Many people think of yoga as simply a set of physical and breathing exercises to relieve stress. But Nicole Marcia, interim coordinator and instructor in Langara College’s yoga teacher training and yoga therapy program, says that the 5,000-year-old spiritual practice can also help people struggling with serious health issues, including addiction.
Trauma is what led Marcia into yoga. After surviving a violent sexual assault many years ago, she resorted to alcohol and other substances to manage her nervous system.
“I was introduced to yoga, sort of by accident,” she told the Straight by phone. “And after a couple of years of pretty regular practice, I started to notice a shift in my substance use and the other kind of behaviours that I was engaging in.”
She learned over time that yoga helped bring balance back to her nervous system, which was disregulated in the aftermath of the assault.
“I became very interested in supporting other folks who were struggling with the aftermath and particulars of traumatic experiences, and…in helping them to learn how to use their bodies as a resource for self-regulation,” Marcia said.
She began teaching in 2004, and she obtained a master’s degree in yoga therapy studies from Lesley University in Boston. From 2008 to 2017, Marcia was director of therapeutic yoga programming at the Provincial Health Services Authority’s Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions.
She pointed out that Langara is the only B.C. postsecondary institution that offers certificate programs to become yoga instructors. “All of our instructors are very highly qualified, both academically and in terms of their breadth and education in yoga,” Marcia said. “I think that Langara itself just has a track record of excellence and a reputation for delivering very accessible, high-quality programming for students.”
Langara offers an 80-hour certificate program in therapeutic yoga for pain management. There’s also a 60-hour certificate program in therapeutic yoga for trauma and resilience. In addition, the school has a 250-hour yoga teacher training certificate program, as well as an 800-hour certificate program in yoga therapy for integrative health.
According to Marcia, the programs are not just for people who have taught or practised yoga. The school also welcomes health-care professionals, including registered massage therapists and nurses, who are interested in applying yoga tools and techniques in their work.
Marcia pointed out that it’s not unusual for physical therapists or psychotherapists to enroll in therapeutic yoga for trauma and resilience, even if they’ve never practised yoga. “I think that the western medical system has come to increasingly understand the benefits of yoga as a complementary therapeutic modality for people living with a wide range of health conditions,” she said.