Ellie grace is a trauma informed yoga teacher with an MA in yoga studies, who lectures medical undergraduates in the neurophysiology of yoga, to nurture their personal development and prevent burnout, which has never been more important. Doctors are experiencing workplace burnout at the highest ever levels recorded with findings from the regulator's 2022 survey revealing that 39% of junior doctors reported experiencing burnout to a high or very high degree because of their work up six percentage points on the previous year. And this, of course, is not just affecting doctors. Ellie works with war veterans, schools, corporates and many more seeking to create sustainable human centred cultures inspired by you ethics, and trained yoga teachers and trauma informed approaches to create social change. Welcome, Ellie.
Thank you so much for having me. Nice to meet you, dude.
Well, I was just so inspired by you speaking at the IPM conference. And to be honest, I was heartened, so heartened to hear that medical students were getting an education in the neurophysiology of yoga. And I, I really wanted to learn, actually, about that particular topic myself. So I'd love you to break that down for us. But I also, yeah, I want to explore I guess, and I'm really interested in how you are being able to translate the sort of ancient practice of yoga that can sometimes feel a bit mystical and perhaps just vague, and how you're translating that into a very sort of precise, academic way, so that people like me, and scientific minds, Western minds can really understand it, and then incorporate it into their lives, because I'm someone who definitely needs to understand something before I really can digest it. So let's get to the understanding part. Can you? Yeah, can you start by explaining to me and my listeners, you know, what is the neurophysiology of yoga?
It's such a big question. And I hope that I can answer it succinctly. But basically, what I'm doing when I'm teaching, the neurophysiology of yoga is helping those medical students to understand first and foremost, the mind body connection, which is seemingly only just sort of making its way into medical knowledge and understandings of the body I think, thanks, Descartes, who basically kept us, you know, held in this idea that the mind and body were totally separate organisms for several 100 years. And really, what I'm doing is weaving together experiential practice. So first and foremost, we're not just looking at theory and understanding the science and understanding the evidence basis, and actually getting the students to experience from the inside out the feeling of breathing into their, I don't know their right lung or feeling into their lower backs as they breathe there. And going through various different yogic practices, including postural work, breathwork, and meditation and relaxation, so that they can begin to tune into that mystical yoga that we talked about the the union of the mind and the body and the experience of feeling as if the mind, body and soul are in alignment with one another. I call it neurophysiology, really, because it helps to get the programme seen and recognised by medics to be completely honest with you. And because I want to take the inverted commas sort of woowoo out of yoga for these kinds of groups in order to make way for yoga, and to make way in such a way that it's no longer deemed radical. I don't want I wanted sort of demystify the mystifying process of yoga as it were, by bringing some of that science to those who are science minded. So essentially, we are looking at the mind body connection. We're understanding the vagus nerve and the role of the vagus nerve in communicating messages between the mind and the body. And understanding how the vagus nerve is toned and its function is improved through yoga, particularly through breathwork. It's really powerful way of toning the vagus nerve and we look at things polyvagal theory and we look at how trauma impacts the mind and the body. And we were really looking at everything through the lens of our nervous system education, and coming to understand how when we manipulate our nervous systems through various different yogic practices, we can impact our mood, our emotions, our thinking, and our behaviours. And therefore we can, you know, change the course of our lives and our trajectories, and be in control in more control perhaps of of the outcome of things and of the way that we feel in our skin. So we're sort of also when I say neurophysiology, where we're using the body and our knowledge of the body to understand how, how karma, you know, functions and how mindset shifts and changes in our philosophical outlook can all impact our health and our well being. So it's a it's a lot of different things. It's a sort of an I call it neurophysiology, as I say, but it involves so much social behaviour, physiology, mental health, self care, philosophy. It's so much as those of us who practice yoga, no, it is so much under one umbrella.
