Instructor Rachel Allyn demonstrates Sun Breath

A while back I posted about a research project examining whether yoga could benefit domestic violence survivors.   At that time, the research design had not yet been finalized.  I can now report back on the study and preliminary findings.

The Domestic Abuse Project, in collaboration with Cari Clark, ScD, a faculty member at the University of MN Medical School, engaged in a feasibility study to determine whether “trauma sensitive yoga” could be successfully incorporated into group therapy sessions for women who have experienced domestic abuse.

The hypothesis is that yoga, customized for women who have suffered trauma, will help with healing and coping.  While talk therapy is helpful, the physicality of yoga could help participants tune in to their bodies, feel empowered and relieve stress.  The attention to the person’s own body during the exercises may reinforce the importance of taking control of their situation and taking effective action in their everyday lives.

First, some of the core principles of trauma-sensitive yoga:

  • There is an awareness of yoga poses which could cause participants to feel vulnerable or could re-trigger a traumatic experience.  For example, the model avoids or introduces participants slowly to poses that expose a woman’s chest or open her hips (e.g., Happy Baby) because many of the women have experienced sexual abuse.
  • The leader’s language is “invitational”, rather than directive.
  • The leader suggests alternatives, giving participants permission to make their own choices or modifications (which theoretically could have applicability to their personal lives).
  • Language is concrete to facilitate awareness of the body; Sanscrit is not used since it could be an obstacle to understanding and accessibility.

DAP clients who participated in the study were assigned to the experimental group or a control group.  The experimental group did 30-40 minutes of yoga each session and the control group did a maximum of 15 minutes of relaxation exercises.   Both groups also participated in standard group therapy for women who had experienced domestic abuse.

The study found that in fact this protocol could indeed be safely and practically incorporated into group therapy.  While the sample was too small to yield definitive conclusions, the researchers are optimistic about its promise.  Angela Lewis-Dmello, one of the co-principal investigators (and a DAP clinician) noted, “We have found this intervention can be easily integrated into the traditional group talk-therapy format, there is enthusiasm from the women survivors regarding its integration, and we know from the womens’ reports how empowering, centering, and restorative this intervention feels. It holds the potential to be the next step, and a vital tool, in their healing. “

Stay tuned for yet more results as the clinicians/researchers continue to refine and expand the study.