Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable
If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that we all need to take time for ourselves and make sure we are prepared, mentally and physically, to take on life’s challenges. Most of us have heard of yoga, but not quite as many have heard of yoga therapy, but it is a game changer.
LILLIE HEWITT, a certified individual yoga therapist, is the founder of ILM Yoga Therapy, a form of somatic therapy.
“Somatic Therapy means body-based and connects body and mind in a therapeutic healing process,” says Hewitt. “So, simply put, we are literally talking about your feelings and bringing awareness to the connection between physical sensation and the thoughts, feelings and emotions you’re having in a present moment.”
She says the benefit of this awareness is that it highlights the patterns of behavior our nervous system has established in response to our lived experiences.
“When we can create awareness around bodily sensation and connect those sensations with our thoughts, it gives us the opportunity to decide whether the behavior supports our well-being or not, and then we have the choice to transform those autonomic reactions to intentional responses,” Hewitt adds.
While it can be hard for some to get in touch with feelings and emotions, this type of yoga makes those realizations simple.
“Yoga Therapy is the intersection of yoga philosophy, mindfulness, modern psychology, and neuroscience research,” says Hewitt. “When we work together, the process is simple. Session work is client-directed, meaning the emotions you feel, and the intentions (or goals) that you have, are the road map for our time together.”
When she works with clients she starts checking in with the body, noticing physical cues, moment-to-moment, and how they may be interacting and reacting to thoughts in real-time.
Hewitt uses a variety of somatic tools such as mindfulness, breathwork, movement, and therapeutic touch to find this present-centered awareness to then safely engage with sensations of discomfort in the body and mind.
“Through the use of unconditional positive regard, my dialogue is both supportive and non-directive, lending you the space to explore what it feels like to witness your own process, and then action new patterns, efforts, and perspectives in your life to support your whole self,” she says.
One of the main goals of this type of yoga is to assist those with disordered eating, an issue Hewitt has a personal history with as well.
“It’s undeniable the pressure of metric-based success, particularly from a young age,” she says. “Everything from rigorous academic norms to the expectations of body composition and appearance in athletics, and performing arts, to name a few.”
She acknowledges that not all metrics are wrong or mal-intended because they can provide discipline and are goal-oriented which can help establish personal accountability in a young person. But, this same metric-based success can bleed into judgment of ourselves as a person well into adulthood.
“As a woman, I know firsthand what this is like, trying to control the metric of my body. The association of success with a certain size,” she says. “Deciding my likeability based on the way I look, and self-worth, based on how much I weigh.”
Yoga Therapy helped Hewitt understand where true self-worth lies and where it does not.
“Yoga Therapy offered me the grace to challenge these fundamental parts of myself, trading in the ‘black and white’ perspective of self-worth with the boundless ‘grey’ area of being a beautiful, unique human being,” says Hewitt. “As a yoga therapist, I support my clients in exploring the same potential, empowering ease and confidence in their bodies, seeing themselves as vessels for engaging in what brings them joy and dismantling the idea that they need to fit in a box that wasn’t made for them.”
Whether you relate to these specific examples or not, yoga therapy can still improve overall well-being.
She says this type of therapy is great for women who are looking to heal old patterns, suffer less and connect more deeply with themselves while also fueling their bodies with food and using their bodies as a vessel for function.
“The really exceptional part of the process is recognizing that we are dynamic beings living in a fundamentally ‘black and white’ world. For example, sometimes things feel bad, or scary, or difficult, and the reaction is that those feelings are wrong and need to be changed. And to be fair, sometimes we do. If our safety or wellbeing is in danger, then yes, we need to shift or change our circumstances,” she says. “But, the potential of the ‘grey’ area highlighted by yoga therapy is that discomfort, sadness, anger, resentment, grief, whatever the sensations (physical or cognitive) might be the very door that opens us to healing.”
“The opportunity to be present to that discomfort; be it physical, emotional or mental, is where the true power of shifting old patterns resides,” she adds.
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
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