Jamie Marich's friends and colleagues describe her as a renaissance woman. A dancer, musician, performer, writer, recovery ambassador, and clinical counselor, Marich unites these elements of her experience to achieve an ultimate mission: bringing the art and joy of healing to others. Marich travels internationally speaking on topics related to EMDR, trauma, addiction, and mindfulness while maintaining a private practice (Mindful Ohio) in her home base of Warren, OH. She is the developer of the Dancing Mindfulness practice (www.dancingmindfulness.com) and regularly trains facilitators to take this unique practice into both clinical and community settings. Jamie Marich is the author of EMDR Made Simple: 4 Approaches for Using EMDR with Every Client (2011), Trauma and the Twelve Steps: A Complete Guide for Recovery Enhancement (2012), and Trauma Made Simple: Competencies in Assessment, Treatment, and Working with Survivors. Her new book, Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation is scheduled for release in 2015 with Skylight Paths Press. Marich is also a certified rational living hypnotherapist and completed the Street Yoga trauma-informed yoga teacher training program
1. Please describe, or tell a story, about your first yoga class or yoga experience.
Yoga intrigued me for many years before I attended my first formal class, and it’s safe to say that I “dabbled” in yoga. Whenever professionals in my field of professional counseling taught elements of yoga at a conference, I was there giving it a go. During a water aerobics class I took at a local gym, the teachers implemented some elements that she identified as yoga-inspired, and I enjoyed them. Three major blocks existed that kept me from formally enrolling in a class: echoes from my fundamentalist upbringing, old family messages, and inferiority fears stemming from mainstream cultural images of yoga I had absorbed. Although I had long distanced myself from fundamentalist Christianity when I walked into my first formal yoga class in 2010, some of the old scripts about “anything Eastern is not of Christ so therefore must be bad” were at play. The religious scripts were not the only family messages at play either — I have a vivid memory of my mother calling one of her friends who did yoga “weird.” Indeed, the cultural portrayals that I saw of yoga to that point seemed to suggest that only hippies and new agey folks with their heads in the unrealistic clouds did yoga…or celebrities like Madonna with the fittest, trimmest bodies imaginable. Nowhere in those images did I see me, so I stayed away.
For at least five years before walking into my first formal yoga class, mind-body medicine, especially meditation approaches, were well known to me because of my work as a clinical counselor. My specific work with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy introduced me to mindfulness approaches and the importance of honoring the holistic body in the service of recovery. Thus, when the small studio I drove by all the time in Cortland, OH finally lured me in for a free class on New Year’s weekend, I was clearly both hungry for yoga and ready for it. The experienced teacher shared with us over thirty years of practice, and many of the approaches she used were reminiscent of guided imagery techniques that I used as a clinical counselor. Her invitations to honor the sensations of the body were similar to strategies used in EMDR. However, the dynamic way that she brought the body into the practice was new to me, yet it resonated in a way that felt so familiar. During the final Savasana, I thought to myself: “I need more of this in my life… I take care of people all the time. Coming to these classes will allow me to be taken care of.”
2. Describe or narrate your first time teaching yoga. What do you recall?
I can’t directly recall the first time I ever “taught someone yoga,” because for me, teaching yoga is simply about sharing one’s practice. If we are using that definition, I began teaching many of the breathing techniques that I learned through my own yoga practice to my clients and to other counselors, social workers, and psychologists that I regularly educate. I’d used diaphragmatic breath with myself and with clients before commencing my own yoga practice. However, the breaths I learned through yoga class opened up a whole new world of possibilities both in my personal recovery and in my professional education career. I became so excited about ujjayi breathing upon learning it — it was the first breath that helped me to relax so deeply without going into a big formal guided imagery set-up or progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Simply accessing the breath opened up some many possibilities. I’ve since learned in my studies that ujjayi breath is the breath that relieves us from the terror of a flight, fight, or freeze response, and I am of the opinion that every clinician working with trauma ought to have proficiency in this breath and be able to teach it. I have vague recollections of the first time I taught ujjayi breath to a room full of professional colleagues (although I would have taught it to a client before that at some point). I was unsteady about the best way to teach it because the two different teachers I studied with at that point had two different ways of instructing it. I found that relying on the Darth Vader comparison was very comforting since I use smatterings of pop culture references throughout my workshops anyway. I still struggle with the best way to teach ujjayi pranayama to my clients, my conscious dance and trauma yoga students, and my colleagues. In general, I’ve found that having a few different ways to teach the breath and then being able to tailor my instruction to the group has not yet failed me.
