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  • Trauma, Yoga and the Journey to the Self

    by Holle Black, Co-Founder of Centering Youth [This post originally appeared on the website of The Center for Integrative Yoga Studies.  Click Here to visit their website] “Yoga is the Journey of the Self, Through the Self, To the Self” ~Bhagavad Gita When we talk about the transformative power of a yoga practice, “The Journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self,” what are we really talking about? From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali comes the idea that the true self is like a clear lake.  Our true nature, our true self, abides within, untouched by experience, untouched by circumstance. The center of ourselves is this clear, calm lake. Our experiences and thought patterns create disturbances upon the surface of this lake, like creating waves, clouding the clarity of the water. Sometimes the disturbances create such waves that the lake is in constant turmoil, the surface so choppy you cannot see what is beneath the surface. Sometimes the lake has been this way for so long, the disturbance is what we identify with, not with the calm at the center. These waves are the distortion from the true self, and our true nature. Still, the calm water exists and abides beneath the surface distortion. “Yoga is the Journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.” We use our yoga practice to journey through the distortions of our mind to come to the clarity within. We practice to develop a strong witness to notice what are the distortions. We practice to notice what we identify with, our story, our thoughts of identity and if we are holding on to the disturbances instead of the journey to clarity. Releasing what can be released, physically , emotionally and intellectually as well. After a yoga practice that sense of calm that resonates from within is the access to the calm water beneath the roiled surface of the lake; it is the feeling of connection with one’s true nature. “I feel like the sunshine after a thunderstorm” ~ A youth detained in Georgia juvenile detention after a yoga class. I have been teaching a weekly yoga class in the Georgia juvenile detention system for nearly a year. I have had the same core group of participants for the duration. These young men are 13-17 years of age, and all are charged with felony crimes. I do not mention this to discuss the crimes, but rather to mention, or consider, what might have had to happen to these young men in their lives, what experiences, trauma, life event or exposure to events occurred to form these young men into serious criminals at such a young age? How disturbed is their sense of Self? More importantly can they find that sense of calm within, can the practice of yoga benefit them? I find it particularly interesting and effective to apply this Yoga Sutra model of the calm water beneath the roiled lake being the true nature of the Self, and disturbances of thought or experience distort this calm, to young people who have not only experienced trauma, but have also perpetuated trauma themselves. There is considerable body of literature that documents the relationship between trauma and childhood abuse, and subsequent aggressive and criminal acts. Among the most common risk factors for post-traumatic reactions, aggression, and antisocial behavior are childhood abuse and neglect, poverty, sexual molestation, and witnessing violence. Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The common denominator of all traumatic experiences is that they involve some sort of threat to our physical,emotional, and/or psychological safety. When we are faced with a potentially threatening situation our own body’s survival response activates. We know this as our fight, flight or freeze response. It is important to understand that this response is not an intellectual process, nor is it a choice. When the brain perceives a threat the survival response of both the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system are activated. The sympathetic nervous system is designed to mobilize the body’s resources to prepare the body to respond to threat. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system triggers increased heart rate and blood pressure, and accelerated respiration, all of which prepare the muscles for action. The physical stress response also involves the activation of the neuroendocrine response system, releasing hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that prepare the body for action. When people are exposed to intense, chronic, or repeated traumatic events, their threat response system may become altered. Research has indicated that people with post traumatic stress disorder show a sensitization of several biological systems, including a more reactive autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine system. These alterations in the biological threat response system show up as trauma-related symptoms, including anxiety, intrusive memories, triggered reactions, concentration problems, and nightmares among others. In other words, the traumatized person is stuck in the fight, flight or freeze response. They are continually living in the traumatic event. Trauma hijacks the body and the mind. There is much research on the powerful benefits of yoga on those who suffer from PTSD and the effects of trauma. The practice of yoga can help us calm our autonomic nervous system response and bring it back to a healthy state of homeostasis. As we use mindful movement to physically release the tension of being in a hypersensitized mode, we also use breathing techniques to help calm the nervous system. Deep, conscious breathing has a physiological effect on the nervous system that relieves stress and anxiety. Slow, mindful breathing activates the neuroendocrine system to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. When the body is released from the hold of the physiological effects of trauma, the distortions upon the surface of the lake begin the calm. The true nature of the Self, the vast calm that abides within is accessible. Maybe for the first time, the true nature of Self is revealed and felt. The potential to no longer be simply what we have done or what has been done to us, the potential to become more than our stories, and to not identify with the distortions, is achieved through perceiving the calm that resonates from within, the calm water beneath the roiled surface of the lake. With practice we gain greater and greater access to the true nature of Self, and learn to notice […]

