Today, I’m sharing guidance for how you can create a healing yoga practice using your own inner wisdom and intuition. If you want to learn more about what makes you tick, discover and release blockages to your health and happiness, and feel more connected to your true Self, an intuitive yoga practice can support this process.
Yoga is so much more than a workout, a stress management technique, or a pathway to relaxation. While it is all of these things, it’s the so-much-more piece that sets yoga apart from other forms of exercise and self care that offer these benefits. And this piece is the reason I’ve been dedicated to my yoga journey for over twenty years now, without ever tiring of it.
When you practice yoga with the intention to see yourself more clearly, it can powerfully transform you. Your practice evolves with you as you move through life, always rising to the challenge of whatever may be happening for you, to give you the answers you need to adapt, heal, and grow. It has created radical, healing shifts in my body, mind, and spirit, just as it has done for many people over many centuries. And it can do the same for you too.
How Does Yoga Heal?
Yoga offers many benefits that have been documented by research. Some of these include reducing stress and anxiety, improving depression, alleviating low back pain, stimulating brain function, preventing heart disease, and improving quality of life for people dealing with a variety of chronic illnesses. It’s increasingly being recommended as an adjunct to traditional therapies for trauma, addiction, and other mental health issues. Basically, for maintaining optimal mental and physical wellness, it’s a powerhouse.
My personal healing yoga journey has helped me reprogram unhealthy nervous system responses that arose as a result of trauma. (You can read more here.) It supported my recovery from an episode of depression that struck during a serious health issue with my son. And, over the years, it has consistently helped me maintain wellness in my body, heart, mind, and spirit. Here are some examples of what yoga’s healing power has helped me do:
- Regulate mood and emotions
- Process grief and loss
- Manage stress
- Stabilize a disc bulge in my lumbar spine
- Manage PMS symptoms
- Gain clarity of mind
- Improve self esteem and confidence
- Develop and maintain unconditional self love
- Cultivate compassion for self and others
- Develop healthier communication and relationship skills
- Break co-dependency habits
- Deal with body pain
- Overcome fear
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. When practiced intuitively, and with the intention for healing, yoga can support wellness and growth in every aspect of our lives. How does it manage to support such a wide variety of goals?
Yoga’s Power Tool: Self-Awareness
The answer is self-awareness. There are many ways to be more self-aware, some of which include meditation, journaling, talk therapy, and evaluating feedback from others. (Meditation is part of a well-rounded, healing yoga practice too.) Many of the growth goals I mentioned above can be accomplished using these techniques. However, what makes yoga unique is that it draws the body into the process. And this is important. We are a holistic body-mind-spirit system. Which means our body is an integral part of how we experience life. Without it, our mind couldn’t exist. And our spirit couldn’t sense – register and interact with – the physical world.
It’s obvious how yoga might support wellness in our bodies, because it’s a physical practice. But it’s less obvious how a physical activity can produce dramatic shifts in our mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences. Interestingly, science is beginning to draw some of these connections.
Recent awareness around the gut-brain relationship has brought this to the forefront. (Have you heard the gut being referred to as the second brain?) It seems our moods, among many other inner workings, may be affected by our gut. And of course, neurochemistry has long told us neurotransmitters – parts of our physical self – influence mental health. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) manifests as both a physiological and psychological phenomenon, which is why mind-body approaches are increasingly being recommended as treatment components.
Yoga Is The Original Mind-Body Science
While it’s fascinating to learn what science is discovering about the mind-body connection, the yoga system has always recognized it. I have witnessed it first-hand, as I’ve observed my nervous system relearn how to respond to stress. As I’ve felt my body’s experience of emotions grow calmer and steadier over time. I’ve seen how something as simple as tuning into my bodily sensations can swiftly shift my state of mind from anxious racing to grounded stillness. How turning my body upside down can lift my mood, and changing my breathing pattern can shift my entire internal experience.
