Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Is Just Another Form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

I wrote an article yesterday called, “The Magic Happens When Your Practice Sucks”. I got a comment where someone was concerned that this view was advocating self abuse. While I am sure some people do use yoga for self abuse, this is not what I was talking about. I was talking about using yoga as cognitive behavioral therapy.


Definitions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment. It is used to help people whose behavior is affected by their beliefs, assumptions and the meanings they attach to events that cause upset. – See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/c/1950/17898/10-reasons-cbt/#sthash.xy5O8UVZ.dpuf


Cognitive behavioral therapy (also known by its abbreviation, CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | Psych Centralpsychcentral.com/lib/in-depth-cognitivebehavioraltherapy/


Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.-Mayo Clinic


Cognative Behavioral Therapy is frequently used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder aka OCD.


Definitions of OCD


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values-International OCD Foundation

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). It’s also possible to have only obsessions or only compulsions and still have OCD.-Mayo Clinic

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety. A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, it can destroy a person’s capacity to function at work, at school or even to lead a comfortable existence in the home-Psychology Today



The definiton of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is the foremost text on yoga is,

Yoga is the cessations of the fluctuations of the mind.




Essentially, yoga is a cognative behavioral therapy that helps us to see through thoughts that are blocking us from seeing who and what we really are and living life to the fullest. Identification with thought fits all the definitions above of OCD. So essentially, we all have a very functional form of OCD. Because it is functional, it is very sneaky and and pervasive. Unlike the person who switches the lights on and off 30 times before going out the door or has to clean every surface in their home 5 times a day, our OCD is acceptable to the society. But for a few, they can no longer bear to live with this type of OCD. That is the boiling point I was talking about in yesterdays article. For more, go to the article.

The form of OCD that yoga deals with is so sneaky that sometimes we forget that it is there. If everything is coming up roses, we are sometimes lured into a false sense that we indeed have totally wiped away the false self. The uncomfortable-ness of the yoga brings it out so we can say, “Oh, I am not yet cured. It is still there.”

We don’t need yoga to do this. Our life does that. Yoga however, does it quickly…if you let it.

To the keen and intent practitioner this (samadhi) comes very quickly. The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:21-22

Patanjali is stating that the level of intensity, to which we approach our practice, dictates how fast the therapy, yoga, works!!!!! In the comments, to the last article, someone stated that their practice was like “a pair of well worn jeans”. That is great. Beautiful. However the tight, itchy jeans will make you change faster because who wants to wear tight, itchy jeans?

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.


  • J. Brown

    I don’t know. Will wearing tight itchy jeans really make you change faster? Does more intense mean faster change? Maybe there is another, more resourceful, choice to make. And I think you need to be careful about making assertions about Patanjali. How do you know what he was saying?

  • Margaret31

    I think I understand you and loved your previous article. What could be misleading though for many readers is that Ashtanga practice is mostly perceived as postures, the physical side. We all know that Patanjali Yoga mentions asana once or twice in the Sutras.
    Personally, as much as I value my practice, I acknowledge that Ashtanga could trigger OCD pushing people to be over attached to the practice, its intensity and frequency. So doing substitution although a healthier one rather than cure.

    • admin

      Thank you Margeret for your response. It definitely could. That is why it is important to have a good teacher who will look out for that

    • Adarsh

      For all those who did not understand what this article said, firstly stop viewing “yoga” as a workout, it is a lifestyle not a stretching routine, secondly Patanjali Yog Sutra is an Ancient Scripture, the day you read it or the day you hear it’s commentary , i heard it through Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, you will understand why “yog” not “yoga pants yoga mat yoga” can actually help you with OCD, because when a thousand year old text talks about symptoms that can be found in OCD, it helps. They mention we need “ek tattva abhyasa” meaning practice of one element, you take one thing and practice it with intensity now obviously knowledge can be misinterpreted as per the intellect level of the person so i do suggest people reading this, read the scripture under guidance of an expert in that scripture. And please stop confusing yoga with your body weight workout routine, yoga is union of mind body and soul, it is a way of life it is a skill not a workout, so all the comments I read here about yoga are so silly, they did not even understand what the blog was saying.

  • Trish

    Are you trained in counseling and psychotherapy? If so, more power to you for being diverse in your interests… if not, though, I’d be very cautious in speaking on effective therapies and yoga’s role in therapy. After all, yoga teachers should be yoga teachers, not self-appointed psychotherapists IMO. And the same approach- or same yoga practice- is not going to work for everyone, as the “stuff” that different people are dealing with can be frighteningly diverse. Interesting ideas though.

    • admin

      I am not the psychotherapist, the practice is. The practice brings what the student needs. Wherever there are imbalances, the practice will bring it to the surface. They just have to be open to the process and open to receiving it.

  • Trish

    Yes, but the practice doesn’t just float out there in a void, free from any human input/complications. It’s unavoidably conveyed to the student through the intermediary of the teacher, who decides when to push the student or when to have him/her hold back, not to mention what to say to the student should they confide to the teacher that they’re having emotional or psychological difficulties. Hence you can be led through the same, identical series, Ashtanga or Bikram, say, from different teachers and receive a radically different experience each time.

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