"They teach me and inspire me. I learn and feel so blessed."
Alison knows the feelings of peace and comfort that yoga can bring to people. As a yoga therapist, she gets to use movement practices to help people cope with difficult emotions.
"A lot of times people will say, 'I don't remember when I ever have felt this calm or relaxed,'" she says.
But Alison says the benefits from yoga therapy are mutual — she gets as much out of it as the patients do.
"They teach me and inspire me," she says. "I learn and feel so blessed. It feels like I won the lottery every day when I get to go to work. We just get to be ourselves. I hopefully create a space where they feel accepted and welcome, with no expectations."
Yoga therapy is a more recent addition to the branch of mental health care known as art therapy. Sometimes, it's easier for people to express emotions through art and movement than through words.
Alison works in the Creative & Expressive Arts Therapies (CEAT) Department at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. Other disciplines in the department include art therapy, dance therapy, and music therapy.
"It was my dream goal to have this option for hospitals to be able to hire yoga therapists," Alison says. "There aren't that many, and it is incredible that UPMC has stepped up and acknowledged this field."
In her work, Alison leads yoga/movement classes for people at UPMC Western Psych. A typical day includes three or four classes.
She works with both children and adults, which she enjoys because different ages present different challenges.
Often, people are unsure about trying yoga or are worried they won't be good at it, Alison says. That's why she tries to be as encouraging as possible in her classes. She usually just asks people to give it a try.
“The heart of my work is definitely being on the units and connecting and supporting the patients every day and hopefully just giving them some information and experiential practice of yoga that they might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise," she says.
"I hear a lot that, 'I've always wanted to do yoga, but I never have been able to do it. I'm so glad I get to try it.' Those are the moments where I'm like, thank goodness."
Alison is happiest when she sees that her work has had an impact on people.
"Especially our folks, they just need to be in a community with people who are going to provide options and support and flexibility," she says.
At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means providing an outlet for people who need it.
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