When we think of mindfulness, many of us think of closing our eyes, being still or sitting cross legged on the floor. While mindfulness can definitely look like that, for many the practice of sitting with their thoughts and feelings can be difficult. For those that struggle with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) the practice of sitting with feelings and sensations can feel impossible or even unsafe. This is where yoga is helpful. The purpose of asanas, or poses, in India yoga is to prepare the body for stillness. Paradoxically, we have to move to be still.
The practice of yoga can support mental and emotional well-being by moving the body in order to quiet the mind; helping to bring balance to both. Research shows that the practice of yoga decreases depression and anxiety and increases positive emotions. Through building safety and awareness of the breath and sensations, yoga provides the opportunity to find resources in the body through various poses. This can be new for people that have unresolved trauma trapped in their body. Connecting to the breath by breathing through challenging poses can build an awareness and tolerance for sensations. In turn, this builds an understanding of one’s feelings and how to manage those feelings through self-regulation. Instead of reacting, yoga helps to create pause and allows one to respond rather than react.
The ability to pause can feel like a superpower for those who often get in trouble for impulsive behavior and anger outbursts. I’m reminded of a child who participated in our trauma informed yoga group and had difficulty waiting his turn. One day he waited his turn to participate in frog jumps, as the kids took turns leaping on pretend lily pads. He yelled at the top of his lungs, “I Paused!” He continued to dance and celebrate his accomplishment while singing, “I paused, I paused, I paused.” This was a huge moment for this child and he recognized that for himself. Through yoga he found the ability to pause, and began to learn how to be the boss of his own body.
Yoga is also a great tool for reducing stress by building interoceptive awareness (accurate awareness of internal states and sensations) and helping with stress reactivity. Research shows that yoga poses promote endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which can affect the way we manage stress. Yoga postures promote balance and flexibility while relieving tension in the body. Holding a pose requires one to focus on the present moment, while letting go of what happened yesterday, or thinking about what might happen tomorrow.
So how does one get started with a yoga practice?
Here are some free resources on YouTube:
Some tips for beginners:
Five minutes of yoga is better than nothing. Even if you put on a short yoga video or do 1-2 yoga poses, this can help quiet the mind.
Listen to you body. Poses can be modified depending on your flexibility, strength, and balance. Accept where your body is at when you start, while challenging yourself when you notice you’re getting stronger.
Have fun! Yoga can be done individually, in a group class, or with the family and can be a great way to build a mindful community.
Safiya Tormo, LMFT, works as a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program and as a mental health consultant for Educare Head Start Program. She is especially passionate about working with children birth to five and their caregivers to address trauma and promote secure attachments. She served as the President for the Los Angeles Chapter for Play Therapy in 2022 and uses play in her work to help families connect, heal, and grow. Before joining The Guidance Center, Tormo worked with survivors of domestic violence at both an outpatient setting and residential shelter and provided parenting groups at 1736 Family Crisis Center. She also worked as a community-based therapist for Para Los Niño’s where she provided services to children living on, and around, the Skid Row area of Downtown Los Angeles. Tormo earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2019 at California State University, Dominguez Hills.