Patty is a Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator (TCTSY-F), experienced 500 hour registered yoga teacher (E-500 RYT) and a Yoga 4 Cancer yoga teacher. The practice of yoga has guided Patty through the cancer journey of her two year old daughter and the unearthing of her own personal trauma history. She speaks with knowledge and passion about the way in which yoga has kept her moving forward. When she discovered TCTSY, she knew this methodology was the next step in her yoga journey. She is committed to share what she has learned so others can find healing for themselves.
Patty offers TCTSY to create space for individuals to experience present moment awareness at their own pace, and to empower participants to make choices about what works for them one movement at a time. Practicing in this way creates a safe environment to move towards embodiment and reclaim the connection to self that was compromised by trauma. She has been teaching since 2010 and is focused on facilitating TCTSY in treatment facilities, hospitals, yoga studios, community and therapy centers to teens and adults.
Can you just tell us a little about your yoga practice and how you got into yoga?
It went back to when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. She was two. She was sick for 18 months, and then finally she was able to go to preschool. In the preschool, they had a yoga class, and a woman who was a Reiki Master, and the Reiki Master said, “Why don't you just go down to the basement and do some yoga? If they need you, they can come and get you.”
Over time, the practice itself really released a lot of anxiety, and all the things that I had been going through since we were in and out of the hospital for 18 months. Over time, I realized that there was something to it, and I decided to become a teacher to work with caregivers–originally, people who had kids with cancer.
I also kept doing yoga on my own, for my own practice, and I actually started to have some childhood repressed memories come up. I started seeing a therapist and realized getting in touch with my body allowed some of this stuff. I was meditating as well, and I read Bessel van der Kolk’s book, and I said, wow, they kind of are offering that as a practice. I did it without taking the trauma yoga practice– I just did yoga, and it kind of came out anyway. So then I said, I really want to study that practice, so that I could offer that. So that’s how I got to do the trauma yoga.
How has yoga helped you personally?
It got me in touch with stuff I didn't know I was walking around with, and it's changed who I am as a person. I’m not so grumpy anymore. I can talk to people. If you talk about somebody who has been through complex trauma, there's just a lot that they can't do in terms of just being in the world. They're constantly looking for what the next attack is gonna be. Yoga has just changed everything about me.
How can yoga help with trauma? What are some of the main benefits of that?
So what I learned through the trauma center trauma sensitive yoga training is that studies have shown that people that have been through trauma are on alert. They don't want to be touched. So even though that feels loving as a yoga teacher, it's triggering, and that's the last thing you want to do. So TCTS-yoga doesn’t tell the participant how to be in their bodies. It allows them to figure out how they want to be in their bodies.
We also do what's called “power sharing,” which means I'm not a teacher, you don't have to please me. You don't have to do a form a certain way, I'm not looking to correct you. It's all about you experiencing your body in real time. So I give people options. You have a choice of you want to: warrior two or have your hands down. You don't give too many choices–just an A, B, or C, so that they keep it in their brains, and then figure out how they want their bodies to feel at any moment. That's empowering. It's positioning me not as somebody that's watching them, or critiquing them. Somebody who's been through complex trauma is constantly trying to please others to keep themself safe. Most times, this is the first time a participant has ever had that experience being in a room with another person, and knowing there's no expectation of them to do or be anything other than with themselves, with another human being. This is getting them also to understand that it can be safe to be around other people, which the traumatized brain often doesn't understand.
So little by little, what they have studied is that this has worked for people. After about 10 weeks of practicing, they feel like they can make choices for themselves, they can go to the grocery store and figure out what they want to buy. And then the final piece that was important, was just the one thing that I noticed when I was first practicing yoga. The teacher would say, “Feel your feet.” And I never understood that. I'm like, I can't feel my feet. I didn't know what she meant by that. The brain will disassociate you, it will bifurcate your body, so you're left with, in some cases, not being able to feel your limbs. But your brain can be rewired. So instead of making the assumption that people can feel their feet, this is taking into account that that might not be true, but that your brain can start to try to find your feet. So now I can feel my feet!
Can you tell us more about yoga for cancer?
That was the birth of me doing yoga. I wanted to work with caregivers, but I couldn't get them away from the people they cared for. So I took a training course for people who currently had cancer in the hopes that I could get both, so I could do a class with the caregiver and the cancer patient. And I ended up getting a job at White Plains Hospital for maybe five years, but when COVID hit, that whole thing just went away.. But that was a really successful program.
How can someone who has no idea where to start incorporate yoga into their life?
Try it at your local gym. Don't put a lot of effort into trying to go to a studio, because that can be intimidating, especially if you are not sure of your own body. So just go and do a beginner class and see how it feels.
That's the thing, I know that psychiatrists will say, “Go do yoga,” but if you are having trauma, you can be retriggered within a yoga class, even though it's trying to be nice and kind. That's why I'm glad that trauma yoga has been put out there, because it's just a different blueprint.
What age can people start practicing yoga?
I know that they taught yoga at my kids’ elementary school. At any age you can practice yoga. Do it at school. My elementary school had it, but not high school. I think it's important.
What benefits do you think we might see if yoga was available in all schools?
Everybody would probably be a lot more happy and relaxed. Yoga has got eight limbs. It's not just the asana. It's the breath work. And it's contemplation and meditation. It's not just the body movement, but even sitting in your seat and just noticing that you're breathing for 10 seconds or 10 breaths. I think it would just regulate people's emotions. And with COVID, we’ve all been through so much. It would be really beneficial if it was in schools.