Many can attest to the benefits of yoga. Deep breathing and body awareness taught in yogic practice can do wonders for stress relief. However, some believe yoga can cause deeper healing, especially for some of our most vulnerable populations.
Yoga for trauma
Increasing evidence suggests yoga’s positive effects on trauma survivors, including women who have endured assault. One study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that women with abuse-related PTSD had fewer symptoms after long term yoga treatment. Another study from Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality demonstrates yoga’s effectiveness in helping traumatized girls in the juvenile justice system.
According to the World Health Organization, 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and or sexual violence. The Centers for Disease Control affirm that 1 in 5 women have been subjected to partner sexual violence in the United States.
Release and let go
Fallon Jones is a yoga instructor in Fargo, North Dakota. She is also a survivor of rape and abuse. Yoga, according to Jones, was instrumental in helping her manage her PTSD symptoms.
“Somatics literally saved my life,” she says. “. . . having the ability to get into your body and have self control especially after sexual trauma is one of the most important things you can do as a survivor . . . because you’ve had all of that taken away from you.”
While her classes are open to all, Jones says her practice is especially helpful for those working through trauma.
Jones focuses on somatics, which emphasizes form and range of motion. Rather than powering through poses, Jones says the somatic approach is slow. It is intentional. She believes this method allows yogis to work through what has happened to them – mentally and physically.
“It just gives you a source to release the trauma and find a way to process it, to deal with it, to handle it.”
She admits that people sometimes cry in classes as long-repressed memories resurface.
Jones witnesses a corporal change in her students through consistent practice. “You see the weight lift off their shoulders and [you can] physically, energetically see a change in them.”
Stretching beyond limitations
In addition to helping survivors cope with trauma, yoga can also provide an outlet for those with disabilities.
Kristin Frank is another Fargo-based yoga instructor. Her classes are open to all, but she has extensive experience teaching people with mental and physical disabilities.
Six years ago, Frank’s son began having non-epileptic seizures. His condition was deemed untreatable. However, his doctor recommended yoga to manage the anxiety that spurred them. Frank says that at the time, there were no children’s yoga classes near her. Unfazed, Frank took up yoga and reached out to Creative Relaxation experts. She eventually became certified and began teaching yoga to children with special needs.
Today, Frank accommodates students of all needs in her classes, from those on the autism spectrum to folks in wheelchairs.
One way she attunes her practice to individual students is through the way she gives instructions.
She says, “Sometimes people that have cognitive disabilities or neurological issues won’t get the same type of cue. So if you’re telling someone to, for instance, soften the inside of the mouth . . . [I might rephrase it as,] ‘Part the teeth. Let the jaw fall from the roof of the mouth.’”
Frank also offers props like yoga blocks and straps at the beginning of class. This way students have resources if they feel unstable.
Creating an environment of inclusivity is especially important to Frank because she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a chronic pain condition that affects her joints. This condition means Frank does not have full range of motion for certain yoga poses. Because she utilizes modifications, she can better anticipate the needs of her students.
She says, “I come from a place of loss and disability. And I hope that that’s what makes me . . . more aware as a teacher . . .”
Yes to yoga!
For those tempted to try yoga but held back by hesitation, Frank recommends researching. She says it is important to find a style of yoga that aligns with your needs. She also suggests trying different classes and teachers before commiting.
Most importantly, she says, “Just love yourself enough to do it; we make time to spend endless hours on Facebook, or Instagram, or social media, right? But we never take the time to take care of ourselves and our own needs.”