This 8-week online program is based on three evidence-based approaches to healing:
Approach #1 - Trauma-Informed Movement
The primary component of this program is to empower individuals to reconnect with the sensations within their body in a safe and healing way. For many people who have experienced a traumatic event, there is a back and forth between reliving the painful memories of a past trauma and disconnecting from body sensations through distraction, avoidance, numbing or denial as a way to survive and feel safe. Staying present is increasingly difficult given the fluctuation between extreme emotions and conscious avoidance. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that increasing body-awareness through the practice of yoga can help trauma survivors rebuild self-regulation skills and help mend the disconnection between the mind and body.
The yoga intervention was developed by a 250-hour certified and registered Canadian Yoga Alliance (CYA) Hatha-Vinyasa yoga teacher with additional specialized 30-hour in-person training in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Training from the Justice Resource Institute (www.jri.org), Boston, MA, USA. The eight week program will follow a modified existing protocol and will be supervised by a registered clinical psychologist that has expertise in mindfulness-based psychotherapy for mental health disorders for the entire duration of the intervention to ensure additional mental and emotional support is provided to participants who might experience a re-triggering of PTSD symptoms. The foundation of the yoga program is built upon Hatha-Vinyasa yoga postures that include breath awareness, movement and meditation.
Approach #2 - Mindfulness Techniques
Mindfulness meditation is simply defined as paying attention to our present-moment experience with an open and non-judgmental attitude. Using our natural breathing rhythms as our guide, we simply start by focusing our attention on our natural breath cycle (i.e., inhale & exhale) and notice what is occurring in our inner (i.e., body sensations, thoughts, emotions) and outer (i.e., environment) experience. The goal is to be with the present moment exactly as it is, without judgement.
During much of our daily lives, we see our current experience through the lens of our past experiences, assumptions, and future expectations. We spend a great deal of time thinking about the past or worry about an uncertain future. These thoughts and related emotions continually happen as an inner dialogue or personal narrative, a process known as automatic thinking.
Automatic thinking is the automatic process of labelling one’s experience. That is, attaching judgement and meaning to one's experience that may or may not be true. We can think of it as our gut reactions to life’s events (e.g. good or bad? happy or sad? satisfied or dissatisfied?). While automatic thinking can be useful, at times when it becomes overly negative or worrisome it presents an obstacle to achieve an inner calm. When automatic thoughts are overly negative, we become overly focused on negative experiences of past or foreshadow negative events in the future.
Here is a great introduction to mindfulness by Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX-ZLXWE_jA
How to do Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation teaches us to pay attention to sensations, thoughts, and emotions as they happen in the present moment. We do this by intentionally focusing on the sensation of breathing at any time we need it and for any length of time. You can practice mindfulness on your commute, in-between classes, the first thing in the morning, or even while brushing your teeth! While we notice our breath, it is a common experience to notice the mind begin to wander. When we become aware of the mind wandering, we acknowledge the thought, emotion or concern that arises, observe it non-judgmentally, and simply return our attention to to our breath each and every time we notice our mind is distracted. This process gradually alters our relationship to our thoughts, so that their immediate influence is diminished, lead way to a calm and composed way to respond to current events.
In this 8-week course, you will become familiarized with the main principles of mindfulness meditation in a friendly and welcoming setting. We will begin with breath awareness techniques and gradually expand our practice to include longer sessions, guided body scans, and guided sessions for specific emotions.
Approach #3 - Online Health Coaching
To enhance program adherence via the online delivery format, participants will be matched with a trained health coach through secure text messaging and/or video-conference meetings for the duration of the program to discuss symptoms, specific goals, weekly progress and personal barriers, and mindfulness practices for symptom reduction. Health coaching has demonstrated to lead to increased behavioural modifications (e.g., physical activity, weight loss) and plays an important role in enhancing participant self-awareness, accountability, and program adherence. Participants and health coaches will interact via text, email, and/or phone at weekly intervals based on a standardized health coaching protocol adapted from previously successful RCTs in improving physical activity, weight loss, and program adherence. Health coaches are specially trained in Cognitive Behavioural Training, Motivational Interviewing, Behaviour Change Theory, Mindfulness facilitation, and mental health symptom reduction by a clinical psychologist at York University. Health coaches undergo regular weekly training and supervision on the principles of health coach support, motivational interviewing techniques, and therapeutic alliance training.