What to Psychotherapy and Yoga Have in Common?

What do psychotherapy and yoga have in common? “So much!” says Tara McGee of the Collingwood Psychotherapy and Yoga Centre (CPYC). The Centre opened in September offering psychotherapy for individuals, couples and families and yoga for people struggling with anxiety and trauma symptoms. “I have been practicing yoga for 28 years. I started back when yoga gear was a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt!” says McGee. She walked into her first yoga class at the age of 14 looking to reduce her stress. “And I keep working at it, but it has become so much more than that for me. It has become an exploration of my internal world, a practice that keeps me sane and a philosophy that is endlessly inspiring”.

In 2001, when her father was ill with cancer, she again sought out a yoga class that could help her manage her anxiety. She found a studio near her family home offering Ashtanga Yoga. She had never heard of Ashtanga, having mostly practiced Iyengar and Hatha yoga to that point, but the timing of the classes suited her so she tried it out. She was instantly hooked. She loved the flowing practice, the elegant poses, the discipline it required and the fact that she was taught to move through the sequence at her own pace. Ashtanga was portable – there were no blocks, chairs, bolsters, straps – so it was just her and her mat. She came to learn that Ashtanga means eight limbs and it is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It emphasizes three places of attention, breath, gaze, posture, and “vinyasa” which is the alignment of breath with movement. “My Ashtanga yoga practice and I have been through a lot. When I get on my mat and start to practice, it feels like home”.

In 2002, dealing with grief, McGee walked into her first psychotherapy session. She found in her session the same compassionate leader, internal exploration and stress reduction that she experienced in her yoga classes. The difference was that this new relationship with her therapist was personal and her therapist knew her well. It felt good to be known in this way. There was safety in the relationship and it gave her courage to try new ways of being out in the world, knowing she could return to talk about how it all went. One day her therapist asked her what she wanted to do with her career. McGee surprised herself by saying, “I want to be a psychotherapist”.

“It’s funny, I knew I wanted to be a psychotherapist and work in a deep way with others, but I always wanted to keep yoga to myself, until recently.” Since 2006, McGee has worked as a psychotherapist in Toronto and then in 2013, started to work at the Pine River Institute near Shelburne. It was there that she decided she was ready to start to teach what she knew. “I had a feeling that the teenage boys I was working with as a psychotherapist could benefit from a yoga practice as well, so I started to teach”. Three yoga teacher trainings later, McGee felt more confident in the yoga teacher role, “But I’m still ultimately a student – how can I not be, there is so much to learn – about myself, the practice, the philosophy – it’s endlessly fascinating”.

Opening up her centre in Collingwood this past September, McGee knew that she wanted to offer more ways for people to connect to themselves and to heal. “Yoga and Psychotherapy have always seemed parallel to me. I have used them both to heal and to expand my self awareness, to grow as a person. Now I’m playing with how the role of yoga teacher and Psychotherapist intersect.” She incorporates yoga into her psychotherapy sessions, teaches Ashtanga yoga and has also designed yoga classes for anxiety and trauma.

In these specialized classes she explains the neurobiology of anxiety, trauma and healing and then leads students through an experience of yoga that links to these theories. Students have an opportunity to discover experientially what works to calm their symptoms while understanding the purpose of the yoga practices. McGee explains that we tend to get caught up in wanting to understand theoretically what we are doing. This stops us from being with an experience and allowing it to be what it is. “When I explain the rationale, people feel like, “Oh, okay, I will try that experience out” and it gets the logic out of the way so they can just be with what is there.” And ultimately, it is not the thinking that heals, but the experience. “If people can be convinced to trust the process – the experience of the relationship in psychotherapy and the relationship to the body in yoga – there is so much growth”.

CPYC offers Ashtanga Yoga, Yoga for Anxiety and Trauma Informed Yoga classes, psychotherapy for individuals, couples and families and educational programs for parents, teens and mental health professionals. Ashtanga Yoga classes are currently running while Yoga for Anxiety and Trauma Informed yoga classes begin at the end of March.