Last winter, Kristine Leone was driving to her yoga teacher-training course at Sherry Sidoti’s Fly Yoga School in Vineyard Haven when she heard an NPR segment about the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.
“I’ve heard it so many times over at the clinician center,” said Ms. Leone, a social worker for 15 years. “People are becoming addicted, and so often it starts with a prescription.”
Drug-related mortality rates are on the rise as more people struggle to taper off medications prescribed for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and chronic pain.
“When people become dependent on medication, they forget about the other tools they could be using,” Ms. Leone said.
As a certified yoga teacher, Ms. Leone also happens to have access to these alternative tools. So does Irene Bright-Dumm, another certified instructor and a student of Ms. Sidoti.
“Part of my intention with teaching yoga is to be able to cater to issues at hand in our community,” Ms. Bright-Dumm said. “From addiction recovery to chronic disease, to Lyme, anxiety, and depression.”
With the help of Ms. Sidoti and her Fly Yoga School outreach program, Ms. Leone and Ms. Bright-Dumm created Yoga for Pain Management, a six-week program in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to help people taper off medications and regain empowerment through the mind-body connection.
According to Ms. Leone, any avenue of pain or stress, whether it’s heavy traffic on a Friday night or a PTSD diagnosis, triggers the sympathetic nervous system and brings the body into a state of fight or flight. This state of perceived threat sets off the inflammatory system, and can make the body more sensitive to pain.
Yoga is the practice of using exercises, postures, and breathing to shift our bodies from using the sympathetic nervous system to the more restful parasympathetic nervous system.
“Anytime we can do this, we’re curing an entire host of issues that we as humans deal with, from emotional to mental, to physical,” Ms. Sidoti said.
“You’re more equipped from within to go about your day in a less heightened state, whatever your stimuli are,” Ms. Bright-Dumm said.
From the outside, the class looks like any other open yoga practice, but the instructors place an emphasis on specific areas where sources of stress and pain are stored.
According to Ms. Leone, enrolled members of the program come from doctors’ referrals, and by word of mouth through Ms. Sidoti’s popular outreach program, which brings yoga to parts of the community that it can serve well. Other outreach partnerships have included yoga in jail, yoga in Portuguese, yoga for recovery, and yoga in the Tisbury School for staff members.
According to Ms. Bright-Dumm, the program is also about complementing what’s happening in Western medicine. “When you’re given medication or treatment of some kind, it’s easy to forget you’re still an agent of your own body,” she said. “And even though you don’t have control over every biochemical response, you can still have the tools to be active in your health, and not just a passive patient.”
“People are thinking, hey, I’ve tried medicine, and I’m ready for something different,” Ms. Leone said.
The first session began in October, and continued through Dec. 2. Sixteen people enrolled in the first session, and after an overwhelming response and a growing wait list, they added a second six-week session, which began on Dec. 9. The program is entirely free for participants, and is held at the Fly Yoga School in Vineyard Haven.
“It came together as it always does with these programs,” Ms. Sidoti said. “When you’re responding to a need that’s really present within a community, everything flows naturally and organically.”
“It’s amazing what we can do,” she added. “The body is an incredible pharmacy.”