What really struck me is when you said you're really giving the medical students an education in the in the nervous system. And of course, medical students get an education of the nervous system. But thinking back, you know, my education of the nervous system was very much about the anatomical basis of the nervous system. So we've got the central nervous system being held within our brain and our cranial nerves, and then the peripheral nervous system. And we had to sort of memorise the pathways of the peripheral nerves, and what joins up with what and where, and everything, but I had never really been educated in the function of the nervous system beyond the pathways, or the nervous systems and how it affected movement, I certainly wasn't really told or educated in how we can manipulate or control our nervous systems and how that may impact the physiology of our body. And then the ramifications of that change within our physiological state can then have on the thoughts we then are able to have through the different hormonal pathways that are triggered or de escalated in that way. And I guess this is what you're talking about, in when you're sort of seeing the mind body connection can really be impacted when we learn of how we can control our autonomic nervous system through like you say breathwork very powerful practice which really can do that. And yoga, how how do the asanas and I mean, the asanas. Really impact because it looks the yoga has so many facets to it doesn't mean it has obviously philosophical, philosophical and ethical basis it has a breathwork component, it has the asanas, which are the postures which are encouraged, among others that I guess I'm not so aware of actually, but when you say you help to turn the vagus nerve, does that is that it either practices? Or are the asanas important in in doing that? Do you use that? Or would you say that breathwork was was was more potent? Entry in
Bucharest question, I would say that one of the key facets of of a yoga practice is actually the combination of asanas or postures with breath work. And if we're not bringing breathwork into those physical postures, then we're not actually practising yoga. And so often, I think, these days that really moment to moment attention on the breath is lost in a lot of teaching, as so many yoga teachers classes I go to and there's hardly any cueing around the breath, but it's the things it's those things in combination that can help us to achieve the state of yoga and yoga meaning union. So, while of course we can sit and be in seated postures and practice various different breathwork practices, it's the combination of breath work and the physical postures, that's, that's really helping us to find that sort of alignment in the mind and in the body. The reason being that it has a specific sort of simultaneously activating and resting function that goes on in the nervous system. So I can give an example that helps to clarify. So basically, we're always looking to create equilibrium in the body with yoga. And that's, that's really the practice of yoga is to experience balance and stillness and peace. But if we're living in a body that has a nervous system that's really aggravated or stressed, or conversely, is completely lethargic, and depressed and inner, we need to stimulate the nervous system into a place of balance, we need to bring in practices that are going to help to either lift that in a state or soften down and relax that aggravated stressed high alert state. And various different postures are going to stimulate that. So for example, any posture that has us folding forward in a, in a forward bend where our head is lower than our heart, and perhaps our belly is resting on our legs, that's going to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. So that's going to have a cooling calming, grounding effect on us. And so that's really helpful if we're high alert, and we're stressed. By contrast, something like warrior to where we're standing up, and we've got our hips open and our legs are spread wide, and we're reaching our arms in opposite directions and the chest is open. It's quite a strong, quite a dynamic pose, particularly for people who are newer to the practice, it's quite activating, we've got the front leg bent, there's quite a lot of work going on there, you know, the muscles are engaged. And the heart will quicken, things will speed up the breath rate will will quicken as well. So that brings activation and energy to to a body that might otherwise be, you know, if we're trying to lift the energy for somebody who is inactive and inert, but crucially, it's the breathing in either of those places, that helps us to find regulation in our nervous system. So if I memoria to my heart rate is quickening and my breath is speeding up, and I'm starting to find it a bit stressful, maybe I'm sweating. I breathe deeply into that pose. And I counteract the stress response by taking deep long, mindful breaths, maybe for five or six rounds of breath. And that helps my nervous system learn how to respond to stress in the future, when it's often that as well. And equally, if I'm in that seated pose, and I'm falling forward over my legs, and I'm breathing deeply into the curve of my back and into my lower back and kidneys, and through the, you know, the length of my hamstrings anywhere that feels like it's being stretched and woken up through that posture. Again, I'm stabilising my nervous system through that breath. And that's what helps us to find that that sense of equilibrium. And it's things like that, that I'm teaching to these medical students like, here are some things that you can use to counteract how you're feeling and to find your way back to steadiness and safety in your body and stillness and, you know, calm and relaxation. These are the things that you can do to energise yourself, if you've been revising really hard, and your brain is foggy, and you need energy, and you know, you need to get oxygen into your blood suppliers, all these sort of, you know, almost like yoga snacks, tips and tricks that they can use to to change the the flow of things in their own bodies.
