Since I started “practicing” yoga a few years ago, I tout it as a solution to all problems to anyone who will listen.  My style of yoga is toward the gentle end of the continuum, as opposed to the “corepower” approach.  The benefits to me have included increased flexibility and, at least for a few minutes after class, a sense of relaxation and serenity. I may also have gained some strength and gracefulness, although the jury is out on that. 

The relaxation time during class gives one the opportunity to let thoughts come and go and “just be,” a gift we don’t usually give ourselves during our busy days.  I see the benefits for both men and women (maybe even especially men who typically hold in more than women).

So I was delighted and not surprised to learn that the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) recently received a 2011 Community Pilot grant, through the University of Minnesota’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, for a feasibility study to examine the impact of yoga/mindfulness on violence survivors’ mental health and coping skills.

The study will look at the impact of about 20 minutes of gentle yoga, focusing on mindfulness and breathing activity, on women receiving group therapy for domestic abuse.  The hypothesis is that this activity, incorporated into the therapy session, will improve mental health and coping skills.  The women will self report on several measures – anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, engaging in activities to take care of themselves and effectively managing their environment and life situation. Participants who go through standard group counseling without the yoga component will also fill out the same questionnaires.

Angela Lewis-Dmello is a therapist at DAP and the co-principal investigator of the research.  She explained, “Often people who have experienced trauma mentally separate themselves from their bodies, as a coping mechanism.  However, to really heal, people have to be able to integrate their minds and bodies.  Yoga may be a safe way to help make this happen.”

While there has been a great deal written on the mental and physical health benefits of yoga/mindfulness – on veterans with PTSD, cancer survivors and others- more evidence-based research needs to be done.   A more definitive understanding of whether yoga (and what types of yoga) can help heal could lead to improved health for individuals and more effective programs for those who have suffered trauma. 

More generally, it’s always welcome when well-intentioned approaches and interventions are evaluated to see if they really work!  In the long run, that’s the way to improve services and spend scarce resources wisely.

Namaste.

Disclosure:  I’m on the board of directors of the Domestic Abuse Project.

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