Living Yoga Panel Discussion Follow Up: What is Trauma? Why Yoga? And What Makes Living Yoga So Unique?
At Living Yoga’s 20th Year Celebration Gala in September, we hosted six panelists to help us understand how trauma shows up in the body, how yoga can help to heal the negative impacts of trauma, and what makes Living Yoga’s unique volunteer model so effective.
The rich conversation among panelists that evening prompted many questions from audience members. We have shared these questions with our panelists as well as Living Yoga staff members who have provided their professional and heartfelt answers below. Enjoy!
2018 Gala Panelists:
Facilitator: Leslie Bevan - Leadership Coach, Living Yoga’s first official Executive Director.
Sarina Saturn, PhD. - Neuroscientist; Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Portland,
Glenn Montgomery - Living Yoga Volunteer Teacher & Director of the Vision Action Network,
Liz Eisman, LMT, ERYT - Living Yoga Volunteer Teacher & Program and Training Manager,
Michelle Barton - Therapeutic Yoga Instructor and Living Yoga Volunteer Teacher,
Harry Dudley, PsyD. - Living Yoga Volunteer Teacher, Forensic Psychologist, & iRest Meditation Teacher,
Dr. Dawn Mautner - Site Medical Director & Family Practitioner, Multnomah County Mid County Clinic.
What is the difference between somatic therapy and yoga? Are they similar?
“Typically people consider somatic therapy to be body-based psychotherapy. In this type of therapy a trained therapist supports an individual to regain connection to their body and to accompany them as they navigate previously unexperienced sensations and emotions housed within their body. Yoga could be considered a type of somatic therapy that happens within a group setting. A skilled trauma-informed yoga teacher can provide safe guidance, encouragement, and assistance during the exploration of the body during yoga practice.” - Liz Eisman
What is the hardest part about volunteering for Living Yoga?
“The hardest part of volunteering for Living Yoga is recognizing the deep roots of institutionalized oppression and the intense impact it has on so many individuals. The tangled web of misconceptions, inequities, and impacts of misguided thinking is heartbreaking. Continuing to serve while working to change systems that are built on keeping power structures intact is often tiring work.” - Liz Eisman
“I think the hardest part about volunteering for Living Yoga is unique to each person and dependent upon how one shows up in this world. For me, I have perfectionist tendencies, and I really have to practice "letting go" in this role. It's not about the perfect pose (which I don't have, by the way!), it's about being present and accepting where I am in the moment, so I can embody what it is I'm trying to teach. It's about compassion for self and others. It's about recognizing limitations and being curious about what it feels like to push up against them, delighting whenever I seem to stretch beyond them, however I may experience that. As a Living Yoga volunteer, I have to remind myself that it's good enough. I'm good enough.” - Glenn Montgomery
Do you tie in the 12-step program with yoga?
“Yes. When teaching a Recovery Yoga class volunteers weave information about the 12 step program as they see fit.” - Liz Eisman
How do you prepare your teachers to lead a class for victims of sexual assault?
“We prepare teachers to identify signs of trauma, to lead with gentleness, and to promote respect for the body. We remind teachers that simple movements can be profound and that creating or supporting safety is the most essential part of their service.” - Liz Eisman
"Part of why yoga is so effective as a trauma recovery tool is that it allows the physical and emotional healing to begin even before the participant may be ready to recognize or acknowledge their needs or what may have caused their symptoms. Unlike other therapies, our model doesn't require students to disclose anything about what happened to them, and our volunteers offer practices that allow healing to come naturally over time from the student's own self exploration. Our volunteers are taught to use invitational language; to be present in order to see and hear each student; to respect boundaries and physical space; and to recognize when someone may be triggered and how to respond to avoid re-traumatization. Living Yoga classes often help students identify their own needs and emotions internally in a way that is transferable to other forms of treatment or therapy. Integrating our classes into a broader treatment program supports quicker more complete recovery." - Lauren Booth, Living Yoga Executive Director
Have you worked with CTE/Vets programs?
“While Living Yoga has not worked specifically with CTE/Vets programs we do offer yoga to individuals at Vancouver’s VA Recovery House. It is our hope that when funding becomes available, Living Yoga will be able to partner with the Portland VA Hospital.” - Liz Eisman
What kind of diversity is there among your volunteers?
