By Rob Schware, Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation
Originally published on Gaia.com
The benefits of a yoga practice include building flexibility, strength, agility, balance, and concentration. However, a regular yoga practice can help anyone dealing with the stress of facing military deployment, being homeless, being in prison or recovering from alcohol and substance abuse.
It is tempting for me to write a book about each of these worthy people. Instead, over the past four years, I’ve interviewed many of them for a Huffington Post blog series called “Yoga: How We Serve.”
In their interviews, these women and men shared the unique needs of survivors of trauma, lessons learned in doing this work and how existing resources and treatments generally do not adequately address the needs of these populations. Here is just one of many extraordinary comments from a Vietnam War veteran in a program called Mindful Yoga Therapy:
“As I started to practice daily, I noticed several things happening. First, I began to sleep better. Next, I was getting to know myself, for the first time ever. Slowly I came off all of my psych meds. That was big! For the first time in over 40 years, I was medication free. Over the years, I’ve been on over 23 different kinds of medications, from Ativan to Xanax! Yoga is now my therapy.”
Vietnam War Veteran
This veteran went on to say he hopes that Yoga will someday be offered to all veterans, and offered to our troops during basic training.
I very much share this hope, because the costs of treating trauma — whether it occurred 40 years ago, or in the past decade –have become a major concern in our society. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, the economic burden of trauma is more than $585 billion annually in the U.S., including both health care costs and lost productivity.
The CDC also measures “Life Years Lost,” used to account for the age at which deaths occur, which gives greater weight to deaths occurring at younger ages and lower weights to deaths that occur at older ages. It turns out that the impact on life-years lost from trauma is equal to the life-years lost from cancer, heart disease, and HIV combined.
Statistics can’t say much about the personal burdens of individuals and families, of how individual sufferers are impacted, but it’s still instructive to mention one or two more here. For instance, there is an average of 293,066 Victims Of Sexual Assault Or Rape each year in the US, with someone in the United States being sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. And roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day from the effects of PTS symptoms, one every 65 minutes.
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
The word “trauma” comes from the Greek, and means “a wound” resulting from an emotional or psychological injury or experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems, usually for a long time. According to Bessel Van Der Kolk:
“Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable. Most rape victims, combat soldiers, and children who have been molested become so upset when they think about what they experienced that they try to push it out of their minds…The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their lives.”
YOGA FOR RECOVERY
The lives of many trauma survivors revolve around coping with the constant sense of danger they feel in their bodies. It is typically difficult for them to feel completely relaxed and physically safe in their bodies. As Yoga Of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) founder Nikki Myers puts it, “Sustainable addiction recovery is about more than the mind…the issues live in our tissues.”
Y12SR is a rich framework for integrating the wisdom of yoga and the practical tools of 12-step programs, with Y12SR meetings available nationwide, and the curriculum quickly becoming a feature of addiction recovery treatment centers across the United States.
Yoga helps one reconnect with the body, giving the opportunity to discharge accumulated stress and anxiety, and restoring the human organism to safety. Sabrina Seronello’s story paints this picture: she was on active duty in the Air Force from March 2000-March 2006, working as a medic in the emergency department of a Level 1 trauma center at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland AFB. Sabrina deployed to Iraq in January 2005 to the Air Force Theater Hospital, a Level III (injured patients and emergency operations) trauma center. Given what she saw and experienced taking care of the wounded in Iraq, and being a victim of sexual assault while in active duty, she had been suffering anxiety and panic attacks. Upon returning from Iraq she was introduced to yoga and saw how it helped her deal with post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. In 2013 she started teaching a regular weekly yoga class to incarcerated veterans at San Quentin State Prison in CA under the Prison Yoga Project.
Trauma-sensitive yoga programs are becoming more available at domestic violence shelters, and universities are offering them for survivors of sexual assault. Caitlin Lanier was sexually assaulted during her freshman year of college. This assault led to issues with anorexia, cutting and otherwise trying to numb her uncomfortable feelings. According to Caitlin:
“Those were just outward manifestations. Inside, I felt broken, ugly, lost, like I couldn’t trust anyone, and so sad.”
Caitlin has recently pioneered several trauma-sensitive yoga programs in the Boise, Idaho, area, including at a domestic violence shelter, and at Boise State and the College of Idaho. She also trains local yoga teachers on the neuroscience of trauma and how to integrate trauma-sensitive practices into their teaching. She has woven breathing techniques and mindfulness into a weekly support group for survivors of domestic violence that she co-leads with a licensed clinical social worker.