I actually don't think that the I actually don't think that, that that's the only effect that this sort of training is going to have on them because I think it really gives them an experience of yoga and from my personal experience with yoga. I notice that it has given me a tool that allowed me to get to know myself in a really deep way. It allowed emotions to release in unexpected ways which made me really understand or put language to what I'd heard of from other people happening around To emotions being stored within the body, I sort of started to think, oh, gosh, when I, when I do this certain posture, tears just just, you know, ran down my face. And I hadn't realised why or I still may not realise why, but there was just certain postures that allowed me to release the motion. And I think that through that own, through my own practice of, of yoga and experiencing yoga in that way, I was then able to understand in my patients, when they may be experiencing emotions in their bodies, that presents in in symptoms for them. So although like this teaching may be helping medical students in a really practical way, in their student years, as an example, I think this is really equipping them with self knowledge of their own bodies, which then allows them to empathise with their patients. And also give them tools and signpost them to yoga, when that may help them, that's certainly been my experience. And and so I think that this teaching to schools will go far and wide with these medical students, which is why it's so important.
That's exactly I mean, on the one hand, yes, we're teaching, I'm teaching them tools for understanding the sort of biomechanics of yoga. But again, it's a bit of a subterfuge, I'm really there to try and give them the tools for understanding themselves and for going on that journey of self discovery and reflection, you know, and understand, I sort of start out by hoping, and trying to bust all the myths about yoga, and to let them know that it's nothing to do with their physical prowess, or their flexibility or their stamina, but really, that it's a journey of, of inward looking, and self discovery and self development, and that it's really about what they you know, that I sort of used that, quote, yoga is not about being able to touch your toes, it's about what you learned on the way down, and those sorts of pointers that help them to actually step back from what is a very competitive training programme, very competitive profession, and just early in their professional lives, understand the value of, of turning the gaze inward and becoming familiar with themselves. And as you quite rightly say, releasing things from their hips, from their heart from their bodies, you know, allowing, allowing tears to fall, and to not feel ashamed or embarrassed, allowing themselves to be soft and vulnerable with themselves. You know, we all also do some work on on self compassion. And just as you said, it's all of this is about supporting them to relate to themselves so that they can in turn relate to their future patients. Because otherwise, what have you got is just a doctor who's trained to look solely at the biology of things and to be impersonal and clinical and to have no, you know, bedside manner to speak of, and, uh, no experience of life and of the complexity of the human psyche and the soul. You know, if you've, if you are just training, sort of effectively, I don't know biological automatons who can just read illness, and then treat illness with pharmaceuticals, then you're not creating doctors who are whole people. And so I really, I do feel very proud of this work being a big contributor to education of the whole doctor. Yeah.
Yeah, and doctors, typically, and medical students typically live in their heads. And so actually bringing them into their bodies, and allowing them to experience their bodies, I imagine would be quite a new experience for a lot of these people. And by allowing them to experience their own bodies, they will be able to relate to other bodies. And of course, our minds live on our bodies and our on our on our souls live there too. So by allowing them to experience themselves and in a deeper way they look they'll be they'll be able to experience their patients in a in a really different way, in a much more holistic way. I can really See that being being true. And we talked, you know, I'm so intrigued because this is such a rare experience for medical students to receive this sort of education. You deliver this programme remind me where so
before yours at ran at Queen Mary University in London. And now this autumn 2023 is studying up at Bristol University, and then hopefully University of Kent and Medway next year, and I'm working on Exeter University at the moment as well. So hopefully, it will keep spreading far and wide.
