The women at Ellen O’Brien Gaiser Center are fighting a life and death battle with opioid addiction. They have 90 days to gain the skills that will keep them from succumbing to heroin before they return to their homes and start rebuilding their lives. Russell Brand, actor, comedian, and author explains: “The mentality and behavior of drug …is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help, they have no hope.” Gaiser Center’s administration and counselors report that all of the clients in their program have been impacted by trauma – so they reached out to IW’s Paula Soto to partner in creating a trauma-focused yoga program. Trauma-focused yoga targets the ways in which trauma impacts the nervous system, body, mind and emotions; it goes beyond trauma-informed yoga instruction – instruction tailored so as to be accessible to traumatized students, and to minimize the circumstances which might cause re-traumatization. Gaiser’s counselor Alyssa Vorel, who collaborated with Paula on the program, played a key role. Alyssa assigned clients to the class that best fits their needs; she was available during the classes for clinical support; and she gathered each client’s feedback after each class. Paula and Alyssa communicated weekly to share observations and discuss student feedback. Often, a student would face and navigate a challenge in her yoga practice that corresponded to a challenge in her addiction recovery process.
For the duration of this program, Paula taught three weekly classes, with three to six clients per class. Small class size allows for each yoga session to be crafted with students’ nervous system states and physical needs in mind. All classes emphasized skills for stress management, pain management, self-regulation, mindful choices, accessing and practicing beliefs and principles of acceptance self-worth, and self-compassion.
One woman shares her experience: “Participating in the yoga program has been a truly cathartic experience combining physical exertion with spiritual growth. It has allowed me to nurture mind, body and soul.” – IW yoga program participant at Ellen O’Brien Gaiser Center