Yoga for Borderline Personality Disorder

By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC

Yoga for Borderline Personality Disorder

yoga for borderline personality disorder

Yoga for borderline personality disorder is not specifically discussed very often and this May we want to bring awareness.  It's mental health awareness month and it's important to shed light on how yoga can ease the symptoms of some of the mental health conditions that are discussed less frequently.  With a background in mental health counseling, it is second nature for me to integrate yoga into mental health care.  I've seen many sequences designed to help with depression or anxiety, but borderline personality disorder (bpd) does not get much attention.  

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health condition that falls in the category of personality disorders.  People with borderline personality disorder may have trouble functioning in daily life because of the way that they think of themselves or others. Borderline Personality Disorder involves trouble regulating emotions, self-image issues, and patterns of unstable relationships.  

A fear of abandonment is at the root of Borderline Personality Disorder and many people who struggle with BPD have a hard time being alone.  Despite the trouble being alone, relationships can be difficult for people with Borderline because of frequent mood swings, inappropriate anger and impulsive choices and behaviors.  

Borderline Personality Disorder is a diagnosis that may be given to people who meet five or more of the following symptoms (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, DSM):

  • chronic feelings of emptiness
  • emotional instability in response to day to day events (intense feelings of sadness, anxiety or irritability lasting a few hours and very rarely more than a couple of days)
  • extreme efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • identity disturbance with persistently or markedly unstable self-image or sense of self
  • impulsive behavior in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • inappropriate or intense anger or difficulty controlling anger
  • pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized between extremes of ideation and devaluation
  • recurrent suicidal or self-harming behaviors
  • transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a personality disorder and therefore medications are typically not helpful.  Treating Borderline Personality Disorder can be challenging.  One of the most effective proven treatments for BPD is Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral treatment that was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan specifically for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a structured outpatient treatment program rooted in cognitive-behavioral principles.  It is the first mental health treatment program to formally incorporate mindfulness.  

The origins of DBT viewed patients in a non-pejorative stance.  Rather than seeing the patient as problematic or manipulative as many people previously viewed people with Borderline Personality Disorder, Dr. Linehan's approach viewed the patient and therapist as equals.  Dr. Linehan was also heavily influenced by Zen training and is a Zen master.  She has said that she almost named Dialectical Behavior Therapy "Zen Behavior Therapy." 

The goals of Dialectical Behavior Therapy are to bring the patient into the present moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions and improve their relationships with others.  

yoga for borderline personality disorder 

How Yoga Can Help Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Yoga can help support the goals of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the only effective treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder.  While yoga should never be used as a replacement for mental health treatment, regular yoga practice can absolutely ease the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.  Specifically, yoga can help us to cultivate and maintain a mindfulness practice, yoga can help students come into the present moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress and regulate the mind and body.  In the process, relationships with self and relationships with others are improved.

Cultivating a Mindfulness Practice for Borderline Personality Disorder

Mindfulness is a state of awareness that enables us to tune in to what we are feeling and sensing in the moment without judging.  This is helpful for people with Borderline Personality Disorder because BPD is characterized by an intense fear of abandonment.  To counter those fear-based feelings, we want to help students feel a sense of safety and security.  It can be helpful for people to know that they are safe in their bodies in the present moment. 

People who have BPD have very strong emotions.  All feelings are valid, and the feelings that people with Borderline Personality Disorder feel are no different than the feelings of others except that they are about ten times stronger.  Emotional regulation can be very challenging for people with BPD.  Learning how to come into the present moment can help to ease the burden of regulating emotions.  Coming into the present moment is at the heart of a mindfulness practice.  yoga for borderline personality disorder

Teaching Students Present Moment Awareness for BPD

There are many ways that we can guide students into the present moment.  To be able to notice the ground that supports you or the sound and the rhythm of your own breath can bring students into the "right here, right now."  Guided meditations and visualizations that ask students to notice sensations in their bodies without judging those sensations can help to cultivate a mindfulness practice.  One of the fundamental ways that mindfulness is taught is through breath work.  We live in a busy world, and so often people don't know how to slow down and notice what is happening in the present moment.  There is no better way to notice what is happening right this moment than to tune into your own own breath.  

Develop Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress for Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a very painful mental health disorder.  People who struggle with BPD are in an enormous amount of pain.  Those who love them often don't see the pain that they're in because the anger, mood swings and others symptoms of BPD are distracting and mask the pain that lives underneath.  This can be very stressful and finding ways to manage the stress is a big problem for most people with Borderline. 

