Walking the Walk, Beyond the Talk
By Sunni Knowlton
Therapeutic & Recreational Activities Facilitator & Yoga Specialist
After many years of research and personal work delving into countless modalities of therapy and holistic healing, I’ve come to believe something: While talk therapy is extremely beneficial and therapeutic, integrating the body (physical sensation and awareness) with the mind and spirit produces astounding results in the physiological, psychological, and mental well-being of the person seeking help.
Sierra Tucson not only provides excellent traditional methods of therapeutic practices, but also incorporates integrative and experiential/recreational therapies that offer holistic body/mind experiences. Individualized treatment incorporates innovative techniques that draw on age-old practices in ancient cultures from around the world to bring about transformation, healing, and change.
In the Therapeutic & Recreational Activities Program at Sierra Tucson, we offer adventure therapy, equine-assisted therapy, yoga and meditation, hiking, outings, expressive arts groups, movement groups, personal training, and hydrotherapy, to name a few. Sierra Tucson now facilitates this program seven days a week and it continues to grow.
In my years of study and practice, I’ve come to believe that the body is the physical representation of the soul. The human body touches a person’s psyche, releasing and allowing shifts in awareness, insight, perception, and perspective. Research studies continue to reveal that using techniques taught in practices like yoga and somatic massage therapy help people to accept and integrate emotions and thoughts while remaining in a calm, relaxed state. They also help to regulate brain chemistry by accessing and activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PSN), which is responsible for returning an individual to a calm state after a fight-or-flight response. Using therapeutic touch and integrative techniques, we assist in the transformation process, which is an honor and a privilege. At Sierra Tucson, we consider this responsibility to be sacred, maintaining the utmost respect for, and providing confidentiality to, our residents.
By learning these techniques and knowing how to use them effectively, a person is better able to self-regulate moods and cravings, and learns how to de-escalate emotions when facing a crisis. In essence, the individual understands how to self-soothe, which empowers him/her to nurture, calm, and comfort himself/herself.
By practicing pranayama, or controlled breathing, and the asanas, or physical postures, in yoga, we can have a relationship with our body in new and healthy ways. Sierra Tucson residents are offered many diverse styles of yoga and customized classes. We focus on core strength and alignment, restorative poses, gentle yoga for chronic and acute pain, yoga nidra (guided yogic sleep), inversion therapy, and chair yoga. Many residents share with me that they have found peace, support, self-love, confidence, and empowerment for the first time in years—or ever.
Benefits of Yoga and Pranayama
- Increased feelings of being centered, calm, and grounded
- Neutralizes intense emotional feelings/induced self-regulation
- Improves sleep patterns and promotes rejuvenating rest
- Lowers depression, blood pressure, anxiety, PTSD, cravings, feelings of helplessness
- Improves overall mental and physical well-being, core strength, flexibility, stamina and spatial awareness; creates a more positive, optimistic outlook on life
- Accesses and balances both hemispheres of the brain, improving balance, awareness, coordination, and connection to a higher power
- Reduces chronic and acute pain; increases range of motion in joints
- Promotes acceptance, love, and compassion for self and others
Experiential therapy, such as equine-assisted and adventure, can shift a resident’s treatment experience and overall perspective. When engaged in the challenge or activity, the individual is often asked to look inward and work on himself/herself in the areas of communication, trust, accountability, self-care, asking for help, taking healthy risks, letting go, and facing fears. This work becomes internalized, as he/she is most often fully engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally. Thus, the experience is ingrained in both body memory and psyche. When a resident accomplishes a challenging physical task with the help of peers—something that was thought to be impossible an hour earlier—his/her mind expands. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”
Sierra Tucson’s Therapeutic & Recreational Activities Program encourages authenticity and courage in taking healthy risks and trying new behaviors. Once the activity is finished, the staff processes the experience with the residents, offers feedback, and asks questions that may reveal new insights that can be applied to their recovery and their lives. It is truly inspiring and rewarding to see the change and transformation take place, and the inner peace that ensues.