Rising from Ashes: Yoga contributes to Holistic Healing from Trauma

By Jaja Chen & Bonnie Finch

Trauma can be debilitating for individuals, couples, families, and impacts our greater Waco community. We have seen from the #MeToo movement in our nation this past year ways that speaking one’s story can empower and remove stigma in confronting and talking about trauma and its impacts.

Trauma includes but is not limited to interpersonal trauma such as physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or spiritual trauma and is can be a shock to one’s body, mind, and spirit. When thinking of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery, we may not always think of yoga. However, researchers in the field of trauma continue to find how our bodies physically remember trauma and how body-based approaches can play a pivotal role in holistic trauma recovery. 

When we become activated and triggered, our bodies go into a state of stress, also known as Fight/Flight/Freeze. We leave the present moment and may go back to when the traumatic event(s) occurred. We enter into a survivor mode – our blood pressure increases, our breathing becomes short and quick, and our heart begins to race, just to name a few of the stress responses. Once triggered, it can take our bodies nearly 8 hours to get back to optimal functioning level.

This physical body response impacts almost every system including our digestion, hormone outputs, cardiovascular system, muscles, and bones. The longer we are in the triggered response, the more physical impacts it can have on our bodies. By learning grounding and centering techniques and slowly adding mindfulness and meditation, we can teach our bodies to recover faster and move into the present moment.

Yoga also empowers us with choice.  

Many survivors of trauma may continue to feel shame regarding loss of power and choice in the midst of difficult situations. Through guided, easy movements, we can work on finding ways to bring positive choice back into lives. These seemingly simple movements begin to create a BRAVE space inside us. We use the word “brave” space instead of “safe” space because we do not want to assume that our students feel safe, or that they have to feel safe. We try to help establish courage within our students to let them know that whatever they are feeling is okay.

While yoga is about coming into the present moment, it is more about ACCEPTING that moment just as it is. When we show up with courage, we begin to develop compassion for ourselves. The physical movements of yoga inspire curiosity – to not only help the body feel good – but to bring back a sense of sacredness, peace, and self-love. Learning the skill of coming into stillness allows that peace to unfold into every aspect of our lives.

While not a quick fix, these skills are what we strive to practice every day for the rest of our lives. We are eager to share these tools with you and our Waco community as well. We invite you in joining us in our practice.

At Enrichment Training & Counseling Solutions, we love providing holistic trauma recovery. Our upcoming Phoenix Yoga series provides trauma-sensitive yoga, meditation, and trauma education to participants. We will be co-leading this 8-week yoga program in upcoming weeks this spring. For more information and to register see our website: https://enrichmenttcs.com/groups-events/

Jaja Chen, LCSW, CDWF is a private practice therapist in Waco through Enrichment Training & Counseling Solutions specializing in PTSD, maternal mental health, and compassion fatigue. As an EMDR Trained Therapist, Jaja loves providing holistic trauma recovery to the Greater Waco community. Jaja can be contacted via email at Jaja@enrichmenttcs.com or via webpage at http://enrichmenttcs.com/meet-jaja-chen/

Bonnie Finch, is a Licensed Massage Therapist MT #129813 and a 500 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher. She has almost 3 years of teaching experience and has trained with Warriors at Ease teacher training for trauma recovery. Bonnie specializes in helping people evoke the relaxation response, to foster healing from within. Bonnie can be contacted via email bonnie@enrichmenttcs.com or via webpage  https://enrichmenttcs.com/meet-bonnie/

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Sustainability and Social Justice: Why is Being Green So White?

By Melissa Mullins

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has become a day of service in many communities (including Waco), and this year I find myself reflecting on sustainability and issues of social justice.  I’m thinking specifically about  inclusivity and representation in environmental movements.  I’m too young to remember the civil rights movement, but old enough to remember being part of the letter-writing campaign at my public school to ask congress to make MLK Day a national holiday.  It’s natural to wonder at this time of year how far have we come, and how far do we still have to go, in relation to Dr. King’s dream of inclusivity.

Another thing that’s gotten me thinking about this issue is some reading I’ve been doing.  Last spring, I had the great pleasure of participating in a class at Truett Seminary  on the novels, poetry, and essays of Wendell Berry.  Berry has cult-like status as a spiritual farmer, environmentalist, social commentator and I had read some of his works prior to the class (he is, after all, from the same Kentucky county as my grandfather).  But, in addition to Berry, we also read an essay by  bell hooks.  I recognized hooks as a feminist writer (also a Kentuckian) but had never considered her in the context of environmental issues.  The essay made me want to read her 2009 book , Belonging:  A Culture of Place.  Next month, I’m attending the annual conference of the Informal Science Education Association of Texas  in Rockport, TX. The keynote speaker is Dr. Carolyn Finney.  Conference attendees are encouraged to read her book  “Black Faces, White Spaces:  Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors”  (2014) so they can participate in a book discussion with the author.  And I’m slowly (this one is very scholarly and not for the faint of heart) working my way through “The Rise of the American Conservation Movement:  Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection  by Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor

What have I learned from all this reading? Like everything else in our society, gender, race and class matter when it comes to environmentalism, conservation, land ownership, relationship to nature and the great outdoors — but it’s complicated and what we think we know isn’t always true. Poor communities are disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of poor environmental practices, but often have the least voice in environmental decisions made about their own communities. Marginalized people have been instrumental in environmental issues, but their contributions have often been ignored.

