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The Feeling of Being a Social Worker: Including Yoga as an Embodied Practice in Social Work Education



As a social work educator and yoga teacher, I have found it curious that the body and embodied knowledge have not been the subject of more debate in the social work literature or focus in professional training. In general where and when the body is mentioned, authors either provide a note of caution warning the practitioner against relying on the body as a source of knowledge and/or a reminder that, as an object, the body has been the cause of much social oppression. Yet, much of social work practice is underpinned by the practitioner's visceral experience. For example, in the process of gathering data to complete a biopsychosocial assessment of a presenting issue that will both inform and guide any intervention strategy, the social worker must navigate both community and clients' physical spaces while negotiating their own somatic maps. Whereas social work education focuses on developing the cognitive and discursive aspects of self-awareness and reflection, recent neuroscientific studies confirm what has long been known in Eastern embodied practices, that the body is the 'main channel for influencing the mind'. Drawing on the literature exploring the mind–body connection interspersed with my own experience using yoga as a reflexive practice, I argue that making the role of the body more visible in the professional discourse and placing a greater emphasis on embodied knowledge in social work education strengthens the reflexive capacity of future practitioners leading to a greater health and well-being of social workers and better outcomes for their clients.
The Feeling of Being a Social Worker: Including Yoga as an Embodied Practice in
Social Work Education
As a social work educator and yoga teacher, I have found it curious that the body and
embodied knowledge have not been the subject of more debate in the social work
literature or focus in professional training. In general where and when the body is
mentioned, authors either provide a note of caution warning the practitioner against
relying on the body as a source of knowledge and/or a reminder that as an object, the
body has been the cause of much social oppression. Yet, much of social work practice
is underpinned by the practitioner’s visceral experience. For example, in the process
of gathering data to complete a biopsychosocial assessment of a presenting issue that
will both inform and guide any intervention strategy, the social worker must navigate
both community and clients’ physical spaces while negotiating their own somatic
maps. Whereas social work education focuses on developing the cognitive and
discursive aspects of self awareness and reflection, recent neuroscientific studies
confirm what has long been known in Eastern embodied practices, the body is the
‘main channel for influencing the mind’ (Pagis, 2009:272). Drawing on literature
exploring the mind-body connection interspersed with my own experience using yoga
as a reflexive practice, I argue that making the role of the body more visible in the
professional discourse and placing a greater emphasis on embodied knowledge in
social work education strengthens the reflexive capacity of future practitioners
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leading to a greater health and well being of social workers and better outcomes for
their clients.
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… we have to keep in mind that the knowledge about the body is not necessarily
embodied and the engagement in bodily practices or promotion of bodily
practices does not alone guarantee the construction of an embodied
subjectivity. On the contrary, the body is often disciplined to objectify the self
under discursive construction. …but knowing our bodies can create a more
holistic self understanding. (Markula, 2004, p.74-75)
Despite a growing awareness of the role of embodied knowledge and the impact of
neuroscience in other disciplines (e.g., psychotherapy (Rothschild, 2000), psychology
(Goleman, 2006), education (Bresler, 2004) and sociology (Crossley, 2001; Howson
& Inglis, 2001)), there is little exploration or research into the body-mind connection
in social work theory, how it impacts practice nor how it influences the education
process. When exploring the social work literature, it seems that although the body is
recognized as an essential component of ‘nonverbal’ communication in micro skill
training and/or discussed as a part of the ‘use of self’ when exploring the professional
persona, it is rarely mentioned as a source of theorising or explored as an integral
component of reflective practice (Peile, 1998; Saleebey, 1992; Tangenberg & Kemp,
2002). While Cameron and McDermott (2007,pp.13-15) claim that there have been
valid reasons for this professional disregard (e.g., that the body itself is difficult to
define and much discrimination has occurred on the basis of biological
characteristics), the authors also maintain that separating the mind and body veils
human lived experience and ignores many of the recent neuroscientific findings that
could be useful in addressing practice approaches and client inequities.
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Added to emerging neuroscientific findings of how human minds are more than just
our brains and that the brain/body can shape as well as be shaped by their interactions
with significant others and their environments (Damasio, 1999; Siegel, 2010a, 2010b;
van der Kolk, 1994), there has been growing evidence that those who work with
clients who have been traumatised are more likely to develop Secondary Traumatic
Stress (STS) and/or Compassion Fatigue than people in the general population
(Badger, Royse and Craig, 2008; Bride & Figley, 2007). Not only are human service
workers at risk of being physically and verbally abused, social workers are also at risk
of being affected vicariously (Koritsas, Coles and Boyle, 2010; Pryce, Shackleford, &
Pryce, 2007; Stanley & Goddard, 2002). Interestingly, while social work students are
required to develop a reflexive practice and social workers are encouraged to make
use of professional supervision and/or ‘talk therapies’ to review their work practices,
there is mounting proof that being comfortable in the body is a necessary precursor
for reflection and many problem solving activities. Van der Kolk (1994) explains that
memories become stored in the body and that most trauma sensitive people require
some sort of body work ‘to regain a sense of safety in their bodies’ before they can
engage in verbal reflection. While it is acknowledged that there are no actual
mechanisms in the body itself that store experiences, there is evidence of an ongoing
dialogue between the body and the brain that creates emotional maps that can either
preserve or change specific behavioural patterns (Damasio, 1999).
