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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Yoga: An Integrative Approach for Healing


Lifelong physical, mental, emotional, and social impacts of trauma and chronic stress can result from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Data suggests that ACEs are a common experience with more than half of U.S. adults having experienced one or more ACE (e.g., Felitti et al., 1998; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). The potential for long- term health consequences of ACEs is clear (e.g., Hughes et al., 2017; Bellis et al., 2019) but less is known about effective interventions. It is critical to have a better understanding of approaches to resilience and recovery that simultaneously address physical, mental, and socio-emotional health, and lead to more positive long-term outcomes. One promising approach is yoga and mindfulness. Given the dearth of research in this area, this study examines the role of a yoga practice on physical, mental, and socio-emotional well-being of adults exposed to multiple ACEs. Adults who met the following criteria were recruited for a qualitative study: they endorsed four or more ACEs, indicating significantly greater risk for chronic health problems (Gomis-Pomares & Villaneuva, 2020), and practiced yoga regularly (i.e., once per week for at least six months). Twelve adults (ages 20-63 years; 9 identified as cisgender women, 2 as cisgender men, 1 as gender non-binary; 8 identified as White/Caucasian, 2 as Asian American/Pacific Islander, 1 as Black/African American, 1 as Black/African American, Latinx/Hispanic, and Native American/Alaskan-Native) participated in in-depth, semi-structured interviews. An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith et al., 2009) was employed to understand the lived experience of yoga on facets of health for individuals who have experienced adversity. Themes to emerge included: counteraction of yoga and mindfulness to trauma-related symptoms, integration of the whole self in mind-body practice, corrective experiences through yoga and mindfulness, and healing beyond talk therapy. These findings indicate that individuals with ACEs may experience yoga as a potentially valuable method for promoting healing through an integrative approach. Implications and future research will be discussed.

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