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How yoga can help with trauma, anxiety, and depression: New class at Wealthy Theatre

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Yoga can be very helpful for people who struggle with the effects of trauma, anxiety, and depression. Classes start at Wealthy Theatre next Monday.

/Julianne Day

Yoga for Mental Health class

Women’s Yoga for Mindfulness provides women already in therapy with the opportunity to reconnect to their physical bodies, identities, and sensations through yoga. Unlike traditional talk therapy, yoga therapy works with the same part of the brain that stores trauma and stress. When this part of the brain is activated, the energy stored during traumatic or stressful experiences can actually be released, rather than cognitively processed. All body types and ability levels are welcome in Women's Yoga for Mindfulness. The focus of each session will be on reconnecting with one's own physical sensations in a safe and supported setting.


What is Yoga?

When people think of yoga, they often think of people in a yoga studio moving into challenging positions. Perhaps they think of people sitting in a circle chanting. Yoga can look like this, but it can also be a series of simple movements that are used to connect you to your body and breath.

Using Yoga as a Therapeutic Tool

Yoga is a somatic or body based treatment format. It is most commonly used together with traditional talk therapy. Often an individual will have a primary therapist and also attend a therapeutic yoga class or see a yoga therapist as an adjunctive or additional treatment. In general, the yoga classes allows the individual to find safety in their body and to learn coping strategies in order to be aware of what is happening in their bodies in order to better address any issues relating to trauma, stress, anxiety, or depression. Often this is helpful in addressing other issues in a talk therapy format.

Where can I find this kind of yoga?

Trauma informed yoga classes that focus on the mental health needs of the students can be found in several locations in Grand Rapids. Fountain Hill Center for Counseling and Consultation offers individual and group classes.Starting next Monday, September 10th, a new series for women will begin. The classes meet on Monday nights at 6:30 for six weeks. Interested individuals may contact Jessica Gladden, PhD, at [email protected] for more information. Information can also be found at: Grand Rapids Healing Yoga also offers a variety of classes in this format, as well as training to become a trauma informed yoga instructor. More information can be found at:

Why is Somatic Treatment Such as Yoga Important?

The changes in our brains that take place when people experience issues such as trauma, stress, anxiety, or depression happen primarily in the amygdala, at the base of our brains. Traditional talk therapy targets the pre-frontal cortex, in the front of our brain. Levels of hormones that cause stress or depression are changed through mindful movement. Using a body based treatment can help make changes to the parts of the brain where the negative impact has taken place.

What can you use yoga to heal from?

Trauma- When a trauma has happened, the survival part of your brain is triggered. This is often known as the flight, flight, or freeze response. This trauma is stored in the base of one’s brain and impacts all of the body’s systems through the vagus nerve. Yoga can allow a physical connection to these parts of the brain so that it can be accessed and symptoms may be reduced. Parts of sensory information that were frozen by trauma may be released, and individuals can learn how to cope with sensations relating to trauma instead of suppressing them.

Stress- Stress triggers the same parts of our brains as a life-threatening event. Cortisol is triggered, and over time builds up and can cause trauma like symptoms. When you participate in yoga, your brain sends a message to your body chemistry to change.

Anxiety- Yoga can change the levels of brain waves that take place. Typically there is an increase in alpha and theta waves, which brings greater relaxation into the body. In addition, during and after yoga the levels of cortisol in the body and brain drops, reducing the sensations relating to fight, flight, or freeze.

Depression- Yoga helps to level out the chemicals in the brain, reducing cortisol and increasing feel good chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. It can also allow a greater access to feelings, reducing the numbing sensations that some people experience. For some people, simply making the choice to participate in a positive activity can decrease symptoms of depression.

Self- Care- Most people are much better at taking care of others than themselves. Yoga can allow you to take a break from your busy schedule to become better in tune with yourself and your own body.

What can you expect in a yoga session or class?

Yoga is not only being in different positions. We also focus on breathing techniques and mindfulness (or staying in the moment). There are is no experience necessary and it can be adapted for every body type or disability.

If you are interested in attending a specialized yoga class or private yoga session, please contact Jessica Gladden at [email protected].


Two books you might be interested in for more information are:

 Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.

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