own time to become more familiar with yoga before getting a certificate.

If you do not want to teach movement, you do not have you. You can start with teaching basic breathwork to your clients.

Remember, it starts with a relationship: build this first. Build a relationship and trust with your clients before diving into doing yoga with them.

I don’t start, depending on the situation, maybe until the third or fourth session if we do any at all, depending on their treatment plan. But for some people who are highly activated, I will sometimes start with breathwork in the second session if we’re not getting anywhere. (Chris McDonald)

Decide what you want to teach. Where is the starting point for you?

The key to teaching this is to know this pose or breathwork inside and out, and for you to feel totally comfortable with it before teaching it to someone else so that you can guide them. Here, repetition is important.

Create a safe and welcoming space. With both telehealth and in-person, make sure whatever is around and behind you is soothing and peaceful.

Welcome them warmly to ease them into this new space and the yoga.

See what your clients already know

Introduce yoga to your clients as an option. It is an invitation, and your clients can decline if it is not for them.

If your client does consent to yoga and wants to incorporate it into their therapy with you, discuss yoga with them to see how familiar they are with it already.

Keeping yoga trauma-informed

– Let your clients know they can stop at any time or to ask a question

– Enquire about potential injuries, surgeries, or limitations your client may have so that you can modify yoga for them

– Tell clients to stop if they feel pain

– Provide clients with a time frame about how long the yoga may take

– Notice where you are seated and where they are seated so that they feel that they have enough space

– Practice alongside your client

– Assign some poses or breathwork sessions as homework for the clients so that they know they can use yoga as a tool to help them regulate

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Resources Mentioned And Useful Links:

Chest Stretch Video

Subtle Yoga for Behavioral Health Professionals

Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Skills for Mood Management

Joe Gilbert episode on the Holistic Counseling Podcast

Trauma-Informed Yoga episode with Kristine Weber on the Holistic Counseling Podcast

How to Create Full Bodied Success Mastery with Avital Miller

Practice of the Practice Podcast Network

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