Yoga to support your work
Updated: Jul 19, 2020
We have worked with yoga teacher and social worker, Kyra Haglund, to create a series of yoga practices that are specifically designed for practitioners, researchers and students in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault. Our intent with this series is to provide you with a tool that can support you and sustain your work. The video series that Kyra created for us consists of mostly short practices of around five to seven minutes, that incorporate trauma-informed somatic movements to support you through your day. They are also useful for those that might be sitting at a desk through the day, and provide opportunities to stretch and reconnect with neglected areas of your body.
While we offer these practices to you, we recognise that yoga isn’t for everyone and that the use of yoga and other mind/body practices have been increasingly utilised as a part of a ‘take care yourself’ neoliberal agenda. Westernised yoga has been argued as being a ‘technique of the self’ (Godrej, 2017) with the primary targets being middle-class white women who are sold yoga as part of “gendered therapeutic services” (Rosen, 2019, p. 296). The politics of neoliberalism converge with the modern interpretation of yoga as cultivating the self, resulting in a practice that is devoid of meaning and disconnected from the anti-materialist roots of yogic philosophy (Godrej, 2017).
Alongside this framing, yoga has also been positioned as an antidote to burnout and vicarious trauma, with Reynolds (2011) asserting that these practices are offered to social workers and other practitioners as individualised solutions to the pain witnessed in our work. Reynolds (2011, p. 29) writes:
I do yoga … but self-care is not enough to offset the issues of poverty, violence and basic dignity that people struggle with … Yoga does not create more units of housing or make welfare rates liveable.
Like Reynolds, we do not believe that yoga will do any of these things either, but Reynolds also emphasises that there is an “ethical responsibility” upon us to take care of ourselves so that we can be “fully present” with our work and have enough awareness to centre the suffering of those we work with without taking it on as our own (2011, p. 29).
With all this in mind, evidence shows that yoga is beneficial to those working with traumatised people. A 2015 study combining a mindfulness program and yoga for social workers increased the workers’ positive perception of their relationship with their clients, which in turn elevated their feelings of satisfaction with their work (Gregory, 2015). Community mental health counsellors experienced more hope and increased energy for their work after a yoga course (Murphy, 2013) , as did 53 counselling graduate students who took a 15-week mindfulness course that included yoga (Schure, Christopher, & Christopher, 2008).
There is often a false divide between practitioners and clients, with evidence showing that many of those who work in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault have been subjected to this abuse themselves, and we have designed these yoga practices in recognition of this also (Caulfield, 2015). Trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive yoga, which is yoga that is mindful of the impacts of trauma on the body and mind, has shown to align with the three-phase model of trauma recovery advocated by Herman (1992). This involves rebuilding safety in the body, processing and integrating memories and experiences into the whole-body awareness and embodying choices. A meta-analysis of the benefits of yoga for trauma and other related mental health issues found that there was considerable evidence that yoga is an “acceptable, feasible, practical, and low-risk intervention for individuals” and that yoga can “simply improve trauma-exposed individuals’ quality of life and well-being” (Macy, Jones, Graham, & Roach, 2015, p. 45).
We would be remiss if we did not provide some caution around the use of these videos, particularly if they are used as a treatment for particular issues, and would recommend that you consult with a health professional if you have specific concerns that you are working with. While these videos contain very gentle and basic movements, there is always the possible risk of injury, so please use them with awareness. We welcome your feedback on this series so get in touch with us if you have any questions or ideas for further videos. You can find our yoga series here.
Caulfield, L. (2015). 'Us' and 'them': Workers as survivors. DVRCV Advocate, (1), 41.
Godrej, Farah. 2017. “The Neoliberal Yogi and the Politics of Yoga.” Political Theory 45 (6): 772–800.
Gregory, A. (2015). Yoga and Mindfulness Program: The Effects on Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction in Social Workers. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 34(4), 372–393. http://doi.org/10.1080/15426432.2015.1080604
Judith, H. (1992). Trauma and Recovery. Basic Books.
Macy, R. J., Jones, E., Graham, L. M., & Roach, L. (2015). Yoga for Trauma and Related Mental Health Problems: A Meta-Review With Clinical and Service Recommendations. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19(1), 35–57. http://doi.org/10.1177/1524838015620834
Murphy, J. M. (2013). A yoga intervention for counselors with compassion fatigue: A literature review and qualitative case study.
Schure, M. B., Christopher, J., & Christopher, S. (2008). Mind–body medicine and the art of self‐care: teaching mindfulness to counseling students through yoga, meditation, and qigong. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86(1), 47-56.
Reynolds, V. (2011). Resisting burnout with justice-doing. International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, (4), 27.
Rosen, A. (2019). Balance, Yoga, Neoliberalism. Signs and Society, 7(3), 289-313.