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Joanna Cantor on Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Anxiety

Joanna's goal is to help her students unite their body and mind in the present moment. Her breath-based vinyasa classes incorporate creative sequencing and attention to alignment, heating and strengthening the physical body to prepare for relaxation and release. She has trained in Trauma Sensitive Yoga, and is knowledgeable about restorative and yin yoga and breathing techniques that bring about inner focus and tranquility.

In addition to teaching group, corporate, and private classes for students of all ages, Joanna has taught yoga and meditation to residents at Hazelden Tribeca Twelve, a drug rehab program for young adults. She taught patients working with severe depression, schizophrenia, and addiction at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and has worked with patients and clinicians at NYU Langone Medical Center. She loves seeing firsthand how yoga and other mind-body practices promote healing.

Joanna has completed a 40-hour Trauma Sensitive Yoga training with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dave Emerson, and Jenn Turner through the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute and has studied yoga as a complementary treatment for PTSD extensively with her mentor, Annie Piper. She is a graduate of Conquering Lion Yoga teacher training and has also participated in advanced teacher trainings at the Shala in New York.

In addition to teaching yoga and meditation, Joanna is a writer; her first novel, ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES FOR LOSS, was published in May 2018.

Read her interview with us below!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us! Please tell our readers a little about your yoga journey–how long have you practiced, how did you find yoga, and what made you decide to teach?

I've practiced yoga regularly since I moved to New York City after college. The practice became more meaningful to me around the time my father died in 2011; I realized that yoga, for me, was not only a physical and spiritual practice, but it was also a way that I connected to a community. Soon after that, I enrolled in a teacher training program, unsure if I would actually teach yoga but drawn to immersing myself in the practice for a period of time. I loved teaching right away and have been teaching for ten years. In 2014 I trained in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga with Dave Emerson, Jenn Turner, and Bessel van der Kolk.

How can yoga help with trauma, mental health or addiction? Tell us about some of your experiences.

Yoga helps us connect our bodies and our minds. So much of trauma and other mental health struggles--even run-of-the-mill stress and anxiety--involve disconnection or dissociation. We're lost in mental spiraling and forget to breathe, to feel our feet on the floor. Or we're shutting down our emotions in order to just power through the day. When we are able to connect body and mind, we instantly feel more present. Being present to our experience may actually be quite painful but it's a necessary step in healing.

How is trauma-informed yoga different from normal yoga?

Trauma-sensitive yoga has two main objectives: to help participants feel their bodies (proprioception) and help them make choices. It's the choices in particular that I see as different from "normal" yoga; in a vinyasa class, it would be sort of annoying and wishy washy if I was always saying to students, "when you feel ready, you could lift your right arm" or "you can choose to stay seated or to move onto hands and knees." But articulating choices--that the participant is always in control of their body--is an important part of trauma-sensitive yoga.

What benefits do you think we might see if yoga was available in hospitals and schools?

My four-year-old son is currently doing yoga one day a week at school and he loves it! I think more yoga, especially if it is breath-based yoga, in hospitals would help lowering anxiety and toning the nervous system, which is incredibly valuable; in schools I think it could also help promote concentration (and just on a really practical level, anything that gets my four-year-old moving his body is going to help with his mindset, his behavior...everything).

What would be your message to people who are hesitant or skeptical about trying yoga?

Yoga is a system of ancient practices; only one of the eight limbs of yoga set forth in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (considered the first compilation of yogic philosophy) has anything to do with a physical practice, even though that is so much of what we focus on in contemporary Western culture. So be sure you know what you're rejecting! There is likely some aspect of yoga, whether it's a meditation practice or mindfulness or breathing exercises or spirituality, that would speak to you.

But I'm also not a yoga evangelist; I am an evangelist of spending some time tuning into your breath, whether that's while you take a walk or chop vegetables or meditate. Find a way to tether your body and your mind together every day--that's my best advice.

Follow Joanna on:

- Instagram @joannacantor

- and her website

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