Jennifer Boyle, a Doctorate of Clinical Social Work candidate at the University Pennsylvania recently attended our Street Yoga training in Washington DC.  It was an amazing training led by Mark Lilly and assisted by Daniel Flynn.  Here are her reflections.

3_2014 Jennifer BoyleI recently attended the Street Yoga training at Yoga District in Washington, D.C.  Twelve weeks pregnant and battling fatigue so severe it looked like narcolepsy, I did not have high expectations.   But as we began doing introductions on the first evening, I slowly became energized as I heard about each of my peers: yoga teachers, social workers, lawyers, school principals, and policy makers.  Collectively, we worked with persons experiencing mental health challenges, homelessness, addiction, incarceration, domestic violence, as well as, children living in the foster care system and preschool children.  Different as we all were, I was surrounded by people who were as committed to helping those who’ve lived through the unthinkable regain a sense of control and coherence in their lives as I was.

I am working on my Doctorate of Clinical Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania.  I pursued the program out of desperation.  After spending several years as a school-based counselor in two inner city elementary schools in Cleveland, where it seemed that children experienced increasingly greater barriers over time, I was disheartened.  These were not kids who had experienced singular negative life events.  They were kids whose day-to-day lives were full of chaos, violence, and instability.  Some responded to their environment with anger; some experienced depression.  Many faced challenges at school as a result.  Most of these children were diagnosed with multiple disorders, many were on various cocktails of psychotropic medications, but very few seemed to be getting better. I felt compelled to seek ways to reach these children and help them learn to find the experiences of peace and comfort they more than deserved.

I became interested in the potential of yoga and meditation to heal trauma from within, and was ecstatic to learn of the Street Yoga Teacher Training program.  Comparable programs were not realistic for me, as a full-time student and therapist, whether because they were insanely expensive or required extended time off work.  Street Yoga seemed to me, from the beginning, to be very accessible.  And in the end, I realize this is one of the best words I can use to describe the program.

I’ve only been practicing yoga for about a year and a half.  Initially, I worried I may not have the knowledge required to fully benefit from the training.  But I felt right at home, even among advanced yoga instructors.  While the realities of teaching yoga were discussed, the logistics of beginning your own class or program, considerations in working with extremely vulnerable populations, and self-exploration were all equally focused on.

As different as our backgrounds were, our interests and hopes for implementing our own practices were just as varied.  Mark and Daniel encouraged each of us to develop our own ‘portfolio,’ almost an outline for what we hoped to accomplish in our own respective communities and what we needed out of them in order to get there.

I can only speak for myself, but I believe that each of us left the weekend not only knowing what our next steps were, but also how to achieve them and keep moving forward.  I returned to my outpatient community health center and spoke with the director and my clinical supervisor about starting a parent-child trauma-sensitive yoga class this upcoming summer.  With the guidance I received, I was able to convince them this is a worthwhile endeavor, and I am set to get started in June.

This summer I will also be beginning a pilot research project. I am recruiting Master’s level clinicians who work with traumatized children to participate in a brief pilot of a cartoon-based semi-structured interview tool I’ve developed to assess for impairments related to complex trauma in school-aged children (5-11).  It is called the Cameron Complex Trauma Interview (CCTI).  It contains two parts: a comprehensive trauma history section, and a comprehensive symptomology section.  Each item uses developmentally appropriate language, and has a coinciding cartoon picture, featuring ‘Cameron’ a gender-neutral young puppy and/or his family and friends.  Children are asked if they’ve experienced something similar to what Cameron is experiencing in the picture.  A manual containing probes is included.  Clearly, my plate is pretty full.  An additional, and honestly unexpected, benefit of the Street Yoga training was the emphasis placed on self-care and protecting our own energy, so that we have some left to give.

I got more than I could have imagined out of attending the Street Yoga Teacher Training, and I highly recommend it to anyone who works with, or is interested in working with, any population of people who’ve experienced immense pain and suffering.  It is an organic and holistic way to introduce the idea of mind-body healing, to replenish your own energy to continue in the work, and to aid you in achieving whatever you might want to achieve in your own community.

 If anyone is interested in being part of Jennifer’s pilot research, or if you would like additional information, I can be reached at: boyleje@sp2.upenn.edu or by a phone at 440-346-2407.