Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Introduction to the Embodied Self-Regulation approach


We are whole beings. At our healthiest, we are the integration of our external self and internal self. From an integrated, embodied self, we make decisions and regulate our emotions based on what we know to be true in our hearts (emotional self), our guts (intuitive self), and our thoughts (cognitive self). This approach is confirmed by many therapists: Kim Chernin, Marsha Linehan, Niva Piran, Daniel Siegel.




Is the self an entity, or rather a process? Would you consider it rather as a separate construct, or rather an ever-changing experience? Which way of conceptualizing the self lets us more possibilities to modify or influence it then, leading to more empowerment as a person?

Big psychologists like William James or Zygmunt Freud tried defining it in the past. In recent research, psychologists put more effort into the concept of self-regulation as it comes easier to measure, quantify and study its nature. Then, how much trying to influence the totality of emotions, physiology, cognition and cultural and social context, will be reflected in the self. Is it an outcome or rather the motor of this whole regulation process? This question seems more philosophical than psychological. In my research, I’m more interested in the daily manifestations of self, practices of self-regulation and the ways to reach the best attainable potential of self so that it develops to its highest possibilities. But in my opinion, the underlying condition is for an individual to admit that the locus of control is inside rather than outside.

Self-regulation seems a healthy basis for maintaining healthy relationships. This is logical- being sure you know who you make it easier to form relationships, as your role in it is clearer. There is also a self-determination theory, linked to the goal achievement, according to which maintaining the pathway towards achievement is an example of self-regulation.


Looking at the definition of self-regulation (Karoly, 1993) we can extract various ways of seeing it: 1) as a transactional process that guides individuals toward their goals over time and changing circumstances and 2) as management of thoughts and behaviors through specific mechanisms, 3) process initiated when the routine is being challenged or 4) as phases: goal selection, goal cognition, directional maintenance, directional change, and goal termination.

This view, however, is based on an individual with an already existing strong sense of Self, otherwise, the goal-setting risks to be unaligned with the core sense of self and lead to frustration. In case of the absence or loss of self, many self-destructive behaviors may emerge. It’s the feeling that Chernin expressed as “there is no I” leading to misattunement, dysregulation and a lost or false sense of self.


“The mindful and yogic path to self-regulation provides an embodied (lived experience) and a cognitive framework for both knowing and regulating the whole, integrated self within the context of life experience. It embraces the whole journey, more so than the goal. The destination is the realization of one’s own true nature.”

In the theory of embodied self-regulation, proposed by Catherine P. Cook-Cottone in 2015, there are few differences from the traditional view on self-regulation in the context of the target of the intervention, the emphasis, the outcome, and the ecological scope. In short, the embodied theory sees the body as a container of the self thus any self-work must include active practices that involve the body-mind connection, not purely cognitive. In the last wave of therapies, emotional regulation and self-regulation became integral in treatments. These are the essentials in mindfulness and yogic approaches by cultivating the awareness of self as an observer of the mind, receptive state of being both internally and externally.

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Given the rise in attention to client preferences in medical treatment and the shift in focus toward health promotion, it is not surprising that the use of complementary health approaches has increased in the past several years. Yoga is among the most prominent complementary health approaches.





BIOMEDICAL TO BIOPSYCHOSOCIAL


Previous conceptualizations of health care emphasized the biomedical model, which proposed disease was a derangement in an underlying physical mechanism. There was a lack of treatment available other than psycho-pharmaceuticals, which led to a failure to adequately address mental health issues, and thus, to the emergence of a paradigm shift from authoritative to more collaborative.

This resulted in the bio-psycho-social model, a more comprehensive, multifactorial, holistic approach to treating pathology, with an awareness that both mental and physical health interact. With this shift from conventional medicine to mind-body medicine, came the mindfulness meditation movement, positive psychology, and yoga as feasible and available ways to treat and maintain health.

In both previous and recent models of disease and health, evidence-based practice has been a critical component in influencing and disseminating the most effective treatment strategies.


ORIGINS


Over the past ten years, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of publications on yoga research, with mental health disorders among the top three disorders addressed in these yoga intervention studies. Yoga, an ancient practice with its roots in India, originated as a discipline to help relieve suffering and disease. Under the umbrella term of “mind-body practice”, yoga includes physical movement (asana), meditation (dhyana), and breathing (pranayama).


Yoga is an approximately 5,000-year-old ancient “science, art, and philosophy” derived from East Indian culture. The father of yoga, Patanjali, devised yoga to be one of six philosophy systems to unite the body and mind and to also unite the personal spirit with the Universal Spirit. The word yoga translates from Sanskrit to English as “to yoke”, reflecting its purpose in joining the mind and body in harmonious relaxation.


