Joelle Lazar. Counselling / Yoga Therapy/ Transformational Guidance.
Masters Degree in Counselling. Registered Clinical Counsellor

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hand of woman meditating in a yoga pose on beachIf Body-centered psychotherapy is a tree, Yoga therapy is a gentle, and vibrant limb which both draws sustenance from the tree, and also contributes unique and essential elements.

Drawing its energy from ancient, and time-honoured practices, yoga therapy can gently loosen blockages, and promote healing.

When integrated with other body-centered interventions, yoga therapy is potent medicine to transform emotional wounds, and restore balance.

Yoga therapy may be considered a “bottom-up” approach.

Unlike “top-down” approaches which rely on verbal dialogue to ease emotional distress, yoga therapy may challenge long standing physiological patterns influenced by anxiety, depression, and trauma.

Advanced neuroimaging technologies have resulted in an explosion of knowledge on the brain structures implicated during stressful reactions and trauma.

We now know that right brain structures hold a sense of our “corporeal and emotional self” (Fisher, 2015) which lacks words but is a radar for body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and sensorimotor information (i.e. senses and movement), which can convey safety and connection, or danger.

Stressful events and traumatic experiences can negatively impact our sense of self. Beliefs such as “the world is a dangerous place”, “I will always be alone”, “I’m not safe”, or “I’m going to get hurt again”, develop to protect us, but can also cause the body to chronically tighten, and brace for danger.

Such beliefs increase hypervigilance which can cause heart rate to increase, shallow breathing, excessive muscular tension, and difficulty yielding to the rest and repair cycle of the nervous system.

Over time an overly active state of hyperarousal, or perpetual state of collapse, can tax the immune system can lead to a disrupted sleep cycle, and for some chronic illness.

A trusting therapeutic relationship is one in which clients feel deeply cared for.

In the presence of an attuned, compassionate, and skilled Yoga Therapist, clients are gently guided to their body’s innate capacity to heal.

Yoga therapy facilitates mindfulness, our ability to step back from reactions that can drive impulsive behaviour and negative consequences.

Through mindfulness practice, left-brain structures that are responsible for emotion regulation, planning, and perspective-taking become robust so that we can make choices that are in harmony with our well being.

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  • Awareness of the breath’s natural rhythm, appropriate touch, and supported movement all encourage a profound state of rest.
  • Layers of stress and tension melt away.
  • Resources for grounding in the midst of difficult memories and/or emotions are developed.
  • Previously distressing issues can be processed gently and in a way that is deeply affirming.
  • Adaptive, harmonious, and self-expressed ways of being in the body flourish.
  • Clarity, mental health, and spiritual connection are enhanced.

Clients will get the most out of their session if they wear comfortable clothing, and have not eaten a large meal for the last two hours prior to their session.

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What happens in a session?:

  • Clients fill out a first session intake and informed consent form which explains what to expect from their session. The informed consent clarifies that yoga therapy sessions include appropriate touch, and movement therapy.
  • Clients can choose to do yoga therapy without touch, in which case movement therapy is restricted to verbal cues.
  • When touch is included, one may experience a deeper state of relaxation, and stress reduction which allows memories and emotions to be held in awareness more easily, and released more profoundly.
  • Often clients experience waves of emotion that may surprise them. This is very common when one feels safe, and can fully attend to what is happening with breath, movement, impulses, sensations, emotions, cognitions, and visual/auditory stimuli that are present in the body.

What I do:

  • Ask you what brings you to therapy, explain my approach, and answer any questions you may have.
  • For some clients, especially survivors of trauma, I will recommend we complete one or more Sensorimotor resourcing sessions prior to yoga therapy.
  • Guide you in a grounding exercise that encourages inward listening, and a mindful and self compassionate stance.
  • On a comfortable yoga therapy mat, you will have the option to lie down and close your eyes.
  • Use gentle touch to make contact with your present-moment experience, and facilitate therapeutic movement.
  • Track changes in facial expression, breathing, movement, tone of voice, and prosody.
  • Ask you what you’re noticing, and use mindfulness directives and questions to help you deepen into the experience.
  • Give you time to notice what’s happening, savor what you feel, and relax in stillness.
  • Invite you to inquire more deeply into the sensations, feelings, thoughts, impulses, and visual/auditory/tactile/olfactory experiences that arise.
  • Invite you to use your experience to understand yourself more deeply, and gain insight into your direction.
  • Give you space to talk about what stands out for you from your session, provide you with some notes to take home with you.

