Allison Talis is a renaissance yogi. She has a number of prodigious accomplishments in different fields; all with the aim of helping people lead lives of safety and wellness. Allison
is a National Healing & Wellness Consultant & Practitioner for the Joyful Heart Foundation, where she co-developed and led programs both for the survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and for the healers who assist them.
She was the founder of Creative Seeds, a non-profit working in South Africa and the US that was focused on preventative and post-trauma healing work through creative arts, wellness, movement and yoga. Allison continues to provide experiential training, workshops and retreats for both trauma survivors and professionals. She utilizes her movement healing method, Emotion in Motion, in all her work as a teaching artist.
For her work as a movement teaching artist at the Professional Performing Arts School of New York City, she was named one of 2015 United States Presidential Scholar's most influential teachers. She is currently developing a model of Trauma Informed, Yoga and Creative Arts Programs to at-risk populations and communities facing adversity.
Jim Catapano: How did you get involved in trauma work and the Joyful Heart Foundation?
Allison Talis: As with all good journeys,. it was a complete accident! I was teaching a Master Class with Urban Arts Partnership where they matched the master teaching artists with a celebrity to teach a class. I was paired with Mariska Hargitay (Founder and President of Joyful Heart).
Mariska and Co-Founder Stacey Bosworth told me about their healing work for trauma survivors. I told them I’d love to be of service. “I teach yoga and theater, I’m sure I can come up with something!” It was a moment of kismet. Stacey and Executive Director
Maile Zambuto believed in me, invested in me, sending me for all sorts of certifications and trauma training, turning me into this trauma specialist that got to do all this amazing work. I have to credit Stacey with helping start this unintended career I’m passionate about. So much of it is paying attention, saying “yes,” taking ridiculous leaps of faith!
JC: When did you first get involved in this work?
AT: I had been in a theater company that was invited to South Africa. My colleague and I took a holiday driving up a stretch of the coast of South Africa. Once in a while, between the gorgeous vineyards, there’d be these teeny little mud huts. The call was clear. I told my colleague I was going back to Cape Town to find a place to volunteer. There was something inside me that didn’t feel right gallivanting around, when there was a need.
I was absolutely delivered to this man named Luke in a place called Port St. Johns. I volunteered at the Eluxolweni Boys Home; the amazing boys and I started doing theater games and yoga.
JC: How did Creative Seeds come about?
AT: I came back to New York, and up against the question that had been gnawing at me for years: To what end is this life in theater? What impact am I making on the world? It felt very clear, I could no longer continue on this road. I made a list of how I wanted my life to be: yoga, meditation, wellness, service, healing, helping. Within a month I’d put together a team and started Creative Seeds. Via the internet, I set up an international classroom between the boys in South Africa and the students I was working with in Washington Heights.
I gave each group assignments, themes to explore. They exchanged writing, poetry, photography, life stories. The students in New York devised an original multimedia piece that they performed based on that. Then, I took a yoga teacher, theater director, filmmaker, nutritionist and photography teacher – to the Boys Home in South Africa, and did an immersion where they too devised a multimedia piece. It’s funny that a colleague and I named it Creative Seeds, because it really was the seed of my work. When you have that moment of absolute clarity, mountains start moving.
JC: What’s the next chapter look like?
AT: One thing I’m focusing on now is Trauma-Informed Training for Yoga Teachers. It’s one of my missions, to have this trauma piece become a part of every yoga teacher’s regular training. It’s so vital. My tagline is "creating responsible and safe classrooms." I’ve been finding that not all teachers want to teach Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, yet they all do want to be trauma-informed teachers.
At the end of the day, in a yoga class, you’re never going to know what happens to someone when they go home and have to process what may or may not have occurred, whether it’s a word or a touch. As yoga teachers it’s our responsibility to have a keenly heightened awareness, understand the many layers. Being trauma informed changes the way you teach --the “Do No Harm” philosophy from a trauma perspective, in a much more specific way. Yoga is not a “One Size Fits All” methodology, nor was it ever intended to be.
JC: What's your definition of a safe space?
AT: Ultimately it has to be within. But in dark, hard times when you can't access it within yourself, that safe space could be a person who looks you in the eye and offers you a smile, a hand, a sandwich. And that's your moment of safety. Trust, Being Seen, Heard, Acknowledged and Supported: these are the conditions for a safe space.
The yoga, the movement and breath, is what keeps us grounded and aware, and creates that inner temenos (sacred sanctuary), in order for us to dive into those more vulnerable and creative spaces where we can begin to express the inexpressible. The yoga and the breath become the container for the creative process to unfold and serve the soul.