A few days ago, I share how yoga can be a tool to use for healing, whether for trauma or other mental health concerns. I wanted to talk about it a little more in depth, so today I have a Q&A with Julie Eagan from Yoga for Healing! She teaches at Empowered Spaces in St. Louis, MO on Thursdays at 5pm. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for a class or if you have any additional questions.
What led you to teaching trauma-informed yoga?
While working as a crisis advocate on a crisis hotline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I realized that there was a large overlap between skills that were supportive to crisis callers experiencing dysregulated emotions and skills I had learned in my personal yoga and meditation practice, which has always been a healing outlet for me. I was already considering getting my 200 hour yoga teacher training at the time and after researching trauma-sensitive yoga I knew it was something I wanted to offer.
What are the benefits of trauma-informed yoga vs regular yoga?
Any yoga class can be a trauma-informed yoga class. The difference is in how the class is led. In a trauma-informed class, invitational language and integration of choice are used to empower participants to discover and be mindful of their individual needs. Trauma-informed yoga teachers can support students through triggers as they come up. Sensitivity to possible triggers is included in everything from how the space is set up to the postures and breath work used in class. Safety and accessibility for all communities and ability levels is made a priority. I do not use any physical assists in my class. The teacher's job is to facilitate a supportive space where you, the student, have power and control over your own body and feel safe exploring what is right for you in each moment.
Is trauma-informed yoga right for me?
If you feel unsure about trying a yoga class, I would recommend reaching out to the teacher or studio you are thinking of trying. They will be able to tell you what to expect from the class and answer any questions you have so that you can make the best decision for yourself. If you are seeing a mental health professional, you may want to talk with them about trying yoga and anything that might come up for you in a class.
What can I expect during a session?
Classes are an hour long and centered around a theme. At the beginning of class we will go through grounding exercises and/or breath work, followed by moving through yoga asanas (poses), and end with meditation. Sometimes short activities will be included, depending on the class theme. No matter what we do in class, participants are encouraged to tailor the practice to their specific needs. Many options are given and the choice to opt out of any activities that don't feel supportive is welcomed.
What are your goals for trauma-informed yoga in St. Louis?
I think being trauma-informed is becoming common in yoga. I would love it if trauma-informed wasn't thought of as a separate practice. The statistics of having experienced a traumatic event in one's life are so high that if you are in a yoga class, you are most likely in a yoga class with one or more trauma survivors and that should be recognized and honored.
On the hockey podcast Spittin' Chiclets today, Blues color analyst Joey Vitale talked a little bit about his struggle after a concussion. He was on pain meds (and rightfully so per his injury), but he had a really hard time with it and went into a pretty dark place. He eventually quit cold turkey and he talked about how hard it was to get out of that dark place.
At one point he apologized for being so serious on an ostensibly comedic podcast, but the hosts (including Paul Bissonnette and Ryan Whitney) immediately shut him down, indicating that the podcast was more about telling people's stories than keeping things light.
I was incredibly proud of them for taking mental health and substance abuse seriously and was very glad that they encouraged Vitale to tell his story. So many hockey players and other athletes feel like they can't speak their truth, so I'm so glad to see guys talking openly about it.
Today I want to give a shout-out to Blessing Manifesting. She posts pictures and articles about self love, self care, body love, as well as tips for dealing with depression and anxiety. She is super positive and encourages you to really know yourself and love the person that you find there.
We often think of seeing a therapist or counselor as something only for people who have super serious mental health concerns. However, therapy is extremely beneficial for everyone! If you are going through something more acute like a breakup or family issues or relationship problems, therapy can help you process your feelings and equip you to have a positive response to negative situations.
Going to therapy does not mean you are broken. I liken it going to see a personal trainer. Yes, I could do the workouts on my own, but sometimes it helps to get a professional to guide my training and give me tips that I wouldn't have thought of by myself.
It can be difficult to admit to yourself that maybe you need some outside help for your mental health concerns, but I see it as courageous. You are getting the strength you need to address the stressors in your life so that you can move forward and improve your quality of life.
The International Bipolar Foundation offers a mental health awareness patch to all scouting organizations including the Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, and others.
The Mental Health Awareness Patch objectives are to educate Girl Scouts about the brain and its influence on thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and through that knowledge, increase awareness and understanding of mental illness. Through education we can change perceptions and reduce the stigma of mental illness.
To learn more about how your organization can earn this patch, email them at email@example.com with "Mental Health Patch" in the subject line.
Everyone does yoga for different reasons - exercise, flexibility, meditation, posture, community, etc. But yoga can also be useful for your mental health, especially if you've experienced trauma or have other mental health concerns.
Talk therapy is obviously a great option for treatment, which focuses on your thinking patterns and reactions to stress. However, we also hold a lot of stress in our bodies. Right now I want you to lower your shoulders. You probably didn't even realize that you were holding them tight close to your ears, which causes tension and even pain.
Trauma-informed yoga helps you notice what's going on in your body and learn how your brain and body works together. It helps you to identify triggers and figure out ways to cope with them, allowing you to calm yourself down before things get out of control.
As a great example of how you can use yoga and other body-focused activities to address mental health concerns such as anxiety or PTSD, Julie from Yoga for Healing recommends this self-holding exercise as something you can do at home.
Date: Sunday, September 29th, 2019
Time: 9:00 am check-in
Location: Creve Coeur Park - Treymayne Pavilion
Please join me in attending the Out of the Darkness community walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Their goal is to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by 2025. Money donated to the AFSP goes toward research, advocacy, and support for those affected by suicide.
You can join my team to walk with me in person or virutally here: https://afsp.donordrive.com/team/loopsofgray Hope to see you there!
The biggest takeaway from the class is the "ALGEE" action plan that provides a great framework that can be used to talk to someone in any mental health situation.
I don't see any classes listed in St. Louis through at least October, so if you'd like to borrow the manual I got to take home, just let me know. Also, definitely feel free to ask me or Brian any questions you might have about the class. I highly recommend checking it out, so keep an eye on the events page for the Eastern Missouri chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which sponsors the course.
When you're having a rough day, it can be easy to stay focused on the negative. It can be easy to get stuck in the cycle of thinking that everything is bad and everything will always be bad. One suggestion that my therapist made, which I know sounds super cheesy, is to keep a gratitude journal.
Each day, I write down 3 things that I am grateful for about that day. It only takes a few minutes, and it helps take my brain out of the distorted idea that everything sucks. It allows me to evaluate what actually happened that day and what good things did come of it.
What are you grateful for today?
You can often tell when you're coming down with something. The runny nose is easy enough to deal with, but then you also get congestion, then you start developing a cough. And at some point, you know you need to take some time to rest and heal. So, you take a sick day and watch some Netflix on the couch and then you are able to get back to full speed the next day.
The same process also applies to your mental health. If you can feel yourself declining, it's a good idea to take a mental health day to rest and heal. Taking a day to focus on yourself is not selfish. It's crucial that you take care of yourself both physically and mentally so that you are able to tackle the challenges that may be going on in your life.