Caught in the web of an abusive relationship, Penny Singleton was stressed, scared and unsure of how to make her next move. By chance, she happened to learn about a class called “Yoga for Trauma Recovery,” taught by Skyler Myers.
She’s never been the same.
“Through Skyler’s yoga classes, I was able to calm down enough to be able to find the willpower to leave the abuse,” said Singleton. “Now I’ve started a new life.”
Could simple yoga classes be that transformative?
You bet, says Myers, who has taught yoga for 11 years, and currently teaches at South Yuba Club in Nevada City and for the Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition in Grass Valley. She is also a certified massage therapist and clinical Ayurvedic specialist.
“Unresolved trauma underscores nearly every societal malady,” said Myers. “Everyone has experienced varying degrees of stress and trauma, and few of us can afford therapy and tools to release and eliminate these — as well as conditioning from our past. There is a saying, ‘Our issues are in our tissues,’ and focused breath awareness transforms them.”
Herself a survivor of rape and alcohol addiction, early on Myers found solace and inspiration in somatic healing, which is primarily used for easing and overcoming symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions.
In his 1997 book, “Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma,” Dr. Peter Levine stresses the value of treating physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on a client’s perceived body sensations (somatic experiences).
“Psychology traditionally approaches trauma through its effects on the mind,” he writes. “This is at best only half the story and a wholly inadequate one. Without the body and mind accessed together as a unit, we will not be able to deeply understand or heal trauma.”
Inspired by her own journey, authors such as Levine and witnessing and her students become “agents of their own recovery,” Myers is now a woman with a mission of “yogic activism.”
In addition to her regular classes, Myers has now moved into the realm of training teachers in “Yoga for Trauma Recovery,” thereby increasing the ripple effect of healing trauma survivors.
The 85-hour training is open to a full spectrum of “teachers,” including staff or volunteers at service oriented groups, survivors of trauma, veterans, current yoga teachers and anyone wishing to “contribute to the grassroots revolution of integrating somatic healing into therapeutic settings,” such as after school programs, correctional facilities, court ordered anger management programs and drug and alcohol recovery programs.
The training includes the “Eight Steps to Empowerment,” which are tools to release shame, let go of resentment and encourage freedom of choice, said Myers. The eight steps refer to eight restorative yoga postures, eight strengthening postures, eight breathing techniques, eight meditations and eight “daily living tools.”
“When you have unresolved and repressed trauma, you’re filled up — you don’t have room for anyone else’s story,” said Myers. “I’m teaching the mind/body connection, helping people to discharge mentally and physically the things they’ve held. This creates space for empathy again. I’d love to see police (and) firefighters take this course.”
A Harvard Medical School study funded by the U.S. Defense Department found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD showed improvement in their symptoms after just 10 weeks of taking yoga classes twice a week, along with 15 minutes of daily home practice.
In fact, a host of studies conducted within the past 10 years only seem to bolster early findings. Bessel van der Kolk, a professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of the Trauma Center, has studied trauma since the 1970s and is considered a pioneer in the field.
After tracking his patients’ progress and becoming hooked on hatha yoga himself, he concluded that “the memory of the trauma is imprinted on the human organism.” He asserts that individuals cannot overcome trauma unless they “learn to have a friendly relationship with your body” and that “therapists treating psychological trauma need to work with the body as well as the mind.”
Graduates of Myers’ class will receive certification in teaching yoga for special populations, as well as training in anatomy and physiology. They will also learn trauma balancing yoga postures and Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle adaptations, and receive resources on how to bring the healing of yoga where it is needed most. She has some scholarships available.
“I want to see these classes proliferate — this is my passion,” said Myers. “My students have been my best teachers. I see a shift in some of them after just one class. I’ve seen them gather the courage to leave relationships. This is truly a place where they can find solace — it can change lives.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.