Welcome to Chime's YogaView series! Each month I interview members of the Chime community to learn how their yoga practice has been an empowering force in their lives. This month, psychologist and yoga teacher, Jennifer Bullock, shares the unique ways she uses yoga and breathwork with her clients to help them ground and calm anxiety.
1. Why did you pursue formal yoga teacher training to help your psychotherapy clients?
I often remind clients in my practice that we are whole beings. The notion that our minds are separate from our bodies is false. I realized along the way that at the same time I was lecturing on the importance of having a holistic perspective, I was only focused on what's going on mentally with my clients. Of course, this is understandable given our cultural bias and that traditional psychology emphasizes mental health. I decided to challenge my not so holistic frame of reference by going through formal yoga teacher training. I had practiced yoga for many years, but I wanted to deepen my practice and understanding of yoga. I also wanted to practice what I preached to my clients.
2. How specifically do you incorporate yoga in your work as a psychologist, and how have your clients benefited?
There are basic yoga asanas that I share with clients who are suffering from depression and anxiety. For example, I invite clients to move into child's pose or a forward fold to help them refocus, decrease anxiety, and uplift their mood. I do breathwork with clients to help them ground and become present. Breathwork is especially helpful given that we know that so much of depression is about being lost in the past and anxiety is about being lost in the future. I also encourage clients to develop their own meditation practice, whether it’s 30 seconds every morning or taking a formal meditation course. For my teen therapy group, we spend a few moments meditating at the end of every group. It's tremendously helpful to them.
3. How do you use your yoga training to bring the practice to those who under served in the community?
This work takes several different forms. I conduct personal growth workshops in the community, particularly for poor communities in West Philadelphia and Mount Airy, on how playing together can help us develop and grow personally and in our relationships. I formally integrated basic yoga poses, breathing, and meditation into these workshops as a way to help us get in the zone and take risks playing and performing together. I also offer free monthly class at my home studio for anyone and everyone, but especially for people who typically say, "Yoga, I can't do that, that's for people who are very flexible!” Or, “I'm too scared to try yoga. I don't have a yoga body.” My class is a gentle beginner's hatha-based style in a fun (even silly), welcoming, and safe environment. Afterward we have a community hour with food and refreshments to discuss our experience and anything else people want to share in the community circle.
4. What role does yoga play in your own health (physical, emotional, mental)?
Yoga has helped me tremendously to transform my ability to stay present and be slower, calmer, and kinder to myself and others. As someone who is naturally inclined towards workaholism, sadness, and seriousness (fighting to change the world and committed to helping people who are in a lot of pain), I myself carry a lot of pain and seriousness, which impacts my physical and emotional health. Having a regular yoga and meditation practice has helped me not be such a driven workaholic and to smile more.
5. What advice do you have for individuals who want to incorporate yoga into their life but are reluctant to give it a try?
Do it anyway. Ask someone you trust to take a class with you, and have fun with it.
Jennifer is director of The Philadelphia Social Therapy Group, where she works with individuals, groups, couples, and families. Jennifer is a licensed psychotherapist with 26 years of experience in the mental health and child welfare fields. She also holds an adjunct faculty position at the Community College of Philadelphia and is a 200-hour certified yoga instructor.
Jennifer has a passion for the power of creativity to help us grow emotionally and in our relationships. She is a seasoned trainer of creative, performatory approaches to help people advance conversation, productivity, and emotional well-being. She writes a self-help blog that offers unconventional, unique approaches to our everyday life struggles and adventures with one another.
As a community activist and youth advocate, she is founder of an all-volunteer community theater project, PCIC, which helps actors and non-actors from diverse backgrounds perform together.
She and her partner love gardening, bird-watching, hiking, and spending time with their pets.