Yoga and Schema Therapy: Similar Ideas from Different Angles

“Try to respect the reasons your lifetrap developed in the first place. In your childhood, it was essential for your emotional survival. But what was once a help to you is now hurting you, and it is time to give it up. It is time for you to begin the slow journey out of self-denial and self-defeat, and to reclaim your life for yourself.”
― Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again

Photo by Quentin Pelletier on

This description of Jeffrey Young, one of the founders of schema therapy, was really an eye opener for me. I suddenly thought: this is also at the foundation of what I have learned in yoga therapy.

Similar ideas from different angles

The more I thought about it, the more similarities I discovered. For example, both yoga and schema therapy:

  • focus on disfunctional patterns and habits we have developed in our life
  • recognize that these patterns are expressed at all levels in body and mind
  • use both self-observation and self-care as therapeutic techniques 
  • can be described as a long-term process of gradual change

I am always fascinated when there is such a great overlap between ideas from different angles. This might mean both ideas can be further integrated into an even more holistic approach of health and wellbeing, to help us on our and our clients’ healing journeys.

During the next Yoga Therapy for Psychologists session, on February 18th, we'll explore these similarities further. I'm curious about your experiences and ideas. To help you, I will explain a few core ideas a little further below.

Samskaras and schemas

In yoga therapy, both physical and mental health issues are seen as a consequence of negative patterns that can cause disbalances in your body and mind. They are called samskaras.

A similar concept is at the foundation of schema therapy: the treatment focuses on maladaptive patterns that we are repeating throughout our lives, and that are ingrained in our whole system – at the cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural level. These patterns are called schemas, sometimes referred to as ‘lifetraps’. 

Both yoga therapy and schema therapy aim to cultivate awareness of these patterns, to recognize them with compassion, and to develop new skills for change in your life.

Photo by Quentin Pelletier on

Healing from old traumas

Both yoga and schema therapy recognize that old patterns are the result of past experiences (either in early life or even in previous lives). The way we respond to current experiences (in yoga: ‘vrttis’) is affected by our samskaras or schemas. This happens because our body and mind have learned to interpret our environment based on past experiences. When these experiences have been traumatic, our whole system is tuned to surviving in this environment. This approach helps us to understand why we developed survival mechanisms that may no longer serve us, and to notice how they keep returning with compassion.

The more we start noticing our own habitual responses with compassion – in yoga, from the perspective of the Observer; in schema therapy, from the perspective of the Healthy Adult – the more we can allow ourselves to heal. We can learn that we always have a choice in the way we relate to our experiences, and gradually fee ourselves from the limiting perceptions we have built as a result of our personal history. This is a gradual process that happens at the cognitive as well as experiential level. 

All these techniques together can be helpful to express ourselves completely, to find freedom and fulfillment in our lives. This is the ultimate goal of yoga, as well as any psychotherapy.

These are just a few ideas that I can share with you from my personal and professional experience. I would love to learn about yours, too! 

Drop a comment below or join me during the brainstorm session for psychologists & yoga therapists on Thursday February 18th, 10-11am CET. These open brainstorm sessions take place every month at The Bridge, the online community of Network Yoga Therapy. Feel free to join some time!

Picture in Peru, at Amantaní (Lago Titicaca), 2013

2 responses to “Yoga and Schema Therapy: Similar Ideas from Different Angles”

  1. Wat tof hoe je deze twee benaderingen aan elkaar verbind. Helaas kan ik niet op 18 feb, maar ik haak graag aan bij de volgende brainstorm sessie!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dankjewel voor je enthousiaste reactie! En wees altijd welkom om aan te sluiten bij de brainstormsessies, de actuele data vind je atlijd in The Bridge.

      Liked by 1 person

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