Yoga can help people to come out of their minds and into their bodies for just a moment.  Once they settle into their bodies, they can connect their mind and body through the practice of yoga.  Once that mind-body union occurs, we can utilize the body and the breath to regulate the mind and emotions.  This emotional regulation is a key part of easing symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.  

When teaching yoga to people with Borderline Personality Disorder, it's less about what we're teaching and more about how we're teaching.  There aren't any magic yoga postures that ease the symptoms of BPD.  It's about practicing yoga with a sense of mindfulness and staying checked into the present moment throughout the entire practice.  This is how we teach yoga to people with BPD in a way that helps them develop healthy ways to cope with stress.

Regulate the Mind and Body

Once we've guided our students into the present moment and they have an increased level of awareness grounded in the present moment, the mind-body connection begins to ensue.  This is when breath work, visualizations and gentle yoga can help to regulate the mind and body.  Remember that emotional regulation is one of the primary symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.  Yoga can be used as a tool to ease this symptom, but first the mind and body must be synchronized which happens when we come into the present moment.  

Slow, deep breaths can be used to calm the mind and the body.  This can help to regulate any anxiety or negative emotions that someone may be feeling.  Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breath, can also be helpful in bringing balance to the mind and body.  Guided visualizations during breath work let students envision their breath moving into very specific spaces in the body, bringing healing, calming energy into those spaces. 

Gentle movement can evoke sensations into the physical and emotional body.  Whenever we backbend, we are energizing.  This is helpful when people are feeling sad, lethargic or unmotivated.  Forward bending is calming.  This is helpful when people are feeling anxious or restless.  Side bending can enhance an overall sense of well-being and openness.  It helps us to create space in the mind and body.  Twisting is detoxifying for the mind and body, bringing a sense of release and renewal.  

Yoga for Borderline Personality Disorder: 15 Minute Sequence

  • Easy pose
  • Diaphragmatic breath (1 minute)
  • Seated cat/cow
  • Seated lateral bending
  • Seated twists
  • Tabletop
  • Downward facing dog
  • 3 legged dog with hip circles
  • Pigeon
  • Downward facing dog
  • Child's pose
  • Flow - child's pose to cobra variation (x3)
  • Child's pose
  • Table top
  • Staff pose
  • Forward fold
  • Bridge
  • Reclined Twist
  • Savasana with guided visualization

Learn to Teach Yoga for Borderline Personality Disorder

Yoga is never a replacement for mental health treatment.  Yoga is a supplement to mental health treatment and can be used to ease the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder and other mental health conditions.  If you're interested in learning how to teach a safe and effective yoga class, please join us in our 200 hour yoga teacher training online.  Whether you want to deepen your own yoga practice or learn to guide others, our 200 hour yoga teacher training online can help you meet your goals.  Start your journey today!

About the Author

Founder of Online Yoga School and Yoga & Ayurveda Center

Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC

Steph has over 25 years of experience in yoga and movement.  Her understanding of yoga and the human body has been influenced by lifelong dancing and holistic health.  She found her life’s purpose in helping people become happier and healthier through her own healing journey.  Steph assists her students in knowing the joy and wonderment of integrating the mind and body through accessible yoga.  She encourages an authentic and life-nurturing practice, one that brings greater consciousness to each moment and every movement of the body with a heavy emphasis on breath.  

With a masters degree in counseling, Steph brings awareness, acceptance and a down to earth approach to her classes.  She studied with Maty Ezraty and later completed her second 200-hour training with Nancy Candea at Yoga Impact in New Jersey and her 300-hour training with Chris Loebsack at Boundless Yoga Studio in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.   The perpetual student, Steph has studied with Leslie Howard, Travis Eliot, Bryan Kest, Donna Farhi and countless others.  She has extensive training in pelvic floor yoga, restorative yoga, yin yoga, power yoga and accessible yoga.  Most recently, Steph was certified as a Grand Master of Meditation through Swami Vidyanand.

Steph founded Yoga and Ayurveda Center with her husband.  She later launched Online Yoga School to support her local trainings and has recently launched a virtual yoga studio to accommodate the international community of trainees.

When she isn’t on her mat, Steph can be found volunteering, enjoying her husband and children, dancing and cooking.  She currently enjoys serving on the board of World Yoga Federation and Meditation Alliance International and previously enjoyed serving on the Education Committee of Yoga Alliance and places a strong emphasis on inclusivity in her teacher trainings.