By Christina Hennelly

YOGA: A Complementary Tool for the Social Worker

The practice of Yoga is growing in the North American lifestyle. It is available in many settings, including fitness clubs, wellness studios, university campus and even online. Yoga for workplace wellness is also gaining energy. Social workers have also joined the yoga movement, practicing themselves or suggesting it to clients. The benefits are widely known by the healthcare community as an alternative therapy for various medical conditions. This is especially true anxiety, depression, and even brain injury recovery.

Benefits of Yoga for Workplace Wellness

Yoga practitioners have acknowledged the value of yoga that goes way beyond increased flexibility and strength for thousands of years. Scientific interest in yoga’s impact to overall well being has led to growing evidence supporting this. Published clinical studies of yoga support its use in helping brain injury survivor’s. It helps with overall mood and quality of life. Additionally it helps with lowering stress and injury-related symptoms such as nausea and headaches (Cabral, Meyer, & Ames, 2011).

Yoga Teacher Training for Social workers
Students practice yoga outdoors in the 200-Hour Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training Program

Yoga in Social Work

Perhaps surprisingly, Many social workers have used yoga to along with traditional therapies for years. Yoga is now making a start in professional education programs. Generally, this includes offering social workers the opportunity to acquire more knowledge about the importance of this ancient practice. In view of the broadening demand for such courses, yoga may soon be built in to social work practice. 

“Whereas social work education focuses on developing the cognitive and discursive aspects of self-awareness and reflection, recent neuroscientific studies confirm what has long been known in Eastern embodied practices, that the body is the ‘main channel for influencing the mind’. Drawing on the literature exploring the mind–body connection interspersed with my own experience using yoga as a reflexive practice, I argue that making the role of the body more visible in the professional discourse and placing a greater emphasis on embodied knowledge in social work education strengthens the reflexive capacity of future practitioners leading to a greater health and well being of social workers and better outcomes for their clients” (Mensinga, 2011).

yoga for social workers
Yoga is the perfect calming practice for social workers to practice and share

Dual Training for Social Workers

A growing number of mental health workers, like Arlene Kerr-Martin, Clinical Social Worker, are becoming yoga teachers themselves. In fact, they do this to include yoga as a element of regular remedial sessions and offer yoga for workplace wellness. “It’s a great supplement to behavioral therapy and counseling. Common themes of therapy goals for client treatment plans are reality assessment, reducing fear, increasing self-confidence and worth and lifting depression.”

Additionally, according to Kerr-Martin, yoga helped her clients attain all these goals. It also made better their mind / body awareness and the power of social experiences. It’s a matter of weaving in the benefits of traditional yoga practice into the setting. Just like any therapy, patients must practice on a regular schedule to see the benefits. Even a daily practice of 10-15 minutes can move patients toward therapy goals.

Additionally, Kerr-Martin is trained as a trauma informed, yoga therapist and mindfulness teacher with over 30 years experience using a joint approach with psychotherapy and yoga practice. With the more recent adoption of the mind-body connection, yoga has paved the way for its addition into medicine and social sciences. “I offer a variety of workshops involving mindfulness and yoga to address anxiety, depression, adjustment after traumatic accidents (motor vehicle accidents) and post traumatic emotional dysregulation. Caregivers also find my methodology very helpful to manage their stress and grief.” Yoga is undeniably a useful addition to a social worker’s collection of tools.

Social Worker self-care
Yoga enhances social workers ability to care for themselves and others

Examples of Yoga in Social Work and Workplace

Incorporating yoga for workplace wellness into a social work settings and practice can be as minimal as teaching breath work for calming the nervous system and sending them to a local community class. Depending on the workers experience and the patients needs, yoga can apply directly in the clinical setting using a diverse range of poses, styles and techniques. Even easy neck and shoulder movements that connect to breath, can have many benefits for stress management and empowerment. Yoga therefore provides a diverse application for a variety of clients (Azulay, Smart, Mott, & Cicerone, 2013).

Cautions for Yoga in the Workplace and Social Work

One major word of caution is that if you do add yoga for workplace wellness to a clinical setting, avoid all hands-on adjustments in order to prevent any potential lawsuits. Equally, since yoga can result in emotional releases like crying or uncontrollable laughter. If you aren’t in a therapeutic setting at the time, it’s not the right environment to offer professional advice during a yoga class.

Social workers are specially fit to become yoga teachers since trauma living in the body can churn out during the body work and breath element of yoga classes. They are well versed with the skills to create a safety blanket for strong emotions.

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Azulay, J., Smart, C. M., Mott, T., & Cicerone, K. (2013). A pilot study examining the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on symptoms of chronic mild traumatic brain injury/post-concussive syndrome. The Primary Care Companion CNS Discord. 28(4), 323-31.

Cabral, P., Meyer, H. B., & Ames, D. (2011). Effectiveness of yoga therapy as a complementary treatment for major psychiatric disorders: A meta-analysis. The Primary Care Companion CNS Discord. 13(4).

Mensinga, J. (2011). The Feeling of Being a Social Worker: Including Yoga as an Embodied Practice in Social Work Education. Social Work Education 30(6).


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