Clients often find that their own body provides a reservoir of guidance on who they are, what they need, and what they truly want.

To find out the cost of a yoga therapy session, please visit the Fees page…

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Body-centered psychotherapy

What is it: A form of therapy that honours the natural unity of body and mind, and supports awareness and transformation.

The following modalities have influenced how I work with my clients in individualized and therapeutically impactful ways:

Hakomi: Developed by Ron Kurtz and elucidated in his book, Body-Centered Psychotherapy, the starting point for Hakomi is the innate wisdom within each person. When we focus on what wants to happen in the present moment, and facilitate rather than seek to control, what unfolds is a self-righting, healing experience.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP): With deep roots in Hakomi, SP draws from a rich lexicon of neuroscientific research on the neurobiological impact of trauma. SP treatment includes an initial stabilization phase where clients develop resources, and the essential skill of mindfulness. Once clients are able to track what’s happening in the body, and use sensations as an anchor, they are better equipped to re-process traumatic events, and gain relief and resolution.

Somatic Experiencing (SE): Another mindfulness-based body centered approach, SE provides its own unique map for the treatment of trauma. Essential contributions of Peter Levine’s SE model are its unique approach for developing safety and supporting exploration with curiousity. The tools of pendulation, containment, and titration are also excellent for strengthening the nervous system, and increasing resilience to traumatic stimuli.

Body-Mind Psychotherapy:The seven fundamental principles of BMP also include the present moment, and a deep respect for the energy of life which drives healing. In addition, deep listening to the body can allow one to differente between conditioning and essence. In this way the body holds innate potential for continual development throughout the lifespan. A safe therapeutic relationship can support trust in the present moment so that emotional burdens can be released, and authentic expression can flow freely.

AEDP: AEDP uses the therapeutic relationship as a vehicle for recognizing, acknowledging, affirming, and ultimately supporting clients to feel seen, heard, as well as loving and loved. Drawing from research on attachment, and the neuroscience of emotions, in AEDP the therapist makes us of “moment to moment tracking of, and optimal responding, to the patient’s core affective/somatic experience” (Leung, D. 2016). When the therapist provides dyadic regulation of emotions, and opportunities to metaprocess transformational moments, self-compassion and a coherent and cohesive autobiographical narrative, can emerge in the here and now (Leung, D. 2016).

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Foundational principles

  • orient therapist to see a person’s capacity for healing
  • to follow a person’s natural processes
  • to see unhelpful patterns as having been their best effort to respond to stressful developmental experiences (Kurtz, 1990)

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  • A person is a living system with the capacity for growth and healing.
  • A process of dynamic self organization and self determination.
  • Participatory and interactive.
  • Role of therapist is to look for and follow natural processes.

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The practice of paying attention to our experience of the present moment, including the breath and whatever arises through the senses, thoughts and impulses, without reacting, and while cultivating a gentle and accepting attitude.

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  • Change without force.
  • Defenses are seen as best efforts to manage their experience.
  • Defenses are strategies that evolved to help him/her navigate his world.
  • Therapist supports provides opportunities to explore them more deeply.

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Mind/body/spirit holism

  • “Holism is a recognition of complexity and the inherent unpredictability of the whole by the parts” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 30).
  • Each aspect of life influences all the other aspects.
  • “Just as there is a body component to all spiritual and emotional experiences, we also believe that there is a mental/emotional/spiritual component to all significant bodily experience” (Ogden, 2012, p.62).

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“The process of communication organizes parts into wholes so healing can take place” (Kurtz, 1990).

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