Q&A: Using Yoga to Overcome Trauma
Certified yoga instructor Casadi Marino teaches others how to achieve yoga's benefts, but her expertise extends beyond the mat. Working at the Regional Research Institute for Human Services, she has studied the effects of yoga on mental health. Now a doctoral student at Portland State University’s School of Social Work, Marino has also seen yoga’s impact on her own life as she maintains her recovery from bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
Earlier this year, we read Marino’s article called “Yoga for Youth in Trauma Recovery” (PDF, 391KB). In it, she reviews the literature on how yoga affects youth with histories of trauma. We know many youth-serving programs use a variety of approaches to help young people deal with past trauma, so we spoke with Marino about the benefits of yoga and steps youth workers can take to help youth heal both emotionally and physically.
NCFY: How does yoga help youth feel safe?
MARINO: When people have been traumatized, they become fairly alienated, not just with others and with society, but with themselves.
Yoga really helps people to reattach to their bodies, helps them to own what’s going on with themselves physically while at the same time not totally identifying with it. So it’s their body, it’s their experience, but it’s not who they are.
NCFY: How can you tell if yoga is making a difference?
MARINO: You can see that people are actually breathing; they’re breathing more deeply. You can see how they hold themselves. They’re not always hyper-alert so they can let go of some of that hyper-vigilance. They might actually be able to receive a social touch without being reactive. They’re not always looking behind them.
NCFY: How can youth workers help young adults whose lives are unstable engage in regular yoga practice?
MARINO: When people are busy surviving, it’s harder to heal if you’re still being wounded. However, it never hurts to breathe, and you can sneak yoga in in little ways.
If you’re washing up in a restroom that you find that you can take a little sink bath in and you do tree [pose], then you’ve done something really good for yourself.
NCFY: You also recommend that youth visit trauma-informed yoga classes to learn from properly trained instructors. Can other yoga classes be customized to aid youth recovery?
MARINO: There are some schools of yoga, Vinyasa for instance, that are much more flexible in terms of how somebody does yoga. But it does come down to the individual teacher so it’s important to talk to the individual teacher, tell them your expectations, make your requests very clear and perhaps even write them down and keep them in front of your yoga mat. “I do not wish to have an adjustment. I wish to have permission ahead of time to come out of a pose and just hang out in child’s pose if I’m just getting too activated.” So, it’s definitely possible, but I would just urge people to go slowly.