Partnership bringing trauma-sensitive yoga to York

Alyssa Jackson
  • A $20,000 community partnership grant will help fund the efforts for trauma yoga in the area.
  • On Thursday and Friday, a nationally recognized trauma training program came to York.

A group of nurses, yoga instructors, therapists and lawyers gathered Thursday on the third floor of Marketview Arts to learn more about how trauma affects one's body and mind, and how yoga might be a useful tool to help survivors.

The training comes from a partnership between WellSpan Health and YWCA York's Victim Assistance Center, which has resulted in a $20,000 community partnership grant. The grant will be used to transform an underutilized space into a yoga studio and to purchase supplies. The grant also brought a training session by The Trauma Center at Justice Resources Institute, based out of Brookline, Massachusetts, to the area on Thursday and Friday to help teach a diverse group of people how they can use yoga to work with trauma victims.

Jenn Turner, the director of yoga services at The Trauma Center at JRI, explained that the center did a lengthy study on the effects of yoga with trauma victims and found that two months after the study, the survivors who participated in yoga had a reduction in symptoms and no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis.

Turner said that doing yoga with trauma victims can help empower them and also provide them a different avenue for expressing themselves.

"Trauma, for many survivors, alienates the body," Turner said. "The body can be dangerous for some people. Being able to use someone's body as a resource can be powerful."

New methods: Turner said that many trauma victims are put into talk therapy, but after at traumatic experience, parts of the brain associated with talking and words can shut down, causing many survivors to have a lack of words for what happened to them. Through the training, Turner hoped to share alternative methods of working with survivors and helping them cope with people such as lawyers, nurses and others.

Gecardy Jean-Baptiste, the clinical director of the Victims Assistance Center for YWCA York, pointed to research showing that people who experience trauma don't only experience it in their minds but in their bodies as well.

While trauma-specific yoga might be helpful to some survivors, the center plans to eventually work with each individual to determine what's best for them, as some things in yoga can be triggering.

For example, Jean-Baptiste pointed to having someone doing yoga close their eyes or take deep breaths as possible actions that could bring back painful memories of the traumatic experience that they endured. During part of the training, the group practiced some of the poses and discussed things like this to ensure that the program, when it is in place, best serves the survivors.

"It's not for every trauma survivor," Jean-Baptiste said. "We're going to take our time with it and make sure the clients we're serving will be comfortable."

Instructor Jenn Turner leads health care professionals and advocates in a yoga class as part of a YWCA initiative to use yoga to help trauma victims, Thursday, September 15, 2016.  John A. Pavoncello photo

No date: YWCA York's Victims Assistance Center will begin by implementing some of these practices with survivors they work with one-on-one. There is no start date yet for when the yoga studio will be open, Jean-Baptiste said.

Emily Huggins is the manager of the forensic examiner program at WellSpan Health, which does the exams for sexual assault and interpersonal abuse cases for all ages. She said the partnership between WellSpan Health and the YWCA has been going for a long time, and people who work closely with survivors can benefit from the information shared at the training.

"I'm excited to see that we're going to use this as a tool to help victims have better outcomes," she said.