Eastern embodied practices, of which yoga I am most familiar, have long claimed that
the body is the ‘main channel for influencing the mind’ (Pagis, 2009, p.272). Like the
mindfulness practices that have become popular as psychological interventions in the
last decade, yoga encourages the individual to break habitual embodied feedback
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loops through a process of introspection on the human body (Satterfield, 2010; Stone,
2010). Although postural yoga has not been taken up to the same extent nor is as well
researched as mindfulness in the human services sector (S.L. Shapiro & Carlson,
2009), there is increasing evidence that yoga has potential to increase participants’
awareness of their bodies, thoughts, emotions and patterns of cognition, as well as
calming their central nervous system, reducing anxiety, mental stress and fatigue
(Valente & Marotta, 2005). Given the accepted importance of reflection in social
work practice and the current understandings emerging from the neuroscientific
literature, in this article I draw attention to the emerging presence of the body in the
social work literature; explore the importance of the visceral experience of the social
work experience; and suggest that embodied practices such as yoga should be
incorporated into academic courses to facilitate self reflective processes in order to
better prepare social work students to take care of themselves and assist improved
outcomes for their clients.
While you read this paragraph take note of what bodily sensations you are
experiencing and any thoughts that may be travelling through your mind. Are
you comfortable or is the way you have positioned your body causing tension in
your back, neck and jaw? Do you wish you could change your posture, but
choose not to because where you are reading this paper means that you are
expected to sit in a chair in a particular way that is culturally appropriate?
Would you rather lie down, but wonder if you did whether you would be
frowned upon or would there be a chance you could fall asleep because this is
the third paper you have read today.
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As a social worker, academic and yoga teacher, I have always been curious about the
body and mind and its link to my own and others’ well being. One area of interest has
been how the comfort of my own body can impact on how well I do my work and on
how I am able to engage with others - especially when it comes to a lack of food,
environmental noise or overpowering perfumes (just ask my students!). However,
while this body-mind connection has been the subject of conversations with family
and friends or I have joked about it in the workplace I have never had to account for
my body in a formal way in relation to any of the family assessments I have
conducted; intervention strategies I have chosen to implement; nor when marking
students’ presentations in the class room. Indeed, from my own experience and
student feedback over the years, the academy and many human service workplaces
not only ignore the link between the body and mind in theory, but often disregarded it
in practice. As the above body scan illustrates, the task of reading an academic paper
can be influenced by more than the skill in which the article was written or the
relevance of the conceptual knowledge contained within. While this example of the
mind-body connection may have somewhat inconsequential outcomes for you the
reader and I as the author of this paper, it does highlight the importance of attending
to what Ferguson (2009b, p.474) describes as ‘the visceral experience of doing social
work’ and ‘how the senses and emotions impact on perception and workers’ and
‘service users’ capacity to relate to one another’.
According to the Australian Association of Social Workers’ (AASW) Education and
Accreditation Standards a key goal of social work education is to provide students
with opportunities to develop: (1) reflective and reflexive skills; (2) a sound structural
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analysis; (3) an ability to think critically, and; (4) ethical and professional behaviour
(AASW, 2000, p.6). While there is little doubt that social work programs indeed
provide students with such opportunities, anecdotal evidence suggests that most tend
to favour a predominantly discursive approach that meets academic standards rather
than explore an embodied representation of what these standards may look like in
practice. However as Ferguson (2009b) so aptly points out, in the doing of social
work practitioners enter client spaces that evoke deeply tactile and sensual
experiences that can thwart practitioners’ capacity to implement the standards
specified by professional accrediting organisations. Unfortunately, despite the
popularity of the person-in environment approach and some attention to the role of the
brain in social work undergraduate degrees, the biological and sociological experience
of the body in human activities tends to be ignored. Even though Saleebey noted in
1992 that the quality of both theory and practice had been compromised as a result of
the profession’s superficial attention to the body, until recently there has been little
change in approach (Cameron & McDermott, 2007; J. R. Shapiro & Applegate, 2000;
Tangenberg & Kemp, 2002).
Cameron and McDermott (2007) suggest that the lack of acknowledgement of the
body in social work can be largely attributed to the profession’s origins in the post-
Enlightenment period. This, they claim, has resulted in an emphasis on developing
theoretical and practical interests in a human being with a separate mind and body
where the body has faded into obscurity and is rarely problematised. Saleebey (1992)
argued, although some years earlier, that the separation of mind and body not only
gave rise to the ‘technical/rationalist’ professions and gave credence to the hegemony
of science, but encouraged social work to distance itself from the body in case it
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legitimised the dominance of the medical model. Even so, recognising that the
medical model was as much a political construction as it is epistemological in nature,
Saleebey (1992, p.112) rallied social workers to develop a frame of reference that
included ‘biological, sensuous, and orgasmic knowledge’ infused throughout social
work theory and practice to reflect the realties of the profession. However, noting that
social work also evolved out of a western Christian tradition where the body was
considered the site of ‘sinful desire and private irrationality’, Peile (1998) maintained
that a major paradigm shift was required before the body would or could be embraced
as a valuable source of understanding.
