When we think of yoga, the image that usually comes to mind is one of the stressed out mom trying to regain sanity through stretching exercises that seem beyond the reach of most of us. Marlene Gallagher's Yoga practice in Bedford, New York certainly caters well to that type of clientele but the same can now be said of two demographics that definitely don't fit the typical profile - Seniors (or those of limited mobility) and victims of trauma.
Yoga is a practice that achieves balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This balance allows a person in an
If a person is under constant and continuous stress or the victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder this regulation is thrown off. In turn, she adds, even a mild stimulator will activate fight or flight and the state of calm may not return in a reasonable period.
This imbalance can reveal itself when a flashback occurs to a victim of abuse. A victim of PTSD may be reminded of the past trauma by any number of sensory stimulators, which then triggers feelings and responses reminiscent of the trauma - even though the situation is actually benign. The response to this non-threatening occurrence is extreme for the conditions and may be embarrassing, says Ms. Gallagher.
The victim becomes mistrustful of his own body and sometimes dissociates from it entirely. This separation of body and mind may continue for years and years, says the Bedford instructor.
The dramatic positive effects that yoga can have on victims of PTSD has been researched over the last decade by psychiatrist Dr. Bressel Van der Kolk at the Trauma Center in Boston, MA and the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD. Dr. Van der Kolk's findings are now being taught to Yoga teachers and clinicians throughout the country, she says.
This Fall Ms. Gallagher was certified to teach Yoga for Trauma Victims and is now applying what she's learned in a "very gentle" yoga class in Ridgefield, Connecticut. In a classfor this population it is important to create an environment that feels safe and not threatening in any way, she says
All instruction is suggested and not demanded so that students are in control of how their bodies move and respond. Movements are gentle, without hands-on adjustments. Beginning and ending always with breathing - stretching, flexibility and relaxation follow suit, she says. With just a little practice, the movements become more fluid and the student begins to feel more at ease and in control of their own body. A healthy trust, she says, in both themselves and the world, is re-established.
Less dramatic but as equally unique is the work she is doing with elders and others that have lost mobility due to age, injury or medical conditions. Done sitting in or leaning on a chair, she says, "I have some students who say they go to physical therapists but they think yoga is also beneficial and fun"
For example, in Mt. Kisco at the senior day center, My Second Home, seniors get re-acclimated with relaxation and mobility through simple breathing and stretching exercises. Teaching them to take long, deep slow breaths and to exploit the natural movement of the spine - including sitting up straight - they strengthen "the core" and move towards balance.
Additionally, twisting the spine in their seats also has a cleansing effect that acts to massage and re-energize the internal organs by squeezing out the fluids that have grown stale with time, she says.
The combination of breath work, stretching, strength training and relaxation result in a
healthier body and a positive outlook on life. Simple chair yoga is highly beneficial for all of us, regardless of age or physical ability, she concludes.
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