Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Now offered at the Stress Management & Prevention Center in Rancho Mirage, California

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Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, practiced for the treatment of PTSD and other types of traditional treatment-resistant trauma is now being offered at the Stress Management & Prevention Center in Rancho Mirage, California

Dr. Jaime Carlo-Casellas

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga has its foundations in trauma theory, attachment theory, neuroscience, Hatha Yoga, and breathing practices, with an emphasis on the recognition of somatic and kinesthetic sensations.

A form of yoga, Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TSY), innovated by David Emerson at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute, has been shown to help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as chronically traumatized individuals. This includes military veterans, as well as survivors of chronic abuse.

Bessel A. van der Kolk et al. have shown that TSY significantly reduces the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients with chronic, traditional treatment-resistant PTSD.
TSY has its foundations in trauma theory, attachment theory, neuroscience, Hatha Yoga, and breathing practices, with an emphasis on the recognition of somatic and kinesthetic sensations.
Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s findings and the yoga techniques prescribed by Emerson, Dr. Carlo-Casellas, who trained at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, started offering TSY at his Stress Management & Prevention Center (SMPC). Supporting his approach to teaching TSY is the fact that he also trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (mindfulness in medicine) at the Center for Mindfulness established by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Further to that, he has received training in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) (Zindel V. Segal, et al.) as an adjunct therapy for preventing relapse in patients suffering with depression, specifically patients with major depressive disorders.

TSY bears much in common with the contemplative practices, such as mindfulness meditation, where the focus is on the cultivation of perception of any sensation, including thoughts, emotions, sounds, visualizations, as well as somatic and kinesthetic sensations. In TSY, however, we limit ourselves exclusively to interoception—the perception of somatic and kinesthetic sensation only, not emotions or the interpretation of emotions such as mood, anger, sense of well-being, anxiety, or being sexually aroused. In TSY, the body, not the mind, is the center of attention.

This is so because per Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, in his seminal work, The Body Keeps the Score, has shown that traumatized patients suffer from depersonalization—the outward manifestation of the biological freeze reaction, the characteristic blank stares and absent minds. These patients, instead of struggling to escape, they dissociate from their negative emotions and their bodies and lose their ability to perceive somatic and kinesthetic sensations. This sort of immobilization, generated in the reptilian brain, characterizes most chronically traumatized persons.

For the teacher of TSY, the most important thing to do is use interoceptive words. That is, wording that invites the client to notice a somatic or kinesthetic sensation. For example, the patient is invited to “if you like, you may tilt your head downward, and as you so you may notice a sensation in the back of your neck or if you like, notice what you feel as you lift your head back up.”

In addition to teaching TSY, Dr. Carlo-Casellas teaches other forms of life-long stress reduction modalities. He teaches mindfulness meditation, Yoga Nidra (the goal of which is to induce deep relaxation while comparing a positive and a negative event experienced in the past), hatha yoga, and restorative yoga. Restorative yoga is a type of gentle practice that uses bolsters, blankets, and other props to support the body, making it possible for the client to hold a posture for a longer period. Restorative yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety, increase energy, and improve physical and emotional well-being. It is particularly beneficial to clients suffering with chronic, inescapable stress, as well as those recovering from surgery, heart disease, cancer, and other stress related conditions.

Those who have availed themselves of the services at the SMPC report that the yoga classes are very different from other yoga classes they have attended—the cues are different. But what makes the classes special are Dr. Carlo-Casellas’s soothing voice, gentle manner, his knowledge of the neurophysiology of how yoga modulates the structure and function of the brain, and the freedom he allows for the modification of the postures to fit the students’ needs, allowing him/her to experience the full effects of the practice to a maximum.

Jaime Carlo-Casellas, Ph.D., is the Founding Director of the Stress Management & Prevention Center in Rancho Mirage, California. His reason for founding the Center was to help those who suffer from psychological and physical conditions, who feel depressed, and who are stuck and do not know which way to turn. To this end, he works closely with physicians and therapists who treat stress-related disorders.

He can be reached by phone (760-464-2150) or email (casellas(at)stressprevention(dot)org). The SMPC is located at 69550 Highway 111, Suite 204, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270.
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