In the midst of the yoga festival excitement, we thought we’d hear from one of our wonderful ECYOutreach teachers, Penny Horner. You’ll also find Penny teaching yoga nidra, gentle yoga and well women yoga at Meadowlark yoga and other studios across the city. She is a truly gentle spirit, who’s teaching skills lie in her intuitive understanding of the students she works with and her ability to take yoga to the most diverse of settings. Here she writes of her experience teaching yoga at the Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD) live in centre run by Penumbra Milestone, where she has been working for almost a year. Thank you Penny.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first took on a fortnightly yoga class at a residential unit for ARBD in Edinburgh. And I still don’t, nearly a year later. Every class is different depending on the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the residents at the time. It can be fun, it can be lively, it can be quiet, it can be a bit chaotic but it’s always both challenging and rewarding.
The unit is run by Penumbra, a mental health charity which supports and rehabilitates adults with ARBD. Yoga is one of a number of activities offered to residents to help them on their journey.
ARBD is caused by heavy alcohol consumption over a period of time. It presents differently across individuals. There might be both cognitive impairment and physical disability, in varying levels of severity, caused by the brain damage and compounded by falls, poor nutrition and so on as a result of heavy drinking. Withdrawal from alcohol dependency itself brings its own issues. Anxiety, inability to sleep, depression and lethargy are common experiences.
But the good news is that recovery is possible and much of the brain damage can be reversed. And yoga can be a helpful tool on the road to recovery alongside the physical, psychological and social care provided by the unit.
The yoga class lasts for around 90 minutes. We use a small communal area away from the main lounge. It’s even more important than in a general class to limit the number of distractions and interruptions for participants. I follow the MARK (Minded Addiction Recovery Kit) approach taught by Shaura Hall at the Minded Institute and guide participants through a 30 minute yoga nidra (deep relaxation) and meditation before introducing movement.
Conducting a nidra at the beginning of a yoga class was, initially ,counter intuitive to me. But it really works to bring participants into their breath and body awareness before turning to physical movement. It has reinforced to me how ‘adaptogenic’ nidra is, how it can be formulated to bring benefits in very different circumstances. Here it provides a way for participants to come home to themselves, to a sense of calm and safety.
The movement itself is inevitably gentle and varies from week to week depending on physical abilities and restrictions. It includes a Kundalini based kriya. Again, this was something I was sceptical about in training. However, I have found it to be a popular and effective part of the session. The short, fast movements challenge participants but it’s energising, uplifting and fun. The Minded Institute’s research suggests that this sort of coordinated movement with the breath has the potential to initiate neurogenesis, cell growth in the brain and by using grounding practices between movements the participants can explore this safely.
We finish with more relaxation and guided meditation.
It is incredibly rewarding to hear from participants how the session allows them to feel more relaxed than they have felt for a long time and to pass on tools from nidra and meditation for people to use themselves when they find themselves becoming anxious or distressed in a way that is safe and accessible for them.
There have inevitably been challenges along the way: reluctance to take part, interruptions, comings and goings and very occasionally, open hostility to all things yoga. But ECYO are always there in the background providing wonderful support and wisdom.
It is a privilege to work with the lovely people at Penumbra and to observe the progress people make over the course of their stay with the care they receive. I personally have learned a huge amount and I continue to be amazed and in awe of the positive effects that yoga can have in so many diverse circumstances.