Wow. Wow, that's really great to hear. Great to hear. Do you have? Do you get any feedback from your students about how they take this education forward and how it's helped them?
Yeah, I do. So I always send out pre and post questionnaires because I like to get a good sense of where I'm starting with these students where they are in terms of things like general physical health, gentleman mental health, general emotional health, how their sleep is sort of how high the incidence of stress and anxiety is in the group, that kind of thing. And then I pull them after the two or three weeks that we've been working together to see what kind of an impact this regular yoga practice has had for them. And the results are always really unsurprising to me, but overwhelming in their positivity, I mean, people just at the sort of functional level, generally, their sleep really improves, their mental health really improves, their sense of self really improves. And then I have the privilege of reading their personal reflections, as well as their testimonials on the on the course. And that's very moving, because a lot of them, so excuse me, a lot of them will also as well as. So it depends from from university to university, how they're assessed, but certainly at Queen Mary, they had the choice to either submit an academic paper on an area of research that they were interested in. So like, you know, what's the effect of a yoga pilot trial on people with autism or IBS or undergoing chemotherapy, and looking at the evidence basis for how yoga has has supported those groups. But increasingly, a lot of students were choosing not to write an academic paper, but rather to submit a creative artefact. And so all these medical students we would deliver like drawings and poems and photographs and these just beautiful inner explorations of the journey that they've been on in this in this programme. And accompanying either of those things, they would write this personal reflection, talking about what they came into the programme with, what their expectations were, how they were challenged, how they were illuminated, and sort of setting intentions for the future and how they'd like to continue their yoga practice. And it's it it really was a privilege just to have have a view into their lives. You know, a lot of them wrote have a lot of personal pain, things like losses in the family, personal grief, breakups, mental health challenges, the pressure of medical school, the feeling of being alone, or different to others, or unable to keep up like, it really showed to me how much pressure a lot of them were living under, and how yoga had been a release valve for them and an outlet for them to let go of stuff that they were carrying, or even to become aware of stuff that they weren't, you know, that they weren't aware they were carrying. So there's this maturation that goes on just during two or three short weeks, which is really beautiful and really profound to see. And just gives me massive encouragement for how needed the work is, you know, it's real proof of the fact that it's needed. And bearing in mind like these are students who are having a very different experience to the kind of student time I had. I studied English literature, I, you know, I don't have a medical background. But the current day student experience is very, very pressured. And you know, it's a very expensive investment. They're also under a lot of pressure from social media and quite a lot of these students as well our sons or daughters of immigrants, and they've been strongly encouraged into medicine and feel a massive sense of obligation to fulfil their parents expectations. So there's a lot of different social factors that are going on that that really impacts how they feel about themselves and their lives. And again, this programme feels like an opportunity to give them yes, the evidence basis for why we're doing this, yes, the neurophysiological reasoning, and, you know, all that scientific stuff, but also really to give them a chance to experience stillness, and peace, and self love.
And that's the key thing, isn't it, this is introducing a tool that they can then use in life. And I guess it's a tool that they may not have felt welcomed in, or they may have felt sceptical about. But by presenting it to them in their language, it on their course really offers them as sort of easy pathway in to a tool that can really support them. And we were talking a little bit earlier, just before we hit record about this, this, this translation piece. So by by framing yoga and presenting yoga, with an evidence base, and with the neurophysiology you know, it's because it's, I guess, making it very Western. And that sort of is slightly problematic, maybe, however, and I think it is also quite common amongst all of the so called alternative or integrative health care practices, we find ourselves trying to prove and find explanations and find out the neural chemicals that are involved in what's actually going on to, before we can accept before the Western mind can accept or embrace or integrate the practices in to our, our lives, although that's maybe slightly problematic, because these ancient practices, you know, you know, are almost the opposite of reductionist in their approach, and it's quite hard to, to break down all the individual, you know, components that are really you know, active in, in, in the process of overall wellness that they create, it does help to translate this information in a way that can be understood, and then incorporated. You studied a master's in yoga studies, which is, I think, such a, a
Western thing to do.
