Photo of yoga teacher Julie Carmen by Jeff Herrera

Photo of yoga teacher Julie Carmen by Jeff Herrera

I didn’t start out intending to have three careers, but one morphed into the next during my personal odyssey from acting to teaching yoga to working as a psychotherapist and yoga therapist in private practice. Looking around, I notice that I am surrounded by fellow hyphenates—yoga teachers who are pursuing more than one profession.

Although I’ve been asked why I don’t let go of one of the three, I have found that our best career choices are an expression of how we love spending time. After dedicating years to study and practice, I feel passionate about sharing each of these bodies of knowledge and I love spending time interacting in each of these arenas.

Yet for some time, I kept each profession quite separate, packed in discrete toolboxes with their own interventions and rules. I would respectfully refrain from blending modalities. With the rise of social media, my profiles, communications, and websites began to blur some boundaries between my lives as an actor, a psychotherapist, and a yoga teacher. Therefore, ironically, wholeness in my professional life has arrived driven by transparency in cyberspace. Ideally—interconnected careers can serve as energetic counterposes. This is certainly the case in my own life.

When I was a full-time working actress, I shape shifted at my core, building the inner life of each character until it permeated my dreams, my speech, and my physicality. I thrived on traveling to alternative realities and anchoring myself in the story we were telling but ultimately craved a more relational experience with people than what an actor’s life on the road provided. I retired for 10 years to raise a family and happily discovered life beyond movies.

Throughout my yoga teacher trainings and in graduate school, being an actress felt like a dirty little secret. Shame about not being taken seriously is so rooted in my upbringing that I over-prepared throughout teacher training and graduate school in order to ward off the assumptions that actresses are flighty and self-centered. Yet the exhaustive body-centered training, the capacity for self-reflection as well as the ease of public speaking that acting develops have served me while teaching yoga. I have also found my acting training to be a helpful prerequisite to the study of clinical psychology as actors are taught to empathically immerse oneself into another person’s life circumstances to feel their subjective emotional experience. Later managing this process as a therapist took some negotiation; the shadow of this shape shifting trait plagued me as a beginning clinician because I would risk losing myself in the others’ experience and needed to discipline my empathy to be effective.

Currently, my psychotherapy work is my priority. It is essential to honor the importance of continuity in an effective therapeutic alliance. Although I am committed to teaching yoga, I notice that yoga teachers may come and go and gone are the days when a yoga student studied with only one teacher. Students today may benefit from an array of complementary instructors.

In this process of exploring my hyphenated professional life, I have found that some crossover is inevitable and in fact, one discipline informs the other. My study of yoga informs my psychotherapy practice. For example, in a psychotherapy session, I may notice how a client is breathing. My first intervention usually involves mirroring versus directly suggesting changes to a person’s breath habits. The process of just being seen can give a person permission to drop down into a more grounded connection with their body. Their breath shifts without me directing anything.

Psychology also informs my yoga teaching; when I watch a yoga student move, everything about their body and breath serves as a barometer for what is going on in their brain. Since yoga teaching is directive, I feel at liberty to instruct students in poses and breath sequences that may alter their moods towards a more sattvic balance. But they did not come to yoga for analytic interpretations, so I keep those interpretations to myself and allow that awareness to inform the poses I choose.

I also apply these understandings to my faculty role teaching about the psychology of yoga and supervising students as the clinical director of the Level V Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression internship at Loyola Marymount University Yoga Therapy Rx. I specialize in teaching yoga therapists how to increase their sensitivity to their clients’ mental health challenges.

Just as I find a benefit to understanding and embracing both yoga and psychology, I find that students benefit from engaging in both yoga practice and psychotherapy.

Most people come to yoga to reduce stress and to psychotherapy to understand and shift their internal causes of stress. During both processes, they may assess whether their lifestyle and relationship choices are working for them. For a serious yoga student, being engaged in a psychotherapeutic process can help them examine what they value and whether they are getting in their own way. With guidance, they may be able to interpret how they developed specific styles of attachment and how they can re-write a preferred narrative. People come to psychotherapy with a wide range of questions such as why they fall in love with people who continue to hurt them or why they evade intimate relationships or why bad things happen to good people. Answers often arise during yoga and meditation but actual change may need psychotherapy.

During times of grief, loss, or painful change, a steady yoga practice can offer a safe sanctuary but talking with a psychotherapist about what arises during meditation and yoga is truly a gift to oneself and to the people in one’s life. Clarity evolves from the mind-body approach and helps us relate from the best places in ourselves.

For example, while working as a psychotherapist with an elderly man who is afraid to leave the house, I might present a treatment goal of increasing his capacity to remain calm as he expands the perimeters of his comfort zone. This comes directly from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.46: “Asana is steadiness and ease.” (sthira sukha asanam) Patanjali here suggests that our heart rate and breathing should be effortless and steady even as we increase the exertion in an asana practice. The spirit of this aphorism is embodied in the practice of holding a warrior pose, for instance, which can be challenging. So we breathe deeply as we practice increasing our capacity.

I often tell yoga students, “The brain aligns the joints and then the muscles acclimate to maintain the healthiest overall alignments.“ I’ve found a parallel process where this directive can apply in talk therapy, particularly with people who may blindly follow their senses in addictive patterns. A hierarchy of thought, mood, and action is discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as well as in the literature of classic cognitive therapy. Many people arrive at their first psychotherapy sessions overcome with emotional pain and confusion. It takes repetition and caring attention to help them reprogram their brains to commit to choices that cause less suffering.

While I appreciate the power and perspective of this hyphenated life, there are times when I have often felt lonely managing the requirements of three professions. Of course, there are supportive tribes in each career, but I have little spare time to socialize. On a macro level, some of my challenges include time management and focus. Dues need to be paid to unions, insurance companies, and professional affiliations for three businesses, each requiring continuing education hours. Even so, I feel that a hyphenated profession, in moderation, has many rewards that outweigh these challenges and continue to provide perspective as they counterbalance and counterpose each other.

Whether you’re a yoga student, yoga teacher, certified yoga therapist, an aspiring or licensed mental health clinician, there is value in deconstructing what you do to learn more about your own why and even how to make it work. Discovering, refining, and living one’s dharma is a fluid and lifelong process.