Interestingly philosopher Mark Johnson (2007, p.1) asserts that what we call body and
mind are actually ‘aspects of one organic process’ and that coming to terms with
one’s own embodiment is one of the most profound philosophical tasks we could ever
face - particularly because it is at odds with many of our western traditional
philosophical and religious underpinnings and our embodied understandings of the
words themselves. Nevertheless as many neurobiological findings begin to shed light
on the interconnectedness between the body, mind and relationship building
approaches (Siegel, 2010a, 2010b), some social work scholars are beginning to draw
on these to reveal the importance of the body to the profession’s understandings rather
than needing to challenge the existing dominance of the scientific/medical model
(e.g., Applegate & Shapiro, 2005; Lee, Ng, Leung, & Chan, 2009). By way of
example, Cameron and McDermott (2007) in their recent book draw on both
emerging developments in the neuroscientific field as well as sociological
understandings of the body to justify moving beyond the Cartesian mind-body divide
to present a theoretical base for a practice approach they coin the ‘body cognizant
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social worker’. Drawing attention to the ‘corporeal capacity’ of both client and
worker, Cameron and McDermott (2007, p.88) suggest that social workers need to
explore and ask questions about:
1. Relevant biological underpinnings between the environment,
human affect processes and learning that may be influencing a
2. The meaning the body holds for the worker, client and society and
the ‘significance of this for client well-being’, and
3. How the worker, client and society make use of the body in
communication and in the helping process.
Using a different theoretical justification but arguably adopting the approach of a
‘body cognizant social worker’ (Cameron & McDermott, 2007), Ferguson (2009b)
has begun to write about the lived experience of practitioners in the field. Taking an
interest in an emerging sociological theory, the study of ‘mobilities, (Urry, 2007),
Ferguson invites us as readers to enter the experience of the child protection worker
as they endeavour to meet their statutory obligations while walking, driving and also
entering a child and their family’s space, system and energies. Infusing his accounts
with biological and affective descriptions, Ferguson explores the disorientating
experiences of entering these ‘intimate’ spaces and describes how ‘(c)reating order,
stillness and gathering yourself so as to perform the core task of remaining child-
centred requires a highly skilled performance’ (Ferguson, 2009a, p.475). Ferguson
illustrates that writing and thinking about practice in terms of the mobile body
contributes to a different theoretical understanding of how a social worker interacts
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with clients, peers and others in community and how they can also become
immobilised and fail to identify issues that may contribute to satisfactory outcomes.
Like the observations made during the body scan described above, Ferguson draws
attention to how the outcomes of an activity maybe influenced as much by the
person’s experience of the body as by the expectations associated with the situation
Reflective practice is thought to be central to effective social work practice and
necessary for monitoring worker self-care and well-being (Gibbs, 2001; Knott, 2007).
However, recent neuroscientific findings reveal that when people have been
traumatised their capacity for reflection and for modulating emotion is largely
impaired (Forester, 2007; J. R. Shapiro & Applegate, 2000; van der Kolk, 2006). Van
der Kolk (2006) states that one of the most compelling findings that neuroimaging of
traumatised people’s brains has revealed is that under stress, the areas of the brain
most needed for ‘planning for the future, anticipating the consequences of one's
actions, and inhibiting inappropriate responses’ are relatively inactive. In fact, for
activity to return to the frontal cortex, van der Kolk suggests that the traumatised
person must first learn to identify, tolerate and modulate bodily feelings and
sensations so as to ‘translate their emotions and sensations into a communicable
language—understandable, most of all, to themselves’(2006, p.12). While it may be
presumptuous to claim that all social workers are or will be traumatised in their work,
there is research to suggest that those drawn to the profession have experienced some
disturbing events in their past (Christie & Kruk, 1998; Coombes & Anderson, 2000;
Kadushin, 1958; Mensinga, 2010) and that current workers are at greater risk of
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experiencing Secondary Traumatic Stress and/or compassion fatigue (Bride & Figley,
2007; Valente & Marotta, 2005). In the light of such research, the teaching of the
processes for developing and engaging in reflective practice may need to be re-
As I moved to join one of the small learning groups in my class, I observe how
one member of the group is moving uncomfortably in their seat trying hard to
remain quiet while the others are silent and withdrawn, determined to resist the
inevitable ‘must’ to fill the looming silence created by the task at hand. I
become conscious of my own body and wonder if the students are aware of
theirs or whether they are so immersed in the academic culture of ‘disconnect’
that, as they spot me walking towards them, they only anticipate what I will ask
them about the content of their discussion.
