In Yoga for Emotional Balance Bo Forbes, PsyD, explores how yoga can compliment traditional psychotherapy to help patients improve their anxiety and depression symptoms through movement and breath work. Much of the book is devoted to case studies of patients that Dr. Forbes has treated, and discusses how yoga became an integral part of their treatment. Through these examples and her discussion of how the mind, body, and nervous system all contribute to our emotional state, Dr. Forbes creates a compelling argument for yoga’s inclusion in a treatment plan for anxiety and depression.
“Think for a moment,” Dr. Forbes says in her introduction, “how many times have you known what your issues are, yet not been able to change them?” She argues that traditional psychotherapy sessions that dwell on talking are not the only way to change. She believes that “Conceptual insight is not required for change; in some cases it actually interferes with it.” and states that “. . . working in a body-based realm we can bypass this mental interference. We can feel rather than think the emotional experiences that heal us.”
She spends a significant amount of time explaining the relationship between the mind, nervous system, and body. Dr. Forbes largely appeals to our own experience to validate her claims. When speaking about anxiety, for instance, she says “Your mind provides the sped-up, worried thoughts. Your nervous system builds on that foundation by elevating heart rate and blood pressure and producing a host of other mind-body effects. Your body chimes in with rapid physical movements, or fidgeting.” Although this line of reasoning is compelling because even those of us who don’t suffer from clinical depression or anxiety can still identify with this description of mental and physical symptoms, she fails to mention research that supports her claims that mental conditions can be treated through body work.
Dr. Forbes also combats what she calls “the myth of instant healing.” This recurring theme, which is perhaps one of the most valuable parts of the book, stresses that since our patterns of depression and anxiety develop over time, any treatment must also be given time to be effective. On this topic she supports her claims by citing research about neuroplasticity. In the section called “Our Capacity for Change,” Dr. Forbes says, “Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s extraordinary capacity to transform with experience. When we commit over time to a pursuit such as yoga, our brains forge new connections, grow new cells, increase cell size, or enhance cell activity. She states that “[the brain] also builds patterns through yoga’s therapeutic tools: in particular, breath, relaxation, meditation, and postures.”
The cornerstone of Forbes’s system of treatment is her “five building blocks for lasting healing.” The building blocks are balancing the nervous system, regulating the breath, cultivating direct experience, quieting the mind, and changing our personal narratives. Her simple yoga poses address the first two through physical means, facilitating the final three through “going inward,” or introspection and nonjudgmental awareness of what arises in our psyche. In many ways these three aspects are reminiscent of other Eastern philosophy-inspired methods of self-analysis, such as Buddhist Zen meditation, as well as with more modern incarnations, such as Don Joseph Goewey’s Mystic Cool.
The second section of the book is a diagnostic to help the reader determine his or her emotional type in order to determine which type of Restorative Yoga practice is best suited. The four emotional types are given as “anxious body/anxious mind, depressed body/depressed mind, depressed body/anxious mind, and anxious body/depressed mind.” When readers determine which emotional type they have, they can move on to the final section of the book, a series of yoga poses designed for their specific needs.
Written in a very readable, almost personal style, Yoga for Emotional Balance is a compelling read for anyone interested in yoga or psychology, and not necessarily just for those suffering from anxiety or depression. Although the use of so many case studies becomes formulaic and predictable, they also help to illuminate the author’s point and make some academic or philosophical points seem more tangible.
It’s difficult to attest to the efficacy of the treatment plan as I do not suffer from the conditions described in the book, and I have not implemented the practices for a significant amount of time. However, what I have experienced so far does match the book’s claims. For instance, the breathing technique called “1:2 breathing,” where, while breathing through your nose, you lengthen the exhale until it is twice as long as the inhale, did indeed lower my heart rate as the book claimed. My thoughts also slowed while I practiced this technique, which the book also predicted. If the other claims made in the book are as accurate as these, then I could see how the practice could be a powerful tool for positive change.
Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression
By Bo Forbes, PsyD
Shambhala: March 8, 2011
Paperback, 256 pages