I was invited to work in a Women's Refuge, teaching Yoga once a week. I was exited, inspired by the work of The Trauma Centre in Brookline who use yoga as a somatic therapy to help people who have suffered from trauma to reclaim their bodies. I felt that yoga would be of great benefit to the women in the refuge to help them cope with what they are going through.
The Wellbeing Officer at the Refuge was also hopeful that it could help, telling me she would be happy even if one person attended the class. At this time of crisis in their lives, many women are trying not to stop, not to think, not to have a moment of silence or to reflect. Yoga then, is very difficult as it requires us to stop, tune into the body, quieten the mind. In her opinion, any activity she could provide to give some relief, relaxation, a moment of tranquillity, that might help even one women was a success and worth a try. I had to agree.
As you might expect the population of refuges is always fluctuating as women move in and out of the flats depending on their current circumstances and needs, this obviously creates a difficult environment, as the women's lives are in a state of flux. Yoga however aims to help us all deal with the many fluxes and changes in our daily lives by giving us the opportunity to find space to be calm and relaxed even if only for an hour.
Why Yoga? How can it help the women in a Refuge?
Reclaiming Your Body after Trauma
Yoga is an age old practice whose aim is to unify the mind, body, breath and spirit, balancing mind and strengthening the body, aiming to keep people in the present moment through movement, breath and stillness of the mind. Yoga enables people to reconnect with their bodies, to regain control of them and the sensations they feel. The asana begin to allow the person to open, starting by physically opening the body. This helps to create the change from survival mode to inner safety, calm and coping.
Yoga can have effects by inviting change, adaptation and growth on all levels – motor, sensory, emotional, immune and psychological. It helps to reach a parasympathetic state. This state helps to activate coping hormones, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, enable the immune system to function better, enable digestion to improve, reset the nervous system; reducing stress and reactivity. As new research is constantly done on the benefits of yoga and exercise in general, researchers are finding what people feel naturally - that movement in general is great for the body, mind and spirit helping people to cope better with daily stress.
"Scientists found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.
Although all exercise stimulates serotonin, what makes yoga different is the added element of keeping the mind quiet and focused, connecting the breath to movement. In fact, yoga can be thought of as a state, a state of union where everything is connected - mind, body, breath, spirit, so a 'state of yoga' can be achieved in many ways. The yoga that we practice today uses these particular postures to get us into that state. But these postures also help us to open the body, to free the restrictions within it, develop flexibility and strength and reconnect us to ourselves.
Finally yoga can help to develop a sense of community, strength and solidarity through practising together as a group, so for people who may have lost their sense of community this can be a great aid.
I feel privileged to be able to work with this group of women and look forward to my next session with them. It will be interesting to see how many of the same people turn up and if they attend regularly, whilst they stay at the refuge, what benefits they notice.