The students’ bodily dis-ease reminds me of the unsteadiness that many of the
participants in my yoga class experience when they are experimenting with a
new posture. When I see the students ‘fighting’ with their body to keep steady
while balancing in the tree pose, I draw their attention to their mind and ask
them to focus on a spot on the floor or wall in front of them while increasing the
length of their exhalation. Yoga teaches that there is a connection between the
body, mind and breath and I marvel at how quickly the unsteadiness ceases as
the students increase their awareness of all three enabling them to balance with
little effort. In this class however, I intended to draw the students’ attention to
what was happening in their body
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When I enter the group’s space, some of the students begin to scribble on their
notepads in front of them while others fidget and smile confidently. Rather than
ask them about where they are up to in completing the task, I ask each group
member to give me a feeling word about what they are experiencing at the
present moment. The first student blurts out ‘I’m not doing all the work this
time’. Rather than take up the issue presented to me I ask once again for a
feeling word. The student stops, her eyes roll to the ceiling, and after a deep
inhalation she exhales the word ‘angry’. I nod and shift my gaze to the student
next to her and ask him for a feeling word. Looking a bit disarmed, the student
seems to hold his breath, fidgets then whispers ‘confused’. Slowly each student
names a feeling and, as they do so, something changes in each of their bodies. I
draw the students’ attention to this change and ask them if they had observed
the same thing and to offer me a suggestion as to why this may be so (Mensinga,
In the classroom example described above, I begin a process of developing simple
conscious awareness (Kondrat, 1999) by bringing the students’ attention back into
their body in an effort to explore their existing somatic map (Damasio, 1999) and to
ponder on how this interacts with their participation in the group exercise The process
of drawing the students’ attention to their feelings not only highlights the importance
of paying attention to group processes as well as task, something that social workers
understand is critical to successful group work (D. R. Johnson & Johnson, 2008), but
it provides them with the space in which they can explore their emotional and
embodied experiences. Pagis (2009) notes that our embodied responses are based on
previous experiences and that embodied self reflexivity is necessary to change many
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habitual responses. Drawing on the work of the neuroscientist Damasio (1999), Pagis
describes how our body through our nervous system continually monitors our
environment (both real and imaginary) in an attempt to maintain some stability within
our being. Via this monitoring process, the body produces a map based on sensations
unconsciously generated by the body in any given situation which is then transmitted
by a non verbal message about the relationship between it and the
objects/environment at any subsequent time. In other words our somatic map,
comprising of body sensations that carry instilled meanings about sights, smells,
noises, touches etc., must always be navigated even when experiencing an event for
the first time.
Coupled with Pagis’s (2009) observation that embodied self reflexivity is necessary
to change many habitual responses, Siegel (2010a) highlights the importance of
interpersonal ‘attunement’ for a sense of well-being and a growth towards resiliency
within the worker. Also drawing on neuroscientific evidence, Siegel cites the work of
Iacoboni (2008) and his work on the role of mirror neurones in experiencing empathy
i.e., becoming aware of and then replicating the internal state of another.
‘Attunement’, Siegel (2010a, p.41-42) states, involves a process where the worker’s
mind/body first perceives and engages with the signals emitted by another (initial
perception), embeds the information into their own nervous system (a subcortical
shift), assesses the changes in the nervous system (interoception), and then attributes
these to the other – a process of simulating the internal state of the other. While social
workers like other helping professionals have long recognised the importance of an
empathic relationship to the helping process (Beddoe & Maidment, 2009; O' Connor,
Wilson, & Setterlund, 2003), Iacoboni’s (2008) research demonstrates the importance
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for the worker to be able to tune into their own internal state so they can consciously
monitor their response in the presence of the other’s experiences i.e., being open
and less reactive, but also cognisant of their own wellbeing. While there may be
concerns and misgivings that a focus on the body may bring with it the risk of a more
individualised focus than on relational and power structures, it appears that becoming
familiar with our own somatic map is a necessary ‘tool’ that facilitates future
practitioners corporeal capacity to both monitor their reactions as they ‘do social
work’ in client’s homes (2009b) so as to be more proactive than reactive in their
decision making and to detect any ill averse effects on their personal well-being.
About a couple of months ago I was sitting in a meeting and I realised that my
legs were completely tied up, crossed, underneath the table, like… unbelievable!
I noticed I was feeling very tense and had to remind myself ‘you’re just sitting in
a meeting!’. I got myself to uncross my legs and put them down on the floor, but
ten minutes later I found myself in exactly the same position. This time I just
thought ‘wow! I do this all the time’. Even though I knew there was no physical
danger, my body seemed to be telling me ‘well yes there is’. It was then that I
realised that my mind was coming up with all these ideas like ‘you know you’re
not supported’ and ‘they don’t really want you’ and I also found myself
becoming all oppositional saying to myself things like ‘it’s me against them’. It
felt like I was living in my own world and I noticed that I wasn’t sure which
story was true. Since then I’ve been wondering why am I prone to this, you
know, prone to kind of being, hyper vigilant or anxious or whatever?
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That’s the question I’ve taken with me on to the yoga mat and in the last month
I’ve worked out that ‘oh of course, if you train yourself like that, this is what the
outcome is’. ‘Ah! OK! That makes sense to me’.
You see I’ve been an athlete for most of my life. I must have started running at
about the age of 9. Back then I used a different body to prepare myself for a
race. I would purposely turn on my sympathetic nervous system and just ‘hype!
hype! hype! hype! hype!’. I would get myself really nervous, not nervous so that
I was out of control, but nervous so that I had this energy, this inner energy that
I just had to do something with. I knew when I was ready for the race because I
used to get the runs. I’d perfected the technique over the years. As long as I had
diarrhoea the day before the race, I knew that I was ready for the race and
found that I would do really well. That was great while I was doing athletics
and even though I didn’t train as much as anybody else, I seemed to be able to
do it, you know, just compete. But it’s been absolutely awful in my job, in my
profession, it just doesn’t translate across. I know all about the hyping up and
have developed this sympathetic nervous system that works on a hairline trigger
but, I don’t get to do the running.