People with post-traumatic stress (PTS) who practice yoga report better sleep, improved focus and concentration, less anger and irritability, and exhibit an overall greater ability to enjoy life in the present moment. The Mindful Yoga Therapy program has been found to be especially helpful for veterans who are also participating in evidence-based psychotherapy for PTS.
“Yoga is like a gyro that brings me back into equilibrium when dealing with the effects of my disorder,” says Paul, a Vietnam War veteran.
YOGA FOR PRISONERS
Breath work, three extended exhales, is part and parcel of the Prison Yoga Project protocol for addressing symptoms of un-discharged traumatic stress, according to James Fox, Founder and Director. “The extended exhale serves as the body’s built-in release valve to discharge stress and anxiety,” he says. This is confirmed from current and former prisoners at San Quentin State Prison who have been part of the yoga program.
“It was mainly because of the inner peace and trust that I have developed and nurtured through my yoga practice that I was able to respond to a confrontational situation with calm.”—B.B.
“I’m able to stay grounded by getting into my breathing which takes my focus off stressful, traumatic events such as flashbacks. It keeps me mindful mentally and physically and enhances my self control.” –D.B.
YOGA & EATING DISORDERS
Finally, yoga can become a game-changer in combatting eating disorders. An estimated 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating). Chelsea Roff took her first yoga class at the suggestion of a therapist just a few months after getting out of the hospital for eating disorder treatment.
“The short story is that yoga brought me to a place in my recovery that no form of talk therapy or medical treatment ever had before. Downward dog certainly didn’t cure my eating disorder, but the practice did teach me how to relate to my body in a more compassionate way. And more importantly, perhaps, going to yoga introduced me to community–to the people I soon came to consider family – and I suppose that’s exactly what I needed to fully step into recovery,” she says.
HEALTH CARE COSTS
What if the over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys who use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives, were offered regular yoga classes? Regular trauma-sensitive yoga classes for victims of trauma can help reduce our nation’s health care costs on a larger scale, as they address cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma. But a cultural change is required to make this happen. The current system is broken, because it overly relies on medical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, both of which are very costly without commensurate relief from symptoms.
According to Kantar Media, the heath care industry spent $14 billion on advertising alone in 2014, enough to fund over 215,000 trauma sensitive yoga classes. Especially for PTS, mainstream therapies have resulted in patients remaining significantly symptomatic after treatment, with additional problems including addiction, difficulties maintaining work, and homelessness.
The results are adding up to a national calamity that leaves human lives in ruins, particularly for men and women who have risked their lives to serve our country and need our help. According the Congressional Budget Office’s report on PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury among recent combat veterans, the average cost of treatment in the first year is $8,300 per patient and $4,100 in the following years. The average cost of treating an eating disorder is $1,250 per day, and only 1 in 10 sufferers ever receive treatment. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Such treatment is expensive not only for patients, but for insurance companies, and society at large.
The evidence base for the effectiveness of yoga in addressing trauma is extensive. Here are some resources for further reading:
The Body Keeps The Score: Memory and Psychobiology of Post Traumatic Stress – the textbook on trauma and body-mind practices by Bessel van der Kolk, MD
Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper
The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From The Inside Out by Susan Pease Banitt
Intelligence In The Flesh by Guy Claxton
Released on April Fool’s Day, the Prank it Forward video features Chelsea being surprised at her daytime waitressing job by diners who showered her with unexpected gifts, from a free vacation to a professional referral for Eat Breathe Thrive™. To date, the video has received nearly 7 million hits on YouTube and 18 million views internationally.
The media frenzy surrounding the video inspired more than 300 articles online, including features by CNN, E! News, People Magazine and USA Today. Appearances on The Today Show and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams also piqued interest beyond the feel-good video, translating into an outpouring of support for Eat Breathe Thrive.
Since the video went live, Eat Breathe Thrive has received over $2,000 in donations routed through The Give Back Yoga Foundation, Eat Breathe Thrive™’s parent organization. Donation classes and tee-shirt sales through the “Don’t Just Survive…THRIVE” Booster campaign are also raising funds for the organization, which aims to bring a clinical program to a new treatment center for every $5,000 raised. And the Eat Breathe Thrive™ team has received numerous offers from corporate sponsors, requests for speaking engagements, and requests for facilitator trainings that will help to launch the program internationally.
