Common Ground Yoga

I want you to know how valuable this opportunity is for us.  To see women having access to yoga, and especially with your trauma informed lens, makes me proud to manage this space. Your being a part of this space has had dramatic impacts.  Pieces difficult to measure or even explain.  They are small spiritual pieces. I can feel vulnerability, trust, love and respect when I walk into the space after yoga.
— Maureen Squibb, Manager of Mary Sheffield House

Common Ground Yoga currently runs a small number of accessible, trauma-informed yoga classes at women’s shelters, drop-in centres, outreach programs, transitional housing and drug treatment centres in Toronto. Krista Hunt began teaching classes in April 2018. In the first year, we provided 37 classes to 430 underserved women. Now the goal is to bring these specialized yoga classes to community spaces around the City.

Yoga and Trauma

Yoga has been so valuable to the women in the drop-in centre. The mood changes during and after yoga. People are more calm and relaxed - even those that didn’t actually join the class. Some of the participants never join in on activities, but they are coming to yoga.
— Adelaide Centre drop-in staff

For many participants, trauma is acute and ongoing. The intersectional violence they experience daily is both interpersonal and structural, resulting from poverty, racism, misogyny, colonialism, transphobia, homophobia and ableism. These experiences play out in a yoga class in different ways, including triggers, hypervigilance, flashbacks and intoxication, and therefore teachers need the skills and experience to work within this context. The impact of poverty, abuse, homelessness, addiction, illness and disability are fundamental considerations in terms of making these yoga classes accessible. 

Current research shows that yoga has been valuable in helping people deal with the impact of trauma and violence in their lives (most notably for soldiers and survivors of sexual violence). Given that trauma creates disconnection from the body and flashbacks to past experiences, trauma-informed yoga is a way to reconnect to the body in the present moment and build resilience. In addition, yoga provides opportunities for ease of movement, self-empowerment and sense of community, all of which are key to overall health and wellbeing. For survivors of trauma, yoga can provide a way back into the body in order to experience the present moment. It is also an opportunity to learn about and practice life skills that can be used to reduce stress, facilitate communication and develop self-advocacy. However, stress reduction and self-improvement cannot be separated from the need to address the structural inequality and violence participants disproportionately experience on a daily basis.

Accessibile Classes

I am stronger. I used to have to take breaks and was out of breath. Look at me walk up the stairs!
— Mary Sheffield resident

Creating accessible classes depends on a number of factors. First, our classes are structured for people who may have never done yoga, come from a range of backgrounds, ages, body types and abilities. Most often, people think that they are not flexible or healthy enough for yoga. Once they take a class, they often report how capable they are of participating on their own terms. Second, classes are free to participants, who receive a transit token at the end of the class as a way to ensure that classes are open to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Often, classes are followed by lunch or snacks in response to the food insecurity that too many people in this City face. Third, many participants do not speak English. Some agencies can afford to hire an interpreter; some can’t, so it is important to be able to fund this. Depending on the space and participants, teachers may be juggling all of these factors within the same class. Therefore, CGY endeavours to work with teachers who are not only experienced yoga instructors, but who are trauma-informed and prepared to meet challenges that exceed those typical of most community or studio yoga classes.