  • Today is Georgia Gives Day! – Please Donate to Centering Youth

    As part of the statewide day of giving, here is a great opportunity to donate to the work of Centering Youth, our 501(c)(3) non-profit yoga service initiative, that brings Yoga and Mindfulness to young people involved in the juvenile justice system, and to those who have been sexually exploited, abused or are homeless. Please Click Here to Donate Now. Whether you have ever given a dime or a minute of time, your life has been affected by the work of a nonprofit. Georgia Gives Day has created an opportunity for everyone, in every corner of the state, to support the causes that make Georgia great. Georgians are generous people. So many of us give to and volunteer in causes and yet, there are many of us who simply are not asked directly to give or to volunteer. Others want to give but are not sure what nonprofit to support, or don’t know exactly what their donation might do to make a difference. Georgia Gives Day asks all Georgians, on November 13th, to give a little and share a little so that, together, we can do a lot for the causes that we all care about. Whether you have $10 or $10,000 to give, it all adds up to greater impact on the issues that support and enrich our lives and make our local communities thrive.

  • Will You Donate $1, $2 or $3 per month for Yoga Service?

    How many people practice yoga?  How many people are concerned about kids?  1,000? 10,000?  Well, if each one of us donates an average of $2 per month for yoga service, Centering Youth will be able to fund all of its programs, and even help support other yoga service initiatives. We have created a way for you to sign up one time, and automatically pay the amount you choose, each month.  You can easily stop your gifts at any time. Click Here for details and for our easy sign-up page. For less than the cost of one cup of tea or coffee each month you can play a critical part in funding yoga service. Centering Youth will reserve 10% of all funds raised to help other non-profit yoga initiatives that are in need of funding help to get started or to remain viable.

  • Will You Make a Matched Donation Today?

    In Honor of the Great Success of the Dirty South Yoga Fest and the Fabulous Work of Jessica Murphy, an Anonymous Donor has Committed to Matching the First $500.00 in Donations. Please give what you can – $5.00, $20.00, $50.00 or more and let’s take advantage of this anonymous donor’s generosity. Every one dollar you give is like making a two dollar contribution. Most of the money donated to Centering Youth goes to pay our teachers for each class they teach. We have no administrative salaries. Less than half of the courts and facilities where we have Yoga and Mindfulness classes are able to pay the cost of delivering the classes. So Centering Youth is dependent on the generous contributions made by people like you to continue bringing the benefits of Yoga and Mindfulness to underserved communities in the Atlanta area. Thank you very much for your generous, tax-deductible contribution.    

  • Yoga and Mindfulness in Juvenile Detention

    Centering Youth is leading Yoga and Mindfulness class at three juvenile detention centers operated by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice – the Dekalb Regional Youth Detention Center, the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center and the Marietta Regional Detention Center.  These are the first ongoing Yoga and Mindfulness classes in any juvenile detention centers operated by the state of Georgia, and there has been a wonderful response from the kids and the staff. Yoga and Mindfulness training are positive physical and mental activities that have proven effective in providing those who are incarcerated with tools for achieving calm and focus, and developing mental and emotional space for making reasoned rather than reactive decisions.  It is the goal of the Centering Youth to give participants tools to help them function in their current environment, as well as in their family units, in schools and in their communities, so they can succeed in reaching their positive goals, avoid future contact with the criminal justice system and advance the cause of community safety. Click here to watch an informative video from Time Magazine, featuring Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox, about the Yoga and Mindfulness classes at San Quentin Prison in California.

