Contributions from the Community of Students
Centering Underserved Communities with Healing-Focused Yoga
I am a queer and nonbinary clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Xavier University of New Orleans. As a sexual and gender minority student, in a program that is a collaboration between a school of professional psychology and a historically Black university, in a city where racial and ethnic minorities make up over 60 percent of the population, I have benefited from clinical training that continuously centers the needs of our underserved community. I have been encouraged to act on personal and professional values that allow me to view challenges in community mental health as opportunities to serve. In the context of those challenges, I have learned the importance of asking myself, “What do I have the capacity to do about this and what privilege do I have that I can utilize to improve this?”
Before I entered graduate school, I was a yoga and mindfulness instructor specializing in trauma-informed yoga. I studied the principles of trauma-informed care and learned how to facilitate yoga and mindfulness practices that meet participants where they are at while encouraging autonomy and resiliency. Throughout my graduate studies, I have continued to facilitate these practices at a home for survivors of sex trafficking, and I chose a dissertation focus that has deepened my understanding of mindfulness as a clinical intervention.
Last year, Sarah Morrison, a friend of mine who is active in the New Orleans chapter of Black Youth Project 100, reached out to me to ask if I knew of any training programs for the facilitation of trauma-informed yoga with a social justice lens. Sarah recognized how her organization could benefit from having a member trained with those skills to help each other cope with the minority stress and vicarious trauma inherent in their activism. As far as I knew, such a training program did not exist in our city yet.
I asked myself, “What do I have the capacity to do about this?” I believe in the need for psychology to expand beyond the clinic, to meet individuals where they are, how they are and to whenever possible, hand over the clinical tools to community members to share with each other, especially if we hope to bring equity to mental health disparities for people of color and gender and sexual minorities. Practices such as community-based mindfulness and yoga have the ability to expand therapeutic options and increase accessibility beyond traditional psychotherapy.
Sarah and I decided to collaborate on the creation of the Healing-Focused Yoga Certification, a training program of five months for underserved individuals to learn how to share mindfulness and yoga with their communities. Inspired by Shawn Ginwright, PhD, we chose to call our approach healing-focused rather than trauma-informed, since the term trauma-informed can be “akin to saying [to survivors], you are the worst thing that ever happened to you,” (Ginwright, 2018). We hoped that through our choice of words, we could begin to shift from centering trauma to centering healing. This distinction also allowed us to include individuals with minority stress, those whose experiences may not fall within the traditional understanding of incidental trauma or who might not name their experiences as trauma but could still benefit from practices that support self-compassion and self-efficacy.
We anchored our training in six competencies: cultural humility, accountability, communication skills, scientific understanding, yoga facilitation and mindfulness facilitation. The trainees completed readings, practice assignments and supervised teaching, and now each graduate is facilitating healing-focused yoga in the New Orleans community. As of today, graduates are offering regular classes for formerly incarcerated people, gender and sexual minority survivors of trauma, people with HIV and Black survivors of trauma. Although the training is over, we still meet monthly to consult with each other and share about our work.
Prior to starting the training, I did not realize how impactful it would be for me personally. With excitement and curiosity, I thought about the ways in which it could benefit my community, but I did not consider how much the establishment of a group of people committed to those same values might transform my life personally. During the training, I realized how much I had been closing off parts of my identity in order to make others feel more comfortable. Inspired by the support of the training participants, I finally felt able to accept my gender identity and to begin to share my identity with others.
As I look ahead to internship and graduation, I hope that the nature of my work will continue to change in unexpected ways. I hope that I will continue to allow myself to be transformed by my work and remain open to the support of those alongside me.
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audre Lorde
Lorde, Audre. (1997). The Cancer Journals. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.
Ginwright, Shawn. (2018, May 31). The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Medium, Retrieved from https://medium.com/@ginwright/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c