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Sheltered Women and the Distraction Disco


Abstract:

This piece aims to highlight the wonderful, unique connections and persistence of human spirit that I enjoy working with each month as a trauma-informed yoga teacher, and part of the Humble Warrior Collective. The work is ever-challenging, ever-rewarding, and keeps me connected to my “why” on the subject of yoga in any context and every industry. My purpose in sharing these examples is to give voice to the humility and value of the learning process, for teacher and student alike, and to illuminate the benefits of trauma-informed yoga in the specific context of a women’s shelter, and beyond. 


I hope my shared experience with distraction and the tools of yoga in this setting, validates yours, too, in any setting. For me, this work illuminates the myriad opportunities to apply the tools of yoga daily and practice returning to the senses, to the present moment, to the task at hand, and to a sense of safety within our bodies and communities.


 

I’ll meet you on the mat. We’ll connect in a circle, and catch glimmers of joy and connection as they flicker around the room…at the “Distraction Disco”.

 

The Dancers


For almost a year now, I’ve had the pleasure of working with groups of women in a Tulsa shelter, as part of a local non-profit called the Humble Warrior Collective which makes yoga accessible to many benefiting populations within the community. Each session at the women’s shelter ranges from, maybe nine individuals in the group, to twenty or more. In my once-monthly rotation teaching yoga there I notice some familiar faces each time, usually sprinkled with new faces, too. Some might sit-out one week for personal, child, health, or scheduled rehabilitative reasons. I notice the familiar faces linger for about three or four of my visits on average, and I’ve learned that women move through the facility’s programming on a 3-4 month cycle. Despite the rotating audience, I notice some common observations among the consistent gathering of these ever-changing women…

There’s always one, maybe more:

-that has a bright smile

-that is withdrawn and disengaged

-that wants to tell their story

-that lights up when I remember their name

-that is eager to move, nervous to sit

-that is eager to sit, nervous to move

-that is pregnant, or has recently given birth

-with a newborn nearby

-with a rare moment to themselves

-that has lots of questions and curiosity

-that fears a projected sense of authority

-that doesn’t want to do it “wrong”

-that has specific requests for support

-that shows up late, or gets called away early

-that asks if we’re moving or just sitting today

-that tells me they don’t feel like moving today

-that lies down and covers their face

-that thanks me after class for the chance to take a nap

-that starts a side-conversation

-that wants to engage in a mid-class conversation

-that talks to a friend–or enemy–across the room

-that asks about another yoga experience

-that is proud to be completing the program

-that asks if they can have a hug

-that recently had dental work or other medical procedure

-that is concerned for someone else in/out of the room

-that appears more at ease when invited to participate (rather than instructed)


The Ballroom


We set the stage for our hour-long session in the common area and cafeteria, adjoining a food counter window on one wall, with a reception desk and 3-4 staff members on another. Doors or hallways fill the other two walls, and every corner. The floor, though swept frequently enough, feels gritty under bare feet compared to a smooth public studio floor, if one has that context of experience. Class is always at the same time. Sometimes my arrival a few minutes before the session cues a hurry and scurry to transform the space, as we quickly move tables aside and set mats and props in a circle to accommodate a fluctuating group size and stroller parking. Other times I wonder if the class time moved earlier without my knowing, because of how ready everyone looks, already on their mats before my early arrival–ready to dance.


Class immediately precedes their scheduled lunchtime, and sounds and aromas often travel through the metal rolling window from the kitchen. A call is made from the desk via sharp overhead intercom, summoning any others who wish to know yoga is now beginning. Other intercom announcements and alerts sometimes interject during class, as well, with a startling alert-tone before a screechy message–reminiscent of my childhood days in public school, I think. A clipboard and sign-in sheet are passed around the room. Sometimes someone asks to dim the lights, other times I offer. The answer is always unanimous with a preference for lights-off, indicating nervous systems are active and seeking relief. On rare occasions in transitional seasons, the weather calls us outside to a common area in a large yard with privacy fence, grass, benches, and a pleasant fire pit–a picture of community in itself. Although relieved there from the indoor sounds and disturbances, the elements, bugs, and sand, all make distractions of their own. 


The Dance


As we meet on the mat, our proverbial dancefloor, the challenge becomes to move together. Half of the room usually looks ready to nap, and some choose to, while the other half is visibly jittery or distracted in conversation. We talk about the weather or play a game, and find some laughter if we can. I offer that “yoga” can be what they need it to be today, whether that’s connection, movement, or rest, and provide reminders that these remain options along the way. The staff stays busy behind the counter to the side, and foot traffic continues around the edges of the room. Children are occasionally heard laughing or crying in an adjoining room. A gleeful toddler sometimes scuddles into the circle, having spied “Mamma” from the hallway.


As instructor, facilitator and example, I enjoy the challenge of this dance. I look to practice connections and movements that are: engaging, co-regulatory, soothing to a hypervigilant system, calming to a foggy or overwhelmed mind, evocative of curiosity, steeped in self-care, and easy to carry away with variation for another day. The bodies in the room range in needs, from strength to stillness. There are always prenatal and postnatal contraindications, among other traumas to be considered. As “Disco DJ”, I fill my microphone with invitation and affirmation, working to speak from my own experience as it’s apparent each individual present brings a unique battle to the circle. Sometimes we laugh at my “nerdy” approach to sharing the stuff that lets us connect, and I offer poses to explore burning-off extra energy or soothing a tired psyche. Sometimes we talk about how difficult it can be to know which it is we need most.


The Moves


On this dancefloor–and any kind of disco–for myself and others, I return again and again to the “brain-hacking”, “grounding,” and nervous-system-soothing modalities from from my trauma-informed yoga training (made possible in Tulsa by Humble Warrior Collective and Sundara Yoga Therapy in the Fall of 2022).

Yoga tools for managing distractions:


Keep Dancing


Some days we sit and talk, laughing and making eye contact in a group. Others, we do the same on our feet, dancing, balancing together, experimenting with movement and poses. Sometimes distractions are quiet long enough to feel the magic of several bodies moving together on mats, for five, fifteen, even thirty minutes. Other times, someone enters the room, maybe a parcel delivery person, maybe EMS personnel, maybe several visitors in an hour, and all eyes dart around concerned about the reason for their presence–especially if newcomers appear to be men. Sometimes we wait for the disturbance to pass or bring our focus back with games or breathing. Other times, we sit with the shared concern, notice the connection between members as they express worry for what’s going on with one another. Sometimes we acknowledge that life interrupts the way we thought practice might go today, and talk about how that can be “the work” of mindfulness. 


As class fades to lunchtime, the scurry quickly returns to the room, if we were able to keep it at bay. Props are quickly piled together with a volunteer or two helping me to shuffle and sort these props from those props. The room quickly returns to cafeteria status. Within the helter-skelter is usually some eager-eyed gal with questions about where to practice yoga in town when she’s done with the program. Others have questions about the benefits of yoga, seeming more curious than skeptical. Others still have “next time” requests for instructors, games, mudras, affirmations, and more. And so, the dance continues...


Gratitude


Thanks for your interest, presence and persistence, gracious reader. Join me, and the Humble Warriors of Tulsa on the literal dance floor on Thursday, April 18th (4/18/24) for the annual Bloom fundraiser event. You’re invited to support this purposeful organization, growing community, and the sharing of accessible trauma-informed yoga tools with any and all.


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