Central City Concern

Providing comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness and achieving self-sufficiency.

Detox & Yoga: An Unlikely, but Beneficial, Pair

Apr 27, 2017

Oftentimes a first step for those who are looking to make a serious change in their lives, Hooper Detoxification & Stabilization Center is, as the program’s mission states, “a place where hope is constantly reborn.” Many are surprised to hear that our medical detoxification center incorporates the practice of yoga into the program, but it has become a vital tool in helping patients finish the treatment protocol, improving their chances of better health and recovery. We sat down with Steve Mattsson, CCC’s Director of Detoxification Services, to have a National Volunteer Week chat about the unique way in which Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors have helped patients at Hooper not only find comfort but also helped Hooper improve its outcomes.

• • •

Can you tell me the basics? What prompted Hooper to bring Living Yoga on board?
Hooper is approximately a week-long program where people are medically detoxed. The first few days they’re not feeling very well but after that they start getting up and walking around and wanting to do stuff.

We didn’t really have a lot of activities for them, especially anything at all physical, so unfortunately we occasionally lost people who left against medical advice. We explored various things that they could do that were more physical to keep them engaged and we’d heard that—I believe it was Old Town Clinic—had some experience with Living Yoga and said great things about them. So we brought them in and initially did a pilot program with just the men and when that worked out well we expanded it to both men and women.

What kind of feedback were you wanting to hear in order to decide whether you wanted to move on with the pilot project or not?
Really the bottom line was, did the APA (Against Professional Advice) rate come down? Clients saying, “Hey, I really like this. Thank you for offering it.” is really important and we want to improve their experience here. But we also had to really assess if fewer people were leaving against medical advice now than before.

Did you see objective evidence that this worked?
Yes. We added several things during the same year as ways to bring the APA rate down. Overall our APA rates are down this year, and we believe that the Living Yoga instructors have something to do with that.

From what you see, besides the fact that it is some sort of physical activity, what about yoga is beneficial to the people who are here?
Central City Concern—and Hooper especially—have had a long partnership with acupuncturists. I think we’ve been doing it for close to 40 years, acupuncture in conjunction with the detox. And both the yoga and acupuncture really come together for these patients who aren’t feeling well. They are not at peace. Their body chemistry is out of whack and they are uncomfortable. And anything that gets them to calm down, slow their roll—yoga, acupuncture—it really helps.

With western-style medicine the nurses have to get vital signs and assess withdrawal levels and it’s all done confidentially with only one or two patients at a time. With both the acupuncture and the yoga you can work on the whole group at once and help reduce those withdrawal symptoms and that stress level and anxiety.

We have 30 to 45 patients at any time who are all detoxing and by and large not feeling well; they’re cranky. We want them to stay as calm as possible. The yoga and the acupuncture really help us keep the whole floor calm.

I know that a lot of Living Yoga volunteers have gotten some sort of trauma-informed care training. Is that something you would say is applicable to Hooper?
Absolutely. As an agency, and as a program here at Hooper, we’re all moving in a much more trauma-informed direction. Partnering with agencies like Living Yoga that are familiar with trauma-informed terminology and know what our clients have been through is wonderful. It’s excellent.

Has there been anything especially beneficial to having Living Yoga here as opposed to just any kind of yoga volunteer off the street?
Living Yoga is really sympathetic with our mission. Obviously they’ve been partners with CCC for a while and they really are about calming people down, grounding them, and showing them different ways to relax. We’ve really appreciated it. And they’re all volunteers, so they have to want to be here. They feel like they are—and they are—performing a service and giving back because otherwise they wouldn’t keep on coming. That tells us that they’re getting the kind of response from our patients that makes them want to come back again.



"Let all beings everywhere be happy and free"

Apr 26, 2017

Moira Ryan, Central City Concern Old Town Clinic’s Wellness Services Coordinator, works with a number of volunteers, and she witnesses firsthand what Living Yoga volunteer instructors bring to the patients of our community health clinic. In this latest National Volunteer Week blog post, Moira reflects on the many ways our Living Yoga volunteers meet our diverse patients where they are and embody the compassion, empathy, and kindness that we see across all CCC volunteers.

• • •

Starting any movement or exercise practice can be so intimidating, especially for folks dealing with limited mobility, social anxiety, chronic pain, body shame, or an institutionalized mind-set. Walking into a practice like yoga can be even more stressful—“I don’t know the right words, I’ve seen yogis on TV and I know I can’t do yoga the right way,” etc.

One of the many things that I love about Living Yoga (LY) instructors is their gentle encouragement. The teachers don’t single folks out or shame modifications, but instead take the temperature of the room and offer safe options for every body. Just as important, LY teachers don’t assume that people in wheelchairs can’t test themselves, and don’t fragilize folks out of trying new postures. This mix of gentleness and encouragement the volunteers practice allows our clients to feel they have permission to try as well as permission to let themselves guide their practice. Having permission to practice being yourself in this way, and in a room full of people, is so important.

After Gentle Yoga groups, people report feeling stronger, clearer, and better about themselves. Some do leave frustrated with themselves, but many come back to try again. I’ve seen one client practice twice a week for the last year move gradually out of her wheelchair and onto the mat. She uses a chair when she needs one, and more and more, she doesn’t. Two months ago, she successfully worked her body into a beautiful Downward Dog and held that pose for over a minute. She was so happy, so pleased with herself. When new people come in and talk about “not doing it right,” she often interrupts the instructor to let the new person know that that’s ok: “We do what we can. And we’re doing it. You’re doing great.”