illustration, I think, and an illustration, the perfect illustration of, of, of, you know, or an example of, of how, how we can or how we do try to break down, you know, these ideas, philosophies, practices, but also the usefulness of that, because it's allowing you to enter spaces that would you would otherwise not be allowed to enter and then reach people that would not otherwise want to be reached or could be reached. Can you talk talk to that idea? Yeah, absolutely.
So that that was exactly the the idea. I'd been on a very, very deep and profound and transformative journey with yoga. I basically got into the practice in my late 20s, when, in quick succession, I lost my dad to a brain tumour and then got dumped by my long term boyfriend, and painful therapy extraordinarily painful. I felt like I lost my past and my future in the very same moment. And I was in a deep depression, and I had also just opened a restaurant. So I was working crazy, crazy hours and very physically demanding circumstances. And I was really unable unable to cope. I A I felt the heartbreak and the grief very physically. And to cut a long story short, I started working, we had a we had a waitress who started working at our restaurant. And I told her what had gone on in my life and how difficult I was finding it. I couldn't sleep, I didn't want to eat. I felt very, very cut off from the world. And I felt like my life had changed in a way that was completely out of my control. And what I later understood was that I was experiencing trauma. My emotions were all over the place, I was aggressive, I was depressed I was, I couldn't trust myself, and I didn't feel safe in my body. And again, all these things that I sort of later found out work were symptoms of trauma. But she, she told me, Oh, well, there's this local meditation teacher who really helped me through a rough period of time, why don't you go and see him. And for some reason I did. And I started meditating with this teacher. And it really, really helped me I connected with it very quickly. And from there, I started practising moving meditation, yoga with that same teacher. And again, that release started to happen. And I started to feel safe, I started to feel peaceful, I started to feel like I could begin to cope with the intensity of my emotions and the intensity of the pain that I was in. And I quickly developed a very regular practice. And I got very, very interested in what this was. So I had gone into it as a complete sceptic, I, you know, when when this waitress had said to me, go and see a meditation teacher, I was just like, What the fuck are you talking about? Like, there's no way meditation is gonna even touch the sides of the of the level of pain that I'm in. But something in me was curious and open. So I did. And so I started asking these questions. What is this what is happening in my body? Why is making these weird shapes with my body that I've never done before, and make me feel quite weird, given that I'm sort of upside down a lot and twisting and looking in new directions. And it was all really unfamiliar to me. What is this? Why is it working? Why do I come out feeling peaceful, and like that endless chattering of my mind has stopped all the awful storytelling that goes on, you know, when you're in pain, all the demons that come up and out and, you know, tell you that you're worthless, telling you that you deserved this, that sort of stuff. You know, it was, it was a tool that was taking away my suffering. So I got really interested in it. And I went away to do a teacher training in yoga, not because I wanted to be a teacher, but because I just wanted to dive further into the technology of it and the history and background. I just wanted to know more about it. And it was the only thing I wanted to do was practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, you know, it was quite obsessive. And so when I came out of the teacher training, I really have more questions, I wanted to go deeper again. And I had this realisation that I wanted to teach and take the practice into all the places in the world where there was the most pain, because if it had carried me through what was the most pain I had ever experienced, then it was bound to be replicable and useful elsewhere. And at that time, I felt like I