The final thing, and maybe the most important, that got me to thinking about this is that I went to the meeting of the Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board  this week.  I went for the same reason as pretty much everyone else there–because the Board was considering whether to advise the Waco City Council to adopt a resolution pledging to a goal of 100% green energy sources for City energy use by 2025 and renewable energy in all sectors by 2050. I found the meeting to be both hopeful and frustrating for a variety of reasons (that’s another story, one I’ll continue to follow,  you can read about it yourself in the Trib).  I also noticed that of the ten or so people sitting around the Board table and maybe another 50 in the room, there were definitely people of color, but only a handful. It made me reflect on the diversity (or lack thereof) of other environmental and conservation groups I am involved with or interact with in Waco – Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Audubon, etc. In other words, representation and inclusivity in the environmental movement isn’t just an issue in books, or in other places… 

Sustainability is often considered to rest on three main pillars: environmental, economic and social (planet, profit, people). We must move Beyond Recycling:  Reframing Sustainability as a Social Justice Issue and consider that sustainability is not just about picking up trash on MLK day (though I love doing that and it is kind of addictive). I’m generally not comfortable with white people asking why people of color do, or don’t do, some particular thing, but when diverse voices are not included or heard in our discussions of sustainability, this leaves out valuable perspectives that can strengthen decision-making. It is up to all of us to challenge the status quo and move the needle forward on critical issues such as climate change. For our efforts to be successful we must include consideration of topics that might be lacking from a traditional approach to sustainability – such as race and gender inequality, food insecurity, homelessness, and others.

Melissa Mullins is a Kentuckian who, as of next year, will have lived in Waco half her life.  She is an aquatic scientist and environmental educator and co-author of the paper Social and Environmental Justice in the Chemistry Classroom  (Lasker, et al. J. Chem. Educ., 2017, 94 (8), pp 983–987). 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Commerce is about making a living; art reminds us what we are living for…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

This past October, as I pulled into the convention center parking lot for the Centex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce banquet, I will confess I had a bad attitude.  I did not feel like pretending to be friendly and “perky.” I wasn’t looking forward to an evening of chit chat, chicken breast, and cheesecake.  I didn’t want to spend my evening in an uncomfortable chair listening to a banquet speaker. I wanted to be home, flopped on the couch in front of the TV in my sweat pants, with my dog in my lap, eating macaroni and cheese. 

The huge Brazos Banquet Hall filled with people, many of them familiar, almost all of them congenial.  As I visited with friends and friendly folks, my mood improved a little, but I was still far from enthusiastic when…inevitably… it came time to introduce the speaker. I shifted in my chair, set my facial expression to “politely attentive,” and prepared to be bored.  Then the magic happened…

Alfred Solano, President of the Hispanic Chamber, stepped to the podium.  But, instead of introducing an economist or a politician or a motivational speaker, he introduced … a tenor.   

Specifically, he introduced Edgar Sierra: Waco native, Waco High grad, Baylor grad, and adjunct instructor of voice at MCC… one of our own.  

Mr. Sierra and his accompanist, Alex Kostadinov, performed three pieces of Spanish Opera: Bella enamorada by Soutullo y Vert, Pajarin tu que vuelas by P. Luna, and Granada by Augstin Lara. They filled the banquet hall with soaring beauty.  I am not familiar with any of those pieces.  I know very little about opera.  I don’t speak Spanish… but, I was absolutely transported, lifted up.  My eyes surprised me by brimming with tears. I had not realized how badly I needed a moment of wonder.  I fell a little bit in love with everyone in the banquet hall that night, just because we had experienced that beautiful moment together. 

That is the power of the arts. 

The performance at the banquet reminded me that – even though I am not an artist myself – many, many of the moments when I have felt the warmest sense of community have had something to do with the arts. 

I remember an extraordinary open mic poetry night at the Art Forum on 18th Street. Saddiq Granger – tall, lanky, and dreadlocked – shared poems and stories about growing up as a young black man in Philadelphia.  He was followed at the mic by Gary Penney – a much shorter (sorry Gary!), older, white man in a cowboy hat – sharing poems about horses and cowboys and riding the range.   Afterwards, I took a picture of the two of them hugging.  They are funny and beautiful in their tallness/shortness, blackness/whiteness, cityness/countryness – both with huge smiles on their faces.  That picture reminds me of how the world should be.

I remember the party for the mural on the side of the East Waco Library.  We ate hot dogs and danced to Motown, celebrating this beautiful piece of art we had created together.  I remember celebrating the completion of the huge “1,000 Hopes for Waco” mural on University Parks Drive.  One of the high school students who worked on it stood up in front of the gathered crowd and told us it was the best thing he had ever done in his life.

I remember watching the girls from “Miriam’s Army,” a dance troop based in the Estella Maxey housing complex, perform at an NAACP banquet.  Later that evening, I got a kick out of watching four or five of the girls – still dressed in their sequined, peacock-feathered dance uniforms – visiting confidently with WISD school board president, Pat Atkins.

The symbolism of an opera performance at a Chamber of Commerce event is significant.  Commerce is about making a living, and art reminds us what we are living for…who we want to be.  Art woven into our lives, created by us, shared with all of us — It helps us understand each other deeply and delight in each other.  It binds us together.  It helps us to be better humans together, a better community. 

I am excited to see that on Thursday, January 24, the Community Race Relations Coalition is presenting a program called “Being Purposeful in Including Everyone in the Arts.”  I’m going to try to go because I am deeply thankful for the extraordinary art-filled moments I have already enjoyed as a part of this community and I want our future together to be filled with many more of them. 

Meeting Details: 5:30 to 7:30pm at First Presbyterian Church parish hall, 1100 Austin Avenue in Waco.  Dinner is provided by the CRRC board, with donations accepted. Reservations are required by calling 254-717-7903 or emailing Jo@welterfamily.org.”

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.