So to begin with……..
Ideally you want to look at a teachers credentials and pay attention to wether they are trauma informed, mental health aware or have had any training in yoga for mental health.
Yoga CPD is an important part of maintaining accreditation as a yoga teacher, trauma informed yoga training and CPD is now commonplace and many teachers will have explored mental health studies often inspired by their own mental health journey. Do not be shy to ask a teacher what their experience or training is. They most likely will love you asking. We invest thousands in numerous trainings and are usually more than happy to voice that. If a teacher is reluctant to talk about their training and it is not evident or verified online then they may not be the right teacher for you and it’s ok to move on.
Yoga teachers that have Somatic Movement or Somatic Therapy training are often well versed when it comes to teaching yoga for mental health also. But…….neither of the these training styles (both Trauma Informed or Somatic Movement Therapy) to my knowledge to this date actually cover specific content on OCD. They may look at Anxiety and Depression but as we know OCD is very much a condition in its own right especially in how it should be handled and understood by our family, friends and our support network.
The field of yoga therapy is the exception and is expanding quickly. The Minded Institute in London, UK, offers a highly regarded Yoga Therapy Diploma with a large curriculum emphasis on mental health. I do believe they cover OCD as part of their extensive curriculum so any graduate of The Minded Institute is a great place to start if you’re looking for Yoga Therapy. A lot of Yoga Therapists also teach weekly classes.
So let’s talk about what can be important in the yoga class;
During meditation or breathing exercises it’s easy to drift into rumination. In the beginning a practice that is faster paced and contains more intricate movement and physical postures can often be easier than one that is slow with long holds in poses with lots of thinking or quiet time. The deep slow meditative postures are definitely the advanced postures for those with OCD, they can be a great opportunity for honing mindfulness skills, developing ‘getting out of our heads and into our bodies’ and an opportunity to stay present and not respond to obsessions when they arise.
In summary when the body has to work harder like in fitness yoga classes the mind is often kept focused on the movement and has less time for drifting or rumination.
Breathing techniques that keep the mind busy whilst supporting the nervous system can be helpful. Focusing on noticing breaths, counting breaths or saying inhale exhale as we observe our breath is a yoga practice that enhances mindful attention
Some yoga teachers can prompt a lot of self enquiry ‘things like ‘notice how it feels’ and ‘Scan your body’. These can be a good opportunity to develop mindfulness skills when met with self compassion and without compulsions. It’s vital that if you are observing and noticing ‘feelings’ and ‘sensations’ that your not then using a compulsion after to ease any anxiety that these techniques, thoughts or feelings may arouse.
When OCD is unmanaged the OCD mind will look for reassurance from both teachers and ourselves during a practice. Reassurance can come in many different forms. If you notice yourself seeking reassurance from your teacher it may be important to explain some fundamentals of OCD to her.
If in the beginning Yoga feels good and an escape from our OCD it can be easy to fall into a trap of ‘over practicing’ or practicing everyday. Whilst it’s wonderful that it makes us feel great and I fully advocate a daily practice it’s also important not to start to use the practice as an avoidance in and of itself. Always examine your intention for practice and if you are practicing with an intention of finding relief from thoughts or fixing your OCD discuss this with your therapist and explore how to work response prevention into your practice.
If like me your Neuro-Diverse you may find you want to race ahead in your practice doing everything quickly, it benefits me to have a teacher who is grounded and keeps a steady space or calls me out when I rushing too far ahead. Likewise some people like to do everything slowly insistent on only work at their own pace rather than the groups pace, of-course this is totally your right and similarly you might enjoy a teacher who has lively energy and can draw you into momentum in your practice. Experimenting with and considering your movement habits can be a powerful insight into our idiosyncrasies and behaviours. We have a saying ‘how we do one thing is how we do everything’ and it usually occurs how we do yoga as how we do everything.
Extending and expanding our discomfort tolerance is an important part of OCD therapy. Yoga postures offer a vital opportunity to be present with discomforts. That’s why it’s so important to keep compulsions outside the Yoga room. A juicy Ling held half pigeon posture can be a meeting of both great discomfort and deep insight both physically and mentally.
I really want to encourage those with OCD to try yoga, in-fact if it spikes anxiety for you then in the OCD world, leaning into that discomfort and giving a class a go despite the anxiety is also an important step. Sometimes we may need to try a few different yoga styles or teachers to find the one we like. You read more about different yoga styles here!
Learning breath techniques can calm the mind and make thoughts less sticky. This can empower sleep and socializing. Learning mindful walking and mindful meditation can improve neuroplasticity, make thoughts less sticky, improve mood and increase overall energy. You can read another article here on the mental and physical benefits of yoga.