Now when I get in situations and I perceive them as dangerous I know that
while my body may experience it as that and that my mind will make up stories
to try and make sense of the feeling, I can choose what story I want to run with
or whether it would even be helpful to run with any. I guess I just have a bit
more choice now. (Sue, Social Worker interviewed August 2010)
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Pagis (2009) and Lee et al (2009) claim that practices such as meditation, yoga and
other forms of exercise can facilitate awareness of body sensations and an
individual’s relationship to themselves. However, somewhat akin to choosing
whether to react to an itch on the skin or not, yoga practitioners understand that the
more familiar they are with their own body and embodied responses, the more likely
they are to make an informed choice as to how to react in any given situation. While
social work as a profession favours language and communication as the means for
self-reflexivity, Sue’s description of her body sensations and subsequent
understandings illustrates how the body itself can be used as an important anchor for
self knowledge. Sue’s experience as an athlete had already given her considerable
insight into how to utilise her body to ensure she could run a good race, but it was not
until she explored her somatic map on the yoga mat that Sue realised that her
preparation regime was now negatively impacting on her day to day experience as a
social worker. Once making the link, Sue was better able to decide on how to enlist
her body in the work place rather than remain reactive.
Yoga has gained increasing popularity in the western world (Penman, Cohen,
Stevens, & Jackson, 2008; van der Kolk, 2006). Although some scholars are
questioning the philosophical origins of modern yoga as it is practiced today (Alter,
2004; Singleton, 2010), due to its increasing popularity in the general population it
may be timely to include Hatha Yoga as a mindfulness awareness practice to facilitate
both embodied reflective practice in social work education and professional practice.
Kabat-Zin (2004) the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
program includes yoga as part of the curriculum. He notes that Hatha Yoga can be
done as a slow meditative practice as well as a preferred way for those who find
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sitting and/or meditation difficult. Interestingly, while the practices of Hatha Yoga
and Meditation tend to be seen as separate today and are typically researched as such,
traditionally they have always been linked. In his Sutras describing the Eightfold path
of Yoga, Patanjali described the postures and meditation as two separate limbs, but
noted that they are intertwined. As Faulds (2008, p.95) so nicely states: ‘Yoga and
meditation are complementary practices. Yoga brings you to the meditation cushion
relaxed and present. Meditation deepens your capacity for self awareness, making
your time on the yoga mat more mindful’.
Mindfulness and its contribution to client and human service workers’ wellbeing has
been explored more extensively in recent years including in social work practice
and education (e.g., Birnbaum, 2008; Lynn, 2009). However, just as the body is veiled
in much of the social work literature, few studies explore what yoga can add as a
Mindful Awareness Practice (S. L. Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Lynn (2009), drawing
on a spiritual paradigm rather than a neurobiological one, notes that mindfulness and
mindfulness meditation can be used as effective tools for developing self-observation
and awareness in the learning process. Although Lynn identifies scanning body
sensations and focusing on the breath as techniques in developing mindfulness, the
role of the body is not explored to any great extent. Pagis (2009), by way of contrast,
uses neurobiological explanations to discuss the success of body scan techniques to
increase embodied self reflexivity. As was noted previously in this paper, Pagis draws
on Damasio (1999) to highlight the effectiveness of the technique to raise awareness
of an individual’s somatic map to facilitate new forms of self-anchoring. In keeping
with this perspective, yoga teacher and psychotherapist Michael Stone (2010, p.207)
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claims that the yoga masters didn’t so much practice yoga as a form of exercise but
rather as an opportunity to map the energetic pathways of the body.
Although little research has been done in relation to the health benefits yoga can offer
social workers and students alike, from my own personal experience and that of
others (such as Sue quoted above), becoming aware of visceral experiences and
somatic messages appears to provide much needed information for practice and
facilitates greater awareness for personal well being. In a small study exploring
psychotherapists’ (two were social workers) experience of engaging in a regular yoga
practice, Valente and Marotta (2005) identified a number of benefits, including:
1. Yoga increased participants’ ‘awareness not only what their bodies were
feeling and communicating but also their thoughts, emotions and patterns of
cognition’ (2005, p.72).They noted that this developing awareness was useful
as a technique to develop emotional regulation and helped them gauge their
stress levels.
2. Yoga provided participants with the opportunity to achieve better balance in
their lives and avoid burnout. They noted that they were better able to ‘calm
their central nervous system, reduce anxiety, reduce mental stress and fatigue,
helped them to relax and gave them overall feelings of being “centred and
grounded”’ (2005, p.74).
3. Yoga became a ‘way of life’ that helped them become calmer, more mentally
and emotionally stabile and led to personal growth (2005, p.77).
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Drawing on their experience of running yoga classes for people who have
experienced trauma, Emerson, Turner and van der Kolk (2009) claim that yoga offers
the participant an opportunity to notice the body, make friends with it and draw on it
as a resource in a relative place of safety. As previously stated, many students need
more introductory experiences before critical reflective essays, process recordings
and gestalt techniques can be utilized to develop reflective capacity. Moreover, given
some of those drawn to social work as a profession have experienced traumatizing
events in their past and could find reflection a difficult task to engage in, if not re-
traumatizing, attention to ‘healing’ somatic maps is essential. Although it has been
argued that any form of body ‘work out’ can facilitate embodied self-reflexivity
(Pagis, 2009), recognition of the mind-body connection is necessary to develop
mindful awareness. Yoga and other Eastern embodied practices are predicated on this
assumption and because of their increasing acceptance in the general community their
accessibility is assured and can be used as an adjunct to social work education.
