When yoga enthusiast and endurance athlete Kimberly Damm opened Yoga8 in April 2015, she wasn’t sure exactly what this small business would become or whether she could secure enough memberships for the studio to thrive.
She only knew, like a divine directive, that she was supposed to prepare this space for people who needed it.
“I’m actually a terrible business owner,” Damm said, laughing. “I hate asking for money even if someone hasn’t paid me in months. I just know how powerfully yoga changed my life in a time when I had no peace, no rest. When I opened the studio, I was answering a call. I was called to do this and to share the healing and empowering benefits of yoga with as many people as possible.”
Today, Yoga8 boasts an impressive stable of highly qualified instructors who teach more than 30 yoga and fitness classes every week, catering to all fitness levels, from yoga first-timers to advanced practitioners. Particularly exciting for Damm are two workshops — a Survivor Yoga Workshop and a Grief Yoga Workshop — designed to offer peace, support and healing to survivors of interpersonal trauma and to those who have lost someone they love, respectively.
Offered throughout the year, these workshops are not intended to replace traditional counseling — especially in recovery from interpersonal trauma — but rather complement other healing modalities.
Survivor Yoga Workshop
Salley Schmid, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Enrichment Training and Counseling Solutions in Waco, leads the six-week Survivor Yoga Workshop with Damm.
“I was reading ‘The Body Keeps Score,’ about surviving trauma and healing and the author kept bringing up yoga,” Schmid said. “And I had also been coming to the studio and getting to know (Damm), her heart and her passion. So I just reached out to her one day last May and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this’ and she said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And she launched the first workshop within two weeks of that conversation.”
Each workshop begins with a 10- to 20-minute educational component whereby Schmid shares with the group what trauma does to the mind, to the body, what triggering is, how the survivor responds to triggering and related information. Then, Damm, who is a survivor of personal trauma herself, leads the group through a yoga practice, offering an introduction to the philosophy of yoga as a starting place.
“Most people who come have never done a yoga class before, so I begin a very basic introduction,” Damm said. “And we flow through about an hourlong practice, and just like any yoga practice, we end in the pose of Savasana. And that’s when a lot of stuff starts to come up for our survivors.”
Savasana is a Sanskrit word referring to the final, supine resting pose in a yoga practice. Also known as “corpse pose,” it is difficult enough for the seasoned yogi to achieve complete stillness of body and mind in Savasana. It requires total relaxation and peace in one’s own skin — both elusive to most survivors of interpersonal trauma.
“Usually, I have a second counselor here with me to provide one-on-one support for those who are triggered and are really struggling to get grounded, to get back to the here and now,” Schmid explained. “It can feel as if you’re right back there with the person who perpetrated this abuse or assault against you and we use a number of tools to bring our survivors back to a calm state. We see tears, sobbing, fidgeting, strong bodily sensations that just don’t make sense. Those are some of the manifestations of triggering.”
Schmid uses a number of sensory tools to bring survivors out of a triggered state and back to an awareness that they are in a safe and nurturing environment, including self-talk, fidget cubes to manipulate with the hands, acupressure rings to roll up and down the fingers, and essential oils, coffee, Lemonheads and Altoid mints, stimulating the olfactory senses.
Ideally, survivors are able to remain in Savasana for a little bit longer each week and complete the workshop with increased peace in stillness and an ability to recognize and better cope with their triggers.
“We do not know anyone’s stories when they walk through that door,” Damm said. “We don’t talk about your individual trauma at all; we don’t ask questions about your experience, but we do require a referral from a medical professional or a licensed counselor to join the workshop in order to provide the safest possible environment and so we know that each survivor has a professional they can meet with as they process the stuff that comes up in these yoga classes.”
Damm and Schmid were hoping for at least four signups going into the first-ever Survivor Yoga Workshop last year. To their surprise, they had 18 participants, many of whom intend to repeat the workshop or move on to a Thrive Yoga Workshop — a “next-step” option for those who’ve completed the survivor workshop. Schmid says the overwhelming response speaks to a great need for a more holisitic approach to trauma recovery.
The third Survivor Yoga Workshop and first-ever Thrive Yoga Workshop conclude in February and will relaunch in the spring. Visit yogaeight.net/workshops for more details.
Grief Yoga Workshop
From the day Sarah Miller began her master’s degree at Truett Theological Seminary until the day she graduated in 2014, she never wavered from her calling to become a hospice chaplain.
Today, she works for SouthernCare Hospice in Waco and she says yoga is a non-negotiable in her own life, given the emotional toll her work takes. Miller is also a certified yoga instructor and is thus able to teach yoga to her patients and the family members who care for them.
“I wanted to use yoga to help people who are dying feel more peace about this stage of life and also help caretakers carve out some time for themselves and experience that same peace during a very stressful time,” Miller said. “Even a patient who is bed-bound can benefit from guided meditations and other mindfulness training. My patients who are dying just want to feel alive while they’re still here and yoga makes you feel alive and peaceful and grounded in the moment.”
Miller was introduced to Damm months ago by a mutual friend, and she expressed her desire to teach grief yoga at Yoga8. Drawing on her experience with her own patients and working with Damm, Miller designed a formal, four-week Grief Yoga Workshop in fall 2016 and opened it up to anyone who had lost a loved one in the last few years, or was in the process of losing someone.
“We had a wonderful turnout and the feedback has been phenomenal,” Miller said. “We had people who’d lost siblings, a child, parents, spouses. When you’re grieving, that grief takes a physical toll: your shoulders are hunched, your heart is hurting, you’re experiencing this tearing apart. Yoga doesn’t bring your loved one back; it doesn’t keep your loved one from dying, but it does help you to open your chest, to breathe, to lower your shoulders, and to use that time to take care of yourself.”
Miller uses a portion of the workshop to affirm the experience of each participant simply by “speaking back to them what they already know — that this is hard, that their world is spinning, that they need stability,” she said.
During one class session Miller read aloud the mental, emotional and physical dimensions of grief, watching people’s expressions soften as her words resonated.
“Sometimes it just feels good to know you’re not crazy and that everything you’re experiencing is normal,” she said. “Also, when you’re practicing yoga, you’re accepting that there is something greater and that this visit here on Earth is just temporary. It can be lonely to grieve. You feel like you’re alone in this. And to be in a room of other grievers makes you feel like you’re not alone.”
For Damm, watching the way in which Yoga8 — opened only three years ago — is serving others is deeply inspiring.
“When I opened this studio, it was a business,” Damm said. “But, it’s so much more than that now. I couldn’t have foreseen these Survivor Yoga Workshops and Grief Yoga Workshops; or the intensive, amazing teacher training we offer through Yoga8 Academy. I always want Yoga8 to be a sanctuary — a place where anyone can come as they are, bringing with them whatever they bring, to learn and develop the skills to find inner peace.”
6710 Woodway Drive
Information about Survivor Yoga Workshops and Grief Yoga Workshops or 200-hour teacher training through Yoga8 Academy is online at yogaeight.net.
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