Yoga Improving Lives. Yoga Creating Social Change. Yoga in Calgary.

This blog post provides an example of yoga contributing to social change, starting with the individual.  It goes on to discuss how yoga may contribute to social change, with an invitation for yoga instructors in Calgary to consider a trauma-sensitive approach to their teaching to flood survivors and responders.

Increasingly, examples of yoga supporting those recovering from trauma and suffering from mental health challenges are being seen in the media.  This is a recent video and article – Yoga Helps Mentally Ill Improve Their Lives – published within Voice of America.  It opens a small window into an example of creating change amongst those who can’t, won’t, and don’t access yoga studio’s for a number of reasons (more on that in another blog!).  In addition, the video exemplifies shifts and changes available for someone, anyone, who practices yoga.  It exemplifies that a yoga class does not need to take place in the serenity and beauty of a studio for people to feel an impact.  The class does not need to involve a vigorous physical practice, nor does it require fashion conscious Lulu Lemon patrons.  Instead the practice invites yoga students into their reality, to explore what it feels like to acknowledge their breath, to be present within their body and notice how it moves – to meet themselves exactly where they are.

One person at a time, yoga invites people into a journey of curiosity, inquiry, and compassion – perhaps asking people for the first time to consider compassion for their body.  One by one people are invited to explore what it is to be and feel alive, perhaps a foreign experience.  One by one people are changing and shape-shifting themselves on a deep subtle level – something words cannot sometimes articulate.

This, I believe, is a root towards social change – yoga is simply an available gateway.

The Voice of America article is one small example of how the yoga gateway contributes to social change…and many other examples contributing to social are small until the different threads entering through the gateway of change begin to weave into a common fabric.  The change demonstrated in the video – an individual shifting pain and anger, another choosing a healthier lifestyle – offers insight into experiences of connection.

The root catalyst and cause for change is through relationship because – being human means having a need for connection.

Connection begins with ourselves – the intimate and subtle acknowledgement of relating to the experience within ones body.   Michael Stone (2009) writes, “when we see the shadow of our actions, we can get motivated to change our habits.  Non-violence is the essence of such change” (p. 64).  This quote can be viewed within an individual’s experience of change, in addition to expanding the quote’s perspective outwards, it reflects on society’s actions upon the natural biosphere.  The interrelated health of an individual directly correlates with the health of the planet – and many people are arguing that internal, in addition to external non-violence will contribute social and environmental change on this planet.  In his article “Ahimsa Can Save The Planet’, Pankaj Jain (2012) states,

The West must now emerge as a new ecological leader, with Gandhi [non-violence] as the foundation of its lifestyle…There cannot be and should not be a separate “war on terrorism,” “war on climate change,” “war on drugs,” “war on corruption,” “war on obesity” and so on. All aspects of modern life—our physical, mental, and spiritual health, the environment, the global security and international peace, social justice, and so on—will get a great boost if we first become nonviolent in our most basic activit[ies]. (p. 36)

Our most basic activities rely on simple choices and perspectives – what we eat, how we care for ourselves, what we consume or do not consume etc – and a mind and heart that feels clear and calm supports perspective surrounding those most basic activities.

My experience living, learning, and teaching trauma-sensitive yoga over the past several months affirms the complex integrated web of health and well being between an individual, community, and the planet.  In recent weeks Calgary has experienced a shock wave of water delivered by the planet that has disturbed stability, health, and well being amongst individuals and the community.  This brings me to an invitation for readers to consider and share amongst community – I am returning to Calgary at the end of July.  I intend to initiate opportunities for people such as those within the video to access experiences of yoga, to offer trauma-sensitive yoga training workshops for yoga teachers and those interested, and to pursue dialog and action that invites healing to both people and the planet.

The gateway for trauma-sensitive yoga in Calgary is open after being traumatized by the impacts from Mother Nature’s response to climate change.

Change is the most constant thing in life.

From afar, I have seen many yoga studio’s in Calgary and the Bow Valley extend their generosity to victims and responders to the flood, aiming to support recovery and healing from this tragedy.  I would like to contribute to these actions by inviting yoga instructors to participate in an one-day trauma-sensitive yoga workshop at the end of August.  My intention is to support yoga instructors extend their generosity in a way that best supports those who are recovering from this traumatic flood experience.

Further details regarding specific date and location will follow shortly.


Stone, M. (2009). Yoga for a world out of balance. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

Jain, P. (2012). Ahimsa can save the planet. Hinduism Today. p. 36.


Developmental trauma and a call for further integration

20130506_175610_Sophia_PergaI just spent four days at the International Trauma Conference hosted by the Trauma Center in Boston.  It was a fascinating experience with many layers of learning!

