Nancy Candea responded to our call for interviewees and what follows is our discussion about her experience teaching underserved groups using trauma-informed techniques.
Priya: Where do you teach yoga and how would you describe your population of students?
Nancy: I am so fortunate to have a diverse population of yoga clients and yoga teachers that I have trained all around the world. Most of the people who I train are interested in working with populations that don't have access to yoga for a variety of reasons. As the director of Yoga Impact, I have trained yoga teachers who are working with the Navaho Nation in Arizona, the inner city of Newark, veterans in Hawaii, prisons in Greece, and refugee camps in Palestine. Even Yoga Impact 200 hr trainees learn how to teach chair yoga and to develop critical thinking skills to adapt yoga asana for a variety of demographics. We also provide instruction so that teachers use cueing and class dynamics that are trauma-sensitive.
Priya: Please describe your teaching and explain how it benefits your students? If you have an unconventional way of instructing or working with students, please elaborate on that.
Nancy: I teach and train yoga teachers in a healing-centered yoga practice. It is based on the training that I have had in yoga therapy and trauma-informed teaching. I realized that those techniques work well with people who are in recovery from addiction, have an illness, or have an injury. Whether we are practicing yoga from wheelchairs that we live in or are athletes who use yoga as cross-training, the yoga that I practice and teach has the same theme: finding breath in stillness and in movement––to experience the present moment for healing and for discovering and recovering our true nature. Yoga Impact teachers are trained to meet their students where they are and apply critical thinking skills to each person.
The trainees learn these critical thinking skills by know knowing the theoretical therapeutic effects of yoga poses, breathing exercises, and mindfulness and how to cue and give space for students to notice how they feel as they are doing them and afterward, and how to add props for students to maximize benefits.
Priya: Please share with us a teaching experience that resonates for you—for example, when a student understood something for the first time when an unexpected event happened in class that turned out to be helpful or some other noteworthy experience.
Nancy: As a yoga therapist, I apply more yoga philosophy than asana, breath work, and meditation when working with individual clients. I've worked with a client who has a very heavy past with traumas that include growing up during the war in Lebanon, a terrible car accident, and the death of her parents. She also carried regrets that many have in the second half of their life––that have led her to have daily anxiety. We talked about her obstacles of finding stillness and how to reclaim her dharma. I could tell by how engaged she was in the conversation on yoga philosophy that she found the conversation to be uplifting.
She learned simple breathing practices that she can do on a daily basis to help alleviate her anxiety symptoms. She understands that daily exercise and eating well are additional additions to her healing routine. She is also in talk therapy to help her process her past.
Priya: What made you interested in teaching this demographic of yoga students?
Nancy: In 2001, I owned a yoga studio in a wealthy area on the Big Island of Hawaii. I was doing a lot of service work in the community and feeling successful with my career and family life when my family suffered a trauma that brought me to my knees. As a single mom, I had to keep teaching 14 yoga classes a week to keep my new studio open and continue teaching dance classes. The emotional/mental/spiritual stamina that I barely summoned during the next year and a half was due to the physical yoga practices that I had learned. I remember barely being able to keep tears from flowing during numerous classes and drawing on breathwork to maintain a sense of professionalism. When I got on the other side of that dark time, I felt a sense of deep gratitude and an urgent desire to give back, helping others learn skills that might help them during challenging times.
In 2007 when I moved to Boulder, Colorado, I wanted to make yoga more accessible to those who couldn't afford it or felt intimidated going to yoga studios. Yoga Impact was founded in 2009 and hosts specially-tailored yoga teacher trainings in marginalized communities that haven’t had access to professional-level trainings. We have trained and mentored over 400 yoga therapists and yoga instructors who work directly with seniors, veterans, women and children in shelters, prisoners, at-risk youth as well as homeless and other vulnerable populations. Yoga Impact’s reach includes Northern New Jersey, Detroit (Michigan), Cleveland (Ohio), and the Dinè and Gila Reservations in Arizona. Yoga Impact is a registered non-profit in Colorado, New Jersey, and Hawaii.
Priya: What would you like to introduce into your teaching that might further benefit your students? This could be from a training you’ve taken or an idea for the future that is on your wish-list.
Nancy: Yoga Impact is developing a Pre/Postnatal Yoga Teaching Training for pregnant people in the black community. We are working with grant writers, community wellness associations and birthing specialists in the Newark area to get this program started. Our first training is projected for June 2020.
In recent years, the medical community has verified that the societal and systemic racism experienced by black women in America creates toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions such as hypertension and pre-eclampsia. These conditions, and the silencing of black women’s voices via the dismissal of their health concerns and symptoms, lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.
Upon completion of this training, participants will be qualified to teach stress reduction skills specifically for pregnant and postnatal women and be able to adapt their yoga classes for pre- and post-pregnancy clients. Through focusing attention on the needs of new parents and providing community resources and support, Yoga Impact hopes to improve the overall health of new parents and contribute to closing the gap in black parent and infant mortality rates.
Nancy Candea is a C-IAYT, 500 E-RYT, and RCYT who teaches yoga classes, works with private clients, and has conducted retreats, yoga teacher trainings and yoga therapy trainings in Greece, Navaho Nation, Dominican Republic, Detroit, New Jersey, Colorado, and Hawaii. She is the founder and director of Yoga Impact Institute, a residential and online yoga training school. Yoga Impact Institute is a 200-hour, 300-hour, and YACEP school registered with the Yoga Alliance. She directs Yoga Impact, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) that focuses on sharing yoga with vulnerable populations – women and children in shelters, at-risk youth, senior citizens, war veterans, and prisoners, as well as the homeless. Nancy also mentors yoga therapists and yoga teachers in their work with these populations. Her approach to teaching yoga is the product of 32 years of her own practice, her ownership of a successful yoga studio in Hawaii for 5 years, 10 years of training yoga teachers, 4 years of training yoga therapists and 21 years of teaching. She is truly a "yogi without borders." She is the director of Calm Steps to Vibrant Actions: Yoga, Spirituality, Trauma and Social Justice Summit. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Yoga Therapy Today, Boulder Magazine, and Natural Awakenings. Nancy has done yoga therapy presentations at the International Women’s Writing Guild, Global Ayurveda Conference, LLC, and Northern New Jersey Transitional Yoga Conference.
This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.
° REGISTER here for our next conference.
° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.
To order Jivana Heyman's book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala Publications, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore. People in other countries who want the order the book see How to Order "Accessible Yoga" from Countries Outside the U.S.