STYLES OF YOGA


Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced style of yoga in North America. It is intended to create a physical and emotional balance between body and mind. Iyengar is known for developing Iyengar yoga, a popular type of Hatha yoga that focuses on “technical alignment” of the body. He is also revered for promoting the practice of yoga as a form of health care throughout the world. Ashtanga and Vini- yoga are also popular types of Hatha yoga and focus on movement between the postures. Regardless of the style of Hatha yoga, a contemporary practice involves concentrated breath work through a variety of standing, seated, and balancing postures followed by forms of twists and backbends or inversions and ends wi

Modern medical treatment now highlights the importance of maintaining mental and physical wellbeing in addition to mitigating ongoing disease and psychopathology.

th a relaxation or meditation posture.


BREATH


The Sanskrit word prana signifies the spirit and has various English meanings including “breath ... life ... energy”. Yogic breathing techniques may be stimulating and create energy, such as Ujjayi breathing, while other techniques may be calming and create balance, such as Bhastrika breathing. Accordingly, the ability to rhythmically control the breath through inhalation, exhalation, and retention in an effort to reach a pure mind is important; mastering the breath squelches cravings and distractions in the mind and fosters control over the senses, leading to a state of concentration.

A mind that is clear and free from thoughts and cravings may be considered pure: carefree, motionless, and mindless; this mind is ready for concentration, meditation, and self-examination (Iyengar). Reaching this state is important because concentration restores tranquility in the mind.


PHYSICAL POSTURES


The physical postures, known in Sanskrit as asanas, positively alter “flexibility, strength, coordination, balance, and circulation” of the musculoskeletal system. Each posture was created to serve a purpose: an exercise of a distinct body part. Other physical training tools are unnecessary, as the body and its limbs provide the required tools. As a result, postures can be weight-bearing, stabilizing, or mobilizing.

While the postures benefit the body physically, they also benefit the mind. For example, physical postures can stimulate psychological and emotional responses and can change energy levels. Postures can be sequenced to induce a variety of effects, such as to ground, soothe, stimulate, or revitalize one’s energy level. Specifically, forward bends have a calming or soothing effect; backbends and inversions are invigorating, and balancing postures help develop psycho-emotional poise and strength.


MEDITATION


Once the body, the mind, and the senses have been stilled through the physical postures and the concentrated breath work, meditation can begin. Meditation is an advanced state of contemplation reached through sustained concentration over a period of time. In the deepest state of meditation, the body and the senses are relaxed, and the mind is alert but not distracted.


BENEFITS OF YOGA


Current scientific research has confirmed what ancient yogis have thought for centuries: practicing yoga may reduce certain forms of pain, improve quality of life, reduce stress, and relieve symptoms of a number of psychological disorders.

There has been an abundance of studies examining yoga as an effective clinical treatment intervention for psychological and physiological concerns. Khalsa completed an extensive review of the literature examining all of the clinical studies published that used yoga as a therapeutic intervention for psychological and physiological concerns. He found that there is some evidence to support the use of yoga as a treatment intervention for popular physical health concerns, such as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, as well as for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addiction (Khalsa, 2004).


Yoga is an effective method for reducing muscular tension, which may precipitate pain, and therefore, may have important therapeutic implications for a variety of issues such as chronic pain and headaches. Yoga appears to have benefits in treating internalizing disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, yoga has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in specific populations. Findings also suggested that a 60-minute yoga session inexperienced practitioners is acutely associated with a 27% increase in GABA levels, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that induces relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety.

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Researchers concluded that both practicing yoga and learning yoga theory are effective in reducing stress and symptoms of anxiety.

Yoga reduced anxiety for people with state, trait, and performance anxiety as well as for people with PTSD. The breath work practice, meditation practice, and learning about yoga practices decreased feelings of anxiety, whereas the physical postures decreased the physical symptoms of tension and anxiety. Given that yoga was found to be as effective as conventional relaxation techniques in reducing stress and anxiety, people with anxiety may wish to also consider the unconventional relaxation techniques of yoga.




BREATHING


Researchers (Descilo, Khalsa, Kozasa, Telles) speculated that devoting a large portion of time to focusing on the concentrated breath work aspects of a yoga practice would substantially aid in the reduction of symptoms of anxiety. After practicing yoga for 2 months, participants in the Khalsa study reported an increase in self-confidence and clarity. Descilo found that yoga breath work was effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).



PHYSICAL POSTURES


Attending three classes a week for 8 weeks, regardless of the physical intensity of the practice, improved physical strength, increased flexibility, and reduced physical tension in the participants. Researchers credited the decrease in anxiety scores to yoga’s ability to increase body awareness (including body tension) and foster a sense of confidence and control over the body.



MEDITATION


Subramanya and Telles compared the effects of cyclic meditation (yoga postures followed by supine rest) and supine rest (a relaxing yoga posture such as shavasana) on levels of anxiety and memory scores. A short yoga practice of cyclic meditation (22-30 minutes) was significantly more effective in increasing memory scores and almost four times as effective in decreasing anxiety as the same amount of supine rest .

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 © Ewa Kampelmann 2019