There’s a limit to what we can change using only our mind. No matter how much we may want to manage stress more effectively or to find emotional and mental balance, if our body’s response systems are working against these goals, it’s going to be much harder to achieve them. But big, enduring shifts can happen when we take a mind-body approach.
Healing Yoga Combines Mind-Body Awareness & Practices
When we combine heightened awareness of our mental and physical states with practices that regulate and create optimal wellness in these aspects of our being, we can transform our holistic experience. And as we establish a steadier, more harmonized mind-body state of being, we clear the obstacles that keep us from connecting with our spiritual self.
There are four elements that make up a well-rounded, healing yoga practice. Together, they attend to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.
4 Key Elements of Healing Yoga
Pranayama (breath control) steadies your nervous system, calms your mind, and lowers your blood pressure. It also increases oxygen, which improves brain function. Depending on the technique used, it can produce a relaxing, balancing, or energizing effect. Deep, slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which in turn activates your parasympathetic nervous system to calm your stress response. And pranayama stimulates the flow of life energy through your chakras.
Asanas (physical postures) increase flexibility, strength, balance, and mobility. They support cardio and circulatory health, increase metabolism, protect from injury, and balance the nervous system. When the nervous system is balanced and calmer, the mind is better able to concentrate and feel at peace. Like pranayama, asanas facilitate a balanced flow of life energy through the chakras. And they can help release tension, accumulated stress, and trauma residuals stored in your body.
Meditation has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress response, as well as to increase oxygen utilization and blood flow to the brain. Not to mention decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychological and physical pain. (Plus many more benefits identified in the meta-analysis linked above.) My personal experience with meditation has produced greater clarity, less reactivity, and a general sense of inner peace and openness that stays with me well beyond my active practice of it. Studies have found meditation physically changes the brain, so it’s much more than just accessing isolated states of relaxation or bliss.
Self Awareness, as I mentioned before, is key to an intuitive, healing yoga practice. As we work with our breath, postures, and meditation, we hold a sustained awareness of what’s happening in our body, heart, mind, and spirit. Not only does this observation of our inner states help us learn more about ourselves, it can guide us in crafting a practice that truly serves our needs for growth and healing.
Intuition’s Role in Healing Yoga
We can access many of the healing benefits of yoga in a class setting. Or, by doing any series of postures combined with breath work and meditation at home. However, when we invite our intuition into the process to design a highly personalized, healing yoga practice for ourselves, we can attain these benefits faster. And the transformative process can go deeper. That’s because we’re shaping our practice around what’s really happening within us when we come to the mat.
For example, a few days ago I noticed I was feeling ungrounded. I’d been absorbing a lot of emotional charge from social media, as well as from unrest in my home life. I could feel it like a buzzing sensation in my body and mind. Additionally, my heart was heavy and hurting. The pressure of tears built up behind my eyes, but they were stuck and wouldn’t come.
With this awareness, I created a gentle yoga flow for myself that focused on grounding and heart openers. I listened to my body, allowing it to guide me into postures that felt supportive. And I let it tell me how long I needed to stay in them. I observed what thoughts and emotions arose all throughout, which led me to some insights about what was happening within and around me. This also led me to select a balancing pranayama technique, and to the realization I needed to close with a loving-kindness meditation.
At the end of it, I felt grounded and open. I had clarity. Later that evening, the tears came. And when they did, I was able to feel and release the hurt in my heart without being consumed by it. It felt cleansing and healing.
Had I simply practiced one of my usual yoga flows, it would have helped. But it wouldn’t have met all the needs I brought with me to my yoga mat. By listening deeply to my body-mind-spirit system, I was able to access my intuitive wisdom and let it guide me through the healing process I needed that day. This meant, I didn’t carry that baggage into the next day, or the next. My inner unrest resolved, so I was able to meet the unrest in my environment from a place of stability, grace, and wisdom.
