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Local Yoga instructor leads sessions for trauma survivors

Monica St. Angelo (center) is honored by Melissa Ulrickson (left) and Leslie Ruggles (right). Photo contributed.

Mira Braneck

Monica St. Angelo, owner of Locally Grown Yoga located in downtown Grinnell, is working in partnership with Crisis Intervention Services (CIS) to facilitate yoga sessions for survivors of trauma and sexual assault through the on-campus support group. Last week, CIS gave her their Friend of the Agency award for her continuing work with survivors.

St. Angelo began working with the organization this past fall. This semester she comes to each meeting of the support group and leads a short 15-minute yoga and meditation session before the group begins its meeting.

“Sometimes people recovering from trauma have things that they can’t necessarily verbalize,” St. Angelo said. “You store trauma in your body in a way that is hard to release. Because of the breath and the movement together, I think that [yoga] is a way that people can start to reconnect with their bodies when they might have disconnected, or make peace with their bodies or start to embrace the power that is within them when they might have gotten separated from it.”

Monica St. Angelo (center) is honored by Melissa Ulrickson (left) and Leslie Ruggles (right). Photo contributed.
Monica St. Angelo (center) is honored by Melissa Ulrickson (left) and Leslie Ruggles (right).
Photo contributed.

“The physical postures that are involved—it’s an embodied practice. It’s bringing your breath and your movement together,” she added.

St. Angelo is new to the practice of leading yoga specifically for survivors of trauma.

“It’s a little different than a regular class might be because it’s more invitational. I really emphasize in the yoga for trauma that everyone has a choice, that you can participate or not, that they don’t need to continue. I just want to give people a lot of agency in the practice for themselves.”

Learning different breathing exercises through meditation and yoga helps the body learn to self-regulate, according to St. Angelo. After one experiences trauma, their body is often in a state of hyper-alertness. Essentially, their nervous system is perpetually in fight-or-flight mode and it can be very difficult to calm down.

“The breath work helps people to be able to start to self-regulate that response,” St. Angelo said. “It’s a tool that they can call on. Once you start to cultivate the skill, when you’re in a moment or you start to feel your heart race, you feel uncomfortable and stressed—once you learn how to do this you can call on that in the moment.”

The CIS reserves the Friend of the Agency award for people who have done outstanding work for the organization.

“She volunteered her time and expertise to work with sexual assault victims in our support group and provide them with that mind-body connection,” said Leslie Ruggles, a representative of the organization.

CIS, in addition to organizing the support group, has office hours on campus and is responsible for training Grinnell Advocates. CIS’ hotline is (1-800) 270-1620. One can talk to an on-call peer advocate through the Grinnell Advocates at (641) 269-4600.

In addition to leading yoga and meditation for the support group, St. Angelo teaches yoga in her studio downtown and leads Yoga in the Gallery on campus.

“I’m a pretty big proponent of wanting everyone to feel agency in their own practice,” St. Angelo said of leading the support group. “My hope is that it will provide a tool of healing and a tool of empowerment.”

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