When we first began our work at Street Yoga, we realized that while social service sites provide the necessary tools to help rehabilitate individuals dealing with trauma, abuse, and the challenges of homelessness, there was not as much awareness of the tools that mindfulness can provide.

Dependency is Created in the search for External Solutions

One of the main issues with modern medical treatments is the inherent dependency created in searches for external solutions. Our bodies are highly adaptable, and the more we give it, the more it compensates to reach some state of normal. Unfortunately, this “normal” is at a much lower functionality. Anyone who’s had experience drinking coffee regularly can attest to this. Remember the first cups of coffee—right after the taste buds adjusted to the bitter flavor. Back then, a single cup of coffee lasted an entire day. Now, good luck staying awake with more that a substantial pot. Likewise, our bodies adjust to the medications we feed it. In order to get the same benefits from medications—chemical or psychological—we must progressively increase the potency of what we give ourselves.

Street Yoga by Campbell Salgado Photography

Yoga Facilitates Self-Healing

One of the main advantages of yoga, however, is that it facilitates a process of self-healing. Like medication or psychotherapy, many attend a yoga session with the distinct expectation of healing. Except, alone, yoga does nothing. It is not a thing that can be picked up and ingested. It does not come in a needle to be injected. And yet, it undoubtedly helps keep us collected. Our bodies and minds can take care of themselves, they just need to be reminded how. In cases of trauma, many victims simply shut off themselves off to the world.  Bessel van der Kolk, from the Boston University of Medicine, no prescription drugs details how this retreat into internal suffering leads to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. An imaging of the brain reveals that during trauma, and in relapsing episodes, there is significant increased blood flow to regions associated with intense emotions, while decreases in blood flow to regions of communication and emotion suppression. He further discusses how Yoga reminds to healthfully deal with trauma–how to “have, not be, our emotions.”

Yoga patients self-reported greater improvements in symptoms of PTSD

Like many studies surrounding such complex behavioral traits as responses to trauma, the precise biological mechanisms are poorly understood. What is understood, however, is that this practice works. The Trauma Center Yoga Program in Brooklyn, Massachusetts has recently finished a pilot study where 16 women between the age of 16 and 55 were offered either Yoga or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a common psychological treatment. After eight weeks, the Yoga patients self-reported markedly greater improvements in symptoms of PTSD than those who received DBT. In another study, flood survivors were given access to Yoga practices as a treatment for the stress of dealing with their environment. The patients given yoga self-reported significantly increased levels of happiness and decreased levels of stress when compared to survivors who opted out of yoga. A third study went looked at post-war adolescents suffering from PTSD in Kosovo. Again, the mind-body skills taught in Yoga helped them heal.

It will take a while for the biological mechanisms behind yoga to be understood. The research that does exist suggests one common theme: yoga helps us live healthfully. Unlike and external source of treatment, actively practicing yoga heals us in relation to our own body’s abilities. With practice, these abilities grow.

Yoga reveals our true potential.

Help Street Yoga continue this powerful work with youth struggling with the challenges of homelessness, trauma and abuse.