When we ask our body, mind, and spirit how our yoga practice can best serve us, we invite our intuition to guide our transformation and healing. And while we may not always need this type of practice, when we do, it’s a powerful tool to have in our toolbox. Furthermore, as we tend to our physical and psychological needs consistently over time, the noise of our mind-body experience quiets down. In that quieter state, we find it much easier to hear our spirit. And to see and live from a more spiritual perspective.
How To Create Your Own Healing Yoga Session
With the following tools, you can create your own healing yoga session. While ultimately your intuition is your best guide, I offer these suggestions to help get you started and to illustrate what’s possible. Use whatever feels relevant and helpful for you. And of course, feel free to add in any of your own established practices and ideas. All that matters is the practice you create serves your growth and well-being.
Centering For Your Healing Yoga Session
For me, this piece is the most important. Beginning your healing yoga practice with a centering gives you an opportunity to explore what’s happening inside you. It also helps you connect with your intuition, as your awareness turns deeply inward. From this place of knowing, you can gain insight into which breath, posture, and meditation practices might best support you, given your present state of being.
To center, simply sit in easy pose and turn your awareness inward. Take some time to notice what’s happening with your breath. Then, check in with your body. You can do a body scan, touching each part of your body with your awareness. Or, you can simply notice what stands out to you about what’s happening in your body.
Next, check-in with your emotions. What’s feeling present for you emotionally? Where do you feel those emotions in your body? Then, move on to your mind, noticing any thoughts that stand out to you. Also, how your mind is feeling in general. Finally, connect with your spirit. In the midst of all this, how is your spirit feeling?
Based on what you’ve noticed, you can set an intention for your practice if you like. What do you want to offer yourself through your yoga practice? Ask your intuitive self what practice elements might best support you.
Selecting Elements For Your Healing Yoga Session
To help you determine which elements to include in your healing yoga practice , you can use the following guides for pranayama, asana, and meditation techniques. Keep in mind your own experience of these components is what matters most. Not everyone has the same experience when doing them. And how we experience them can change from day to day, depending on what’s happening for us presently.
Over time, as you become more familiar with yoga as a healing journey, you’ll likely develop your own sense for how each posture, breathing technique, and meditation style serves you. You’ll have your own intuitive catalogue you can draw from for reference.
Alternate Nostril Breath: Calming, balancing, reducing stress, relieving anxiety, settling the nerves, focusing the mind.
Right Nostril Breath: Energizing, stimulating, focusing the mind, bringing clarity.
Left Nostril Breathing: Calming, relaxing, preparing for sleep, cooling, supporting reflection.
Ujjayi (Victorious) Breath: Settling agitation, balancing the mind, soothing stress, energizing, encouraging the free flow of prana (life energy) through your system, detoxifying mind and body.
Kapalabahti (Skull-Shining) Breath: Detoxifying, energizing the mind and body, cleansing the lungs, improving digestion, warming, focusing. (This is an advanced breathing technique and should be practiced only once you’ve worked with ujjayi breath and feel comfortable with it.)
Diaphragmatic Breath: Relaxing, lowering heart rate & blood pressure, calming, reducing stress, strengthening the diaphragm & improving overall breathing.
Mindfulness: Calming, centering, grounding, supporting self-awareness, regulating emotions, increasing capacity to sit with what-is, increasing tolerance for uncertainty and discomfort (psychological and physical).
Mantra: Focusing the mind, calming, centering, letting go of mental chatter.
Vipassana: Developing insight (especially into how the mind works), calming, focusing, centering, detaching, disciplining.
Metta (Loving-Kindness): Developing compassion for self and others; supporting self-love, self-acceptance & self-esteem; generating kindness toward one’s self and others; supporting forgiveness of self and others; opening the heart chakra.
Walking Meditation: Benefits are the same as mindfulness. Excellent for when pain makes a sitting practice too uncomfortable, or when excess energy in your body makes sitting still too difficult.