The focus of the conference was on early childhood attachment and developmental trauma – elite researchers from around the world presented their scientific findings that explored the complexity of trauma.  For example, Bessel van der Kolk, from the Boston area Trauma Center, discussed his attempt to include a new diagnosis called ‘Developmental Trauma Disorder’ in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  The “new” disorder was not accepted partly due the proven complexity of the condition.  The disorder places emphasis on early childhood attachment – trauma possible through subtle and covert day to day neglect and abuse.  Another example includes findings presented by Alan Stroufe, demonstrating it was possible to confidently predict dissociation and other possible mental health issues in an adult by seeing how a child was raised between infancy and 18 months of age – focusing on their ability to safely and comfortably attach to their caregivers.  All the evidence pointed to developmental trauma contributing to significant long-term impacts on a person that may lead to a lifetime of recovery.  Not only would this person suffer from the effects of accumulated developmental trauma, but if exposed to a traumatic experience as an adult, the adverse affects may leave a larger imprint due to the already saturated trauma related symptoms they are experiencing.

The reoccurring theme and statement

throughout many of the presentations I attended was –

“to support change we must transform one’s relational experience

This got me thinking!

The conference was a gathering of researchers and therapists who work one on one with clients.  The discussion was based on ongoing early childhood trauma, experiences often people cannot explicitly remember…and the solution is to transform the relational experience.

Dare I return to the age old saying – it takes a community to raise a child?!

I find myself wondering where the community developers and policy makers were, those that have an eye on the systemic and structural issues significantly impacting a family’s stress levels?  The scope of this conversation needs to broaden into a diversified audience.  As an example, consider the possible impacts of maternity leave.  In the USA, mat-leave is 3 months (potentially unpaid), Canada 1 year, Slovakia 3 years, and the numbers (time off and percentage of mat-leave pay) are varied between states around the world.  It would be interesting (and challenging!) to explore research on maternity leave duration and the impacts on attachment (mother’s ability to be present for child due to being physically absent and with accumulated financial stress etc).  Policy makers could have a stake in outcomes such as these for individuals and families – but are they aware of the research identifying the complex nature of developmental trauma?

Imagine the possibilities that reside within an interdisciplinary therapeutic team made up of a clinician (supports process and integration), a community developer (brings a structural lens in addition to integrating supports and resources), a family systems therapist (able to view the dynamics at play within the family setting), and a trauma sensitive yoga instructor (elicits somatic experiences supporting implicit memories to safely emerge therefore solidifying relations with self and others).  I realize that a model such as this loosely exists for individuals recovering from trauma, however are the stakeholders involved communicating to provide an integrated process?

Where is the community raising, or supporting the process of raising the child?

Why are those who have professional responsibilities to communities not a part of this conversation…or attending a trauma conference?

When I reflect upon the observations and questions mentioned, it is evident there are two areas to focus on: a) the treatment of developmental trauma, and b) the prevention of developmental trauma.  When considering these two areas, it is valuable to keep the statement – to support change we must transform one’s relational experience – in the foreground.

When considering treatment, I believe the recovery process could be enhanced through professional therapeutic teams that view the situation through different macro and micro lens’ to support the enhancement of relational experiences and interactions with a client’s internal and external world…(and I must speak to the role trauma sensitive yoga could play because – hey, that’s the focus of my internship)…There is a great therapeutic opportunity available for a person who has experienced complex trauma that naturally magnifies a person’s internal relations with self and relations with others – trauma sensitive yoga (TSY).  This occurs through gently activating stored somatic memories that may not explicitly be part of someone’s memory.  TSY provides an opportunity for a client to interact with simple sensations that may historically trigger them, and learn how to feel safe in their body.  This is one example of how TSY can support a trauma survivor develop new relations with themselves, often rippling outward to positively impact surrounding relationships.

When considering prevention – sharing this research at a conference for policy makers, politicians, community developers, even with the corporate world who often provide financial support to local and national projects and initiatives, could benefit outcomes aimed at prevention.

This discussion is just some of the layers of learning I experienced – I am sure there is more to come!  Until then, consider the integration and intersections between micro and macro practice and development, between clinical, community, and policy…and consider the opportunity for healing and recovery available when one feels safe in their own body!

Yoga and Trauma.

I have been interested in the path of Yoga as a tool for dealing with a traumatic event for sometime now.  There has been an exploration of yoga being used for veterans dealing with post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) as a tool to subside the symptoms for a number of years.  The article hyper linked in the previous sentence, shared with me by Sarah Wade, provides an example of yoga applied in this setting.

I decided to explore yoga as a tool for dealing with traumatic events a bit further – to investigate peer reviewed literature that was researching yoga in international humanitarian relief situations ie: post natural disaster or violent conflict.   The intention behind the research was to consider yoga as a practice method within international settings.

As anything goes within an international development context – different practices are controversial due to the nature of relief coming from both external and internal sources – and yoga could only be considered indigenous to India, Sri Lanka or some other countries in East Asia.  Therefore, controversy remains within this suggested practice method – yet uncertainty and controversy resides within the international sphere and any mental health practices…

So explore for yourself…

I discovered some interesting findings – both positive and important things to consider – most importantly, ensuring the practice method is causing no harm!

I constructed a website to share my findings.  You can view it at ‘Yoga ~ Considering a Collective Practice Method’.

If you have any feedback, comments or stories – I would love to hear back! Discussion is welcomed!