want to work in prisons, I want to work work in mental health care. This should be in all schools, that should be you know, this has got to be accessible everywhere, because this is profoundly healing and profoundly powerful. What I also didn't realise at that time, until quite a lot later, was that I was experiencing a kundalini awakening, which is basically when it's again, it's rather hard to articulate. It's like a spiritual experience that is quite hard to put into words. But effectively, I had had a massive unleashing of my spiritual energy, I suppose that's the best way to put it. And it had given me a new found perspective on life and my connection to the planet and my role in the world. And it made me feel totally powerful. And I went on from that teacher training to travel around California and spend some time there and I realised that I wanted to live there because at that time, I was still there's a lot going on there around I embody Education And Spirituality. And it's quite a different mindset to London where I'm from, which is much more empirical and much more sceptical and cynical. I wanted to go and be somewhere where I could really be in the flow of my spirituality, and the sort of depths of experiencing that I was going through. So I remember Googling, you know, is there such a thing as a master's degree in in yoga studies. And lo and behold, there was and weirdly enough, there was one in California. So I applied. And what was really exciting about that programme was that it had an additional year long certificate training in yoga, mindfulness and social change, which was learning from educators who had taken the practice into schools, prisons, social care. You know, who working on yoga and body image or yoga and colonialism or yoga and restorative justice yoga and the prison system like, they were doing really exciting, groundbreaking, like forward thinking, progressive work, in the way that only America can, you know, America is so philanthropic. And I knew I had to go and learn from them. Because I knew that I wanted to, to formalise and put into scientific language, the healing process that I had just been through, so that I could be a spokesperson and almost like an ambassador for the practice, rather than just being a yoga practitioner, or yoga teacher who's like, everyone should do yoga, it's so good, because I say so, you know, I knew that I had to have the science, because in order to make sense of my own journey, which once I started studying at masters level, I finally understood that what I had experienced was trauma, you know, that gave me the language to understand why my emotions were all over the place, why I felt unsafe of my body, how it was that yoga, you know, supported my journey through that and supported my healing. So my master's degree really gave me the context that I was seeking to understand what I had been through at this sort of neurological, physiological, emotional, spiritual levels. And then to give me the framework for knowing how to take this work into places where it wasn't being accessed. So it really was about turning something very mystical into something empirical so that I could prove to other sceptics in the education system or in the prison system, or wherever this works, and I'm going to, I'm going to show you how it works.
And that's such an important key, because the we can get really polarised in these opposite, or seemingly opposite camps. And from the empirical to the mystical, and unless we find a middle ground that we can speak to each other, the benefits of either way of looking at get lost, and we none of us seek the benefit from from from an from a different perspective. So I think that's really important, and quite fascinating to see how you how you approach that and how you did that. And I almost want to pick up on, I guess, the learnings from that Master programme, because I'm really interested in what you're calling trauma informed yoga. Because we hear we hear a lot about trauma, big T trauma, little T trauma, and and how that impacts our nervous system. Can you go into a little bit more detail there? For anyone who does want a bit more of a scientific understanding of actually what is going on? And then how yoga can help us sort of manage traumatic experiences in our lives?
