The Living Yoga Blog

Yoga- A Path to Recovery

RECOVERY PICToday marks the beginning of September. The first day of this month is special to us here at Living Yoga because September is National Recovery Month. Join us all throughout September as we highlight different recovery stories and celebrate yoga as a key tool in recovery.

Our first story is from one of our very own volunteer teachers, Becca:

I have found yoga to be a wonderful support for my recovery. For someone like me, who is a “feel good” junkie, my yoga practice gave me a way to be responsible for my own “feel good”; using the body and the breath. Yoga was the first time I started to develop an authentic, healthy connection with my physical body after years of substance abuse, disordered eating and unhealthy work environments. My first yoga class was at the local gym. I was immediately hooked by the sense of calm alertness I felt after that first class. I had always been physically active but yoga produced a feeling I had never experienced. I knew this was something special and I knew I wanted more.

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We All Experience Trauma

2007 9 5 Living Yoga 262In this post, seasoned Living Yoga volunteer teacher, Suzanne shares her thought process of how she adapted her teaching in order to lead trauma-informed yoga to her students at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

I loved hearing Michael Faith (Executive Director of Living Yoga) deliver his message at the 2014 Gala because it was the first time I’d heard Living Yoga’s programs identified, outright and out loud, as a form of “trauma-informed intervention”. Wow! 

My enthusiasm was purely personal, as I have used yoga as a personal form of trauma recovery for the past 30 years. I felt like my secret super power was coming out of the closet at last!

The details of my healing aren’t as important as the understanding that “trauma” is a normal part of human existence that shows up along a continuum from mild to severe. What slides everyday stress into the trauma zone is a heightened combination of intensity and duration. This means that trauma can result from either a sudden, tragic car accident, or years of painful upbringing in a drug addicted, dysfunctional family. We all deal with some level of trauma during the course of our lives.

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Yoga is Universal

universalhandsgoogleimagesOne of our volunteer teachers, Kristin, shares her unique experience of teaching in her non-native language of Spanish for the first time:

 "I taught my first yoga class in Spanish tonight, subbing for Rita at UNICA (Catholic Charities-Project UNICA). I was nervous at first, not my native language. Only one student, but he is a regular and speaks very little English. But I was inspired by a beautiful mural on the wall of the yoga room, with images of ancient Mexican civilizations.

 I chatted a little with the student about how much I learned about the Mayans on a recent trip to Mexico and how when times got tough they started sacrificing their own people to their gods out of fear. A little gory, but it reminded me that human nature is volatile and one reason I practice yoga is to inspire compassion and forgiveness instead of succumbing to fear. In any case, it helped me get over my own fear and doubt to chat with him beforehand and I will now look up all sorts of words in Spanish that would be helpful for future classes!"

The practice of yoga truly is universal. Yoga is for every-body, everywhere!


Thinking Inside the Box: Creating a Safe Container in Class


20130903 DePaul Youth LY 0090smallOne of my favorite authors, Carolyn Myss, says, “Your biography IS your biology.”  The story of our lives, especially the undealt with emotions and/or traumatic experiences, can live on in our muscles and cells.  David Emerson talks about trauma and PTSD as being a disease of time; not being able to be present to what is happening now, and in many cases re-living and re-experiencing past pain and suffering as if it were current.  Throughout fourteen years of teaching rehabilitative movement and movement therapy as both a Pilates and Yoga instructor, never have these ideas been more useful or more true than in the experiences I have teaching in our Living Yoga classrooms. 


To teach a trauma-informed Living Yoga class is inspiring.  I get to offer and invite students into an opportunity to sense themselves (feel their bodies and breath, see with present-minded eyes, hear with open ears) in real time.  And this is the antidote to unraveling the stories and pain that reside deep within our bodies, muscles, mind, and heart. When we can be present to the shifting emotions, thoughts and physical sensations, learn to discern what is truth in the present moment, even the suffering, especially the suffering, we can begin to dissipate stagnancy in the body and heal old wounds. 

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Working in Mysterious Ways

let goEnjoy this great class story shared by Living Yoga volunteer Debra L Shambeau-Hoose

Taught a lovely class at Lifeline on Saturday. It was a small class of about 8 women. I brought music, as I always do, and the women seem to enjoy it.

We began by introducing ourselves and telling of one thing that happened during the week that made them feel good. It was a extremely warm day so practice began with a guided meditation. The women laid on their backs, knees bent, one hand on their heart and one hand above the navel.

As they connected with their breath I read a *passage about letting go...

The women responded well to starting the class in this fashion. After class, one student, who started class just sitting on the sideline, told me that she had no intention of practicing, in fact, she had been struggling with whether or not to stay in the program. Then, she said, you started talking about letting go...and I was compelled to join in, and I feel better now..

Yoga helps in mysterious ways.

Thank you for your support in helping to bring yoga to those in need!

