Sometimes, people wonder how the principles of yoga align with the principles of social work. Both are sciences as well as arts. Both require discipline and commitment. Both develop over time and both have a long history with many vanguards who have blazed trails for us to follow in our search for our best selves. But more than those things, both yoga and social work are driven by a code of ethics – a set of guidelines which enable the practitioner to interact with the world around from a place of love and respect. Both codes demand the best from us – a true return to the nature of our most pure selves about which many of us have forgotten in the hurry/worry of our busy lives.
For example, one of the many beautiful parts of yoga is the principle of mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to look backward in love and respect for those who came before us. While we are looking backward, we are also able to honor the space we inhabit in this present moment. And all of this can occur with our vision for the future that is filled with passion for the legacy we leave for the future generations of social workers or yogis.
It is this concept of mindfulness that allows us to return to our most authentic selves, to explore the world in which we live, and the work we are called to do in an ethical way. If we seek first, our own true essences, how can we harm another? If we can find compassion for ourselves, how can we not find it for someone else? These are the historical messages from both yogis and social workers alike.
As social workers, we often are told, “You cannot become the client in the session.” What is meant by that is that in the face of the suffering of another, the social worker must be whole enough to hold the space for the client. In that space, compassion and empathy live. If, I am the social worker and I am stuck in my own suffering, I cannot effectively hold space for anyone because I have not held it for myself first. If I have not held it for myself first, I become the client in the session where I am called to be the social worker. By being mindful, and returning again and again to self-compassion, I am a better social worker because I am reaching into the authenticity of my true nature. How I do that? Through the daily practice of yoga.
In the same vein, yoga teachers must hold and make space for their students. There is a host of pain and suffering in each of us and yoga, whether it is the physical asana practice or the seven other limbs of the philosophy, will enable the practitioner to unravel that pain and suffering, sort through it, and then, hopefully, release it. We must be whole in our practice to lead another through their practice. Being able to teach is a gift but it is also a responsibility because we are interacting in the lives of other people. If I refuse to practice the eight limbs of yoga, but continue to teach them, I am not being mindful of the philosophy and I am presenting an illusion of a yoga practitioner to my students. I cannot lead someone to practice something that is foreign to me because I am avoiding my mat. Without practice, I cannot empathize with the process of my student. Without practice, I am not a yogi.
For the social workers at The Personal Wellness Center where the Lotus Yoga Studio lives, much of the work we do is Karma Yoga – the daily practice of being in service to others. It is here that we seek justice, not simply an end to war. Being in service to others is a profound experience. It changes daily. But the practice of mindfulness is a constant for us. The continued practice (and note, I said practice not perfection) of mindfulness is profound as the search for ourselves unfolds gently and we return home to ourselves. Through this practice, we can find ease in the challenges. We move out of the things that cause suffering. We are peaceful within. It is in this way that we honor our vanguards of yoga and social work. It is in this way that we stay true to the present moment. And finally, in this way we take yoga off our mats and pave the way for our next generations of yogis and social workers to continue to spread love and light to the greater world. We transcend the present moment and become vanguards.
Venessa Bowers, 200 RYT: Venessa is a licensed certified social worker – clinical, a certified clinical trauma professional, yoga instructor, and a Usui/Holy Fire Reiki Master. She specializes in working with children and adults who have been affected by traumatic experiences. She uses creative expression and mindfulness as treatment modalities in her clinical work in conjunction with more traditional therapeutic interventions. Venessa’s teaching style seeks to create deep thought, inner connection, and release of things no longer serving the individual. Her classes can have an therapeutic feel to them, but they are not therapy classes. Her approach to yoga uses the Karmic path, which is the “yoga of action in the service of others” and her style has been called “gritty and real.” Venessa completed her 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training with Rebecca Sirman Yoga at YogaVibez in Ocean City.