3. Last time you took a yoga class or workshop, what were your impressions?
The last yoga workshop I took that stood out to me as extraordinary was a new wave vinyasa style workshop I attended in my hometown. When new teachers or new styles come into my area I attempt to take at least one class with that teacher or in that style. I am easily bored so I enjoy the variety of learning from new people. Perhaps that I’d become so used to studying only with teachers who I felt were trauma-informed amplified the shock I experienced in this class. I knew from the style of yoga that she taught that physical adjustments would likely be used (and it promised as much on the class flyer). Yet I was initially very miffed to hear that she didn’t review a protocol at the beginning of the class for how to decline physical adjustments or use of essential oils/creams during her adjustments. It struck me as a bit hypocritical for her to espouse the virtues of a vegan diet out of an intention to not harm any living things, yet some of the adjustment behaviors she engaged in during the class would clearly be harmful to someone who wasn’t ready for them.
I am generally fine with receiving physical adjustments, and I dig it when teachers use essential oils, yet to me it is just good common sense to ask people first and review a protocol for opting out. Some yoga teacher colleagues have accused me of being too sensitive when it comes to the trauma-informed issue because of my perspective as a trauma counselor. Yet I am also aware of the reality that one in three women have experienced some type of sexual assault. With numbers being this high, isn’t it wise to use universal precautions when it comes to issues like touch, especially when we don’t know someone or their story?
When this new teacher had her hand very low of my waistline and in my butt crack during a physical adjustment, I froze. I am a very extroverted person who is typically not afraid to speak her mind. Yet being snuck up from behind and not being given a way to say no made me paralyzed in a way I hadn’t been in years. It made me realize just how strongly I feel about the issue of giving people options in teaching, especially when the levels of physical and emotional intimacy can intensify.
4. Describe the last time you taught a class or workshop.
As of this writing, the last workshop I taught specific to yoga was with my collaborator, Mandy Hinkle, RYT-200. About two years ago, Mandy and I put together a workshop called “Uniting Trauma Recovery with Yoga,” and we offer it 3-4 times a year here in our local community. In this three-hour workshop, I review some guidelines for safe practice since there are usually many folks new to yoga. Mandy then leads the group through an hour-long healing yoga practice, focusing on breath, mindful awareness, and poses that have specific benefits for many in alleviating mental health symptoms. Mandy takes very great care not to go overboard with yoga jargon, opting out of Sanskrit altogether. We are in mutual understanding that giving participants the option to close their eyes or leave them open during the various components of the practice is a prime way to promote safety. I then lead the participants through a discussion about their experiences with the class and open myself up to questions about trauma and mental health. From this discussion, we conduct a needs assessment with the group and provide further instruction based on those needs.
Attendees commonly complain about problems falling or staying asleep as a result of body-level distress or mental clatter. I am open to answering questions about why such problems may result from connection to trauma, and then we instruct how to use pranayama (typically combinations of diaphragmatic, ujjayi, and alternate nostril breathing) and a series of poses, typically seated forward folding variations and legs up the wall. An attendee at one of our past workshops shared how our emphasis on committing to simple practices upon waking up and before going to bed—even if they are no more than five or ten minutes-- transformed her ability to stay more focused and present throughout her day. I’d rather see people commit to 5-10 minutes of consistent practice a day targeting wellness goals than go days and days without practice and suddenly expect to get better from just attending one yoga class. Consistency leads to change, and this usually means starting small and practically. My aim is for participants to get acquainted with this logic and then translate it into their lives.
Mandy and I both agree that teaching this workshop is one of the most special, important services that we offer in our respective work. We don’t pretend to give people all of the answers in a three-hour workshop, yet if we illicit further introspection on how trauma has affected them and what steps they can take to continue the healing, we feel that some good has been done. The feedback we receive from many attendees is affirming. This excerpt, shared with permission, comes from Lea (not her real name): “Today I attended a workshop on uniting trauma recovery with yoga, held by my aforementioned pal. When I realized it was scheduled on the anniversary of my abortion I instantly felt an overwhelming need to go, as well as some trepidation. Could I finally move on with my life? Needless to say, I did go and this purging is a result. At one point we were guided to imagine a place that makes us happy/relaxed. I thought of the same image I've used for years during meditation: a large tree I'm leaning back on facing a pond surrounded by trees at dusk. Today as I was picturing this, I saw myself look down into my arms where I was holding my son. After a moment, a golden light shone down from the sky, enveloping him. I hugged him to me, kissed him and closed my eyes. When I opened them he was gone and I felt I finally had closure, at peace. I've worried for years what happened to his soul ‒ today I felt it was free. I feel the same about myself. I see my counselor tomorrow and will look at this further to uncover anything I may be overlooking. I don't know how this may affect me in the future, but I don't feel anchored by fear and pain.”