* Here is the reading that was shared in class:

"You are here, now. Let go and be in this moment. Whatever it took to get here is done, there is nothing left to do. Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything….whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to." -Jon Kabat-Zinn



Trauma Informed Yoga

We're excited to share that Living Yoga recently underwent a process in which we updated and revised our mission. It now reads “Changing lives by fostering healing and resilience in vulnerable and marginalized communities through trauma-informed yoga.”

We’re thrilled about this change and feel that it more accurately describes the work we do to bring the healing power of yoga to our students. Many of our students’ lives have been shaped by trauma and violence and the practice of yoga gives them powerful and practical tools that support them to heal, cultivate resilience, and move forward in their lives.

The term “trauma-informed” is both a philosophy and a way of providing services based on compelling research over the past 20 years which highlights the impact of traumatic experiences and the long term health consequences of those experiences throughout an indivudal lifespan. Trauma-Informed philosophy also shifts the conversation away from "what's wrong with you" to "what happened to you", helping to move from a deficit model to one of empowerment, empathy and understanding.

Being trauma informed is important for our work because so many of our community members have been impacted by trauma. According to The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), the majority of people in prison have a history of trauma. For many, such traumas have been multiple and prolonged throughout life, and such experiences are intertwined with mental illness, substance abuse, and behavioral problems.

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Breathing Deeply

"Before today, I've never truly taken a deep breath before" -Living Yoga Student

It's amazing what a truly deep breath can do for you. What's even more amazing is what it does for the many students we teach on a daily basis, students who because of your support receive the benefits of a deep and mindful breath.

Anna, one of our teachers, says "if you can change how you breathe you can change how you feel. The breath shifts everything. You make better choices when you are connected to your breath. It helps you to get out of automatic pilot mode. It helps you open to life." For a person who is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, or who is living behind bars, this is a life changing practice.

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Taking Time To Pause

Take a moment to settle into this moment as best you can. Take a seat or lie down. Allow your eyes to close, or stay softly open.

Invite yourself to begin by noticing what is--shifting from thinking to awareness, from external to internal. Perhaps you start with noticing your breath and from there, ride the wave of each breath more deeply into your body. Or maybe you begin with a sound, and follow its subtle tones and vibrations more deeply.

Then, start to shift into feeling what is with as much detail as feels comfortable for you. If it feels ok to do so, allow yourself to feel into your body, letting sensation after sensation reveal itself to you. Noticing where tension is, where resistance and clinging are. Notice where is there space and openness too.

See if you can notice the natural gaps and space between breaths, and between movements of your body as your body responds to your breath. Allow time to stop sink into the pauses between the breaths. Learning to find this pause is sacred, as the pause is a tool you can learn to take with you in the moments you are prone to enter into automatic pilot mode, or into habitual ways of being that do not serve you. If you feel uncomfortable or nervous watching your breath, go back to noticing something external like what you see, hear, or touch.

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Going to any Lengths

BekindRichard, one of our volunteer teachers, shares his connection and dedication to the young men at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, and his willingness to overcome whatever it takes to get there: 

Yesterday at MacLaren we had 5 young men in class, one first timer and one second timer. I started our practice with a prayer on intention from the Dalai Lama, and then moved into belly breathing. We continued on the floor with some spinal twists, then cat/cow to downward dogs, and then to some standing poses.

As an opportunity to get to know them better, I went down to MacLaren on the previous Saturday to run the 3rd annual Fourth of July Half Marathon with some of the guys, so there was a lot of talk about the race and how sore we were. By the time we got into warrior III, there was lots of laughter and talk about sports figures who practice yoga and even ballet.

With 20 min left in the practice, we got back down to the mat and in "trying" to get a little quieter, we moved into bridge, spinal twists and savasana, with legs up the wall and a little guided meditation.

On a little personal note, it was my second day teaching solo. I was nervous about that! My day started off with a flat tire and pretty much stayed at that level. As I was driving home after our practice, I was so glad my flat tire did not happen while I was driving there. So glad I showed up… no matter how much anxiety I had. Without a doubt, teaching at MacLaren was not only the better part of my day… it MADE my day!

Boats of Compassion

Boats of compassionOur Living Yoga volunteer teacher, Paul Telles, shares his remarkable insight and heartfelt experience inspired by the "Journey from Mind to Heart" Trauma Resilience Workshop, hosted by Living Yoga:

Certainly, I learned teaching tips and techniques that I've already put to good use. And I gained a whole new vocabulary for describing the neurobiology of trauma. And I met interesting mental health professionals, people of deep feeling who had recovered from their life traumas by helping others.

But what really rocked me was one simple conclusion: Yoga really does work!

During my first three years as a Yoga teacher, I have intuitively followed threads of connection and caring as I've sought to apply my training to the needs of others. I have often seen the power of the practice written on my clients. I’ve seen smiling, relaxed faces, bellies swelling with breath, muscles soft and relaxed in śavāsana.

But, somehow, the notion has lingered that my work, beneficial as it is, may not be capable of addressing truly profound suffering. The seminar proved otherwise. As I’ve reviewed my notes during the past six weeks, several key points have come to mind again and again, sometimes ratifying the techniques I already use and sometimes challenging me to search out new tools and ways of presenting them.


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