“We don’t have time to not be living our truth, to not be doing exactly what we want to do, and to not be all that we are.” ~BH
Brenda Hershey was named after her paternal grandmother; however, all her life she never felt like a Brenda. About a year ago she started going by simply B. B appealed to her ~ B is for blessed, B is for Buddha. The restraints of social media required that she use “Be” on her profile. This also felt right to her in that after each weekly phone call with her father, he would say to her, “Be good, be smart, be safe, be aware.”
Brenda is currently a student in the Community Development and Action program at Roosevelt University. She will be completing her master’s degree very soon, and is doing her thesis on Trauma Informed Community Development. Refugee camp management is her goal. Her ultimate goal is to become the first American High Commissioner for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
She has been studying in Thessaloniki, Greece since the beginning of October. While in Greece, she is taking the opportunity to help others by teaching Trauma Recovery Yoga classes for Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi and Pakistani refugees via some non-profit organizations. These service projects help children, unaccompanied minors (boys aged 15-18), and women. She has a translator with her during these classes; Brenda writes the “I am” self-affirmation cards in their native language.
Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY) LLC is an organization that is growing and expanding as we seek to serve those who have suffered trauma or who currently live in crisis. TRY was born of our founder’s need to harness the unbearable grief she experienced following her son’s accidental death.
Trauma Recovery Yoga is a series of postures linked with breath, self regulation tools, meditation, and self affirmations. The postures are carefully selected based on science. These techniques are delivered in a yoga flow that helps to rebalance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system bringing about an overall feeling of well being. Orientation, grounding, centering and breath are the self regulation tools that can be utilized anywhere, not just on a yoga mat.
Mindful Movement is an abbreviated version of Trauma Recovery Yoga designed specifically for children. It is comprised of orientation, grounding, centering and breathing techniques followed by easy yoga techniques from the TRY method. Self-affirmations and messages of empowerment, hope and self-respect are crucial parts of Mindful Movement.
Disenfranchised children are a vulnerable population who receive an impactful benefit from the positive self-affirmations spoken (or shouted) during the downward dog pose. They learn how to self-regulate during times of anxiety or fear using the orientation, grounding, centering, and breathing steps of a Mindful Movement class. The significance of these techniques is they may be used anywhere. Children who return to a not-so-positive home environment can find some comfort in these quiet, self-soothing techniques. Childhood trauma is a very real public health crisis. Although we may not be able to remove children from a harmful environment, we can give them tools to self-regulate and cope.
Self affirmations in TRY start with “I am…” The instructor speaks a variety of affirmations like “I am smart”, “I am strong”, and “I am OK”; participants are encouraged to say affirmations of their own silently or aloud as they are in downward facing dog, a resting pose for the internal organs.
Brenda had been doing a regular yoga practice for 5 years when she discovered TRY through online research. TRY had not yet made its way to Chicago, but undeterred, Brenda sent a message to TRY’s general email asking how she could become involved. Joyce Bosen, founder of TRY, responded to her and told her that TRY had been wanting to bring a teacher training to Chicago and would Brenda be interested in hosting. Brenda agreed and immediately began a search for a venue and participants. She did so much social media and advertising that Joyce asked if she would continue to do this for all of the training workshops. Unlike with other volunteer positions, Brenda felt truly appreciated and embraced the TRY organization’s gratitude. Brenda became TRY certified in April 2019 in the teacher training she helped facilitate. Consequently becoming immersed in the TRYb, she established Trauma Recovery Yoga: Chicago Chapter in Chicago, Illinois her current home city. With her enthusiasm and passion for TRY, B manifested her own position within the organization as Director of Community Engagement.
In her first teaching assignment, Brenda taught 8 back-to-back TRY chair classes in May at St. Sabina Church located on the south side of Chicago, a place well known for advocating social justice and activism. The church was holding a Mother’s Day event for mothers who had lost a child to gun violence. Every 20 minutes women were invited to go in the room where Brenda had set up chairs and she would teach a TRY chair class. The first class had one woman participate. By the end of the classes, over a dozen women had participated. Brenda received several messages after the class from participants who told her how much the class helped them and the impact it had upon them.
