Trauma-Sensitive Yoga at Calvary

by Jen Van Ness, Case Manager at Calvary Women’s Shelter

“As you’re ready, begin to notice your breath. Just notice that you are breathing. There is nothing special you have to do with your breath. You may be breathing through your nose or mouth. Just notice. Find what feels most comfortable for you in terms of breathing…”

Yoga gets a bad rap. From the looks of things, one may think you have to be able to throw your leg up over your head to do yoga. Body-conscious clothing, bare feet, sticky mats, heated rooms, and chanting mantras can create barriers for someone new to yoga.

So how does one find their yoga?  Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning to yoke together: it is the union between movement of the body and the breath. At Calvary, we offer a life skills class in trauma-sensitive chair yoga, a form of yoga that empowers participants to make informed decisions about their bodies and how they choose to move. Since trauma memory is often stored somatically, yoga can be an excellent tool for women to build a sense of connection to themselves. While practicing, residents cultivate the ability to stay present within themselves, noticing and tolerating their own singular inner experience, and ultimately, developing a new relationship with their bodies.

As a teacher of trauma-sensitive yoga, suggestions for a range of movements are offered up and invitatory language is always used so the women are invited to try a pose, but are never told or commanded to do so. If a resident chooses, she may sit quietly observing her breath for the duration of the class. Other residents take modifications for their poses based on their level of comfort and how they are feeling in their bodies at that moment, on that given day. There is always permission to stop, start again, walk away, come back, switch sides of the body, experiment, or to ask questions. Class is an open dialogue, and movement is always encouraged with the breath.

This particular style of yoga mirrors the philosophy of Calvary’s programs. Classes like this are an important part of the holistic approach to recovery for many women at our programs working to overcome trauma. Women leave the class relaxed, calm, and closer to healing.

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