To book media appearances, speaking engagements or trainings, please contact Britt Melton at (419) 957-9695 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download the press release: April Fools Viral Video Launches Major Fundraising for Nonprofit
Join the movement: help those with eating disorders to move from “surviving” to “thriving” by making a donation to Eat Breathe Thrive.
The pranksters at Break.com just stopped by Eat, Breathe, Thrive™ founder Chelsea Roff’s workplace to give her the “best shift ever”…starting with a thousand-dollar tip and ending with a surprise visit from her very first yoga teacher. Thanks, Break.com, for supporting Chelsea and the growth of Eat, Breathe, Thrive™!
Watch and smile:
Help Chelsea bring her clinical program to treatment centers across the country: donate to Eat, Breathe, Thrive.™
If you believe in what we’re doing, here’s one very powerful way to support our mission of sharing yoga and meditation with those in need: become a Sustaining Member of Give Back Yoga Foundation.
How does it work? Simply visit our Membership page and choose a monthly amount you’d like to contribute, and a program you’d like to support. Through the checkout process, you’ll set up a recurring payment profile that automatically bills your card each month. You’ll receive a notification by email when each debit is made. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law, and you’ll also receive a thank-you package by mail. Check out our membership benefits.
What it is: a simple way to give back.
For just $15 a month – the cost of one yoga class – you can share yoga resources with someone in need, making a direct difference in their lives. Through the collective power of many small contributions, we can grow a grassroots movement of social change and healing. We hope that you’ll be a part of it!
What it isn’t: a contract.
You’ll be able to manage your recurring donation profile through the Give Back Yoga website. If your situation changes, you can put your monthly contribution on hold or change the amount of your donation, so that you’re always giving back in a way that’s right for you. Need help? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
Find out how you can give from the heart.
Are you passionate about bringing yoga to a specific population? We invite you to route your donation directly to that work. You can help us to bring yoga to veterans, first responders, individuals with eating disorders, prisoners or those recovering from addiction.
Or make a general donation, and we’ll put your contribution to work where it’s needed most. To learn more about our program goals and how we use general and specific contributions, visit our Program pages.
Will you join Give Back Yoga Foundation as a Sustaining Member? Together, we can share the transformational benefits of yoga and mindfulness with the world…one person at a time.
At age 15, Chelsea Roff nearly lost her life to anorexia. Medical and mental health interventions saved her life, but it was discovering a yoga practice that helped Chelsea to make a full recovery and progress from “surviving” to “thriving.” Today, Chelsea is a nationally-recognized author, speaker and the founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders®, a program that’s being introduced to treatment clinics and yoga studios nationwide. Learn more about Chelsea’s story in the campaign video that launched Yoga for Eating Disorders®.
This February, Give Back Yoga Foundation and Off The Mat Colorado invite you to discover Yoga for Eating Disorders® through two weekend trainings in Denver and Boulder. These 15-hour trainings offer individuals practical, yoga-inspired tools to overcome eating disorders or body image issues at all ends of the spectrum. They also give yoga teachers and mental health practitioners the knowledge and skills they need to support students and clients in recovery. Graduates will be eligible to receive Continuing Education Credits through Yoga Alliance, and to become facilitators for Yoga for Eating Disorder® programs.
Yoga, A Game-Changer in Eating Disorders – Friday, 6pm-8pm:
Opening circle and group discussion about the role yoga can play in healing food and body image issues at all ends of the spectrum.
Coming Home to the Body – Saturday, 12pm-1:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm
Learn how to use yoga to develop a healthier relationship with your body through yogic techniques for tracking hunger and fullness signals, coping with emotions, and cultivating a sense of “home” in your own skin. Includes asana session, group discussion, interactive exercises, and meditation.
The Double Edged Sword – Sunday, 12pm-1:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm:
Despite the tremendous value yoga can offer in the recovery process, yoga can be a double-edged sword for people with eating disorders. On one hand, the practice can teach essential skills for long-term recovery, but the wrong approach to yoga can actually exacerbate food and body image issues. Learn how to use the practice of yoga for health and wellbeing, rather than as a crutch for acting out in their eating disorder. Includes asana session, group discussion, interactive exercises, and meditation.
