The author of today's blog is Dee Chapman, who has volunteered in many capacities at Safe Harbor since 2012. Over the last year she has been teaching yoga to our residents. Dee has a master's level certification in Holy Yoga®, with an additional certification in trauma-sensitive yoga instruction. She is also registered through the Yoga Alliance, and has recently started her own yoga business.
Dee also works full time as a Licensed Social Worker. After working at Agape for Youth for the past 7 years, Dee recently took a position as Care Coordinator at Dayton Children's Hospital.
Why do we incorporate yoga into our recovery programming? Let’s walk through a general overview of yoga and its benefits before looking at it through the lens of recovery. Traditionally, yoga focuses on three main categories which are body, mind, and spirit. It’s clear enough how yoga involves the physical body, but what about the mind and spirit? We engage the mind by being intentionally aware of our movements during a session. It’s easy to slip into mindless routine during a yoga class and forget to observe the signals our body is trying to send us. Similarly, engaging the spirit looks like practicing mindfulness and meditation during yoga. What we mean by this is intentionally making efforts to stay in the present moment. Personally, my brain often wanders during a class and then my spirit/emotions follow along. For example, my mind might start thinking of the next activity or thing on my to-do list. This can be quickly followed by frustration, anxiety, stress, or any number of other emotions. Practicing mindfulness helps us regulate our emotions. Practically, we do this through prayer, reciting Scripture, repeating a phrase, or even focusing on the lyrics of music. If you are familiar with Scripture, a few verses that have been an encouragement to me in regards to meditation are Philippians 4:8-9, Joshua 1:8, and Romans 12:2.
The physical benefits someone may experience from a consistent yoga practice can include increased flexibility, increased muscle strength and tone, improved cardiovascular health and blood circulation, protection from injury, and maintaining a balanced metabolism, which affects energy levels and weight regulation. Practicing yoga in the evening has even been shown to be beneficial in falling sleep, staying asleep longer, and having better quality sleep.
Now to look at how yoga is beneficial in trauma healing and recovery. As Safe Harbor staff and residents can tell you, yoga specifically addresses some of the physical hurts as well as the emotional wounds left by PTSD. When someone experiences any traumatic event (whether it be physical, mental and/or emotional), our physical bodies react to the trauma. Unprocessed trauma frequently manifests itself through chronic pain or illness. The physical movement of yoga allows the body to metabolize and release the trauma. As the physical body is healed and restored, it sets the stage for healing to begin in other areas of our lives.
Some of our residents have struggled with anxiety, attention issues, and hyperactivity; they have found the breathing and meditation segments of our yoga practices to help them self-regulate. For example, when experiencing anxiety, one can use a counting technique with the breath to lower the heart rate and send safety signals to the brain. The key factor in this technique is to make the exhale longer than the inhale. Example: inhale for a count of three and exhale for a count of five. Taking a few rounds of breath in this manner signals the vagus nerve to move out of the parasympathetic (“fight or flight”) mode into the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”). This can be a lifelong skill for our residents to use for self-regulation in any situation. If you are interested in learning more on this topic, I would highly recommend “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk. Our desire in incorporating yoga as a weekly practice for our residents is to provide them the opportunity to begin the journey of physical healing that will ripple into mental and spiritual healing in their lives.
If you would like to give the gift of healing this season, please consider making a secure and tax-deductible donation to Safe Harbor at https://give.idonate.com/safe-harbor-house/2022-christmas.