Specialized yoga used to treat trauma

Monday, April 6, 2015
(Sentinel photo by Amy Erickson) Marie Mortensen (right), Trauma Sensitive Yoga facilitator, leads staff members, at Plains Area Mental Health Center, in Le Mars, through a series of exercises designed to treat trauma. Marilyn Palmer (left seated), Krista Larson and Joan Susemihl performed the activities, which can also help with daily stressors, according to Mortensen.

LE MARS -- An unconventional method using the body has proven effective in treating trauma, according to research.

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, or TSY, is an adjunctive treatment for chronic, treatment resistant Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Marie Mortensen, TSY facilitator, now offers that to clients at Plains Area Mental Health, Inc.

Plains serves 11 counties, including Plymouth, in northwest Iowa.

Mortensen saw her first clients in March.

TSY, combining Trauma Theory and Hatha Yoga practices, was developed at the Trauma Center, in Brookline, Mass.

Mortensen explained TSY as a form of healing, focusing on an individual's physicality.

"It's based on the premise that any condition of the mind is also a condition of the body," she said. "Trauma doesn't just affect your brain. It affects your body."

The essence of yoga, Mortensen said, is what people do with their bodies affects how they feel.

"TSY is about giving people tools for using their bodies to change how they feel," she added.

Mortensen explained most of her TSY activities involve someone sitting in a chair, as opposed to traditional yoga forms.

She does, however, have mats if a client is interested and able to do other yoga forms.

"The kind of yoga I do here is very specifically developed for this kind of work," Mortensen said. "It's not intended to be a cardio workout."

During her sessions, Mortensen doesn't do hands-on physical assists because her clients are 100 percent in charge.

"A lot of things with trauma, it usually involves a lack of control, a lack of choice," she said. "This can also be a way of viscerally giving people an opportunity to take charge."

Mortensen said she doesn't do any verbal processing.

"I don't talk to them about whatever happened to them," she said. "What I address is what is happening right now in your body."

Clients can do verbal processing with their therapists, Mortensen explained.

"Trauma-Sensitive Yoga is not a replacement for therapy," she said. "It's an addition to that."

All of her clients have either been recommended by their therapist at Plains or discovered TSY on their own, Mortensen said.

She trained in 2014 to teach TSY and became a registered teacher with the Yoga Alliance in 2013.

Prior to becoming a teacher, Mortensen said she had been doing yoga for about 10 years.

She found it to be beneficial in her personal life.

Mortensen said she experienced difficulty spending years in, at times, a very unhealthy dance environment, while dealing with an eating disorder.

Practicing yoga was a positive in handling that situation, she said.

"I had regular therapy and that saved me," Mortensen said. "Therapy saved me, but yoga helped heal me."

Mortensen said she is hoping the same happens for her clients at Plains.

"I am really interested because yoga was so beneficial for me," she said.

Patrick Schmitz, Plains Area executive director, said he was intrigued when Mortensen approached him about bringing TSY to Plains.

He said he thought it fit with Plains' Integrated Health Services program, which focuses on treating all of a client's health care needs.

"Knowing there was something else out there that could help people recover from their trauma, I was definitely interested in that," Schmitz said.

He said therapists at Plains were also receptive to TSY.

"We look to expand it even more in terms of how often she's doing it, in terms of how many (clients)," he said.

Of the clients Mortensen has tried TSY with, there have been very positive results, Schmitz said.

"It's proving to be what we hoped it would be," he said.

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