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Using yoga to empower women and create community
Mona Flynn leading a yoga therapy class

“Yoga therapy is not just physical practice,” says Mona Flynn, third- year Ed.D. candidate in kinesiology. “People tend to equate yoga with posture, but there’s so much more it has to offer. I want yoga to be recognized for its worth, as both a restorative practice and a preventative one.”

Flynn is motivated to earn her Doctor of Education in Kinesiology from UNC Greensboro.

 “Yoga therapy is rapidly growing as an evidence-based profession, and the medical community is becoming more receptive to integrated practices,” she says. “I can only hope that my dissertation may contribute to the body of knowledge in how to effectively use physical activity to improve overall well being to an underserved population.”

In addition to her coursework, Flynn runs her own yoga business and the local non-profit The Yoga Connection (TYC), a community engagement program aimed at immigrant and refugee women. 

Tell us about your experience with UNCG.

As a Greensboro resident, I’ve always appreciated the presence of UNCG in community engagement work. It wasn’t until I became a student that I realized the breadth and depth of the academic work as well.

I am so grateful to be in a nationally recognized Ed.D. in Kinesiology program here at UNCG, the only one of its kind in the U.S. This established program and, more importantly, the genuine care of the professors and staff to all persons in this department, altogether support my desire to make a contribution to my profession. 

What is the focus and process of your research?

As research in yoga therapy continues to grow exponentially, there is space to view it as a preventative measure. Consistent movement within a mind-body practice connects us to our inner strength and affects our temperament. Movement releases anxiety and stress, physically and emotionally. This, in turn, positively affects mental and emotional health, helping us to be more reflective rather than reactive to life’s challenges.

In my dissertation, I will use an established quality of life scale as well as qualitative measures like interviews and focus groups to help us understand the effects of yoga therapy on overall health more comprehensively than what we can learn from only quantitative measures like core strength or flexibility. We want evidence on other attributes to edify yoga’s roots, where the practice included breath work (pranayama), meditation, and other aspects of self-study in addition to the physical practice (asana). 

Tell us the story of The Yoga Connection and how it will connect to your research. 

I have been a yoga teacher for over 30 years and own a local yoga business, Life Fit. As a first generation Syrian American, I became involved in helping nonprofits who serve the immigrant community since the start of the Syrian crisis. In recent years, Greensboro has risen to support the needs of the growing number of immigrant and refugee families that are coming to our city from around the world. I had a light-bulb moment to offer what I do, sharing my passion for yoga, as a way to give back through seva, “service” in Sanskrit. We’re using a community group yoga class to build community, make people feel stronger in their bodies, and release anxiety and tension.

TYC offers movement as a healing practice for women, who we find tend not to pursue the health programs that are made available to immigrant and refugee families. We offer two eight-week yoga sessions, one in the fall and one in the spring, both online and in-person. We’re trying to create a “safe” and “brave” space for them.

When I started TYC in 2019, I hadn’t even applied to UNCG yet. It was never intended to be something that would turn into a dissertation project. I just had it on my heart. However, with my professors’ encouragement, I will be examining yoga through a trauma-informed lens and attempting to gain significant and meaningful data through consistent participation in the TYC program.

How can people get involved with The Yoga Connection?

Our fall session is currently underway. We meet in the Fellowship Hall at Peace Church every Tuesday from 12:45-1:45 p.m. We offer free child care, and all are welcome, no matter how long one has been here. It’s not too late to sign up for this session’s free classes: register here

We welcome more volunteers to serve as greeters and ambassadors. The personalities and energy of each person adds so beautifully to the group, not just the participants, but the volunteers, teachers, other nonprofits who collaborate with us, and community members who share in our ideals of a caring community. We all benefit from the shared experience of community engagement. 

Curious about how movement helps people heal? 

Learn more about UNCG’s Doctor of Education in Kinesiology program. It is one of the only all online programs in the country, yet it maintains a strong community focus.

Story by AMBCopy, University Communications
Photography provided by Mona Flynn

 
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