Healing Yoga Properties For Asanas
Grounding: Bound Angle, Garland, Pigeon, Tree, Mountain, Reclining Bound Angle
Energizing: Sun Salutations, Warrior Poses, Triangle, Revolved Triangle, Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Headstand, Shoulder Stand, Hand Stand, Upward Bow, Cobra, Bow, Camel, Bridge
Soothing: Child Pose, Reclining Bound Angle, Legs Up The Wall, Seated Forward Bend, Wide Leg Seated Forward Bend, Reclined Twist, Happy Baby, Bound Angle
Balancing: All twisting postures done on both sides, all balance postures
Heart (Healing & Opening): Cobra, Upward Dog, Camel, Bridge, Upward Bow, Bow, Child Pose, Cat-Cow, Pigeon, Reclining Bound Angle. (See my article on chakra-balancing for more ideas on how to work with your chakras.)
Inversions (head below heart): Support positive mood, alleviate depression, boost energy, improve circulation, can bring clarity of mind and help you see things from a different perspective.
Metaphorical: Consider the metaphorical value of postures as well. Is there an intuitive connection you can draw from a posture that might be of value for you? For example, tree pose always makes me reflect on the qualities of a tree. When strong winds blow, a tree’s limbs can sway gracefully and even wildly. But it never topples over, because its core and roots are deeply planted and stronger than the wind.
Happy Baby makes me think of a baby delighting in the simple joy of rocking and playing with her feet. Also, there’s a sense of vulnerability in this posture that can facilitate exploration of safety and trust. Warrior brings to mind fierce inner strength. And Standing Bow leads me to reflect on having discipline and precision in my life’s direction.
When we hold our body in a posture and reflect on such qualities, it can feel as though we’re consciously embodying them. Or conversely, we might recognize how we’re not embodying them. Notice what connections come up for you as you explore the different postures. This can help guide your intuitive selection of asanas for your healing yoga practice.
Self Awareness Throughout Your Healing Yoga Session
Regardless of what elements you choose to work with during your healing yoga practice, self awareness is a must. Stay present to what’s happening in your body, heart, mind, and spirit all throughout. Notice what sensations, thoughts, and emotions come up for you. Be curious and open to your experience. Let your inner wisdom speak to you.
How can you see yourself more clearly? How can you see your life circumstances more clearly? What can you do to take better care of yourself given your circumstances? How can you show up for your life in a way that’s aligned with your highest intentions? These are the sorts of answers your healing yoga practice can offer when you come to your mat with a desire to find them.
A Note on Music: It’s entirely up to you whether you want to listen to music during your healing yoga session or not. Practicing in silence can support deeper self-awareness. However, music can become a part of your process, especially when you select it as intentionally and intuitively as you choose the other elements of your practice. If you’re listening to music, include it in your active self-awareness. Notice how it’s affecting you. Is there any insight you can gain from it?
Because silence facilitates deeper self-listening, it’s best to complete your centering before adding music. Additionally, music can shift your inner state, which means it could interfere with your ability to clearly see what’s feeling present for you during your centering.
The goal of a healing yoga practice is to bring your body and mind into optimal states. When your body and mind become more refined and harmonized, the voice of your spirit can be heard more clearly. And over time, as disturbance and interference from your body-mind dissipates, your inner light shines through more radiantly. You find your body, mind, and spirit aligning cohesively to create holistic wellness. Resilience in the face of life’s challenges emerges. A deep reservoir of inner peace undergirds you. And because that peace is internally engineered and referenced, it can’t be taken from you.
I’d like to close with two beautiful quotes about the true nature of yoga:
Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.BKS Iyengar
“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”Amit Ray
May your yoga journey serve your growth and healing. And may it reveal the truth of your inner light. Namaste.
You can use the infographic below for quick reference when crafting your healing yoga session. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Have you had a healing experience with yoga? How has yoga served your growth?