The Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative offers yoga designed to help people confronting traumatic experiences.

KCBS Radio

Trauma From North Bay Fires Inspires Unique Yoga Program

Jenna Lane
October 11, 2018 - 1:26 pm

The number of people traumatized by the North Bay firestorm of 2017 far exceeds the thousands who lost homes. And for those who lost loved ones, there is no such thing as rebuilding. 

Recognizing the psychological damage of the disaster, providers came together last year to form the Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative.

One way that they're helping is with yoga designed to soothe nervous systems that have been rattled by trauma. Sighing, yawning and rocking form an important part of this type of yoga, said instructor and psychotherapist Hannah Caratti.

"For trauma survivors, their autonomic nervous system is out of whack. It's the fight or flight response," Caratti said. "The stress is held in the body and they need ways to physically move it out of the body in order to feel better." 

So far, Caratti has trained 60 yoga instructors for classes taught in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and other locations. 

The collaborative has also begun deploying an army of 320 professionals to churches, book clubs, support groups and corporate offices to support the psychological recovery from the disaster.  

"I had a CEO say to me a couple of weeks ag​o, 'We're seeing the mental health effects now on our mployees and on our customers. So we want to be involved.'" said Debbie Mason, a founding member of the collaborative. 

Like their other programs, this service is free and not just for people whose homes burned. 

People who were evacuated or evicted, or who lost loved ones, pets or jobs can be traumatized too. And a goal is to reach the hard-to-reach. Teenagers and undocumented people may be more comfortable using the bilingual website, mySonomaStrong.com, or app, Sonoma Rises. 

"When we lost our house in Kenwood, we just really needed some calming," said Tammy Sakanashi, who had never really done yoga before joining Caratti's class. "It caused such turmoil, I think, inside."

On the anniversary of that loss, she brought Caratti a thank-you card and potted plant. 

"I really feel grateful to so many people, and Hannah is one of the major ones. I don't think I would feel as grounded as I do now," said Sakanashi. "I know I still have a lot of recovery to do. We don't have our house yet, but I just feel so blessed and grateful."