LY teachers typically let our classes know how yoga has worked for themselves. They talk about their own anxiety, injuries, or recovery stories, and I think this transparency makes our groups feel less didactic and more individualized and exploratory. Group members often tell me how much they enjoy the different kinds of yoga practice they learn from various teachers. One brings in harmoniums and teaches us chants ("Let all beings everywhere be happy and free" is a favorite). One offers a quieter, more internal practice. One laughs a lot, and makes us work our hamstrings like crazy. One focuses more on balance and talks about aging. One always helps us with some really yummy neck stretches. All are unique models of some different ways to practice, helping clients move away from “shoulds" and toward finding their own yoga.

Aside from the physical practice, I know that offering folks a safe, routine, short practice of meditation has been hugely helpful. It can be really tough to walk into a 30-90 minute meditation group, but not so hard to try meditation for a few minutes at the end of a yoga group. People talk about feeling more open and more peaceful because of the minutes we spend in our final relaxation pose.

Gentle Yoga has been for years one of our most successful offerings. We’ve tried other movement modalities—gentle dance, walking, etc.—but none have caught on like the classes Living Yoga offers.

I really want to thank the behinds-the-scenes team for supporting the instructors and managing the schedules and coordinating with all the programs you serve. This includes Eric Reynolds, CCC's fabulous volunteer manager, who's been instrumental in connecting Living Yoga with the Wellness Program and continues to offer ongoing support. I’d also like to thank those who donate to Living Yoga on behalf of OTC clients, for helping us provide yoga to folks who can’t afford or access studio classes.



Seva: The Act of Selfless Service

Apr 25, 2017

As Central City Concern celebrates National Volunteer Week by highlighting our volunteer partnership with Living Yoga, we thought it imperative to hear from them directly. Avery Lewis, Living Yoga’s Events and Communications Manager, was gracious enough to write a guest blog post on the organization’s behalf in which she shares how trauma-informed yoga aligns with the needs of those CCC serves, how Living Yoga’s own volunteers are transformed by their service, and much more.

• • •

In honor of volunteer week, we want to recognize the 130+ volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time and energy to teach trauma-informed yoga at our partner sites every year, including Central City Concern’s Letty Owing Center, Hooper Detox, and Old Town Clinic. At these sites alone, 24 Living Yoga volunteers have practiced yoga with more than 900 students in the past twelve months.

In yoga, some refer to this act of selfless service as seva. Seva is the Sanskrit word used to describe an action in which we selflessly give of ourselves to promote the well-being of others. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about seva is that, more often than not, the one serving and the one served both benefit. This is something Living Yoga volunteers experience time and time again when working with students at our partner sites.

Greg, who teaches weekly at Hooper Detox, says, “My experience at Hooper has helped me grow and connect not only as a yoga teacher, but also as a human. I am always impressed by the attitudes of the students and staff—I love their authenticity and gratitude. I feel invited to causally express myself in my teaching, just as I invite the students to do so through their breath and movement. I have fun when I teach yoga at Hooper, and the students appear to enjoy themselves as well. Their occasional contributions of light-hearted banter, sighs of relief, and brief anecdotes help create a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.”

Living Yoga’s partnership with Central City Concern over the past nine years has played an integral role in the healing process and resiliency of our students. By offering trauma-informed yoga classes, students learn to create positive change from the inside out. Trauma-informed yoga acknowledges that trauma can cause individuals to feel unsafe and disconnected from their bodies. Practicing trauma-informed yoga allows the individual to reconnect with their body, increase self-knowledge, and create a safe place within themselves. It’s a powerful tool for recovery and for life in general.

Through the practice of yoga, students gain valuable skills that support their ability to realize their full potential. Students find themselves using these skills outside the classroom, contributing to their own long term well-being and to the health and well-being of the communities in which they live. Jillian, a Living Yoga volunteer teacher at Letty Owings Center, reported, “Another great class! Again these women are so open and ready for yoga. We talked a little about the classes they’ve done so far—one woman said she couldn’t sleep the other night so she got out of bed and did yoga to relax! It’s like textbook Living Yoga—awesome! It is really landing with them, and it feels so great to be part of their yoga journey.” 

Yoga is such a deeply transformational practice to share with someone. It promotes self-love, self-respect, forgiveness, healing, confidence, and growth. It teaches us compassion and how to communicate with heart and intention. And it has a ripple effect! When we realize the inherent goodness inside of ourselves, we learn to act and interact from that place with others. We learn that we are more than our worst behaviors.

For the volunteer teachers at Living Yoga, it is clear that the sharing of this experience through yoga is as satisfying, if not more so, as the practice of yoga itself.



Housing is Health

Six health care organizations will invest $21.5 million in a partnership with CCC as a response to Portland’s affordable housing, homelessness, and health care challenges. Learn more »

We Are Family 2017

Join Central City Concern on May 2 for an evening celebrating families through story and music to benefit our Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs. Reserve your tickets now! Learn more »

Recruiting a New Leader

With the completion of a leadership profile, CCC is proud to announce that recruitment for a new President & CEO to step in for outgoing executive director Ed Blackburn has begun. Learn more »