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Trauma Sensitive Yoga helps sexual and interpersonal violence survivors reconnect with their bodies

For the past 20 years, the Passageway program has provided confidential support, safety and resources to patients and employees who are unsafe, controlled, threatened or hurt by current or former intimate partners. Now, through a new initiative called Trauma Sensitive Yoga, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Passageway Community Program Manager Jessica Loftus, LICSW, is offering patients on 2 South the opportunity to begin to heal in a new way.

Loftus herself began practicing yoga in 2000. When she decided to become a certified yoga teacher, she made it her goal to combine her yoga practice with her work as a social worker. She is currently enrolled in the Trauma Center’s Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TC-TSY) 300-hour training, which is an evidence-based practice model that offers embodied healing for survivors. She began at 4 Corners Yoga + Wellness in Dorchester. “There I participated in a teacher training that was deeply embedded in both a trauma informed framework as well as a racial and social justice framework,” she says. “The focus was on the intersection of people’s identities and access issues.”

Part of her training requires her to teach yoga classes so she approached BWFH’s Director of Inpatient Psychology and Training Christopher AhnAllen, PhD, about conducting a yoga class on 2 South. Since November of 2016, she has run her Trauma Sensitive Yoga class two days per week on the inpatient psychiatry unit. “I’ve always been interested in alternative forms of healing and the way in which, particularly women who are sexual and interpersonal violence survivors, feel a connection to their body. It can be very fragmented,” she says. “In Trauma Sensitive Yoga, we focus on reconnecting with your body and experiencing your body in a different way.”

For many of her class participants, Trauma Sensitive Yoga is their first experience with yoga. “Our patients are primarily trauma survivors. That means a lot of different things. It can be interpersonal trauma such as violence or abuse or loss of control in their relationship. There are also types of trauma that people experience as related to their identity and oppression that is identity based,” says Loftus. “Yoga has a long tradition of healing, but it’s not always accessible to these individuals for a variety of reasons. It’s expensive. You have to go to a certain space that might not feel safe. The classes may not be led or attended by people that look like you. There are a lot barriers that have kept these individuals from discovering yoga on their own.”

Most patients only stay on 2 South for a short period, so they may only attend one of Loftus’s Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes. However, even a brief introduction can be transformative and empowering. “I find they are really enthusiastic. There is a lot of engagement and a lot of curiosity,” she explains. “We’re offering it as an introduction to something new that hopefully they will explore once they leave.”

In the future, Loftus hopes to be able to offer Trauma Sensitive Yoga outside of 2 South to individuals she has connected with through the Passageway program. “Ideally, Trauma Sensitive Yoga could become part of an individual’s long-term treatment plan,” she says.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During this month, and always, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital providers are encouraged to refer patients who may be experiencing interpersonal violence to the Passageway program.

Contact the Passageway program:

617-983-7854

617-732-6660

Beeper # 39342

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