Emerson and his colleagues (Emerson, Sharma, Chaudhry, & Turner, 2009) note that
yoga classes can be especially effective because they are conducted in a group
situation and offer participants the chance to practice:
1. Being in the present moment
2. Making choices by deciding how to do a particular posture
3. Taking effective action if and when they experience any discomfort
during a class
4. Moving in rhythm with others as each participant attempts the same
physical action with awareness
5. Moving with purpose and direction.
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Of course introducing embodied practices like yoga challenge the mind body split
that is prevalent not only in the profession but also in education institutions today.
However, given the importance of reflection and self awareness in social work and
increasing evidence that when the body’s somatic map is ignored or misunderstood it
can supersede critical thinking and impede reflective practice (Forester, 2007; Ogden,
Minton, & Pain, 2006; Rothschild, 2000; Siegel, 2010b; van der Kolk, 2006), it is
time for the profession to consider the affective nature of embodied struggles,
particularly in the academy. In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn
expresses surprise at how as a society we can be ‘simultaneously completely
preoccupied with the appearance of our own body and at the same time completely
out of touch with it’ (2004:75). Of course this phenomenon has been explored and
theorised by sociologists and feminists alike who note that the body image ‘is as
much a function of the subject’s psychology and sociohistorical context as anatomy’
(Grosz, 1994:79). While Kabat-Zinn expresses his surprise to draw attention to how
experiencing the body without the overlay of judgement can change an individual’s
view of it and enable them to better monitor and deal with stress, pain and illness, the
point raised by Grosz (1994) brings our attention back to the call to reposition the
body within the social work profession (Lee et al., 2009; Peile, 1998; Saleebey,
1992). While I recognise that including embodied practices in an already
overcrowded academic curriculum maybe challenging, I also believe that merely
acknowledging the role of the body as an important source of knowledge may begin a
process of exploration that currently does not exist. As Cameron and McDermott
(2007, p.92) note, acknowledging the importance of the body in social work theory
Page 20
and practice is necessary not only in relation to client outcomes but is also essential to
ensure the well-being of the social worker and to account for themselves ‘as an
embodied actor entering and engaging with the client’s world’.
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... 3 In this quest for empirical knowledge production, few yoga therapy studies are being conducted from the social work vantage point. Although a small number of social work scholars [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] have attempted to fill this gap in scientific literature, the social work discipline is clearly lagging behind. It is therefore timely to reflect on how the social work profession could complement current trends in yoga therapy research by contributing to the multifaceted nature and contextual dimensions of this emerging field of practice. ...
... 20 Third, at the pedagogical level, yoga is also being integrated into social work curricula as a self-care strategy 6,7 and reflective tool for embodied practice. 9 This growing interest in the clinical applications of yoga therapy specifically for the social work profession, combined with the lack of research in this area, raises several questions pertaining to ethics, pedagogy, theorizing, practice knowledge, and research. Therefore, it seems imperative that social workers participate more actively in the process of knowledge production to disseminate data that would better inform yoga-inclusive social work practice and extend the knowledge base of other human service professionals who are incorporating yoga therapy into clinical settings. ...
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The purpose of this article is to explore how the social work discipline could provide a complementary lens through which yoga therapy can be analyzed and evaluated by engaging in knowledge-creation practices and procedures that prioritize the "epistemic responsibility" described by philosopher Lorraine Code. More specifically, by seeking to strategically include often-subjugated types of knowledge and by focusing on redistributing epistemic power to agents that typically have been excluded from epistemic participation in contemporary yoga therapy research, the social work discipline, with its strong commitment to social justice, has the potential to contribute to filling an important gap in scientific literature. We begin by presenting the relevance of the social work perspective in relation to the field of yoga therapy. We next offer a reserved critical analysis of the dominant technical knowledge base that currently informs yoga therapy practice. This analysis highlights the social parameters that may be rendered invisible or left aside when adopting a positivist epistemological lens and justifies how the conceptual apparatus of epistemic responsibility serves as a potential platform for rethinking social work's position and future contributions to the field of yoga therapy. Finally, we mobilize the concept of cultural appropriation to illustrate how striving for epistemic responsibility provides an entry point for addressing the multilevel, complex social processes embedded in yoga therapy practice and research while aiming to capture the many voices-and hence the various truths-implicated in a democratic, reflexive, and inclusive research process. Originally published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, a publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists ( Reprinted [or shared] with permission.
... Wang and Tebb (2018) described how the philosophies of yoga and social work are compatible; however, much work remains to be done in order to demonstrate empirical evidence to support yoga's applicability and appropriateness for the social work profession. Although there are articles and studies regarding mindfulness and meditation by social workers (e.g., McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011;Lee, Zaharlick, & Akers, 2011), a review of the literature found only nine articles regarding yoga in social work journals (Crews, Stolz-Newton, & Grant, 2018;Derezotes, 2000;Dylan, 2014;Gockel, & Deng, 2019;Jindani & Khalsa, 2015;Mensinga, 2011;Strauss & Northcut, 2014;Thomas, 2017;Warren & Chappell Deckert, 2019). ...