The Trauma Recovery Yoga: Chicago Chapter (TRYC) now has a total of 4 certified TRY instructors. While Brenda has been in Greece, three TRYC instructors just finished three sessions of speaking on Vicarious Trauma and teaching TRY at UIC Medical School to first year medical students. Brenda will be looking for more medical schools in which to insert TRY training.
Every TRY class that Brenda has taught in Chicago has been on a volunteer basis. The need is greatest where funds are sparse. She has been teaching chair classes and children’s classes at homeless shelters and at Asian Youth Services to immigrant and refugee children. Asian Youth Services operates on a shoestring budget; all the children who participate in the classes love it and continue to vote to keep it when a program must be removed for financial reasons. As she works with children, she has noticed the troubled kids in the beginning of class are the ones who eventually participate, benefit and improve the most. B has realized this “connection over correction” – shift your mindset, what is behind the behavior?
As part of a staff retreat for the nonprofit Urban Initiatives Inc., Brenda gave a talk about compassion fatigue and self-care and then taught a TRY chair class for them at Garfield Park Conservatory in June. Urban Initiatives provides after school programs for under-resourced communities in Chicago Public Schools. The participants loved the chair class; after the event, some of the program directors from different schools asked if Brenda would bring TRY to their schools. In spring 2020 TRYC will be teaching in some elementary schools on the south and west sides (these are generally impoverished, lower socioeconomic areas).
In June Brenda started training to become part of the Trauma Recovery Yoga Teacher Training Team by observing the teacher training workshop in New Orleans. Over the next several months, she would attend teacher training workshops and would have increasingly more participation as a trainer. In September, she and Leland Holgate, Sr., another TRY certified instructor, led their first teacher training workshop together in Chicago.
In July, Brenda completed the 95 hr Children’s YTT program at Mission Propelle in Chicago, a girl empowerment after school program for ages K-3. She is now employed by Mission Propelle as a yoga teacher.
I first met B at the TRY teacher training in August 2019. Although I was certified in February 2019 as a TRY teacher, it is not (yet?) my calling to teach. But I find it helpful for the writing I do about TRY to occasionally attend the classes to refresh my knowledge . There is an abundance of information, and more is being added all the time. Unbeknownst to me at the time, in each teacher training workshop, Joyce tells the story about how I was sitting down when my trauma happened. B had heard my story in her April teacher training workshop. B told me she was on a flight to Guatemala to teach TRY for 10 days to women and children living off a garbage dump. During a layover, she received a text that her dad had died suddenly from a heart attack. She was strapped in the airplane seat, essentially she was stuck in the chair. She immediately felt her body’s response; she felt the trauma move through her, she got hot, she started shaking. Then she remembered the Trauma Recovery Yoga self-regulation tools. She was able to breathe through the trauma; silently she talked herself through parts of the chair class. As a result, she was incredibly present for the experience – by saying affirmations I am OK, I am breathing, etc. she was able to process it without losing it. She remembered my story from training and that was a trigger for her to keep breathing and to stay with herself. She told me she feels her story is more of resilience than recovery because she already had the tools to deal with the event. This was her first big T trauma but sadly not her last; a month and a half later her older sister died from long term illness.
She speaks of her dad’s death as a catalyst of transformation in her life – she found great purpose in all the pain. In their weekly call with her dad the week before he died, she had told him she was going to Greece to do refugee camp work, a lifelong dream of hers is to work in a camp with refugees. He talked about her upcoming graduation – she is a first generation master’s student – and he told her how proud he was of her.
In closing, B sent me her mission and vision statements. They are: “My mission is to make an effort to shine no matter what, to love unconditionally, and to be a kind and gentle soul.” “My vision is to help the world’s most vulnerable populations heal and rediscover their inner light.”
Trauma Recovery Yoga is an incredible team of helpers and healers. We are so pleased to welcome Brenda Hershey to our TRYb.
Additional information about Trauma Recovery Yoga may be found on our website at traumarecoveryyoga.org. Class schedules and descriptions, workshop information and more about the Downtown Yoga & Wellness Co-op can be found on the website at dtlvcoop.com.