With increasing popularity of various forms of meditation, yoga, self-reflection, and reconnection with nature, we seem to be in the midst of a sort of transpersonal revival. Even still, many people are unfamiliar with the term transpersonal and recent literature on transpersonal therapy is relatively sparse.
The dictionary definition of the word transpersonal refers to a state of consciousness that reaches beyond personal identity. Transpersonal therapy is a holistic and humanistic approach to psychotherapy that emphasizes the depths of human potential and experience as rooted in mind-body-spirit connection (Tarnas, 2002). It arose out of the work of Abraham Maslow in the late 1960s with the intention of applying altered states of consciousness to guide individuals toward transcendent developmental stages (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999). Since its origins, transpersonal therapy has reached beyond its Buddhist influence to include a wide variety of techniques, ranging from hypnotherapy (Wickramasekera, 2013) to hand drumming as a complementary treatment for addiction (Winkelman, 2003).
In recent years, transpersonal therapy has become increasingly focused on mindfulness techniques, such as transcendental meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathwork, and guided imagery. Several of these techniques have been shown to be effective in the reduction of anxiety associated with a variety of stimuli and life events. Here are two strategies you can begin applying now.
Breathwork is a broad term that refers to a group of breathing exercises designed to increase desirable mental, emotional, and/or physical reactions while decreasing negative ones. Hara breathing, yogic breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and abdominal breathing are just a few examples of breathing exercises that may help to reduce anxiety. Diaphragmatic breathing, a specific form of deep breathing that encourages focus on the movement of the diaphragm and belly, has been shown to be particularly effective in improving attention and decreasing stress in otherwise healthy adults (Ma et al., 2017).
Try it now: 4-7-8 breathing
4-7-8 breathing is a Pranayama-inspired deep breathing pattern that helps to regulate breathing while also focusing on counting. To get started, sit comfortably in an upright position, preferably with both feet touching the floor. Breathe in deeply through your nose while counting to four. Hold your breath while counting to seven. Breathe out slowly through your mouth while counting to eight. Repeat. When used intentionally, 4-7-8 breathing has been shown to reduce tension, decrease reactivity, assist with falling asleep, deter food cravings, and reduce mild to moderate anxiety (Weil, n.d.).
Preferred future visualization, pleasant imagery, and mental vacations are just a few examples of visualization techniques used to reduce anxiety. When used during therapy sessions, guided visualization will often be facilitated by the therapist to assist someone in imagining a particular situation, experience, phenomenon, or state of being. Outside of therapy, guided visualization can be practiced independently or facilitated by an audio recording. Recent research suggests that nature-based guided imagery may be particularly effective in reducing self-reported symptoms of anxiety (Nguyen & Brymer, 2018).
Try it now: Preferred future visualization
Preferred future visualization is an exercise used to imagine yourself in a future time when a particular problem no longer exists. To get started, sit comfortably in an upright position, preferably with both feet touching the floor. Make a mental note of the problem at hand; this might be feelings of anxiety, stress, tension, or otherwise. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so. Begin imagining yourself at a future time when the feelings, thoughts, or situation you made note of no longer exist. What do you see yourself doing? What has improved? How do you feel? Let the story unfold. While it does not replace the hard work often needed to create change in our lives, this type of visualization can promote cognitive and physiological relaxation and provide a glimpse at early solutions for working through stressful times.
As we discussed, transpersonal therapy offers a number of techniques that can be beneficial in self-management of anxiety. These strategies have practical applications that are straightforward and can be applied today. For more in depth training on daily application and to incorporate more complex exercises into your life, consider consulting an experienced transpersonal therapist for facilitation and guidance.
Kasprow, M. C. & Scotton, B. W. (1999). A review of transpersonal theory and its application to the practice of psychotherapy. The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 8(1), 12-23.
Ma, X., Yue, Z, Gong, Z., Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y., Wei, G., & Li, Y. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect, and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:874.
Nguyen, J. & Brymer, E. (2018). Nature-based imagery as an intervention for state anxiety. Frontiers in Psychology, 9: 1858.
Tarnas, R. (2002). Foreward. In J. N. Ferrer, Revisioning transpersonal theory: A participatory vision of human spirituality (p. vii-xvi). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Weil, A. (n.d.). 4-7-8 breathing: Health benefits and demonstration. (Video) Retrieved from: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-4-7-8-breath-health-benefits-demonstration/
Wickramasekera, I. (2013). Hypnosis and transpersonal psychology: Answering the call within. In H. Friedman & G. Hartelius (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology (p. 244-170). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Winkelman, M. (2003). Complementary therapy for addiction: “Drumming out drugs”. American Journal of Public Health, 93(4), 647-651.