... In social work practice, the focus on the problems experienced by clients and the related paperwork demands or organizational constrictions within which we work can leave us unaware of our own bodies, thus making it harder to pay attention to the bodily experiences of our clients (Mensinga, 2011). Nevrin (2008) described how our habitual use of our bodies as "background to goal-oriented thoughts and actions" (p. ...
... From the perspective of external intervention, the symptoms of depression and negative emotions caused by decreased dopamine release can be reduced to improve the success rate of withdrawal and reduce drug craving and relapse. Embodied cognition theory suggests that cognitive processes are influenced by both the body and the environment and that there is a strong link between physical experiences and psychological states [84]. When the body is restored, individuals can feel positive and happy emotions, which can improve their selfconfidence and self-efficacy. ...
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Background Drug addiction is difficult to overcome. The relapse rate is high, and the negative impact on individuals, families and society is severe, therefore exploring social psychological mechanisms to reduce relapse has very important theoretical and practical value. However, the underlying mechanism by which the interaction between family and individual factors influences the tendency to relapse remain unclear. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to discuss the relationship between family intimacy and relapse tendency of people who use drugs, as well as the mediating effect of psychological capital and the role of self-efficacy in it. Methods A total of 817 male who use drugs were investigated via the Family Intimacy and Adaptability Scale, General Self-Efficacy Scale, Positive Psychological Capital Questionnaire and Relapse Tendency Questionnaire. Using Hayes’s process macro carried out moderated mediation analysis. Results (1) The average family intimacy score of people who use drugs was low. (2) Family intimacy negatively predicted relapse tendency in people who use drugs. (3) Psychological capital mediated the relationship between family intimacy and relapse tendency. (4) The first half of the indirect effect of family intimacy on relapse tendency was regulated by self-efficacy, compared with the low level of self-efficacy, the psychological capital level with high self-efficacy is higher. Conclusion The results of this study suggest that the intimacy between the people who use drugs and their family members should be improved, and the rehabilitation center should take various measures to enhance the psychological capital level and the level of self-efficacy of the people who use drugs, which will be helpful to reduce their relapse tendency.
... Due to the emotional strain and often poor workplace conditions, the development of self-care behaviours in social work students is recommended (Griffiths et al. 2019). Within social work education self-care strategies such as yoga or mindfulness are rarely explicitly taught to students (Gockel and Deng 2016;Griffiths et al. 2019;Mensinga 2011). However, students are encouraged to develop self-care strategies throughout their degree without guidance. ...
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Social work education in Australia is bound by a range of rules and assumptions supported by both higher education institutions and the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). This autoethnography explores a range of contradictions within social work education from the unique perspective of someone who was simultaneously a student and academic in social work. This experience occurred because, although PhD qualified in social work, rulings set down by the AASW lead to me being excluded from consideration in permanent roles. The position led me to becoming an online Master of Social Work (MSW) student whilst still being a social work educator allowing me to explore a range of contradictory rules and processes within social work education. Analysis of my reflections, journals, assignments and conversations with colleagues unveiled a range of mixed messages in relation to social inclusion, technical rationalism, self-care and field placement supervision. My findings contribute to current debates about how neoliberalism currently impacts on inclusion in social work education and development of a professional identity. In exploring my dual roles, this autoethnography unveils contradictions within social work education and accreditation that question the social justice mission of the profession.
... There have been recent studies on breathing and trauma (in particular Van der Kolk, 2014) and as far back as the 1950s Gestalt therapists were writing about breathing and anxiety (Perls et al., 1951, p. 128). The potential importance of mindfulness for the workplace has been recognized not least by the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG, 2015) and there have been numerous writings on mindfulness and social work (reviewed by Robinson, 2015) and on yoga, for example, Mensinga (2011), in relation to social work education or practice. These articles, both in relation to mindfulness and to yoga, sometimes mention breathing but usually only in passing. ...
This article is the first to address breathing in social work directly. It sits within the phenomenological tradition and as such provides accounts from social work education and practice as a means of recognizing a commonality of experience. The article argues for a considered, conscious use of the breath in order for the social worker to gain a state of calm or composure and also to be able to foster composure in others – the so called “circle of breath”. The focus is on the skills of the worker but also on the meanings of the choices they make. A phenomenological approach to the topic of composure is contrasted with a psychotherapeutic approach. No particular method is advocated although several exercises designed to aid breath awareness are suggested. A discussion is threaded throughout on the relationship between the breath and spirituality in social work, also considered in phenomenological terms.
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Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) is an evidenced-based practice where the body is central. While embodiment in Social Work is emerging as an area of interest and could benefit from incorporating key DMT principles into practice, DMT could also benefit from adopting a social justice agenda. Illustrated through the lens of attachment and the parent–child relationship, themes from DMT literature position the body, relationship, and space as key areas of embodied practice. The DMT principles, when approached as an act for social justice, can potentially affect social transformation, beginning with the first relationship. • IMPLICATIONS • Dance movement therapy provides social workers with an evidenced-based intervention to address attachment issues through embodied relationship. • Embodied approaches to early intervention can positively impact relationships and communities across the life span and intergenerationally.
