‘This is the best hour of my whole week. I know that sounds pretty sad, but it’s true.’ Rosie, a regular at yoga sessions organised by Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach.
I’ve come up to Edinburgh again to visit Lorraine and Laura from Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach and I have the privilege of hearing Rosie’s words firsthand. They’re uttered at the end of this week’s yoga class that runs as part of the Women’s Project run by COMAS at the Serenity Café, Edinburgh. This Womenzone Project has been set up to support women suffering from trauma of some kind, many having been diagnosed with PTSD. And yoga has become an integral part of what the project has to offer. Lorraine, the teacher, has asked if anyone has anything to say, as she always does. And that’s what Rosie said that this is the best hour in her whole week. She goes on to say that this is the only hour of silence in her week. A precious time to herself and for herself.
And yet the room is nothing special. It’s not ideal (although the view out across Arthur’s Seat is pretty spectacular). It’s not well equipped. Someone arrived late and we all had to shuffle up to make room. There’s been a phone vibrating on the table at intervals throughout the class. No one is wearing specific yogawear, even the teacher.
But none of this seems to matter to this particular group of women. They live busy, pretty chaotic lives and yet they all make an effort to be here. They make it a priority. They tell their friends how good it is and how much it’s helping them and these friends sometimes then come along and give it a go.
What Rosie said moved me. I was keen to chat with her further after the class to hear more. She’s been coming for five weeks, since the course started. Right from the first session, she found it easy to relax. Which doesn’t normally happen for her. She has five kids and a super busy life. She never takes time out for herself. Now that she has discovered this time and space for herself, she knows how important it is for her. She doesn’t feel guilty about being here, because being here calms her down. She remembers how after the first session, she had nothing to say. Nothing at all. Which isn’t like her at all! She felt so completely relaxed, pretty spaced out. It was a completely new feeling. She loves how Lorraine is so calm and creates such a safe space, how she helps Rosie relax but also encourages her to stretch and challenge her body.
‘It’s massive. Yoga is massive for me.’
Towards the end of the class each week, Lorraine repeats these words three times –
I am safe. I am safe. Healing has already begun.
These words have been deeply significant to one member of the group, Colette. She came to the group having been housebound for four years in excruciating pain with frozen shoulders. She’d been surviving on a range of painkillers for years and was desperate to come off them. She’d tried yoga on and off for fifteen years, but this group was different. This yoga was different. She felt no pressure. She liked that it was only women and was specifically targeted at women with trauma. She realises now that she was carrying a huge amount of tension and trauma in her shoulders. Coming to this class is now a priority for Colette.
‘Even if I’m feeling bad, I will make the effort to come, because I know it will do me good mentally and physically. Lorraine has such a calm manner and knows not to touch and is emotionally intelligent. I can hear her voice in my head when I’m having a panic attack and it has really helped – I am safe. I am safe. Healing has already begun.’
At the beginning of 2016, Lucy was diagnosed with PTSD which was a turning point for her. So much has changed for her in the last year and yoga has played a part in that. She wanted to come off her medication and find other strategies to deal with what she was going through. Getting more in touch with her body and learning to relax was a huge part of that.
‘I love Tuesdays, it’s my favourite day of the week. I have such a peaceful feeling after. I have two small children and my mind is so active that I’m usually either over active or asleep! It’s all been good for me. All positive. I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve come so far in such a short space of time.
Lucy has seen a difference in her whole life. She’s calmer in everything she does. She has a lavender eye pillow that she turns to when she’s having a stressful time. She takes herself off for ten minutes and concentrates on her breathing with her eye pillow over her eyes.
As I listen to Lucy talking about Christmas and parenting and understanding her own trauma, I feel deep respect for the self-awareness that she has gained and her determination to turn her life around. She’s becoming a better parent – more calm and observant. She’s starting to look for a job for the first time in eight years and is realistic about the stresses involved. She’s more compassionate towards herself. And she’s determined to avoid debt this Christmas by making handmade gifts and being sensible. As I say, deep respect.
It’s Lucy’s enthusiasm for yoga that has encouraged Lynn to come along and give it a go. Today is her first session. She’s loved it. She’s already familiar with meditation and reads widely. She knows keeping busy is best for her healing and recovery and she’s determined to make yoga a part of that. After a recent change in her personal circumstances, she’s now more able to work on her self-esteem and confidence. She’s got a long way to go, but intends to live in the present moment and take life one step at a time.
Fen has been practising yoga for about a year and a half on courses run by the Serenity café. She tried it before that but didn’t really get it. She’d been used to more high intensity workouts and kept thinking ‘When are they going to start moving?’ But as she began to understand herself and her own trauma and her own rehabilitation better, she began to see how yoga could help her to connect with her body, her thoughts and her feelings.
‘When I used to say what I was feeling, they’d ask me ‘Where are you feeling it? Where in your body are you feeling it?’ and I never had an answer. I just didn’t feel much in my body. I was dissociated from my body. There was a distance. Yoga has helped me come back into my body.’
Fen attends two yoga classes with Lorraine from Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach back to back on a Tuesday. She looks forward to it all week. On the day, it chills her out and puts her in a good mood, but it affects the rest of the week too. The breathing helps her with her anxiety. She didn’t realise how much until the class wasn’t on one week and her anxiety levels were horrific that week. She finds the relaxation and meditation completely different to anything else. And she’s keen to learn more. She feels ready to practise yoga at home on a daily basis and has asked Lorraine for a prompt sheet of how to work through some poses.
Along with the founder of Edinburgh Community Yoga Laura Wilson, Lorraine runs Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach, a not for profit organisation. She’s been specifically trained to work with groups such as this one and now, with Laura, has developed training for other teachers who are interested in yoga outreach. In this class, yoga has become transformational in the lives of these women and Lorraine has created a safe, calm environment for this transformation to take place. Laura was describing how she is currently undertaking one to one yoga practice with individuals in a secure psychiatric unit in the city. Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach is committed to reaching out to those on the margins of society to bring an authentic yoga practice into their lives.
This is a good work. A really, really good work. If you had sat and drunk tea in this café with these girls as I had the privilege of doing, you would hear for yourself the passion in their voices as they talked about their experience of yoga. Yoga is making a massive difference to the lives of these young women.
If you would like to know more about this work, or would like to support it by making a donation, then do please visit Edinburgh Community Yoga.