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Restorative Yoga

A Yoga Therapist Shares The Truth About Trauma

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Yoga therapist and psychologist Gail Parker, PhD, applies restorative practices in an innovative way to help people heal from racial wounds.

Gail Parker, PhD

Yoga Journal: Can you summarize your work?

Gail Parker: I’m a psychologist, a certified yoga therapist, and a yoga therapist educator. I am a lifelong practitioner of yoga. 50 years. As a practicing psychotherapist of 40 years, I pioneered efforts to blend psychology, yoga, and meditation as effective self-care strategies that can enhance emotional balance, and contribute to overall health and well-being.

I closed my psychotherapy practice four years ago, which allowed me to focus all of my attention on the therapeutic benefits of yoga, and in particular on how Restorative Yoga and meditation can be utilized and taught as self-care practices for managing ethnic and race based stress and trauma. I also teach mind-body strategies for reducing stress and healing emotional trauma to aspiring yoga therapists in the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy in Royal Oak Michigan, the only hospital based yoga therapy school in the nation.

Yoga therapy is a type of therapy—grounded in the ancient philosophical teachings of yoga—that utilizes yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation as self-care strategies to improve mental and physical health and well-being.

See also The Healing Power of Trauma-Informed Yoga Classes

YJ: How do you apply this work to racial trauma (and can you define that term)?

GP: Ethnic and racial stress and trauma refer to the events related to real or perceived experiences of discrimination, threats of harm and injury, and humiliating and shaming events. The terms also apply to witnessing harm to other individuals caused by real or perceived race-related events.

Stress and trauma are stored in the body. Effective interventions involve physical engagement. Restorative Yoga is a form of yoga that is not intrusive; it is receptive. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, it evokes the relaxation response. It not only lessens the inflammation of tissues, it also soothes inflamed emotions. It tones the vagus nerve, which restores homeostasis and supports resilience, aiding in recovery from stress and trauma. Ethnic- and race-informed Restorative Yoga teaches people to experience safety in their vulnerability, which is a new learning for people experiencing the ongoing, cumulative, and recurrent nature of racial stress. People who are consistently marginalized, discriminated against, and profiled already know how to stand in the fire of unbearable suffering. They need the therapeutic experience of resting in safety. They need to learn what the absence of stress feels like. Ethnic- and race-informed Restorative Yoga can offer this experience.

See also Yoga Transformed Me After Trauma and Sexual Assault

YJ: What do you want our readers to think about (as students and teachers)?

GP: Even if you have never had a direct experience of racial wounding, as aware members of the human family we know that when something affects one of us, it affects us all. Regardless of your ethnic, racial, or cultural identity, living in a racialized world has an impact—from the daily lived experiences of stress and trauma that people of color endure, to the experience of white fragility where even a minimum amount of racial stress evokes defensive responses.

The yoga community is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse and the conversation within and around yoga needs to keep pace with the shifting demographics. Maintaining a culture of silence regarding ethnicity and race make that impossible. We have to engage in conversations about race and ethnicity as relevant topics of conversation. I think yoga is ideal for having these conversations because talking about race and ethnicity is really about each of us sharing our stories with each other. 



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Restorative 201

Feel More Present in Your Body with This Mindful Moving Meditation

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Get grounded with a practice that combines mantra, movement, and breathing.

Feeling scattered or overwhelmed? Find tranquility with this breathing technique from Jillian Pransky, who leads our upcoming online course, Restorative 201. This gentle practice combines mantra, movement, and mindful breathing and will help you feel more focused and ready to face the challenges in your day.

Watch also Center Yourself ASAP with a 10-Breath Meditation

Want to thread the science of deep relaxation into your day? Join our online course, Restorative 201: Short, Simple Practices to Stay Calm on the Mat (and in the Moment). In five weeks Jillian Pransky will share bite-sized slow flow and restorative practices, breathing and meditation techniques, and quick reset tools—all designed to integrate into your life easily and immediately. Learn more and sign up today!



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Restorative 201

A Short Mantra Practice to Stay Open and Grounded

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Maintain inner harmony during moments of change with this 5-minute meditation.

Transitions can be difficult, whether you’re moving into a new season, a new home, or a new job. Bring yourself back into balance with this short meditation from Jillian Pransky, who leads our upcoming online course, Restorative 201. Here, she shows you an invaluable tool to restore inner harmony, whether you need to be more present or allow yourself to open up to new experiences.

Watch also Inspire Stability & Fluidity with This Short Tree Pose Flow

Want to thread the science of deep relaxation into your day? Join our online course, Restorative 201: Short, Simple Practices to Stay Calm on the Mat (and in the Moment). In five weeks Jillian Pransky will share bite-sized slow flow and restorative practices, breathing and meditation techniques, and quick reset tools—all designed to integrate into your life easily and immediately. Learn more and sign up today!



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Restorative 201

Dealing with Transition? Tether Yourself to the Present with This 3-Part Breath

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Stay in the moment during periods of change with this short mindfulness technique.

Feeling unmoored by change? Return to the present moment with a short three-part breathing practice that’s easy to do anytime you feel your mind drifting into the future, or lingering in the past. Here, Jillian Pransky—who leads our upcoming online course, Restorative 201—shows you a simple technique to trace the length of every inhale and exhale. Each breath will bring you closer to the here and now.

Watch also Create Instant Calm with This Legs-Up-the-Chair Pose

If you want to learn how to thread the science of deep relaxation into your day, join our online course, Restorative 201: Short, Simple Practices to Stay Calm on the Mat (and in the Moment) taught by international yoga teacher and author Jillian Pransky. You’ll learn bite-sized slow flow and restorative practices, breathing and meditation techniques, and quick reset tools—all designed to integrate into your life easily and immediately. Sign up today!



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