  • The Language We Use

    Language matters. How would you like to be called “at-risk” or “most in need”? We try to stay away any words that separate us from the participants in our Yoga and Mindfulness classes, or define us as somehow higher, better or more knowledgeable. We recognize that each participant has the same light, hope and goodness that we do, and that we share the same challenges navigating through this difficult world. In fact, we call participants “extraordinary,” recognizing that many of the people in our classes are the survivors of much more than we have experienced.  We won’t tell you that you are “at-risk” or “most in need” if you don’t label us that way. We all need tools to calm, focus and find strength and balance.

  • Centering Atlanta – March 2014

     Yoga Service in Atlanta Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Centering Atlanta – March 2014, is complete, and it has been a huge success. Huge! 20 yoga studios in Atlanta had 26 benefit classes during March. There has been overwhelming response from the entire community – raising awareness of yoga service in Atlanta and raising funds to support our programs – Empowering Youth with Yoga and Mindfulness. The following studios participated in this wonderful event: Yoga Samadhi – Be Yoga – Form Yoga – Brookhaven Fitness Studio/Off Beat – Evolation Yoga – All Life is Yoga – Vista Yoga – Ember Yoga – Tough Love Yoga – Bikram Yoga Decatur – Plum Tree Yoga – Sacred Thread – Deactur Yoga and Pilates – Johns Creek Yoga – Balance Yoga – Springs Yoga – Bikram Yoga Marietta – Candler Park Yoga – Exhale Atlanta. And a speical shout-out to Robin Doyon for designing our beautiful poster. If you weren’t able to attend a Benefit Class, please consider a donation of $25, $50 or $100, to help sustain the work of Centering Youth. If you donate $50 will send you a free Centering Youth Tee Shirt and if you $100 we will send you a free Centering Youth Tee-Shirt plus a Centering Youth Mug. Please click on the button below to donate now.

  • 2013-09-14 Noelle 1

    A Day Full of Classes at Centering Youth

    What a wonderful Saturday we had this week.  Two Yoga and Mindfulness Classes at Fulton County Juvenile Court and a workshop led by Co-Founder Holle Black. Holle and Melissa led the Sister-to-Sister program at the Juvenile Court in Yoga and Mindfulness, with 15 young woman participating, and that was followed by Noelle and Hank leading 15 young men in the TLC group.  We have been in the Fulton County Juvenile Court for 15 weeks now and we seem to gain more traction and enthusiasm each week. In the afternoon, Co-Founder Holle Black taught a workshop on Trauma-Sensitive Yoga at Decatur Yoga & Pilates.  27 interested people attended the workshop.  They were a cross-section of yoga teachers and other interested people, including a teacher from the Fulton County Public Schools.  It was a wonderful workshop, well received and full of interesting insights and a sample class.

  • Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Workshop – December 14 at BeYoga

    Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Workshop – December 14 – 2:00 – 6:00 at BeYoga in Marietta. Centering Youth Co-Founder Holle Black will be leading a 4 hour workshop on teaching trauma-sensitive yoga on Saturday, December 14 from 2:00 – 6:00 at BeYoga in Marietta.  This workshop is designed for anyone interested in teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, whether you have experience, or not.  Topics will include: How trauma affects the mind and body; How a trauma-sensitive yoga class is different from other yoga classes; How to use yoga to heal the mind-body disconnect after trauma; How to create and teach yoga classes to different populations using modifications and precautions; and What to include and what to avoid in a trauma-sensitive yoga and mindfulness class. Click Here for more information and to register for the trauma-sensitive yoga workshop. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Holle at holle@centeringyouth.org

  • 2013-12-10 Child

    What Does Centering Youth Do With Donations?

    Centering Youth uses most of the money donated to pay our Yoga and Mindfulness teachers on a per-class basis.  We believe that by paying our teachers we attract and retain the best qualified trauma-trained Yoga and Mindfulness teachers. Other than administrative expenses, substantially all of the money donated to Centering Youth goes to paying our teachers.  We have no administrative employees and therefore no salaries. You can be assured that to the greatest extent possible your donations are used to pay the Centering Youth teachers to bring Yoga and Mindfulness to those at-risk.  Click here to make a Donation.