'Trauma-sensitive' yoga classes for women fleeing violence launch at transition houses across B.C.

Federally-funded pilot program offers classes — for women who have experienced trauma and may be diagnosed with PTSD — that are meant to give participants more control while doing yoga, and to ‘actually be in a positive relationship with their body.’

Pilot program launches in four transition houses in B.C., with plans to expand to 21 more sites next year

Trauma-sensitive yoga classes are being launched at transition houses across the province in a new federally-funded pilot program. (Getty Images/Hero Images)

A pilot project launching at women's shelters across B.C. aims to help victims of domestic violence through the use of specialized "trauma-sensitive" yoga classes.

The B.C. Society of Transition Houses has partnered with Yoga Outreach to provide the classes, which are starting this year in Burnaby, Revelstoke, Kitimat and Ucluelet, with plans to expand to an additional 21 sites next year.

Renee Turner, research coordinator with the B.C. Society of Transition Houses, said the specialized classes are meant to give women — who may have anxieties around being controlled — more "agency" while accessing the physical and mental benefits yoga provides.

"Sometimes as we enter traditional yoga classes it can feel really overstimulating for people, it can be really challenging physically for people, and this trauma-sensitive yoga really simplifies movement," Turner told host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.

'Everything is optional'

"It brings the choice back to the person. Everything is optional, there's always choice between this pose or this pose or not participating at all.

"So that's a huge part of it, giving the agency back to the person and bringing that power back within them and also creating a time for them to actually be in a positive relationship with their body."

Renee Turner, research coordinator with the B.C. Society of Transition Houses, says trauma-sensitive yoga is designed to give participants more choice and control. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Turner said the classes are being rolled out at transition houses, and the women accessing the program may have various histories of trauma, and some may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said the classes also give women a chance to do beneficial physical activity at a time when that might not be their top priority because they are focused on removing themselves from domestic abuse situations.

"It's the improved connection with their bodies, a greater general sense of calmness and relaxation and wellbeing is really positive," she said.

"It's also management and getting tools from their [yoga] practice to then use in other stressful situations that they're sure to encounter."

Research from pilot project will be collected

The classes are being taught by certified yoga teachers who have completed specialized training in trauma-sensitive practices taught by Yoga Outreach.

The project, which is receiving  $1.2 million in funding from the federal government, will also collect research data from the participants to measure how this type of yoga can help domestic abuse survivors.

Turner said that though there currently is not a lot of research specific to domestic violence survivors, nonprofit organization Trauma Center in Massachusetts has seen positive outcomes from a number of studies over the last decade investigating the impact of trauma-sensitive yoga for people who have been diagnosed with PTSD and have been resistant to other treatments.

"They've been trialing trauma-sensitive yoga versus things like talk therapy … and they're seeing really, really positive results, especially when it's combined with other modalities."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition


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