Christa, a licensed clinical social worker, has been serving children, youth, and families in various counseling and client services roles at community-based organizations in Virginia and New York for the last ten years. Most recently, she was the Director of Domestic and Sexual Violence Programs for Doorways for Women and Families in Arlington, VA. Christa has extensive knowledge of trauma and brings a strengths-based, empowerment approach to her work with clients. She most often employs motivational interviewing, harm reduction, and cognitive behavioral therapeutic approaches. Christa is also a Registered Yoga Teacher with training to incorporate trauma-informed yoga into mental health practice. She is interested in yoga’s intersections with building capacities around self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy, as well as its implications for overall health and wellness.
Christa earned her Master of Science degree in Social Work from Columbia University in the City of New York with specializations in International Social Welfare and Services to Immigrants and Refugees. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Criminology & Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland, College Park, with minors in Japanese and International Studies. Christa spent her formative years living in Japan and enjoys working with diverse populations.
Christa is in the therapist spotlight for September! Below, she provides some guidance to adoptive parents:
Q: How has yoga influenced your approach to working with children/teens and their families at CASE?
A: Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the United States and more research is emerging to demonstrate its real healing properties and contributions to overall health and well-being. When I studied to become a yoga teacher, I found significant overlap with western concepts of psychology and the growing body of research on trauma. The mind–body connection is powerful, and I am passionate about sharing yoga’s benefits with my clients at C.A.S.E. Specifically, I use yoga techniques to support clients in building capacities around self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy.
Many people know yoga for its physical components; practicing poses (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). The latest research on trauma shows that our bodies hold on to experiences long after they’ve ended. Treatments for healing trauma can come in the form of physical therapies such as trauma-informed yoga. Becoming familiar with the physical practice of yoga provides people with a sense of power and control over themselves and their lives, a reclaiming of their bodies, and increased awareness of how energy and mood can be altered intentionally. Additionally, the regular practice of meditation has shown to increase grey matter and cortical thickness in the brain, corresponding to functions around sensory, emotional, and cognitive processing. By finding stillness and learning to practice self-compassion when the mind wanders, we increase patience and compassion for ourselves while developing more empathy for others.
Yoga can be intimidating for some people who believe they need to be flexible or athletic, but it is just like trying any other new activity. You begin at your personal starting point, and then your yoga practice has the potential to become a journey of personal transformation as you begin to let go of the “shoulds.” Various poses correlate to different benefits for the body and for thoughts and emotions. Can’t sleep because of racing thoughts? Try “legs up the wall” in your bed. Your stomach is upset? Try “supine twist” or “happy baby.” Feeling anxious and in need of some grounding? Try “child’s pose.” Yoga is another tool in our toolbox for navigating the complexities of being human!
One of my clients who is 4 years-old loves to roll out the yoga mat during our sessions. We have cards with different poses that correspond to animals and they match up to rhyming descriptions of the poses. He moves through each one with delight and at various points of the game we close our eyes and check in with ourselves. “How has my breathing changed?” “How fast is my heart beating?” “What is my energy like?”
Yoga philosophy also offers a perspective on identity, self-expression, and the path to self-actualization. Traditional yogis believe that there is “light” in every person that is the same (atman). It is what connects us all as human spirits. Everyone has pieces of themselves layered over this light that influences how they are seen by others in the world. These layers are known as “koshas” and include the physical body, energy body, mind body, wisdom body, and bliss body. At any given point in time, a guided kosha analysis will help with insight into thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Koshas can also be explored in conjunction with “chakras,” which are often described as spinning energy wheels in the body that can become blocked. Each chakra is located in a different region of the body and corresponds to a color and a variety of characteristics. Yoga is a way to unlock the chakras and help energy move freely throughout the body so that we are in an optimal state of functioning and well-being. The understanding of chakras is frequently used in Eastern medicine and healing.
Yoga is a buffet of offerings that can benefit mind, body, and spirit depending on one’s personal interests and dedication. I have found that for my clients who have experienced grief, loss and trauma, yoga offers an opportunity for healing, as well as additional options for managing their emotions. The light in me sees and loves the light in you!