Yeah, so there is a lot more to it than I can say in just a few minutes. But absolutely, to try and summarise, effectively. Trauma is the response that we have to an event that the body and the mind perceive as deeply threatening to our survival. And that alert signal that gets sent around the mind in the body in response to a threat to big life event or our On a deep shock, that response is the trauma. And it is a response that needs regulating and working through. So in a healthy nervous system when we, when we are shocked, let's say, we step out into the road and a boss comes by our nervous system will react to that threat, and mobilise through the sympathetic nervous system. To get us out of the way, you know, our heart starts racing quickly, our muscles activate, and we get out of the way. And obviously, that's a very useful evolutionary function that's helps us to help us to survive in the wild. But, in effect, when we're traumatised, it's like that, that alert signal continues to ring and it doesn't shut down, we don't find natural homeostasis or balance following the threat as we would do. In a healthy nervous system after we've stepped out of the way of the bus, when we're traumatised that alert signal continues to ring. And we may stay in that state of high alert, or we may become shut down, like hypo aroused. And we may equally move between those two places. And effectively when that alert signal is running, when the amygdala the fear centre of the brain is detecting a threat and is sending the signal to be afraid, when the prefrontal cortex is, is watching as you know, our surroundings and seeing this and that and everybody else as a threat to our danger. When the whole body is responding to those signals, we can be in, we can become eventually sort of, I suppose, exhausted and over adrenalized bye, bye, the signals that are coming through, and that has a massive impact on the rest of the workings of our body. You know, if we can't rest and relax and we can't heal from injury, we can't assimilate the nutrients from our food, we can't sleep. But equally, what tends to happen to a lot of people is this, this chronic feeling of of being unsafe in our own bodies, and in the world around us. So everything becomes a potential stressor and threat. And effectively what we're doing and a trauma informed approach to yoga is understanding where on that sort of spectrum of responses somebody might be. And using ways of, of practising to help them to find steps stability and equilibrium in their nervous system and signalling to the brain. That that safety is present that it's and that it's okay to switch off and no longer be hyper alert or hyper aroused. So it's more complicated than that there are more mechanisms at hand. But effectively, because Yoga is a whole sort of driving mission is about finding that stability and finding that that sense of alignment, that sense of balance, that's always what we're working towards in a trauma informed approach. And really, a lot of it is about grounding. Again, if you think about somebody who is in a hyper aroused state, who is unable to read other people's body language, or their facial expressions, who perceives there for everyone to be a threat to their own safety, we're helping to bring that person down into a place of grounding, where the physiology of their body, let's say, through poses like Child's Pose and the thing that's grounding, the thing that helps to, again, lower the blood pressure, lower the heart rate, and send, you know, feel good, relaxing hormones around the body, things like tryptophan, things that help them to physically feel good and safe. That's going to help to counteract those, the sort of hyper aroused states that they're in. There's a lot around grounding, there's a lot around centering, there's also a lot that we do to counteract the shame that comes with being in a traumatised state. So because our emotions may well be really violent and all over the place and very, very changeable. Again, because of the chemistry of the body that saying, I'm not safe. Toxic shame and chronic shame are really prevalent. Because if you don't feel safe in your body and you know that your your aggression, your violence, your outbursts, your chronic lack of trust in yourself and others and the world is throwing you all over the place. Shame tends to sit on top of that as well. And so we do a lot of work you know around it. Self Compassion, self love, gratitude, you know, these contemplative heart based practices also really powerful in a trauma informed approach to yoga, so that we can begin to befriend our experience rather than constantly running from it. Because that's the other thing when emotions are running that high. And we can all imagine how distressing it is to be in that state. What's really common is that we resort to things like drink and drugs to numb that and to try to numb the emotion and numb the pain and dissociate basically, because it is intolerable to be in a body that is traumatised, and that is feeling like that much of an emotional shipwreck. So, you know, those maladaptive coping mechanisms become really common. And again, what we're doing in a trauma informed approach to yoga is helping people to choose empowered alternatives, helping them to experience that safety from within their bodies, so that they no longer feel the need to run from it or drown it in, in painkillers.
Yeah, I guess it's like expanding their tolerability like their tolerance to their own experience. Because we know from we know that actually, we often have to halt or emotional experience or a nervous system experience because it is too much. And in that whole thing process we can be doing, we cause our emotions to get trapped in our bodies, and that does sort of has pathological yet potentially pathological impacts for us. So being able to expand our window of tolerance, to be able to hold a fuller experience allows us then the flexibility to process the emotion and release it rather than hold on to it because it's too much, or they're, they're there, they're in there in a shame spiral so have to hide, hide it from ourselves, hide it from other people, I can really Yeah, that really helps me to understand that. Yeah, that really helps me to understand that. So you know, you did your did your masters, and you got a training in not only how to work with with yoga and understand the mechanics of it, but also how to bring it into spaces that really need it. And you're really making strides in that area, taking it to universities to treat to treat to to to work with medical students. We've sort of briefly covered what other spaces you've taken it into, can you tell me more about what you're currently working on with medical students, you know, what other social spaces are you bringing this practice into?
