On the mat // Blending yoga and psychotherapy

When most of us think of psychotherapy, we think of couches — not yoga mats. Rachel Allyn, however, has developed a unique practice that draws on both her formal training as a psychologist and yoga teacher.

The Minnesota native recently moved to the Uptown area with her husband after living in Salt Lake City for several years. In Utah, she studied yoga with D’ana Baptiste. She earned her doctorate in psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. Besides yoga psychotherapy, some of her other specialty areas include helping people with anxiety, depression, relationship and intimacy problems, stress management and emotional eating.

She works with clients at the Dharma Wellness & Spa at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis in St. Louis Park and the Green Lotus Yoga & Healing Center in Lakeville.

She recently spoke with the Southwest Journal about her work.

SWJ: How did you get into yoga?

Allyn: I learned at a very young age how crucial being physical and being in tune with my physical body was. It has always been a source of happiness for me — it’s been a source of stress relief. … I learned it’s such an integral part of me feeling at peace. Then becoming a psychologist and having that interest … I found that I would always come back to the mind-body connection.

In graduate school, it shifted for me to being something that really helped me mentally and spiritually — just connecting with my breath. It was such a good way to manage and relieve my stress of being a graduate student. It was the perfect time for me to make that connection because that was when I was doing a lot of my clinical placements. I was talking with people about the ways that their psychological problems are being felt in the body.

… I think there is a dichotomy between what’s going on in our head and what’s going on in our body — not recognizing the way one connects to the other. Just understanding that connection can lead to some clarification, and then also more of a commitment to working through the way it is held in our body.

What kind of impact has your yoga practice had on you, personally?

For me it brings a lot more compassion to my body. As a woman and as an athlete, there were some pretty high standards that I set on myself. It’s just a place where I get to be in my body and have acceptance for what I can and can’t do — being connected to my breath in a way that makes me feel really centered. Like many people I try to get a lot done on my to-do list each day. I tend to be more achievement oriented, and I think that can lead me to feel really frazzled and lose sight of some basic things.

Yoga centers me. It grounds me, it slows me down. It keeps me from kind of getting lost in producing and doing. It takes me to a place of being.

Many people in our part of the world get the winter blues. How can yoga-psychotherapy help with that?

During the winter months we become more sedentary and we get less sunlight, lowering our vitamin D and activity level — two factors that research indicates improve and maintain mood. My recommendations for a healthy mind and body — that are important year-round — become all the more necessary during the winter months: activity through movement to allow for release of tension and stimulation of our blood flow and neurotransmitters, “feel good” chemicals in the brain; and maintaining structure particularly through community to remain connected, given the increase in isolation during winter months.

“On the mat” is an occasional Journal column exploring the city’s yoga community.

More information
Rachel Allyn will be talking about her work Jan. 28, 6–8 p.m., at Lululemon Athletica, 2313 W. 50th St. For more information about her Yoga-Psychotherapy practice, visit yoga-psychotherapy.com.