Trainings are capped to maintain the personal and intimate setting required for this deep work. Both trainings are expected to sell out, so please register as soon as possible. Several scholarships are available – for more details, please contact Chelsea Roff.
Friday, February 21st – Sunday, February 23rd
3055 47th Street
Boulder, CO 80301
Register through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/yoga-for-eating-disorders-boulder-tickets-9289688709
Friday, February 28th – Sunday, March 2nd
Samadhi Center for Yoga & Meditation
639 East 19th Avenue
Denver, CO 80203
Register through Eventbrite: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/yoga-for-eating-disorders-denver-tickets-9289853201
Off the Mat, Into the World – part of the Engage Network | The Neurosculpting Institute | Samadhi Center for Yoga & Meditation | Yoga Pod | Yoga Loft Boulder| Colorado Athletic Club, Boulder | Radiance Power Yoga | Kira Grace | Outlaw Yoga | Breathe Studio | Kindness Yoga | Yama Yoga Village | Hanuman Festival | Mudra Yoga Studio | Karma Yoga Center
Can’t make it to the training, but want to support Yoga for Eating Disorders®? Make a life-saving donation to this project through our Donate Today page. For every $5,000 raised, we can bring Yoga for Eating Disorders® to one more treatment center and help individuals with eating disorders to discover their own true beauty.
After sponsoring inspirational yoga teacher Chelsea Roff in a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $46,000 for her work, we’re happy to report that Chelsea’s Yoga For Eating Disorders program will soon be offered free of charge to patients at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Malibu, CA. Over the next twelve months, the Yoga For Eating Disorders program will be offered at nine additional treatment centers nationwide, from Los Angeles to Denver to New York City.
Over the next year, Chelsea will also be working in partnership with Dr. Jamie Feusner and The UCLA Eating Disorder and Body Dysmorphia Laboratory to collect data for an evidence-based study on the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary treatment for eating disorders. The study will examine whether the Yoga for Eating Disorders program is an effective intervention to prevent relapse, reduce eating disorder behaviors, improve body image, and cultivate self-awareness.
While Chelsea’s Indiegogo campaign has ended, you can still make a donation to help bring free Yoga for Eating Disorders programming to treatment centers across the country. Just click here to make a donation, and be sure to put FOR YOGA FOR EATING DISORDERS in the “Last Name” box. For every $5,000 raised, we can offer the program at one additional treatment center.
Check out her campaign video to learn how Chelsea’s own recovery journey inspired her to develop a program that will help students develop a healthier relationship with their bodies:
About Chelsea Roff: A nationally-recognized author, speaker and yoga instructor with a background in neuroscience research, Chelsea has brought the Yoga, Food & Body Image Intensive program to over a dozen yoga studios nationwide, including The Omega Institute. She also offers pro bono talks at least twice a month at eating disorder treatment centers across the country, and has spoken at The Renfrew Center, Oliver-Pyatt Center, LaVie Counseling Center, Children’s Medical Center Dallas, and A New Journey Eating Disorder Center. Chelsea is now developing a seminar that teaches professionals how to integrate the practice of yoga into traditional treatment, and has taught workshops for professionals at counseling centers in CA, TX and NY.
An estimated 24 million Americans suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. Only one in 10 receive any treatment for these disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. In this interview for The Huffington Post Blog, Executive Director Rob Schware talks to writer, author and yoga teacher Chelsea Roff to learn how targeted yoga programs can help students with eating disorders to cultivate a healthier relationship with their body.
“Yoga brought me to a place in my recovery that no form of talk therapy or medical treatment ever had before. Downward dog certainly didn’t cure my eating disorder, but the practice did teach me how to relate to my body in a more compassionate way. And more importantly, perhaps, going to yoga introduced me to community — to the people I soon came to consider family — and I suppose that’s exactly what I needed to fully step into recovery.”
– Author, speaker and yoga instructor Chelsea Roff
Click here to read more about Chelsea’s journey, and how yoga is helping students with eating disorders to rebuild a conscious connection between body and mind.
Through September 18th, 2013, you can make a donation to Chelsea Roff’s Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to launch an evidence-based Yoga For Eating Disorders™ program that will be offered at no charge at treatment centers across the country. You can also help to kickstart this important work by sharing her campaign on social media.