So medical students actually my main focus at the moment, because it's, it feels like, it's a really impactful place to take the work in that I can work with quite large numbers of people at a time. There are elective courses that I run, so they're not compulsory students self select them, which is really interesting. I mean, at Queen Mary, at its peak, I had sort of 70 students in in one cohort. And that was particularly powerful during the pandemic years when everything had to go online. And, you know, I just saw, let's open up as much capacity as possible, because this is this is even more needed than than usual. But I really do. You know, that really is my focus at the moment is finding more and more open minded university course, conveners, who say, Yeah, we're really interested in that, that could really benefit our medical students. Let's talk about this and bring it on board because I know that when I've worked with 20 or 30 students who've been really positively impacted by their learning and their progress, they then can go out and become, as you touched on earlier, you know, there's sort of spokespeople for it. The idea is that they can prescribe yoga through social prescribing to their future patients, but generally as well, they go away and they talk about it with their peers and their friends and family who are suffering from all sorts of, you know, minor or major medical complaints, so it feels like a very deeply and quickly impactful place to do my work. And I know that that's where it's going to have the most social impact as if I continue to focus there, because it's going to create systems change within the NHS, if more and more students are coming through and into the system, with this sort of mindset in this sort of education. But in the past, I have done a lot of work with various different community groups. I loved working with all veterans, when I was living in and studying in LA, I used to do some work at the local health clinic for a couple of years as well working with Latina women there in Santa Monica. And as many schools as I can get this into as well, you know, I whenever there's an invitation to do that, then I then I do particularly love working with sort of 16 to 18 year olds, when they're on that cusp of a lot of personal change, and, you know, the beginnings of adulthood, and really learning how to sort of individuate themselves from the pack. You know, that's what's so wonderful about this work is that it is applicable everywhere, like there's nowhere in society where I don't think it would benefit. And obviously yoga isn't for everybody, like I really do understand that that. You know, I think people need to come to it when they're ready. And people generally do come to it when they're ready. I think there's something really interesting about that, that people seek it. Or perhaps don't even knowingly seek it, but that somehow the practice finds them when it's needed. I mean, I certainly that's how I felt, I found my way to it, that that it was it coming to me, which is very beautiful. Yeah.
That's very true. Some people, some people find it through sport, you know, I think any practice that allows you to meet yourself, and with yoga that can be through periods of stillness, and it's particularly useful for people who are living in their heads a lot, and don't really find pockets of stillness to really settle in to meeting themselves in in that sort of space. But there's other people on patients that I see who I know, are never going to, are never going to pick up yoga, there's no point having that conversation by Mike mentioned them. Sport, boxing, you know, running any experience where you are going to be meeting sides of yourself, that you would rather not meet gives you an opportunity to really, to really get to know those parts, because that's where all the growth factor lives, and is often so needed in times of crisis, whether that be crisises in your health, whether that be physical, emotional, spiritual, you know, and I tend to see them when they experience that in their bodies. So yeah, I think that that's a really good point that yoga may not be for everyone. But it is certainly a tool that is accessible, especially online these days, with price being not such a barrier to an endorser and time, you know, and location. So it's an accessible practice, which allows you to get to know yourself in a deeper way and increase, expand your capacity to experience your life fully. And I think that's a beautiful gift and something that we really need to know is there for us if and when we need it. So thank you so much for introducing that to the next generation of medical students. I'm so intrigued to watch them as they come through, and then relate to themselves and their patients. It better really than we than they have in the past. And so thank you for so much for following following your pathway during the translation into empirical speech, so that we really can be accessed by more by more People so thank you so much for the work you're doing in the world thank you thank you so much Ali