PORTLAND — While studies have shown yoga can help increase both physical and emotional well being, Diana Lee believes it can do even more for at-risk populations.

Lee, founder of Sea Change Yoga, said specific yoga and meditation practices can be used to help people in recovery from substance use disorder, can decrease recidivism rates for those who’ve been incarcerated and can reduce symptoms of depressive disorder.

That’s why she has partnered with 14 different organizations around southern Maine in recent years, including the Maine Correctional Center, the Portland Recovery Community Center and McAuley House, among others.

“We’ve witnessed firsthand the power of trauma-informed yoga to help people in their healing process,” Lee said this week.

Sea Change Yoga is a nonprofit and this weekend it’s hosting a community-based fundraiser to help support its programming.

The event will take place from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, March 31, at Ocean Gateway on Portland’s waterfront. Lee said the goal of the benefit, called “Yogathon: Compassion in Action,” is to raise at least $25,000.

All teams or individuals registering for the yogathon are asked to contribute $199 in order to participate. The event will feature renowned yoga teachers from across New England, according to Lee, and walk-ins are welcome.

“(This) inaugural yogathon will bring the Maine and New England yoga community together to help make the healing benefits of yoga accessible to our most vulnerable populations, including people who have undergone trauma, are in recovery, and refugee populations,” she said.

Lee founded Sea Change Yoga in 2016 with an aim to bring yoga “to the people who needed its healing power the most, but who, due to lack of resources and other barriers, had no access.”

Lee’s been a yoga practitioner for decades, but first realized its healing powers when yoga helped her daughter better manage her anorexia.

Before starting Sea Change Yoga, Lee trained with the Yoga Behind Bars organization. She also learned more about the neuroscience behind trauma and how yoga can help people to better integrate and regulate their bodily sensations, cognitive processes and emotions.

“Trauma-informed yoga is a modified version of what the general public enjoys in a yoga class,” she said. “(It’s) specifically designed to increase the interoceptive awareness of participants.”

Through its specialized yoga classes, Lee said Sea Change Yoga strives to “promote self-awareness, self-respect and self-mastery. We treat each individual as a whole regardless of social status and past trauma history.”

She said that trauma creates changes in the physical, emotional and mental health of survivors and symptoms can include everything from migraines to digestive issues to hyper arousal. With yoga, Lee said, students can address their nervous system issues “by linking breath and movement.”

Lee said Sunday’s yogathon is meant to be a fun yoga party that will include complementary chair massage, a photo booth, T-shirts, music, food and more. “People who come to the yogathon can expect a super-fun morning, with gentle yoga practice interspersed with other activities,” she said.

So far 36 teams and approximately 150 individuals have signed up to take part. Lee said participants can be new to yoga and everyone will be encouraged to move at their own pace throughout the day.

“We are on track to provide over 10,000 hours of yoga service this year and the funds raised at the yogathon will help us sustain this work,” Lee said. “We are absolutely changing lives – one breath at a time.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Women living at the Esther Residence halfway house in Saco are benefiting from yoga classes offered by the Portland-based nonprofit Sea Change Yoga. Yoga can be used to promote self-awareness, self-respect and self-mastery, according to Sea Change founder Diana Lee.

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