tranquil space yoga at saint elizabeth’s hospital

since march 2009, a group of volunteers from tranquil space yoga studio has taught yoga each week to women at saint elizabeth’s hospital in southeast d.c. founded in 1855, saint elizabeth’s’ is the state mental hospital for the district of columbia. the volunteers work with women who have a serious mental illness, in addition to being survivors of trauma.

living with a mental illness – knowing that your mind isn’t yours to control — is stressful and frightening. and as victims of abuse, our women’s bodies have also been used against them. much of the treatment offered to these ladies is dependent on medications, some of which have uncomfortable side effects. yoga is an important and different kind of therapy. it returns control of their bodies to them. it involves teachers who touch them respectfully and therapeutically. it enhances their mental health by affecting their moods and sense of self. plus, as yoga students the women learn to be receptive to their instructor’s input. this can make it possible for them to open themselves to other people’s input, including their therapist’s.

we have noticed that participants have a more positive outlook at the end of a yoga session. they smile as they share the cup of mint tea that closes each session. when you consider their circumstances – seriously ill and confined to an institution – a positive outlook is an amazing outcome, and a testimony to the power of yoga for improved health.

- maureen jais-mick, director of community outreach and volunteer services, saint elizabeth’s hospital

testimonials from tranquil space teacher volunteers:

“the yoga is working”- that is what i hear each time i teach yoga at st. e’s from one of the ladies that lives there. it’s amazing to see how just a few minutes of simple exercises and personalized care and attention can be appreciated so much. – amy herrick

i always look forward to teaching at st. elizabeth’s, and although the group i have been teaching has been small, to see the women devote time and effort to learning more about yoga; to hear them talk about not only individual poses they practice during the week but also the peace of mind that yoga brings them in their everyday life, is especially rewarding. i learn from them and always look forward to chatting with them when staff serve tea afterward. – anne gasque

in so many ways, working with the ladies of seh help me to do the same things – relate differently and innovatively to my world through a shared energetic experience on the yoga mat. i learn so much about the world in which our yoginis at seh live when i visit, and it encourages me to appreciate the differences in people, and to understand that we all have important and varied stories to tell. – dave kidney

i’m privileged to have had the opportunity to teach at st. elizabeth’s since 3/28/09. kudos to dave kidney, who set this program up for teachers in training at tranquil space with the hope that we would create a legacy of local community service that would bring in new teachers who serve and grow with this diverse group of women in need of some tranquility. we’re all delighted to meet and bring it to them. – kelly tobin

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