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Three instructors share how they’re healing clients through movement.

A multi-ethnic group of adults are standing in warrior two pose during their outdoor yoga class at the park.
A multi-ethnic group of adults are standing in warrior two pose during their outdoor yoga class at the park.

Group therapy, hypnosis, AA—these are all things that come to mind when we think about ways to help people dealing with issues such as addiction or trauma. But what about yoga and Pilates? Across the city, fitness instructors are using their mind-body experience to help heal clients through movement. Read on to learn more about three of these individuals.

WSHWebsite2016 - 82William Hufschmidt
Yoga instructor, Synapse

The Instructor: Hufschmidt teaches at studios such as Solstice and Evolation Yoga and also leads teacher trainings around the world. His involvement with Buckhead’s Synapse, an outpatient program that supports teenagers and adults with a history of addiction, recovery and relapse with alcohol and drugs, began after a friend recommended him to the organization in 2016.

The Program: Yoga classes are open to anyone in the Synapse program. Since this means a variety of ages and fitness levels, Hufschmidt adapts each practice to the audience. However, there are some commonalities. Each class begins in a seated position to focus on the present moment, flows into a variety of joint-opening movements and poses, and ends with a resting period.

“For addicts in particular, many of them are disconnected from their body,” he says. “It’s so satisfying to see them hold and breathe with ease in a pose they couldn’t do the first time I showed them. And by learning something new, they get new brain-body connections, which hopefully will help them redevelop their post-addiction brain,” Hufschmidt says.

William Hufschmidt

View More: http://leslie.omdphotography.comLeslie Clayton
Founder, Body Awareness Studio and Joyous Heart Network

The Instructor: Clayton, who has a background in dance, discovered Pilates while recovering from a serious car accident and eventually opened her own studio on Roswell Road. She’s also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. “My passion has been to help anyone who feels disconnected and numbed to find new pathways into feeling more alive in their body and in relationships with others,” she adds.

The Program: Clayton’s Sandy Springs studio offers both group Pilates reformer classes and private sessions that are open to clients from all backgrounds, not just those who’ve experienced trauma. During a private session, she always has the student first focus on the way his or her body feels at that moment (versus in the past). Then, using the fitness tools in the studio, Clayton creates a practice that is sensitive to the client’s needs and movement goals.

To complement her healing work at Body Awareness, in 2015, Clayton also founded the Joyous Heart Network, a service-oriented organization dedicated to supporting individuals and communities affected by any type of life trauma.

“We offer mind and body workshops to help survivors learn the skills they need to become healthy and joyful people, and we provide scholarships to help survivors attend, too,” she adds.

Leslie Clayton

IMG_9098Meryl Arnett
Yoga instructor, Positive Impact Health Centers

The Instructor: Arnett, a West Buckhead resident who teaches at studios such as Atlanta Hot Yoga in Buckhead, started working with the nonprofit Positive Impact Health Centers in 2013. “A friend asked if I’d create a class for Atlanta’s HIV population, and it evolved into something that helps those who are dealing with addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder,” she says.

The Program: Arnett co-leads the weekly class, which is open to 15 to 20 clients of the center, with a counselor. Each class starts with 20 minutes of yoga, then the group gathers to discuss the practice and the topic of the day— usually something such as honesty or boundaries. It ends with 10 minutes of guided meditation. “I strive to make all my classes safe havens for my clients to experience their sensations and emotions in a healthy, supported way,” she says.

Meryl Arnett

STORY: Amelia Pavlik
Photo: Mary Stancel/Printing Mess

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