Offering unconditional positive regard, an ECYOutreach update


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Edinburgh Community Yoga’s Outreach projects update.

Edinburgh Community Yoga is a not-for-profit social enterprise which means every penny goes back into the organisation to develop our outreach projects. That means by joining our classes, attending our retreats or supporting our fundraisers you help us to do what we do best; making yoga accessible to everyone! So a huge thank you for all your support and here’s a wee update on what we’re up to..

Edinburgh Community Yoga’s outreach projects continue to go from strength to strength. Our ambitious programme of classes and workshops now extends to veterans, women affected by trauma, psychiatric in-patients, prisoners and NHS staff.

At the heart of everything we do is the notion of unconditional positive regard. Many of the people we work with are battling with mental health issues, chaotic lifestyles, addiction, poverty, social isolation and low self-esteem. We believe that while we may not always like an individual’s behaviour, as yoga teachers and therapists a fundamental part of our role involves looking past the behaviour and offering a compassionate attitude to whoever finds their way onto a yoga mat.

Being accepted and respected may be an unfamiliar experience for many of our outreach students and in offering a genuine non-judgmental space in which to open and let go we aim to allow a seed of healing to be planted.

Most of the time offering unconditional positive regard is easy. We often find our outreach students to be the warmest and most open. But that isn’t always the case. In those more testing moments we rely on our own practice to ground us in the fundamentals of yoga – non violence, compassion, respect and truthfulness. This doesn’t mean disregarding our own right for respect – when working in prisons and secure hospitals our own safety is of course of the upmost importance – but our belief that offering respect invites it, does seem to serve us well.

We are often asked how, when teaching a group of convicted violent criminals, do we continue to show unconditional positive regard? The answer is very simple; by seeing the person not the behaviour. Yoga is about oneness and connection. If you as the teacher can create a safe space, and practice with an honest intention, the barriers begin to dissolve. We are simply humans, moving and breathing together.

Experiencing trauma is familiar for many of the people we work with, so developing a trauma informed approach is close to our hearts. We recently had the good fortune to receive funding from First State Scotland to run a weekly yoga class and weekend yoga retreat for women in recovery and affected by trauma as part of a year long project with Womenzone, run by local charity Comas. What a privilege it was to witness women growing together in a weekend dedicated to healing, self-compassion and cultivating calm. One of the attendees wrote afterward: “My idea of yoga was bending into shapes that seemed impossible, how wrong could I be? Yoga teachers who just get you, they take you on a journey of emotional discovery through breathing-you can find peace.”

Lorraine Close, the outreach director for Edinburgh Community Yoga has been running a weekly class for these women over the past year and between them they have built an extraordinary healing sanga, which continues to grow and develop. Sadly the project is threatened due to loss of funding but we are hopeful that this will be resolved through continued fundraising efforts.

Undeterred by the current climate of austerity we continue to seek funding for our projects and to grow and develop.

We have recently launched an innovative venture working with Scottish military veterans. We are running yoga classes for staff and residents at Whitefoord House, a Veterans residence, as part of a 12 month project funded through the Scottish Veterans Fund. Our work is in collaboration with the Veterans Community Café and Keith McKenzie, a mindfulness teacher and Buddhist Chaplain for the military. Keith is also a veteran and his support in this project is invaluable.

Many people who have served in the military find themselves in difficult circumstances on return. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common occurrence, as is homelessness and drug and alcohol misuse. In offering the transformative practices of yoga and meditation to this community we hope to provide valuable new ways of coping as they adjust to life outside of the forces.

Meanwhile our addiction recovery programmes roll on for a fourth year with classes running at Lothian Edinburgh Addiction Program, Comas and Penumbra Milestone house which rehabilitates people with Alcohol related brain damage (ARBD). Penny Horner, one of our valued outreach team, who teaches the eight-week course, writes of her work for Penumbra:

“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. 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.”

Our classes supporting psychiatric in-patients also continue to thrive. At the Royal Edinburgh hospital in Morningside our drop-in class (which began in 2012) is still going strong with another one of our outreach teachers, Eva Alberiche offering a place of calm and safety. The class has become extremely important to the regulars who attend and helps serve as a stepping-stone to rehabilitation for patients making the transition back into the community.

Over the past year Lorraine has been running a trauma informed class for people who self-harm with the support of Merrick Pope, Clinical Nurse Specialist from the self harm service. Self harm is a complex issue that is often a result of repeated traumatic life experience. The class allows people to begin to safely explore physical sensation in the body, experience the present moment and make choices in the way they move and breathe. One participant says of her experience:

“The benefit of yoga has been physically accepting the body and its failings – being able to touch the body without feeling repulsed.”

And another:

“Being more connected or in tune with your body – not treating it as separate entity or a punch bag when anxious , stressed . Learning how mind can control body and body can control mind – feeling ‘whole’ and centered.”

At ECY we believe that yoga should be adapted to fit the person not the person the yoga. In our continued efforts to make the practices accessible to everyone Eva also runs a chair based class which allows some of our more mature students and others who may be living with long term health conditions to gain the deeply relaxing and immune boosting benefits of a more gentle approach. Eva’s ability to pitch the class just right for the participants offers students accessible ways to move and breath mindfully. Gillian Harris a new recruit to ECY, is taking her interest delivering chair yoga into a local care home where the residents enjoy a series of chair-based stretches and postures designed to improve mobility and mindful breathing exercises for relaxation.

Financing our work remains an uphill struggle so we are always delighted when organisations commit to continuing our classes. We have just had the go ahead to continue with the classes currently running in a secure psychiatric hospital in Lanarkshire. I run weekly yoga therapy groups with in-patients and staff. In the morning I work with two groups, one with additional learning needs where we work on developing focus and concentration through movement and breath and a second class specifically designed to work on issues around mental health Our practices focus on developing an internal connection, learning to regulate emotions, self-compassion and respect. My visit ends with a staff class who are always grateful for the chance to nurture themselves.

Love Laura x

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