Sample from the Winter 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
Spirituality and Psychotherapy: Common Boundaries
Phoenix Rising: An Interview with Michael Lee
By Laura Sevika Douglass
Michael Lee is the founder and director of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT). PRYT works with Yoga as a primary therapeutic modality for emotional and psychological wellbeing. Lee describes Phoenix Rising as “a means by which we can awaken and explore the silenced, painful memories of childhood; a way to work through the inner conflicts which lay buried beneath the ashes of repressed emotion.” In this interview he discusses the role of Yoga therapy and its relationship to psychological wellbeing.
Sevika Douglass: How did Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT) evolve?
Michael Lee: It evolved out of personal experiences I had twenty or thirty years ago. A lot of my personal growth work prior to Yoga was in the realm of transpersonal psychology. I was a big fan of Carl Rogers. I had read a lot of his material and really liked the way he respected people as already okay, as whole. He believed in providing the proper environment so that people could take a look at themselves if they wanted to.
At the same time I was engaged in deepening my own Yoga practice. So it made sense to me that there was a real connection between these two practices. I realized that what I was encountering in my awareness as I dropped into deeper levels of Yoga practice had real therapeutic value–if I was prepared to work with it.
SD: I have interviewed several Yoga therapists who are trained in PRYT and they have all been very confident and articulate about the work they do. Does this clarity come from the highly experiential form of training they receive?
ML: Yes. I figured out early on that if you really wanted people to get this, it had to be experienced rather than talked about. We talk about the theory in the upper levels of the training, but in the early stages it is purely experiential. People get a real sense of what it is like to have a Yoga experience that is accompanied by what Carl Rogers calls “unconditional positive regard.”
SD: From a Western perspective the mind and the emotions are the primary domain of psychotherapists. What would you say are the unique benefits of using Yoga in these areas?
ML: I think all of us are growing, changing, evolving and learning, whether we are classified as healthy or unhealthy. When you look at the people who go to psychotherapy, there are a lot of people who would be diagnosed as “healthy”–those who engage in the practice of psychotherapy because it helps them grow and learn and become better human beings.
I think the same is true of Yoga. The form of Yoga therapy we practice, PRYT, is very much geared towards that end. It is saying, “If you are willing to engage in these practices and take a deeper look, you can get information that you can use to change the way you are present with yourself and your life.”
I don’t think it is any accident that more people are getting involved in the practice of Yoga–particularly in the context of the modern world we live in. Yoga offers tools for coping better with all of the stresses, issues and lifestyle problems that are presenting now in our so-called modern lifestyle.
SD: Is PRYT appropriate only for those who are mentally healthy? Or could it be used by an in-patient mental health clinic?
ML: I think it has to be very carefully monitored and it requires conjunctive work. Clients still need to be seeing a psychotherapist. PRYT isn’t a replacement for psychotherapy. It is a useful adjunct if the person is stable enough to engage in the process. Yoga therapy requires quite a lot of focus and in some ways a fairly high level of commitment and ability to engage awareness with some degree of clarity and acceptance. Those are the kind of issues that need to be considered when deciding if this is appropriate for someone or not…