“Our volunteers vary in age from 18-70. We have men, women, and others who do not identify as either of these genders. Our volunteers identify as having a spectrum of sexual orientations, economic circumstances, ethnic & religious backgrounds, and life experiences. Organizationally we continue to reach out to as many diverse groups as possible. When a member of a specific population group is the one offering yoga to that same group, yoga participants feel seen and supported in a deep way.” - Liz Eisman
"While Living Yoga's community of volunteers has a broad range of diversity in terms of physical ability/mobility, age, and experience, our volunteer population is disproportionately white and female, and does not accurately reflect the racial, cultural, and language diversity among our students. Addressing this lack of diversity is a priority in Living Yoga's strategic plan for the future, as a trauma-informed social justice organization. In 2017 we began collecting demographic data from our volunteers and performed assessments of our internal practices. We are working with community partners and our new DEI Team of staff and volunteers to advance our goals, inform volunteer recruitment, and increase diversity among staff, volunteers, and board. Part of this means providing training scholarships to former Living Yoga students in order to serve as volunteer teachers. We continue to seek funding specifically for our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, which are critical to our organization's mission, values, and outcomes.” - Lauren Booth, Living Yoga Executive Director
Can yoga help cancer patients going through treatments or procedures?
“We believe yoga can help anyone and can be particularly useful for those who are undergoing challenging conditions such as cancer treatment. Using the elements of mindfulness and relaxation greatly decreases the stress response in the body. When a nervous system down-regulates, the body’s diverse systems can relax. Body systems that are less taxed have more energy and resources available for recovery & healing.” - Liz Eisman
“Yes! Yoga has been shown to help cancer patients higher quality of sleep, improved mood, decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression, stress reduction, improvement in spiritual well-being, etc. There are several places in Portland that offer yoga for cancer patients, including Legacy, Yoga Pearl, Adventist Health, and more.” - Sarina Saturn, PhD.
“Absolutely. Patients battling cancer often struggle with feelings of helplessness and side effects of treatments such as fatigue, insomnia and pain. Yoga can help such patients center, find peace, and refocus on and build their strengths. It can be modified to meet patients where they are, with gentle stretching and meditative training, or more vigorous, intense or prolonged practices when appropriate. Yoga helps build core strength, uses the breath to center and helps patients and families focus on what is important. It activates otherwise dormant musculature and helps re-energize patients. It revitalizes patients and families when they may find themselves beginning to flag, and has been shown to improve quality of life. Evidence suggests that the following symptoms may be improved by yoga for cancer survivors and patients: sleep quality, stress levels, fatigue, blood pressure, anxiety, depression and pain. (Agarwal et al, Int J Yoga, 2018) Overall sense of wellbeing appears to improve, as well.” - Dawn Mautner, MD
How often do you need to do yoga before it starts working?
“Many people feel the benefits of yoga after their first class. Often we are unaware of the speed at which our bodies and minds are operating so when we are given the opportunity to stretch, to notice, and to relax, our bodies immediately recognize the welcome invitation and respond quickly.” - Liz Eisman
“You can immediately feel the effects of yoga as you start to center your energy, body, and breathing. Although there are some long-term effects that come with continued practice, such as stamina, strength, stability, and flexibility, there are many short-term effects such as calming, stress reduction, clarity, inner peace, and mindfulness.” - Sarina Saturn, PhD.
“I like to think of it as a metaphysical bank account. If you make a deposit, there's an immediate benefit. You've put something aside that you can draw upon later when you need it. But making a single or occasional deposit obviously has its limits in terms of how much you can withdraw later on. If, however, you make regular deposits over time, you can build up your metaphysical savings and earn even more interest on it. The sooner you begin, the more you'll benefit from the beauty of compounded interest that can produce big dividends for life!” - Glenn Montgomery
For the volunteers, how have you personally benefitted from your service with Living Yoga?
“Because of my service with Living Yoga, my sense of what is means to be a community member has greatly expanded. I am more aware of the variety of challenges people face, I am more informed about the complicated systems of oppression and I see the financial implications of budget restrictions on community service organizations. A highlight of my service is how much clearer I have become about the healing power of yoga. It is fantastic to see faces soften, bodies relax, and hearts open. Witnessing the effects of the practice first hand is an enormous privilege of my service.” - Liz Eisman
“I've seen the impact that a single yoga class can have on a young person in a residential care facility, or a prison inmate. It's not just the benefit from practicing yoga, but the fact that a volunteer took time out of his or her day to spend it with them, to care for them. True, as a Living Yoga volunteer, I may never see some of the students again, nor will I know the extent to which I've made a difference in their lives, but in that moment when class is over and before our paths diverge, I have experienced their gratitude, and that is a gift.” - Glenn Montgomery
“I have now been a volunteer for Living Yoga for over seven years. I have taught at the Richard Harris Building, Central City Concern and the Letty Owings Center, also Central City. It is incredible for me to be able to offer the simple teachings that were so meaningful, healing and special to me years before when I needed them most, as a student. It is amazingly gratifying to my heart, to be able to offer myself as a fellow human who cares, and is willing to be present for my students.” - Michelle Barton