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Specialized yoga for trauma victims coming to Castle Rock

LiveFree Counseling to begin offering program this month

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Denise Kullman tries to help people suffering from any number of traumas through her work as a neurofeedback technician, but in March, she's taking a new approach.

Kullman, who works at LiveFree Counseling in Castle Rock, will be enrolling in a new program LiveFree is offering that aims to help people heal from trauma through yoga.

“I don't think a lot of people realize that, one, what they've experienced is trauma, and two, that they can get help,” said Tammy Gustafson, owner of LiveFree Counseling.

LiveFree Counseling, 695 Jerry St., provides various counseling and therapy services all specializing in helping people work through life experiences that result in trauma — from divorce to medical conditions to abuse.

“We specialize in trauma and our vision is to provide a lot of different ways that people can get help and healing,” Gustafson said. “Now we're starting trauma-informed yoga, so we're just really excited.”

Trauma-informed yoga is a type of yoga that teaches instructors how to avoid potential triggers for individuals with trauma. For example, the language an instructor uses is more invitational than commanding. Instructors wouldn't tell students when to begin a certain move. Instead they would say things such as “if you like” or “when you are ready.”

In another example, they refer to exercises as “postures.” The more traditional term, “pose,” can be triggering for victims of sexual abuse, said Courtneyrose Chung, who is the trauma-informed yoga instructor at LiveFree.

Gustafson said she's always envisioned incorporating such a yoga program into her practice because of research showing it's effective in helping trauma victims.

The Trauma Center in Massachusetts, known for pioneering the trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed yoga field, conducted research finding trauma-informed yoga helped reduce symptoms in women with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In one study run from 2008 through 2011, 64 women with chronic PTSD who were not responding to treatment were placed in one of two groups.

About half underwent a trauma-informed yoga course while the other half were placed in a control group that received health education classes. At the conclusion of the study, 52 percent of the yoga group no longer met criteria for PTSD, compared to 21 percent of the control group.

“That's powerful stuff,” Gustafson said of the report, explaining other research shows trauma creates a physical reaction in people and is often stored in the body. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente study from the late 1990s detailed connections between a person's number of childhood traumas, such as abuse or neglect, and health conditions that emerge later in life.

That's why Gustafson believes it's as important to treat trauma through physical therapy like yoga as it is through mental and emotional therapy.

Chung has been a registered yoga teacher since 2012 and graduated with her master's degree in marriage and family therapy last May. She now works as a clinical therapist with LiveFree and trained through a 20-hour course with the Trauma Center in order to lead LiveFree's trauma-informed yoga program.

The new trauma-informed yoga program begins March 31. The eight-week, women-only course offers classes on Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings. The classes, Chung said, will be in a room at the center with plenty of space, clearly marked exits and no mirrors, all in order to make their clients feel safer. More information is available at livefreecounseling.org.

“This is not a fitness class. There will be some amount of exertion as the classes get slightly more difficult,” Chung said, “but it's very slow. It's very controlled.”

Kullman hopes the classes will help her personally and professionally.

“I want to make sure that I'm educated in all the services that our office can provide,” she said, adding she's a mother of four and helps support her aging mother. “I have my own personal stressors and stuff going on that I thought, you know, this will help me too as an individual to overcome that.”

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