This phenomenological reflection aims to chronicle the author’s journey from social worker to yoga teacher over a 10-year period as the first yoga teacher at a large inpatient psychiatric hospital. The paper describes the transition from teaching small therapeutic process-oriented groups to movement and breath-based groups. Highlighted are the common practices used and how they were received. Key influences in the literature that are woven into the unique story have guided the experience and confirmed the author’s observations and lived experience of teaching therapeutic yoga in an inpatient setting. The paper concludes that there is room for more research regarding the application of gentle yoga-like postures and breathing practices as it relates to clinical social work practice. Pinpointing a “minimum dose response” (of practice) would be helpful. In the meantime, available data suggest that daily practice is where upstream work—such as yoga—shines. Even small doses of breath and movement, done often enough, provide a simple way for social workers to connect to themselves and to their clients in a more embodied manner and may improve client outcomes. IMPLICATIONS • The time has come for bringing the wisdom of the body and the reflectiveness of social workers and their clients into their work (and social work education). • Emotion regulation happens when both top-down and bottom-up approaches are included in treatment. Breathing exercises provide direct access to the nervous system. Therefore, making space to introduce these simple practices in social work should be a consideration. • Considering how social workers might incorporate movement into their sessions or interactions with clients (walking and talking, small arm movements, gestures, intentional breathing practices) is a worthwhile pursuit for both social worker and client wellbeing.
There is growing evidence that being comfortable in one’s body is a necessary foundation for the reflection required to cope with complicated situations. Movement activity based largely on nonverbal communication can help social workers deal with complex feelings and problems that arise among their clientele. Based on preliminary research results, the Sherborne Developmental Movement (SDM) model was embedded in a course given to MSW students. In the study, the course module sought to assess the contribution of sensory communication to MSW students’ self-conscious awareness of themselves and their clients. The participants were 19 MSW students, men and women of varied cultures who wrote a thematically analyzed reflective diary. The SDM model contributes to body cognizance in social work by reprogramming self-consciousness through movement. Movement activity seemed to position particpants to experience how body awareness allows a more intimate means of communication with and understanding of their inner world.
This book aims to define new theoretical, practical, and methodological directions in educational research centered on the role of the body in teaching and learning. Based on our phenomenological experience of the world, it draws on perspectives from arts-education and aesthetics, as well as curriculum theory, cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology. These are arenas with a rich untapped cache of experience and inquiry that can be applied to the notions of schooling, teaching and learning. The book provides examples of state-of-the-art, empirical research on the body in a variety of educational settings. Diverse art forms, curricular settings, educational levels, and cultural traditions are selected to demonstrate the complexity and richness of embodied knowledge as they are manifested through institutional structures, disciplines, and specific practices.
Although the profession of social work credits itself for using a biopsychosocial perspective in theory and practice, the body (the “bio”) is virtually absent from the profession’s knowing and doing. If social workers are serious about understanding and marshaling elements of person-in-environment transactions, then to disdain the body results in a lack of appreciative reach, the possibility of egregious errors of assessment, and missed opportunities to aid in the process of regeneration for clients. A review of areas in which biological knowledge is growing (“the biology of hope”-psychoneuroimmunology, for example-and the new biomedical approach to mental health) yields some ideas about how theory and practice in social work can be “embodied.”.
As educators, we are intimately engaged with knowledge. When we teach., we deliver knowledge about the usual subjects in curriculum but also knowledge on our behavior and bodies or more broadly, knowledge on how to be a reasonable human being. We hope, then, that our students will let such knowledge guide them, not only through school, but also through the rest of their lives. Some of this education is not necessarily explicit and if asked, we might not be able to pin point the origin of our knowledge. It might a book, a television program or a magazine article, in fact, any type of media that today so effectively distribute knowledge. In this chapter, I focus on a type of bodily knowledge, fitness, that is not necessarily part of the school curriculum, “the official knowledge,” but seems to shape our lives and the lives of our students beyond the school environment.
Within the practice orientation of the Critical Social Work tradition there has been a dominance of conceptual and rational processes. This has lead to a failure to acknowledge the importance of bodily and emotive knowledge for practice theory. This paper offers a rudimentary and tentative epistemology which recognizes the importance of the body, emotions, ideas and their context. These ideas invite a reconsideration of critical theories of change.
Yoga Body charts the rise of postural yoga (asana) in popular imagination and practice from the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the Second World War. This period saw the forging of a postural canon that gave shape to what is today popularly accepted as the practical substance of "yoga." Prior to these modern innovations, yoga was rarely (if ever) conceived primarily in these terms. How did this situation come about? How did yoga become the health- and fitness-oriented phenomenon we see today? This book offers explanations of the genesis, status and function of yoga in the modern world. This history has remained largely hidden in popular and scholastic accounts, but the phenomenally successful yoga forms we see in the world today simply cannot be understood without it. Drawing on rare documents from archives in India, the UK and the United States, as well as interviews with the few remaining, now very elderly actors in the 1920s and thirties postural yoga renaissance, the book investigates the predecessors of today's asana systems. It also presents fresh evidence for the origins of the twenty-first century's most popular forms, including material from two hitherto untranslated texts on asana by the "godfather" of modern postural yoga, T. Krishnamacharya.